“This would be a good death…but not good enough.”
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice borrowed heavily from Frank Miller’s graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns. Unfortunately, it didn’t borrow from the film’s fantastic narrative. Just the visuals. Only the idea that an armored Batman would have to face down Superman. Otherwise they had very little to do with one another. Like Watchmen before it, many came to criticize Snyder’s adaptation of one of comics greatest works.
Unlike his Alan Moore adaptation, BvS didn’t even attempt to resemble the source material. Instead, it delivered an original story that was universally regarded as disappointing.
But what if that weren’t the case? When people heard that Ben Affleck was cast as Batman many had their doubts. But when the idea of a Dark Knight Returns–era Batman started making the rounds fans got excited. And why wouldn’t they? The Dark Knight Returns is one of the top two or three graphic novels ever written. It’s spawned countless toys, pieces of artwork, and poorly written replicas. But once again, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice wasn’t really among them. Most fans can argue that the final product is lacking. So what if Zack Snyder’s behemoth had actually adapted the narrative from which it derives its famous fight? Let’s see…
Where to Begin?
So, the point of Batman v Superman was to justify the fight between its two biggest foes. A neat concept. But the trouble with the idea is that you have to justify it. In the comic’s initial story, Superman has been manipulated into becoming a government enforcer. Since Batman is viewed as a true vigilante after a particularly marvelous Joker subplot, Superman is sent to stop his former friend. The fight that ensues is the one that BvS lifted for its penultimate fight. The problem is why they fight.
The movie starts with Bruce Wayne witnessing the damage committed by Zod and Superman in Metropolis. But ignoring all reason, he hates Superman for having any part in this destruction. While some fault is warranted, it wasn’t Superman’s intention to do any of that. In fact, if Superman had done nothing the world would have surely ended. It’s not as if there’s anything in Batman’s arsenal at the time to take out just one Kryptonian. But Bruce hates him all the same.
So the film begins with a hero we’re supposed to love hating the only superhero this universe has given us. Then, due to a particularly dumb plot by Lex Luthor, Superman loathes the extreme tactics Batman supposedly employs.
At the beginning of the graphic novel, Bruce has been retired for some time. But after seeing the decay rotting the streets of Gotham he comes back. To his surprise, it sparks a massive police chase for him instead of the villains he’s chasing. What if Batman was also retired at the beginning of the film? And instead of hating Superman he’s inspired by him. But much like the film, and the beginning of The Dark Knight Rises the old Bat realizes more people care about a vigilante than another hero.
The Plot Thickens
In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Lex Luthor plays the two heroes against one another by manipulating the both of them. Kinda. Bruce is still fairly ruthless. His murderous tactics were the cause of many a story at the time. And Superman is still an overpowered alien who could destroy the Earth on a whim. So what gives? Well, Snyder and company weren’t sure if the characters had ever realized that their Mothers have the same name. That becomes the basis of their friendship.
So, the greatest detective of the world starts the film by misunderstanding another hero and being manipulated by some shmuck. But what if it was just Superman getting played against Batman? He’s certainly evil-looking. Not to mention a surprise if he had just come out of retirement. So Lex could use his government influence, which he clearly has, to have the government try to partner with Superman against Batman. But who could be a perfect character to personify the government’s willingness to use one cape against another?
Why, none other than Amanda Waller.
What if the founder of the Suicide Squad was the one to actually send Superman after Batman? Her paranoia and willingness to go to the extreme is known throughout the DC Universe. She could be manipulated by Lex into this disgustingly evil plan. When Superman goes after Batman he’s conflicted. Audiences know that he doesn’t have the full picture. What if that becomes Batman’s vision? To teach the hero that inspired his return, but to also learn from Superman what it means to be super.
Building to the Future
The end of Zack Snyder’s second entry into the DCU ends with Batman grieving and Superman dead. Almost as miserable as they were within the film itself. But at least it wasn’t Batman who killed the Kryptonian. It was…Doomsday? Or, well a mutated version of Zod that closely resembled the villain famous for killing Superman. Many knew this was marking the death of the golden son of the DCEU. But, in its second film? Superman had been around for decades before he was killed in the comics. The death didn’t feel earned.
This then supposedly inspires Batman into founding a superhero team. Considering he didn’t want the world to have a powerful savior it’s surprising to then see him want to build one of his own. But what if Superman didn’t die, and the film actually depicted the events of the comic?
Fans know there’s no “Martha” moment in the comics. Batman induces a heart attack so that Clark would think he’d died. It worked. At his funeral Supes hears Bruce’s heartbeat somewhere out there and knows his friend is safe. What if Batman did the same in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice? At some point the two had a conversation about the course of events. And as it turns out, weren’t as stupid as the villains believed them to be. So they plan this fight that fulfills both Waller and Luthor’s visions, leading to Batman’s fake death.
Superman gets the government off of his back. Batman goes back into hiding and begins forming the “team” he sees as necessary. Amanda Waller becomes paranoid that something is amiss, and decides to go through with her Suicide Squad plans. And as Luthor learns of what happened, he has better motivation to begin the Legion of Doom.
Getting the Band Together
Most agree the reasoning behind the forming of the DCEU’s Justice League to be pretty…lame. There was really no indication of the worldwide threat that Luthor learns of in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Not to mention Steppenwolf didn’t turn out to be the interesting villain fans were hoping for. It’s an absolute surety that Warner Bros. should have waited years to make their team-up.
What if Superman and Batman had started building the team in silent? After the events of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice the world’s finest heroes work in tandem to find the heroes they think the future needs. From there, DC’s superheroes could have begun in their individual franchises. All the while the two most famous superheroes ever created approach them to be a part of something new. Having a “recently deceased” Batman emerge to recruit Ezra Miller’s Flash sounds like the premise to a film in and of itself. And something fans can get excited about.
It’s different. It feels earned. And most importantly, it isn’t what Marvel did. There’s no Nick Fury in the DCEU, that responsibility belongs to the trinity of its founding members. Instead of the foundation being one of mistakes and poor decisions, it could have been the unification of the greatest beings on the planet.
Not because they think something needs to be destroyed; not because they see some incredible monster to overcome. Simply because this is a planet that every one of them loves. Sometimes it needs protecting.
For a long time Zack Snyder was praised for borrowing visuals straight from their comic sources. Yes, it’s true that he did. Some of those visuals remain some of the coolest images ever realized in a comic book movie. But when the film doesn’t have anywhere near the gravitas or intelligence of the comic from which it originates fans will already start to judge it. Instead of truly adapting the story with a few unique changes, the artists behind Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice strung together the greatest moments of The Dark Knight Returns loosely with poorly made string. What ended up in theaters was arguably the beginning of the demise for Snyder’s ultimate vision for these characters.
Fans may never get to see the greatest Batman story ever adapted on the big screen. But that’s not a bad thing. The comic pages remain as bright, relevant, and awesome as they were when first released. It would be the wish-fulfillment dreams of countless people to see every great story told in a great live-action film. But instead of wondering what if, many choose to just read the story one more time.
If audiences are itching for a good story many have been sitting on countless comic book stands for years and years. DC Comics and Warner Bros. need only look to their comic shelves to reinvigorate their film franchise.