On Jan. 17, Warner Bros. announced that the debut of the next Superman movie – the one tentatively titled Batman vs. Superman – has been pushed from July 17, 2015, to May 6, 2016. Injuries? Script problems? We don’t know. What we do know is that the highly prized summer release spot was quickly nabbed by Marvel Films – for Ant-Man, starring Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas.

That’s right. DC Comics – through its parent corporation, Warner Bros. – can’t get a Superman movie off the ground for another year. But chief competitor Marvel is ready and waiting to jump in with a new star ... one whose super-power is to get very, very small.

What’s wrong with this picture? Across the Internet, fans whine and wonder why DC has such trouble turning its famous superheroes into successful movie franchises, while Marvel releases four movies a year, and can even build a film around a C-list character who talks to insects.

And that’s with one hand tied behind its back – Marvel Films can’t even use all of the characters from Marvel’s own comic books! The movie rights to Spider-Man are held by Sony. The rights to Fantastic Four, Wolverine and the many X-Men characters are clutched by Twentieth Century Fox in a death grip. Until recently, Daredevil and Ghost Rider were off limits, too.

But so what? Marvel has managed to turn Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man and Thor into solo stars, and their team, The Avengers, into money-making machines. That allows Marvel the luxury of experimenting with lesser lights, like Ant-Man in 2015 and Guardians of the Galaxy this year.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. keeps failing with some of the biggest names in the history of comics. Superman and Batman have done all right, but Green Lantern was a flop; Captain Marvel, The Flash and Green Arrow have never appeared anywhere but the small screen; and Wonder Woman … oh, for Pete’s sake, how can there not be a Wonder Woman movie?

The Internet isn’t shy, of course, in launching lots of theories about why DC seems so incompetent with its own characters. Let’s take a look at a few:

1. It’s not as bad as it seems.

I agree, because nothing is ever as bad as the Internet thinks it is.

Sure, DC looks lame now, but how about Marvel around 30 years ago? DC had the successful Superman franchise in the ‘70s and ‘80s, while Batman was boffo box office in the 1990s, plus plenty of TV shows and serials before that. Marvel had no characters on the silver screen, and what it had done – some cheesy made-for-TV Spider-Man and Captain America movies, and the Incredible Hulk TV show – wasn’t very good. They’ve turned it around, and so can DC.

And, hey, actress Gal Gadot will appear as Wonder Woman in Batman vs. Superman, as part of a three-picture deal. Figuring the second of those movies will be Justice League (scheduled for 2017), the third could well be that elusive WW solo film.

2. Warner Bros. doesn’t understand its own characters.

This actually may be a tiny bit true.

While I was watching Man of Steel, I was stunned to see Pa Kent advising young Clark that maybe keeping his secret identity might be more important than saving the lives of a busload of kids. Before I had time to express my disgust of this fundamental misunderstanding of what Superman stands for, not to mention what Pa Kent stands for, the middle-aged black lady next to me said loudly, “Nuh-UH.” Pithy, and entirely accurate.

And having Superman – the one superhero who famously has a code against killing – break Zod’s neck seemed like it was designed specifically to distance the character from what made him famous for all these years. I expect situational ethics from other characters, especially those like Captain America, who have served in wartime. But from the Man of Steel I expect Super-ethics, because that’s what is so amazing about him – not that he has super-powers, but that he resolutely refuses to use them for his own gain or convenience. Now, that’s super!

Then there’s Batman. In the recent trilogy, the third movie begins with Bruce Wayne having retired for eight years. As every Bat-fan knows, Batman retiring is like Ahab giving up on that white whale. It’s a mission, not a hobby.

3. Marvel characters are just better.

This one I don’t buy.

It is true that Marvel characters were deliberately constructed with internal conflicts that are inherently interesting. Spider-Man’s famous mantra about how great power brings great responsibility almost makes his super-powers seem like a curse. That stands in opposition to DC’s major characters, who are essentially icons more than characters, born of the square-jawed heroism and idealism of the 1940s, something that can seem quaint today.

But, as we like to say on my website, there are no bad characters, just bad writers. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman have been popular for more than 70 years, so the appeal is there – it’s up to the screenwriters to find it.

4. WB makes movies; Marvel Films makes superhero movies.

I actually kinda agree with this one.

