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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Vartox's equivalent of kryptonite would be gold,(1) and on his planet all the gold in the world would be stored in a Fort Knox-like facility to protect him. The army would have it at the climax from the villain's having seized the place. The facility would also house many exotic forbidden weapons that the army would use against Superman.(2) The army would be made up of convicts that the villain had set free from the planet's prisons.(3)

(1) Vartox didn't have a kryptonite-style weakness in the comics. Lead, of course, was Mon-EL's. Weisinger did other stories where super-people had different weaknesses to Superman - examples can be found here and here - and it may be he did this with gold somewhere, and that's where I got the idea from. Otherwise, I was thinking of Dworn from Superboy #65 and momentarily misremembering his story, which I know about from a partial retelling in Superboy #182. He was a superboy from another world who had no powers on Earth, except the ability to turn things to gold.

(2) This is a Mort Weisinger element. Examples are the cache of Kryptonian weapons from "The Phantom Superboy!" in Adventure Comics #283 and an Atlantean one in "Supergirl's First Romance!" from Action Comics #269.

(3) I can't remember where I've pinched this from, but a pinch it is.

That Bat-mobile is the most embarrassing thing yet in this franchise, even more than the drab colors on Superman's costume and his inability to smile. Not exactly something that will fit down an alley--or even on most streets.

I wonder if they're regretting any of that enormous amount of armored crap (not to mention the mounted machine guns) in the light of all the talk this summer about Ferguson, Mo.? Their notion of these heroes continues to diverge significantly from my own, no big surprise by now.

Anything Namor could do Superman can do.

But so could everyone else underwater. My problem with Sub-Mariner and Aquaman and other underwater-set stories is that they don't address what life is like when gravity is so much less and everyone can reach any height. Besides occasional swimming and fish being around, they might as well be on land, they're all well grounded. The possibilities for unique architecture and other cultural changes is never seen.

Again, these days Superman could have adventures on a Mort Weisinger-style fantastic world, where he could fight aliens with weapons powerful enough to hurt him.

But that's Thor. I agree that a Superman who can withstand a nuclear blast and push the Earth out of orbit is difficult to write for. In the SA, they did it by making many of his stories more psychological, requiring him to out-think Luthor and use powers surreptitiously (super-speed, heat vision, ventriloquism, etc.)

Movies tend to rely on the visual, so there's a lot of punching Superman halfway around the world and through 10 buildings. That's cool the first time, but they've got nothing else, and it gets tiresome. That's when we start thinking about all the collateral damage instead of the cool visual we just saw three times already.

Guardians of the Galaxy has been a hit, so I doubt it can be argued that a Superman movie would have to be set on Earth to be a hit with a mass audience.

I think any movie can be set anywhere if it has engaging characters who are up against a difficult challenge and have fun resolving it. It's less about setting and more about tone and characters. It was fun to watch the GOTG guys solve their problems and come of age. They could've been doing that in the Old West or in WWII.

My point is not that they should make this movie, but that if it sounds like a fun film - and it does to me

It sounds like a lot of special effects, and the summer is full of those already. I agree that adding cleverness is a key ingredient--having indestructible super-people slug each other through buildings and billboards for 20 minutes isn't fun to watch, but it's what they always do (even the Animated Superman did that way, way too much).

The identity-switching adds a surprise and shows the heroes can think (it also was done in both JLA #11 and #12, two of my all-time favorite issues), so I like it. It's the kind of thing that superhero movies need--and GOTG had. It's hard to make Superman an underdog, but I don't know that setting the entire movie in outer space is the best solution.

Taking Superman away from his supporting cast eliminates a lot of the appeal of Superman (of course, I think letting Lois know the secret and--god forbid--marrying her to Supes eliminate a lot of the appeal, and they seem to be go-to moves these days). I think what you've described is a pretty good GL movie.

Thor always had that problem for me. On Earth, he's too much--he's got a hammer he's not about to throw at someone, but it's also hard to challenge him with something that wouldn't bring all the other Avengers running or destroy half the town.But on Asgard, he can destroy everything just like everyone else can, and we don't much care what falls down. He needs Jane Foster in danger to hold him back--but that gets old. And putting Sif in danger in Asgard isn't the same thing.

