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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Re: Superman Returns.

The problem: Lex Luthor, evil real estate agent. Seriously, that was the plot!



Luke Blanchard said:

Richard Willis said:

I wonder if "other things at stake" is why all those comics about saving his secret identity were written?

I think so. Also, it was an accessible issue for the comics' young readers.

Superman stories offer two fantasies, of being the costumed Superman, and being the secretly powerful Clark Kent. These are both satisfactory fantasies, in different ways.

He can potentially lose if there's something he wants. In Superman #119 he saves a Kryptonian colony by a method that means he won't be able to subsequently go back there. Although he loses his people again, in a sense he accomplishes his unfillable desire of saving Krypton. I find that moving.

How's this as an alternative premise for Superman Returns? Before leaving Earth Superman split himself into Superman and Clark Kent. When he returns Lois has married Clark. Clark doesn't want to be Superman again and won't remerge with him. The movie is otherwise similar, except they remerge at the climax. It's too high concept, really, but the movie had an insufficiently imaginative plot.

I'm not familiar with the Ultimate FF. The movie quite failed to capture whatever it is that makes Doom a compelling villain.

What is wrong in Hollywood with being a nice, good person?

They aren't, so they don't think they exist. And if they do think they exist, Hollywood thinks good people are all naive suckers waiting to be taken advantage of.



Mark S. Ogilvie said:

That was another thing that the Avengers movie did, everyone had a very distinct and different personality. The Batman movies have all sort of played out the same type of Batman, the Superman movies can't seem to figure out who Superman is. Also I detect in the "this is a modern Superman" talk around the movie sort of a disdain for what Superman was in the SA and the GA. I've never quite understood when the term 'boy scout' became an insult. All of the characteristics I was taught to value growing up were encapsulated into the cub scout oath, they seem to be a good way to live, why are they looked down upon? What is wrong in Hollywood with being a nice, good person?

Agreed. And you forgot the third villain of the movie: Sinestro. Although he didn't appear as a "villain", it was his origin story.

Mark S. Ogilvie said:

One thing that really doesn't work in a superhero movie is a large cast when you have a single hero and multiple villains. Especially in a movie where you have an origin story. That was a great problem with the Green Lantern movie. Have Hector or have Parralax, not both.

Hector Hammond is a great character and one of my favorites. I think the choice to introduce Parallax and all/most of the GL Corps in the first movie was a poor one in that it's too hard to wrap your head around. As was said, comics readers are used to seeing all of these odd characters but it's a little too much for a general audience. For most of the movie there weren't enough non-CGI characters on the screen. I agree that Ryan Reynolds didn't do a bad job. Green Lantern, like Iron Man, was not well known to the public before the first movie. Robert Downey Jr. is the reason the Iron Man and Avengers movies took off so well. A different actor could have sunk the whole thing.

I think there are two reasons the screenwriters tend to use multiple villains in a lot of these movies: (1) they're trying to get their script approved. Most of these movies have multiple scripts submitted by multiple writers, and (2) they know that generally the actors are committed to only three movies. If they love the comics they want to see more than three of the hero's rogues. They don't seem to understand that decreased screen time dilutes the characters.

Contrasting the original four Batman movies with the recent trilogy:

The first four movies emphasized high-powered casting in the villain roles. I haven't seen them recently.

Batman: Somehow Tim Burton was able to balance Jack Nicholson's Joker, Jack Palance's crime boss Carl Grissom, and Michael Keaton's Batman without giving short shrift to any of them. Bruce's parents' murder was included and was immediately understandable to the general public as the impetus to become Batman. The Joker got a full (tweaked) origin and we still had time for a good story. The choice to make him the Waynes' killer was a poor one IMHO.

Batman Returns: Tim Burton didn't like the established Penguin character, so he changed him almost completely. The gratuitous nose-biting effectively blew the franchise out of the water. As much as I like Christopher Walken, his Max Shreck character didn't work and ate up a lot of screen time. Michelle Pfeiffer was fine as Catwoman. Danny DeVito could have played the comics version of the Penguin, but since Burton didn't like the character I wish he had used Two-Face played by Billy Dee Williams, who played Harvey Dent in the first movie. His character wasn't even in this movie. Michael Keaton still held his own on screen.

Batman Forever: Tim Burton is gone. Jim Carrey ate ALL the scenery as the Riddler, which seemed to owe a lot to Frank Gorshin's TV version. Tommy Lee Jones' Two-Face was completely wasted in this movie. Chris O'Donnell was miscast as a too-old Robin. Val Kilmer was unmemorable as Batman, not being given enough to do. I don't think any of the actors were at fault. The script and direction were at fault, but it hadn't quite tipped over into camp.

