"Justice League" and why we need to kill Batman

I went to see "Justice League" the other day. Turned out that it wasn't nearly as bad as the reviews or the theater's empty seats led me to believe.

I enjoyed seeing a DC Comics "team movie" and liked several of the characters.

I liked Cyborg. The half-man, half-machine was tortured here but not overly so. He lightened up and had some fun, even letting out a cheerful "booyah" at one point.

I liked the Flash, though I don't see why he couldn't be the same actor/character as on DC's TV series. I bet some of the little kids in Flash t-shirts at my screening were confused by that, too.

I wasn't too crazy about Sea Conan. The thing that makes Aquaman interesting to me is he's a king, faced with the responsibilities and tough choices implicit to nobility. I don't get what this guy is all about, other than being big, bad and bearded.

Superman was surprisingly ok. After all its post-Christopher Reeve fumbling, DC finally got the character right here. Henry Cavill, as the Man of Steel, finally gets a chance to do more than glower and punch stuff. He even smiles and smiling, for Superman, is vital.

Superman is a guy who grins as he walks into a stream of bullets, knowing that, as lousy as human beings treat him and one another, he'll always do the right thing. He's the orphan who's adopted the Earth. He won't give up on us, no matter what. He's Super God.

And I love Wonder Woman. Present tense, because Gal Gadot wasn't just good in this movie, she's great every time she dons the starred tiara. She was great in the "Wonder Woman" solo film, she was the only great thing great in "Batman V. Superman," and she was great here. Her Amazon is inspiring, strong, noble and hopeful.

And while Steppenwolf as the film's big villain came off as generic and uninteresting, I enjoyed seeing elements of Jack Kirby's Fourth World - such as Boom Tubes and the Mother Box - on the big screen and I hope they'll be put to better use soon. Who's ready for a New Gods movie?

What I didn't like was Batman. Which is weird, because I've been a Batfan since I was  6. But here he was boring, annoying and utterly predictable. And it's not just Ben Affleck's fault.

You could put Jake Gyllenhaall, Ryan Gosling, Marlon Brando or Sir Laurence Olivier in that lumbering rubber suit, force him to speak in a ridiculously low tones and he'd still be just as dull.

Boring Man
The truth is, apart from the Lego movies, which succeed because they lampoon the character so well, Batman has been boring for decades.

Part of the problem is he's no fun. By stressing the character's darkness so much, filmmakers have buried his humanity. Bruce Wayne has vanished into his batsuit, and the batsuit has vanished into the Bat Tank and all the other absurdly oversized militarized paraphernalia the character hides himself in.

There's a scene in "Justice League" where Flash asks Bruce Wayne, "what's your superpower?" and Wayne replies, "I'm rich." It's funny, but it's wrong.

The character we've seen on film lately is Iron-Bat, not Batman. He's a knock-off of Tony Stark, but without the endearing caddishness. This Bruce, like Stark, is a playboy developer of military tech. But how do you make Bruce Wayne, the guy who hates guns, make guns?

By hiding him in that ungainly armor and all those ugly vehicles, DC's filmmakers have completely lost sight of the character. They need to kill off the absurdity Batman's become and, as they've done with Wonder Woman and now, seemingly, Superman, get to the roots of what makes him tick.

With Batman, it was never about the money or the stuff. Sure, the Batmobile - when it resembled something that would fit on an average city street - was cool. But what made Batman, himself, cool, was that he didn't have a superpower. He was just a strong, smart, resourceful guy.

He was also vulnerable. The excitement of watching him, or reading about him, was knowing that he's human and could be hurt or killed. But, in his big bullet-proof suit and in his big Bat-vehicles, he's now nearly as indestructible as Superman.

And, once, Batman had a personality. Look back at some of the best comics featuring the character, or the excellent 1990s Batman animated series, and you'll see a Caped Crusader who displays a range of emotions: From anger and frustration to sadness and joy. And he didn't growl all his lines like he was a pre-teen trying to hide the fact his voice hadn't changed.

That Batman was also sleek and stealthy, a creature of the knight. It's hard to be stealthy when you're driving a diesel-belching Bat-Tractor down the road. Hell, this Batman didn't even need his car half the time. He'd creep over rooftops or swing on a rope. And it was all much easier to do, because he wore a suit that allowed him to move smoothly, not like a muscle-bound middle-linebacker. This Batman didn't need bullet-proof armor because he was too quick and too adept at hiding in the darkness.

And this Batman wasn't driven by revenge. Revenge is stupid and one-note. Anyone can get pissed and lash out. This Batman was driven, in a weirder, more interesting way, by compassion. His parents were killed and he was hurt. His motivation to fight crime was driven by wanting to stop that - not for himself, it was too late, but for anyone else. He hated guns and violence, but used the latter to prevent more of it. His compassion also explained his decision to adopt Dick Grayson, a fellow childhood victim of crime.

When I think of this Batman, I think of those great 1970s Denny O'Neill-Neal Adams stories, when, after all those campy TV show years, that dynamic duo reached back into the character's mythos and brought back his essential elements.

I think of stories like "The Secret of the Waiting Graves," where Batman is alone, without gadgets or vehicles or sidekicks, puzzling through weird, dangerous and confounding situations and trying to do what's right. The story is gothic, spooky, mysterious. Batman doesn't radio in an airstrike from the remote-controlled Bat-Bomber.

So, do I expect DC to put its current plans for Batman on hold and re-boot the character in his 50-year-old gray cloth suit with blue/black cape and long pointy ears? Yes.

Of course they won't. But maybe what they will do is conclude that it's not just down to who you put in the batsuit, it's ensuring that the suit contains a human being.

Maybe Bruce Wayne needs to lose all his money. Maybe he needs to have a nervous breakdown or lose his memory. Maybe he needs his gadgets and vehicles to fail him. But for Batman to survive, this incarnation needs to die. The character should be stripped to its essence and be born again.

Strip away the armor and the toys, restore the vulnerability and humanity, revive the character's wit, heroism and self-sufficiency and you'll have a bad ass Batman that's far more interesting to watch.


  1. You are so right about Batman. I loved the 70's era Batman, who was dark and mysterious, but still had wit and personality. I'm not sure why anyone who acts like the present-day Batman would want to be a part of a group.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree. I would love to see the true Batman being depicted. The Batman who worked through his parents' deaths constructively. The Batman who relies on his intelligence and resourcefulness. The Batman who can sit in the Watchtower with other Justice Leaguers and play poker (and lose). The Batman who can and often smiles and appreciates his friends.