Marvel Films has one job and one job only, and that’s to turn Marvel’s catalog of characters into successful movies. That focus has no doubt meant a lot of man-hours figuring out how to translate the virtues of one medium into those of another – and successfully so. Warner Bros., meanwhile, releases a lot of movies in a lot of different genres every year, and only has to think about what makes superheroes tick every once in a while.

There are more theories, of course, but mostly variations of the ones above. As fans we can only hope that the bad ones are wrong, and that Warner Bros. has a better plan for bringing its characters to life than plopping as many as possible into Batman vs. Superman, followed by a Justice League movie crowded with a bunch of strangers. The characters deserve better than that – and we long-time fans do, too!

If not, there’s always Ant-Man.

Contact Captain Comics at capncomics@aol.com.

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Warner Bros. doesn’t understand its own characters

Even though they made some (minor) missteps with the recent Batman trilogy, it was a license to print money. The last two attempts to reboot Superman haven't worked too well.* I think the animated series of Batman, Superman, and the Justice League worked so well because they had Bruce Timm running the show. They need him or someone like him to oversee the movies.

Of course, Marvel's two Hulk movies were bad and not-so-bad, with the character finally coming into his own in the Avengers.

Spider-Man’s famous mantra about how great power brings great responsibility almost makes his super-powers seem like a curse.

Over the years this phrase has crept into our culture. People use it or variations of it all the time without realizing where it originated.

As an aside, in the movies it doesn't make sense for Uncle Ben to say this to Peter, who as far as he knows does not have great power.

The problem with #4 is that it isn't just Marvel Films making good Marvel superhero movies. Fox and Sony have done excellent Marvel movies. New Line made a successful franchise out of Blade. Blade! It's like any studio except Warner Brothers can make terrific superhero movies. 

Not all that comes from Fox and Sony are great, though. Raimi's Spider-Man movies were amazing. Yes, even Spider-Man 3. Then there's Amazing Spider-Man. I liked it but I would have liked it a lot more if I didn't have the previous three to compare it to. It was the Warner Brothers of Spider-Man movies; the filmmakers just didn't quite understand the character and it showed.

Quite true, Mark. I'm really hoping that The Fantastic Four finds a way to skip over that part as much as possible. The next Batman solo film will likely have an origin story. If we're lucky, it'll be like 1989's Batman where the origin stuff happens in a total of about five minutes.

These days anyone who wants to find out about a hero (including the origin) can do so online. The movies should be able to skip over this, at least for the well-known heroes. The rest of the movie-goers either already know the origin or really don't care. Another option is to do a slow crawl at the beginning of the movie. Nobody knew anything about the original Star Wars before the crawl, which brought everyone up to speed. The villain origins, however, are still needed most of the time.

I really, really agree with #2, Warner Bros. doesn't understand its own characters. We chew on Man of Steel at length over here, but I'll just restate my strongest objection:

 

Mark Stanislawski said:

After seeing Man of Steel I'm, to be honest, more disappointed in the back and forth storytelling than him killing Zod. They make it pretty clear that Clark is a good guy so you know he didn't kill Zod selfishly and without guilt.

Everyone who likes a Superman-doesn't-kill just has to get over it. That's so 1970's. ;)

 

 

ClarkKent_DC said:

Ah, Mark, that's not it ... well, that's not only it....

Yes, I object to the bad scriptwriting that had Superman killing. But my bigger objection is the notion that he HAD to, that there was NO other way. That the character, and his scriptwriters, aren't smart enough -- intelligent enough -- clever enough -- creative enough -- inventive enough -- to find another way.

That's my real objection, that it reduces Superman to being just a musclebound dope in a circus costume. Somebody worthy of the name "Superman" should be more than that.

Then, of course, there was the previous movie, Superman Returns, which has Superman abandoning Earth for five years on a fool's errand and a bitter Lois Lane winning a Pulitzer Prize for a column, misidentified in the movie as an "editorial," titled "Why Earth Doesn't Need a Superman." Not to mention presenting Superman -- Superman! -- as a deadbeat dad(!!!)  photo mad2.gif

And a Peeping Tom and sort of using his powers in a super-Rohypnol fashion.

I saw The Man of Steel over Christmas.  I didn't see the end because my flight landed, but what I did see was just a montage of brutal militaristic thuggery from all sides.  The movie lacked both grace and charm, which are necessary ingredients for any Superman project.