Batman & Robin: He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named is still directing. We have a real crowd scene this time. As above, the casting wasn't the problem, just the script and direction. George Clooney, like Val Kilmer, is under-used and unmemorable as Batman. Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn't bad as Mr. Freeze. When they showed him smoking a cigar it didn't fit with the icy character he was supposed to be. I knew we were in major trouble when Batman and Robin JUST HAPPENED to have ice skates built into their boots. The introduction of Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone) seemed to say all you have to do is put on a costume to become a competent hero. Up until then this actress was on the rise. Uma Thurman was good casting as Poison Ivy. The Jason Woodrue and Bane characters were totally wasted. Bane was presented as an easily beaten, dumb flunky.

The recent trilogy used good character actors in all the parts, and didn't overcrowd the stories.

Batman Begins: Christopher Nolan's three movies were generally excellent. I realize the name is Batman Begins, but too much time is spent on his origin. Christian Bale was effective as Batman in all three movies. I became a Cillian Murphy fan after seeing his Scarecrow. Liam Neeson as Ducard/Ra's Al Ghul was also good casting. I didn't understand why they had Ken Watanabe as the fake Ra's Al Ghul. An Asian character with an Arabic name didn't make a lot of sense, and as was said above Liam Neeson wasn't likely to be cast as a flunky. Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon, Michael Caine as Alfred and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox were all terrific.

The Dark Knight: Heath Ledger's reinvention of the Joker was well done. Aaron Eckhart was very effective as Two-Face. Cillian Murphy's cameo as the Scarecrow was appreciated. Bale, Oldman, Caine, and Freeman were as wonderful as always.

The Dark Knight Rises: This is my least-favorite Christopher Nolan movie. Tom Hardy as Bane was a good choice, though I would have preferred he had played the comic book version of the character. The drug venom would have made an interesting plot point, especially if it was introduced as it was in Legends of the Dark Knight. Anne Hathaway played a good Catwoman. I think the politics were a little heavy-handed. The late reveals of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's John Blake and Marion Cotillard's Miranda Tate were very effective. I have to rewatch this. I had forgotten that Liam Neeson and Cillian Murphy made appearances. According to Wikipedia Aaron Eckhart wanted to appear as Two-Face but was informed he was what we would call "Uncle Ben dead." Unlike many, I did enjoy Alfred's final scene in Florence, Italy. Too bad Nolan didn't do four movies, one with Hugo Strange.

I know Barry made being slow and always showing up late into a behavior pattern. I can't remember if he was really like this before he gained his powers or if this was just misdirection. As the anti-Lois, Iris never suspected he was the Flash and wasn't even aware of it until (some time) after they married.

Dan Long said:

Barry being stiff was his personality. He was a slightly shy guy, and a little socially awkward. Made his personality stiff. It wasn't played up much beyond as an excuse to hide he was the Flash. A lot of DC heroes alter egos were to hide that they were heroes, and that was the basis for the personality traits. It's not a good way to define a person.

Not having seen the movie, I have to agree with Neal Adams' recent comments that they were really daft to throw away the John Stewart version of Green Lantern for the leading man.  He was the one that a whole generation had grown up watching on Justice League United.

Hal Jordan wouldn't tweak the same nostalgia buttons for most of the target market.  "Who's this guy?  Why isn't he the one in the great old cartoon I used to like?"  That's a little alienation of the audience going in.  There was a big deal made of Geoff Johns' involvement with the production of the movie, and his natural uncanny affinity for what the tiny fanboy market of the past decade wanted wasn't much use applied to the mass market the film was aimed at.  And then throw in his own personal investment in the Hal Jordan character that he was trying to gain recognition of.

A superhero who looked different to the rest of them might have made GL stand out a little from the other blue-eyed matinee idols.  I did read some reviews from critics unfamiliar with the comics who were perplexed that we were being asked to sympathise with this character who had been dealt winning cards by the lottery of life in almost every respect.

A movie with a black GL might have had a different 'texture' and presented a less assembly-line, cookie-cutter superhero to the world.

Batman: Somehow Tim Burton was able to balance Jack Nicholson's Joker, Jack Palance's crime boss Carl Grissom, and Michael Keaton's Batman without giving short shrift to any of them. Bruce's parents' murder was included and was immediately understandable to the general public as the impetus to become Batman. The Joker got a full (tweaked) origin and we still had time for a good story. The choice to make him the Waynes' killer was a poor one IMHO.

