Thursday, April 23, 2015


I cannot say how much I hated this trailer. I do not understand how dearly beloved characters — or, as I suppose we must learn to say, "franchises" — get into the hands of people who don't understand them. In some cases who actively dislike them.

Who is this stuff for? I have complained before that children are aware of funny pirates that go "arrrr!" long before they have had a chance to be scared of Long John Silver; that people's first exposure to Dracula is in the form of Vampires Love Underpants. Yes, I have admitted that, for me, the Real Star Wars, the Primary Star Wars is Roy Thomas's comic; but we are raising up a generation for whom Star Wars (and Harry Potter, and Spider-Man, and Doctor Who, and the Lord of the Rings) were Lego figurines first and everything else afterwards.

Apart from anything else, this stuff is out of date. Thirty years of of date, and frankly it was already a bit old hat in 1986. But it is very nearly 50 years since the live-action Batman first appeared on TV, and we still, with a terrible, tedious reflexology begin every, single essay on comic books with the words "KAPOW! SMASH!" usually followed by "COMICS AREN'T JUST FOR KIDS".

Well, no; they are not. But it would be nice if there were comics that kids were actually able, or indeed legally permitted, to read. It has been said by cleverer people than me that Stan Lee raised the target demographic of super-hero comics from aged 10 to about aged 14. I encountered Spider-Man when I was 8. Yes, there was stuff which went over my head. There is stuff in Winnie-the-Pooh which went over my head. But there was no doubt that I was reading about a kid who was slightly older than me, who got bullied at school, with a fussy "mum" and amazing powers and scary baddies and cliffhanger endings.

Alan Moore to some extent forswore "darkness" in the years after Watchmen, and tried out things like 1963 and Tom Strong and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen — re-embracing his inner KAPOW! Frank Miller, admittedly, continued to embrace his inner spartan. But the movies have never moved on. It's as if Tim Burton expected Michael Keaton to ask the chicks if they wouldn't mine jiving a cup of java juice before laying down some hep grooves and burning their draft cards because dammit, that how Spider-Man spoke and that's obviously the last word in revisionist realism. (And yes, things really have become so predictable that we are looking back on the '89 Batman movie — which was little more than a collection of scenery for Jack Nicholson to chew — if not exactly with nostalgia, then at any rate with a sense of relief.) 

So yes, by all means, the Batman - Superman team. Batman "vee" Superman if you absolutely must. The Famous Batman used to stand in for Superman in weeks when Bud Collyer needed time off to recover from all the breakfast cereal he'd been eating. It was never very interesting. They were too nice, too similar. If you absolutely have to have groups of good guys, they need to be good guys who basically don't agree with each other. And a very long time ago someone spotted that Superman and Batman could be played as good guys who didn't agree about what being a good guy meant. Who maybe didn't even agree about what was "good". 

Superman: bright, shiny, noble, law-abiding, Boy Scout, almost to the point of being naive.

Batman, dark, dark urban, dark vigilante, the dark Dark Knight, the Dark Knight Darkens. 

Dark Batman is more interesting than the silly Batman (who never quite existed outside of the KAPOW! television series). Dark Batman is more in keeping with the basic premise of a character built of rage. But just because Dark Batman is cool is does not follow that Dark Superman and Dark Spider-Man and Dark Paddington Bear would be equally cool. The darker the dark character is the more he needs a bright character character to stand next to. And the brighter the bright character is the darker and cooler the dark, cool one will look. (This is the point of Robin.)

This is one of the things the X-Men movies fumbled very badly: they were so in love with Wolverine that they allowed Cyclops to be a wimp. And Cylcops cannot be a wimp. Cyclops must be tall and moral and impressive and heroic precisely because that makes Wolverine darker and scarier in comparison. 