-- MSA

 

Luke Blanchard said:

Weisinger did other stories where super-people had different weaknesses to Superman

It always seemed that all of the superpeople always had the same array of powers as Superman. It would have been more interesting if they had different combinations of powers.

Mr. Silver Age said:

I wonder if they're regretting any of that enormous amount of armored crap (not to mention the mounted machine guns) in the light of all the talk this summer about Ferguson, Mo.? Their notion of these heroes continues to diverge significantly from my own, no big surprise by now.

The machine guns mounted on the Batmobile don't work for me anymore than they did in the Tim Burton movies. Batman hates guns!

Guardians of the Galaxy has been a hit, so I doubt it can be argued that a Superman movie would have to be set on Earth to be a hit with a mass audience.

Taking Superman away from his supporting cast eliminates a lot of the appeal of Superman (of course, I think letting Lois know the secret and--god forbid--marrying her to Supes eliminate a lot of the appeal, and they seem to be go-to moves these days). I think what you've described is a pretty good GL movie.

Guardians of the Galaxy worked for me. By definition it belonged in space. Also, I had no baggage to bring to the movie. Superhero stories set in space, whether Superman or Green Lantern, are much less interesting to me. As was pointed out previously, the supporting casts are very important. I also think that a super-powered character needs the contrast of being surrounded by non-powered characters. Otherwise the character doesn't stand out as special.

Mr Silver Age said:

But that's Thor. I agree that a Superman who can withstand a nuclear blast and push the Earth out of orbit is difficult to write for. In the SA, they did it by making many of his stories more psychological, requiring him to out-think Luthor and use powers surreptitiously (super-speed, heat vision, ventriloquism, etc.)

I think the fantasy of easy superiority is the point of Superman. The staple good stuff is the scenes where the crooks shoot bullets at his chest and he just laughs it off. Identifying with a character who is superior to the challenge he faces can be satisfying.

In a story there needs to be drama, so Superman also has to face situations he can't easily solve. But the stuff where he's easily superior should be there too. The Golden Age Superman enjoyed being Superman and was proud of his power. I think that's one reason why he's more fun than some later versions. He also had a bit of a devil in him in how he went about things.

I think the keys to making super-fights interesting are to avoid making them too much like non-super-fights, and to bring imagination to them. A good Silver Age one is Superboy's fight with the first Bizarro in Superboy #68, a very unusual sequence for its period (1958).(1)

The disguise twist in my story is a staple Julie Schwartz element. He used it many times.

Richard Willis said:

Guardians of the Galaxy worked for me. By definition it belonged in space. Also, I had no baggage to bring to the movie. Superhero stories set in space, whether Superman or Green Lantern, are much less interesting to me. As was pointed out previously, the supporting casts are very important.

Taking Superman to another planet for an adventure is not that different to taking him to the 30th century for Legion ones. I figure he could pose as Vartox's college roommate and interact with Vartox's supporting cast while waiting for the villain to turn up.

It always seemed that all of the superpeople always had the same array of powers as Superman. It would have been more interesting if they had different combinations of powers.

I like it, because I see it as an alternative way of doing things. It suits Superman's strip because it makes the other characters directly comparable to him, which is a twist on the usual situation of no-one being comparable to him.

For those who don't know, in the Bronze Age Vartox had "hyper-powers" that partly overlapped with Superman's and partly were distinct. At some point in the stories they'd fight each other. I kept the Vartox name in my story partly to emphasise what I was borrowing, and partly to suggest what the movie Vartox's powers might be and how he might dress, and what his planet might be like.

(1) I have a theory that DC made a decision to take violence out of Superman's feature coming out of the 40s, and that this is a major reason why the 50s feature often seems staid.

He couldn't pass for his college roommate: they're different ages. Perhaps, the son of his former business partner.

The Golden Age Superman enjoyed being Superman and was proud of his power.

But there wasn't so much of it. He wasn't flying into space and looking down on the Earth the way Supermen since the SA have done automatically. It didn't take so much to challenge him physically, so it was easier to create a challenge he had to overcome.

With later Supermen, the challenge had to be mental/psychological, which he then solved reasonably easy, because he's nearly omnipotent. As I often say, I think the animated version got the power level about right.

He also had a bit of a devil in him in how he went about things.

That was the Christopher Reeve (and SA, IMO) version, too. He enjoyed pulling the wool over Lois's eyes, because she thought she was so talented and observant. Even George Reeves had it. Later Supermen (ie, their writers) have missed that, and it's pretty important to making him likable.

