“I write about book and comic books for the NPR website,” is a familiar sentence to fans of the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. It’s how regular show panelist Glen Weldon always describes what he does at NPR. However, away from the tote bag-covered hallways of public radio Weldon also writes books. Simon & Schuster published his fantastic retrospective Superman: An Unauthorized Biography in 2013. Weldon is back with The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture meaning he’s on the promotional tour at the same time Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is displeasing critics but delighting hardcore fans. The obvious question: where does Weldon fall on the love it/hate it divide for Dawn of Justice?
He’ll have to get back to you. At the time of his recent interview with NPR’s Audie Cornish he had yet to see Batman v Superman. However, he’s happy to acknowledge that it may present versions of the characters that aren’t quite for him, and that’s okay.
Audie Cornish: What are you looking for from Batman v Superman.
Glen Weldon: A story is all I ever want from these characters. They work on an elemental level…
AC: But it looks so dark.
GW: Yeaaaah. This is the thing: In the 90s, comics became extremely dark, violent and gritty, but they also became hugely popular. This is the time of the comics boom when people started collecting and thinking that they could take “The Death of the Superman” issue and pay for the kid’s colleges. Not true, and there was an inevitable bust. But the kinds of comics you like when you’re 13 are the kinds of comics you like forever. Zack Snyder was probably about 13 in the 90s, and from everything I’ve seen it looks like he’s making a 90s comics, which is not for me. And that’s the point of my book. You can pick and choose whichever version of Batman you want.
He actually guessed wrong. By 1990, Zack Snyder was 24. The truly influential Batman comics of his teen years would have been Dennis O’Neal’s celebrated run in the 1970s and then maybe Frank Miller’s iconic The Dark Knight Returns. However, I can relate to Weldon’s impression of Batman v Superman as looking like the type of thing which simply isn’t for him, especially since all of the early reviews seem to confirm the “If you didn’t like Man of Steel, you won’t like this” fears which have plagued this film since its announcement. If true, that could have larger implications for the future of the DC Cinematic Universe and truly upset those who are emotionally attached to different versions of these characters.
However, that’s entirely Glen’s point: there are other options. If Batman v Superman isn’t for you there are an embarrassingly long list of influential comics, cartoons, animated movies and older live action big budget and low budget features you can turn to. At the same time, not every person who contributed to Man of Steel’s $668 million worldwide box office walked away disappointed. Plenty of people loved that movie and don’t get all the hate thrown its way. Those same people will likely geek out over Batman v Superman like no other.
As for me, I’m preparing for the likelihood that Batman v Superman will be a Zack Snyder movie through and through, and to have ever expected any different would have been foolish. After you’ve had enough go arounds with certain directors you inevitably have a feel for whether or not you two are compatible. Zack Snyder and I, as it turns out, are not compatible.
So whenever I see Batman v Superman I’ll give give in to the spectacle, realize that Ben Affleck’s not a bad Batman, wonder why they didn’t give Wonder Woman more to do, debate if Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor steals the show or ruins every scene his campy hands touch, and walk away thinking, “Yep. Pretty much what I expected this to be based on the trailers.” Then I’ll re-watch Batman: The Animated Series/Justice League/Justice League: Unlimited and delight in again being in the presence of the versions of the characters I prefer.
Or it could prove me totally wrong. I am not optimistic that it will. What about you?
Different people come to this character and bring different things to him. Christopher Nolan looks at and says, “This is a great way to explore the surveillance state.” A lot of people see Batman and Robin has sort of gay icons. There’s also the Batman television show which made him a buffon. You can look at the Adam West Batman and the Christian Bale “Swear to me!” Batman and see that they’re the same person, not because of the bat ears but because they’re all motivated by the same thing which is the oath, “What happened to me is never going to happen to anyone else.” It’s a very childlike notion, but it’s also a very hopeful notion which is why when people just see the rage and mistake his mission for vengeance they’re missing something very important about this character. He is not dedicated to tracking down the man that killed his parents. He is dedicated to fighting capital “C” crime. It opens out into the world. He’s not an action movie hero. He’s not Charles Bronson. He is a superhero which means they take the entire world under their wing and say, “I will protect you.” That’s what’s hopeful about these characters, not just rage.