— ZackSnyder (@ZackSnyder) May 13, 2014
So as you saw, Zack Snyder posted the first picture of Ben Affleck as Batman yesterday, and the internet predictably went crazy. Also predictably, opinions have pretty much run the gamut of possible reactions, although by my unofficial gauge, it’s been far more positive than when Affleck was first cast.
For what it’s worth, I’m of the opinion that the picture and costume look great, although I’m very curious to see what things look like when color is reintroduced. But, hey, mine is just one man’s opinion. Hopefully without disappearing too far down the rabbit hole of fanboyism, let’s dig into a little more of what can be gleaned from this one…carefully released (I’m sorry if you actually think this was Zack Snyder acting alone)…probably manicured…black and white…(oh, you get the point)…picture.
So yes, we get Batman in the suit a partially obscured shot of the Batmobile (although when combined with this pic from yesterday, it actually gets us most of the vehicle). The two things that come leaping out to a relative Bat-nerd like me are the short ears and the massive emblem across the chest. Individually, they’re both pretty immaterial; the chest emblem and ears on Batman’s cowl have varied massively through the years of comics and other adaptations from the nubs in evidence here to twin peaks the height of a human head or more. It’s funny – when you think about the Nolan/Bale Batsuit, particularly the one from The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, the ears were about the most standard thing on the suit.
But I digress.
As Roberto has already pointed out, the combination of those two elements look a lot like this:
Those are both from Frank Miller’s seminal graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, which has been referenced since the announcement of Batman vs. Superman (or whatever this movie ends up being called). That doesn’t mean the film will be a direct adaptation by any means; in fact, I’d be very surprised if the movie even ends up as close to The Dark Knight Returns as Batman Begins did to another Miller work – Batman: Year One.
(Year One a great book if you’re even a little bit interested in Batman – Nolan and co. took a few plotlines out for the film, but the inspiration – and adaptation – is immediately noticeable.)
To take that a step forward, I dearly hope that Batman vs. Superman is not so nearly inspired by The Dark Knight Returns as Batman Begins is by Batman: Year One (which are parts of one stylistic whole, hereafter referred to collectively as Miller’s Batman).
Miller’s Batman emphasizes Batman’s physical prowess, and really, his physical brutality. Batman: Year One introduces a Batman who lives in a world devoid of supervillains – like the movie, there are clever, athletic, and/or well trained people who are capable of great things, but always that which is achievable in a real-world context. The world of Miller’s Batman may get comic-book-y at times, and in The Dark Knight Returns far more than Batman: Year One, but it’s always grounded in the reality of broken limbs. Even when Superman entered the picture, his fight with Batman boiled down to a might vs. might slugfest. It works particularly well in the limited run of the story because we can believe in an old and battered Bruce Wayne who is willing to literally give it his all to physically match Superman this one time. This is exactly the ethos Nolan’s Batman projected, right down to Batman’s apparent self-sacrifice.
Where that physical emphasis doesn’t work is in the context of a team of super-powered heroes. Watch the Justice League cartoon that ran through the early and mid-2000s. Batman’s role, more often than not, is not the physical enforcer, but the mental one. He’s got greater willpower than any other hero. He’s smarter than any other hero. He’s a detective. He’s got the wiles to achieve victory even when he’s far from the strongest man (or woman) in the room. I’ve got no problem with Batman still being able to beat the ever-loving crap out of some thugs, but if Batman vs. Superman and Justice League are to succeed, the Affleck Batman cannot be overly beholden to the Frank Miller version of the character.
But here’s where a little bit of Miller could be the right touch.
As imperfect as Man of Steel inarguably was, it did have a very purposeful, and at times very interesting, mix of real world grounding and supernatural fantasy. I’ll repeat: I don’t actually think it pulled the effect off very well, but you can see the intention. I was actually reminded of an X-Men movie while watching it. Pure fantasy meets pure reality.
Adopting a Batman who shares some of the Miller Batman’s stylistic qualities could be the perfect grounding for a hero squad that’s more reliant on fantasy that the Avengers ever was. Iron Man may be remarkable, but he’s still a guy in a suit. The Hulk has a non-Hulk form (Bruce Banner). Thor is your rough Superman equivalent, but Thor never seems as all powerful as Superman does. The Justice League has a flying man (Superman), a flying woman (Wonder Woman), a superhuman capable of supersonic speed (The Flash), and someone who draws his power from a magic ring (Green Lantern) as core members.
Which is all beginning to get a long way from, “Hey look! A picture of the new Batman costume!”
So is there anything meaningful we can glean from the picture?
Well, not really if you’re looking for anything more official than, “Yes, Zack Snyder is still an effective visual director, regardless of your opinion of his storytelling capabilities.” It’s encouraging, but it does come from its fair share of warning signs, and there’s not really much more that can be said than that.
Don’t see what the fuss is about?
Just you wait for the first picture of Star Wars.