I think the keys to making super-fights interesting are to avoid making them too much like non-super-fights, and to bring imagination to them.

I agree. Most times, they're about the special effects and destruction, and that gets boring, because we know the hero is going to stand up and come right back. (Of course, that happens in movie fights all the time. The notion of breaking a chair over someone and having them immediately leap across the room at the villain strains my credulity.)

That was at least a major part of why the ending to MOS was so awful. Not only doesn't he kill, but he finds extraordinary ways to ensure he doesn't. He's clever and creative and thinks more than his foes. Not this one. 

Taking Superman to another planet for an adventure is not that different to taking him to the 30th century for Legion ones.

But there are so few Superman movies that he doesn't need a dramatic change of setting where he's just one more person of equal strength with everyone else. He needs his supporting cast to interact with and show what he's working to protect. "Superman Under a Red Sun" would be a better way to go to achieve equality--but I don't think that's what people want to see when they go see Superman. 

If nothing else, we've already seen him face villains who are as strong as he is twice. In the first version, he tricked Zod into being defeated, in the second one, he just used brute force. We need something different from Luthor and Zod by now.

One way to make  him more equal would be to use the Parasite. That would leave him on Earth but make him physically equal. Plus, who else is there? The Toyman?

(1) I have a theory that DC made a decision to take violence out of Superman's feature coming out of the 40s, and that this is a major reason why the 50s feature often seems staid.

I think that was necessary as his powers became more powerful, and he started flying and moving buildings. When someone hugely powerful is attacking weaker people, no matter how evil, it's tougher to keep them from looking like a bully. 

-- MSA

Maybe a Superboy movie with the reason that he has limited powers because he's younger would be good? His initial meeting with the Legion would be good.

There are a lot of reasons that won't happen.

Superboy clearly doesn't exist in the Superman continuity, so it would require big changes to introduce him and get him a costume.

DC will never license out Superboy, given the ongoing lawsuits and their reluctance to even do reprint collections.

It was done on Smallville, and while that doesn't prevent it, I doubt the scriptwriters want to redo that. Although the TV show also did long continuities with Zod. But Superman doesn't have many good villains to work with, so he was an obvious swipe.

Going to a prequel doesn't seem to be their best path to build up the franchise. Doing Superman meeting an ADULT Legion might work, though. But where do they go from meeting? I don't know that introducing more super-heroes on Superman's side makes him look less omnipotent or makes it easier to find a foe to battle, and I don't see him battling the Legion. That'd be a Marvel movie...

There's also a rumor going that Warners wants a Legion movie, and I doubt they'll include Superman in that, given the SvB movie and how as a teen, the current Superman was a bit of a mope. They should have cut his powers, if only due to him being younger in the movie--he did seem to have to strain to do some of the things while he was wandering. But they should've done a bunch of things they didn't do.

-- MSA

I was thinking of the Legion cartoon, that worked well I thought.

I agree with most of what's been said here, but one thing I want to interject is that we certainly could use more of superheroes enjoying their powers. These are power fantasies, after all, so let us vicariously enjoy the power now and then. As I've said before, I never liked or understood the assumed appeal of the Human Torch until I saw the first FF movie, and saw Chris Evans reallllllly enjoying his powers. I don't want to see, say, Peter Parker miserable all the time!

And Superman a mope, as boy or man? I could do without seeing that ever.

I was thinking of the Legion cartoon, that worked well I thought.

It did, but remember that throughout that, Superboy was called SuperMAN because DC didn't want to acknowledge that the cartoon had a Superboy that the Siegels and Shusters could someday get money for. I don't know that it would fly in a movie to do it that way.

Having the current guy meet teenagers wouldn't work, but there's no reason the LOSH has to be teenagers.

I never liked or understood the assumed appeal of the Human Torch until I saw the first FF movie, and saw Chris Evans reallllllly enjoying his powers

I agree, we got about 10 seconds of that in MOS and then it was back to being dead serious. I never really understood the joy of web-swinging to clear Peter's head until I saw the first movie and saw him moving around so freely so fast. Then watching him web up all those hoodlums in the blink of an eye really made all those static panels come alive. Spidey really needs NYC to work, and he really takes advantage of it to get places fast.

-- MSA

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