Superman has a very simple narrative core. And yes, I know that this narrative core did not drop fully formed from the brow of Siegel and Schuster. There was a time when Superman was not yet Superman; when he couldn't fly and dropped wife-beaters out of windows and worked for a guy called George at a paper called the Star. The myth of Superman didn't arrive in a single blinding revelation; it grew. (And yes, it continues to grow. Pa and Ma Kent used to have always been dead, but now they have always been still alive.) But if there is one thing that has been consistent in every incarnation from cornflake packet to movie serial, it has been Clark Kent, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White. Not in any great big structuralist sense ("aha, of course, there must always be a Hero and a Hero's Love and a Hero's Friend and a Hero's Irrascible Boss Who Keeps Saying Don't Call Me Chief.") Just in the sense that that's how it has always been. That's the Tradition. There's this geeky little newspaperman, rather shy, very old fashioned; and there is this hot young newspaperlady, especially at a time when hot young newspaperladies weren't all that common, and the geeky little reporter is crazy about the lady reporter but he is outclassed, outshone, literally eclipsed by the BLOODY AMAZING GODLIKE SUPERHERO who keeps rescuing her and she doesn't suspect, not even for a moment, well, maybe she does, sometimes, just a little bit, that the geeky little man she hardly notices and the BLOODY AMAZING HERO are, get this, THE SAME PERSON.

Superman isn't about what would happen if an alien landed on earth. Superman isn't about how the human race would react to a god/God/ in their midst. Superman is about a perfectly ordinary little man who is also a god.

(And yes, once you have spotted that and told stories about bald headed supercriminals and little men in funny hats who disappear if you say their name backwards then of course you can squint your eyes and say "but in the 'language of the night' isn't the perfectly ordinary little man who no one pays much account to who is also God quite a lot like a much bigger and more special story?" Although I don't think that anything very interesting often follows from that observation.) 

So: I cannot say how much I hated this trailer.

FIRST we have dark, dark series of logos, and dark dark musical chords, and someone's voice speaking over a black screen and a dark, dark view of a New York / Metropolis skyline because all superhero trailers have to begin with a view of the New York / Metropolis skyline, because that says to people "it's okay, this is in the real world, it's not skiffy". (Nerd-trailers begin with a picture of stars or planets for the same reason.)

THEN we have dark pretentious voice-overs asking the sorts of DEEP PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTIONS that no-one would ever ask about a comic-strip character who wears blue tights. The main claim appears to be that being powerful is a Bad Thing in itself, because if you are powerful, people will want to follow you, and Lord Acton said that thing about absolute power corrupting absolutely.

I think that the thing about absolute power corrupting absolutely had to do with giving absolute political power to an individual. I think the idea is that if you or I or David Cameron were given the kind of political that Sadamm Hussien or Kim Jong-Un has, we would be tempted to use it and inevitably become as cruel and erratic as they are. The theory is not, I think, that weight-lifters are more immoral than biologists, and that Olympic weight-lifters are more immoral than those who compete at a club level and that therefore a man who could life a Soviet Space Capsule with one hand is likely to be completely immoral.

People who are better at recognizing voices than me think that it's Lex Luther speaking, so it maybe that we are supposed to listen to the pretentious voice-overs and think "what a load of obvious nonsense, I sure hope no-one falls for any of that" as opposed to "those are really interesting questions about the myth of Superman that have never occurred to anyone before, I am sure interested about how the film is going to Explore them." 

THEN we have scenes of people seeming to worship Superman in a way that no-one has ever done in the comic.

THEN we get a close up a statue of Superman, in an empty space (probably intended to recall Ground Zero) over which someone has scrawled "false god".

And we have dark shots of Batman, looking dark, thinking dark thoughts in square boxes.

And then we have lots of explosions.

And then we get him darkly confronting Superman in the dark.

(Has Batman been taken in by obviously silly propaganda by Lex Luthor? In which case is the rebooted Batman is a fool and a villains stooge? Or does Batman agree with the Big Philosophical Questions and think that the existence of Superman is a Bad Thing? In which case is the rebooted Batman a superhero who doesn't agree with the idea of superheroes?)

But anyway: that's very much where we are the moment. Big philosophical questions that no-one should ever have asked with explosions in the place where answers ought to be.  

Doctor Who fans talk about "my Doctor". My Doctor is the one with the scarf; your Doctor is the one with the stick of celery; his Doctor is the one with the plimsoles and the awful scripts. So, yes, just because my Superman is Christopher Reeve's doesn't mean that your Superman can't be Grant Morrison's or Smallville or the DC Animated Universe.

But are there really really really going to be kids for whom "my Superman" is a dark statue of dark darkness in a dark city with "false god" scrawled darkly across the darkness?

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