When the movie Batman opened in late-June 1989 my wife and I had been married less than three months. Our first Comic-con together was still in the near future, as was my return to buying comics. She had at the time little exposure to comics. Turning the Joker into the Waynes' killer and having him die at the end (with an actual dead body) caused her to observe that Bruce had killed the killer of his parents. If you look at it with fresh eyes it sure seemed that way, which would imply that he could hang up his cowl.

Figserello said:

Hal Jordan wouldn't tweak the same nostalgia buttons for most of the target market. "Who's this guy? Why isn't he the one in the great old cartoon I used to like?" That's a little alienation of the audience going in. There was a big deal made of Geoff Johns' involvement with the production of the movie, and his natural uncanny affinity for what the tiny fanboy market of the past decade wanted wasn't much use applied to the mass market the film was aimed at. And then throw in his own personal investment in the Hal Jordan character that he was trying to gain recognition of.

If nothing else in the movie was different except the main character I have trouble believing it would have been any more successful. From what I'm able to gather, worldwide box office receipts caused the film to do better than break-even, and that they are contemplating another movie. If they do, hopefully they will bypass the origin.

The first time I saw the term "fanboy" it was a pejorative, as was "geek". Now I guess neither necessarily is.

I've never bitten the head off a chicken. At least you can't prove I have.

I always have a little trouble with the criticism that writer A or company B don't understand character C. This argument usually falls apart when you start to ask the critics to give the definitive description of character C. They can never agree. Ask 10 critics or fans who Batman is and you will get 10 different answers. How can a movie studio be expected to give us the "real" Superman when no one can agree who the "real" Superman is?
It's probably a better strategy for the studio to just give us a version of the character that a majority of us can at least live with and put him in a decent story with good acting and effective direction.
Marvel scored when they gave us an Iron Man that is basically just Robert Downey Jr playing himself with a little bit of Mark Millar's Ultimate treatment thrown in. He definitely is not the Iron Man I grew up with in any way but he is entertaining.

Would Blade have been the same movie if the star was a more typical leading man?  I don't think so.

I was accounting for the fact that certain elements of the script, the direction and the 'feel' would have been different if they'd gone with the John Stewart version, rather than *just* the actor being different.

This article on the clothes purveyors Abercrombie and Fitch mentions how the whole 'caucasian healthy successful Jock' ethos/aspiration doesn't really sell to young people anymore. Nevertheless, GL looks like it was cast to hit that mark. Millenials seem to be more into outsiders and the marginalised of one kind or another as in the Twilight movies, or the Hunger Games.  The breakout most talked about performances of the Avengers movie, despite the roster of 60's era blue-eyed matinee idols from the comics that make up the team, was Loki and the Hulk.  The least Abercrombie and Fitch of the stars, in other words...

I used fanboy in this case to mean the 100,000 or so core superhero comics buyers that DC have become increasingly focused on serving.

Isn't this whole thread about uneaten chickens?

Richard Willis said:

Figserello said:

Hal Jordan wouldn't tweak the same nostalgia buttons for most of the target market. "Who's this guy? Why isn't he the one in the great old cartoon I used to like?" That's a little alienation of the audience going in. There was a big deal made of Geoff Johns' involvement with the production of the movie, and his natural uncanny affinity for what the tiny fanboy market of the past decade wanted wasn't much use applied to the mass market the film was aimed at. And then throw in his own personal investment in the Hal Jordan character that he was trying to gain recognition of.

If nothing else in the movie was different except the main character I have trouble believing it would have been any more successful. From what I'm able to gather, worldwide box office receipts caused the film to do better than break-even, and that they are contemplating another movie. If they do, hopefully they will bypass the origin.

The first time I saw the term "fanboy" it was a pejorative, as was "geek". Now I guess neither necessarily is.

I've never bitten the head off a chicken. At least you can't prove I have.

  In Hollywood you seem to have those who are extremely conservative about casting choices and those who go wildly toward the other end.  I don't think a Nick Cage Superman movie would have succeeded, but I would have been curious.

At least Cage knows and loves comics and loves the character. He named his son Kal-El and renamed himself after Luke Cage.

Mark S. Ogilvie said:

  In Hollywood you seem to have those who are extremely conservative about casting choices and those who go wildly toward the other end.  I don't think a Nick Cage Superman movie would have succeeded, but I would have been curious.

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