Thursday, July 21, 2011


This is an outgrowth from a discussion I've been having on facebook about the prospect of the upcoming third Christopher Nolan Batman film, 'The Dark Knight Rises,' which, despite the shit title, benefits from the fact that Nolan is, by and large, batting a thousand at this point.

If you have nine minutes handy, here's a summation of the Bane storyline from the mid-90's Batman comics. Also, the guy makes a dashing caprese salad.

Batman has been tremendously well-served by Nolan in the past two films. I doubt you could find a moviegoer or a Batman fan that didn't find 'Begins' and 'Dark Knight' at least highly enjoyable, if not definitive in their interpretations of the character. By grounding him in reality--again--Nolan has cemented what works about Bruce Wayne and put it all up there on screen.

The rest of the DC Universe has not fared as well.

I'm a DC Comics fan, as much as I think brand identification is utter claptrap. My father would--and probably still does--make jokes at the expense of Chevy cars in favor of Ford, despite the companies being, at least to me, virtually interchangeable corporate giants, based out of the same city, delivering essentially the same product. Fanaticism toward corporate properties has bugged me for along time, but at least in the case of fictional people, I have a preference.

Let me pause for a moment. If by some quirk of fate you have stumbled on to a corner of the web that calls itself "Strontium Lullaby" and are *not* a comic-book fan, first I apologize. Second, by way of explanation, there are two comic-book publishing houses which own pretty much every superhero you might ever have heard of: DC and Marvel. Marvel is owned by Disney but has its own film department now (after that film department's maiden voyage, 2008's 'Iron Man', excelled so greatly) but has licensed other of its properties to other film companies, like Spider-Man to Sony. DC, despite being wholly owned by an entertainment conglomerate, has had less in the way of success this decade in putting out superhero films.

Briefly: Marvel=Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Fantastic Four.
DC=Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman.

One of the questions I was asked was "what's the difference between the two houses?" and the answer is, at this point, not much. However, when Marvel Comics debuted in 1961 (taking some characters from an older company, Timely) their approach was quite a bit different. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and others sought to infuse a bit of humanity to their creations. The DC heroes, outgrowths of their 1940's selves, were still iron-jawed icons, lacking in solid characterization. Marvel wanted to cater to a slightly older demographic than superhero comics had originally shot for. The result was Spider-Man struggling with keeping up the rent while Batman had to wear a different colored cowl every night.

This is a generalization, and by the late 1980's would be largely moot, as comics struggled to grow up after 'Watchmen' and 'The Dark Knight Returns' served as such industry game-changers that everybody was struggling to keep up with them, while learning all the wrong lessons in the process.

So as a DC fan, I'm a bit...well, saddened isn't the right word, exactly...irked? Vexed. I'm a bit vexed that Marvel has managed to pull out all the stops on getting its properties to the big screen. I'm not even talking the winners here, like 'Thor', 'Iron Man', or the first two 'Spider-Man' pictures. They've put out films for 'Ghost Rider', 'Daredevil' and 'Elektra', which were, really, just frigging awful, as well as TWO sucky 'Fantastic Four' movies an a pair of Hulk films which keep hitting just to one side of the mark. In contrast, DC, which is already owned by a tremendous media conglomerate and doesn't have to shop its properties out to all and sundry, has managed in the past decade of the superhero film to produce two tremendous Batman films, an anemic and misguided Superman picture, and a tone-deaf Green Lantern adaptation. Also Smallville. Which sucked, despite the fact that it was a primetime TV show that had Deathstroke: The Terminator waterboarding Aquaman and the Green Arrow. How you get that kind of thing wrong is beyond me.

That's my missive. There's not much point to it, really, just that I'd marginally prefer a good Flash film to a good Iron Man one, and far and away would prefer a decent adaptation of Superman to, really, just about anything.

One final thought on Bane. He's not exactly well known outside the comics. Guys like the Joker, Riddler, Catwoman, they've all been featured in numerous adaptations beforehand, so, when you get something like Heath Ledger's revelatory performance as the Joker, part of what makes it work so well is the contrast, to Jack Nicholson, Cesar Romero, and to (a sadly lesser extent) Mark Hamill. He appears in 'Batman and Robin' briefly, but as an unmemorable thug

Bane isn't like that. Neither, interestingly enough, were the Scarecrow and Ra's Al Ghul. Both made appearances in the animated Batman series, but neither of them with the prominence of the regular Batman heavies, and neither of them appeared in Batman '66. (Ray wasn't created until '71, and really wouldn't have fit 66's palette anyway).

I think part of the reason Bane was chosen for this film was that there must have been tremendous pressure on Nolan to create another dark, gritty version of a classic Batman foil. Let's make the Riddler a psychopathic nutjob, too! Asses in seats, guaranteed! To try and deconstruct one of these guys. To say nothing of the poor schmuck who has to play the deconstructed Riddler/Penguin/Mr Freeze. Think deranged ice-cream salesman. Asses. Seats.

So you take a character who, in the comics, is an extremely relevant part of the Batman mythology, but otherwise relatively unknown. Bane works because he, like the Joker (and like the best foils in all superhero stories) is a mirror for the protagonist, an anti-Batman, but with the same drive and determination that drives our hero.

Now, if only someone will make that Green Arrow movie.