The graceful and charming Christopher Reeve is much missed!

News to me that they've put off the release date for another year.  The trouble is that they've reduced Superman to a brutal thug, and thus lost the differentiator that should seperate a Superman movie from the usual cineplex bubblegum entertainments.  If Superman is going to act like any other pragmaticly cold-blooded cinematic tough guy, then why bother making movies about him specifically?

The trouble is that they've reduced Superman to a brutal thug, and thus lost the differentiator that should seperate a Superman movie from the usual cineplex bubblegum entertainments.  If Superman is going to act like any other pragmaticly cold-blooded cinematic tough guy, then why bother making movies about him specifically?

Did we see the same movie?  At what point exactly was Superman picking on the weak, using his powers to intimidate people, or going out of his way to use excessive force?  Maybe we just have a different definition for "brutal thug".

Of course, we are inured to it after a lifetime of watching hollywood action flicks, but generally all the heroes in those movies are able to hurt and kill people without much of a thought, and do so whenever any excuse shows itself.  In other contexts, we'd see such people as damaged, cold-blooded psychopaths, but in the context of a hollywood action flick they are 'normal'.

Superman now seems to be of their sort, without much to differentiate himself from them.  So that's the character.  By 'brutal thug', I meant someone who depends on violence and force before creative thinking or any more positive virtues.  Maybe he does hesitiate and try to talk etc as a newbie hero, but as Clark says above, they constructed a movie where violence and force was the only option open to him, and the only solution to the problems he faced.  The movie itself was one brutal militaristic scenario after another.  The movie seemed to be just talk-violence-talk-violence as far as I watched it up to.  I hear the ending swung more towards the violence though. :-) I was really dismayed by the gloomy tone and miltaristic focus.  Superman stories didn't used to have that focus. 

I wonder what Hollywood is working through in the movie?  The Krypton scenario was more about a military coup than the end of the planet.  As usual, the civilian authorities were found deeply wanting, and the coup seemed to be justified.  (What is it with modern superhero stories and quasi-fascist messages?)  Similarly, the rest of the film was about a military invasion of the US, mainly.  I do take an interest when post 9-11 stories tackle invasions and the US, but funny to see 'the shoe on the other foot' as it were.

Funny when you mentioned the 'brutal thug' bit I flashed back to the Die Hard movies. The character of John McClain was tough and ruthless but also very inventive and resourceful. He was a normal guy in very abnormal situations facing high odd and foes who were generally a pretty smart lot (first and fourth especially). That is what I'd like to see in a superhero movie. Not someone with superpowers who can be more ruthless than the bad guy, but someone who can be a bit more clever and hold the line when it comes to doing things you don't really have to do. In the second Reeve movie Superman realized that he had to take the fight out of Metropolis, he had to look like he was running away. That's a lot of moral courage and the writers allowed that. They let him go away and be smart rather than stay and be brutal.

IMHO. the Marvel films seem to be designed as "entertainment" with some comedy and drama mixed in much like Ocean's Eleven or Star Trek, while the DC movies want to be considered as "drama" with special effects.

No question I think it's #2. The Batman movies work, IMO, because Batman is very, very open to interpretation. YOu can do dark and brooding, you can do funny, you can do so many things in between. Even though I'm not reading any current Bat-Titles, that's mainly because I'm not enjoying the current take on the character. However, that will change given time.

Superman is another kettle of fish. Not that he can't be used for comedic effect, but it's plain from reading many current Superman comics that DC's creative staff doesn't "get" him. How often are we seeing the creators throw bigger and badder threats at him, and those stories falling flat? The interesting thing to do with Superman is to give him a problem he can't punch. That's what made the Christopher Reeve movies--well, Superman I and Superman II--work. Additionally, he's not particularly conflicted, he has a moral code, and dark and brooding just plain doesn't suit him well. Maybe there are too many jaded and cynical writers out there who can't comprehend the idea that there's a character primarily driven by a desire to assist people that doesn't have any deep dark secrets or demons (BTW, there was a recent two part story in Adventures of Superman where he faced the Joker, and it was really well done in terms of Superman resolving a problem without needing to punch anything).

Maybe if Greg Pak wrote a Superman movie it might work.

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