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Superman/Batman – A Writer’s Take – Part One

Batman. And Superman. And a woman I don’t know.

So, as usual, I’ve neglected my blog somewhat. That tends to happen when you’re writing a spec screenplay, the new Bloody Cuts episode and working up pitches for a number of projects I won’t mention here.

But, in the interests of having some fun and producing some new material for my readers (all 3 of them) I thought I’d explore something that might be of interest.

As a writer I’m constantly trying to come up with new original material for screenplays. But a lot of the time I find myself wondering about how I’d approach existing properties, film series or characters. For example, a fair amount of recent mental bandwidth has been spent mulling over how I’d approach a Halloween or Friday the 13th film (perhaps I’ll post that at some point). Now some might say this is in the realms of fan fiction – nothing wrong with that I may add – or a waste of time as I should be working on original material. There’s a certain point to be made there – but I disagree. Certainly, as a screenwriter trying to break into the industry then your focus should always be on self-generated ‘spec’ material. But once you’re inside Hollywood a great deal of work for professional writers comes from writing assignments, working on intellectual property from other sources such a comics, games or TV rather than original material. This is where having ideas and practice on how these can be turned into screenplays successfully becomes a very important tool in the screenwriter’s arsenal. So – I figure having ideas or concepts on existing properties and kicking around ideas – even just as practice – is a worthwhile thing.

But hey – you saw the title ‘Superman/Batman’ above. Where’s the super-hero stuff come in Morgan?

This post – and the ideas behind it – were inspired by this article on the Scriptshadow website. Now, I visit the Scriptshadow website a fair bit – I don’t agree with a lot of what he does or indeed much of his analysis but its usually entertaining. Essentially what Carson Reeves says here is that a Batman Vs. Superman film won’t work for numerous reasons and that writing a screenplay for it is an impossible task.

Now, I disagree. Certainly it’s one of the most premium writing assignments in history with a ton of things – especially money – riding on it. The pressure to deliver a workable story that pleases studio executives, actors and fans alike is huge. But impossible? No. My main issue with Carson’s opinion here is that it shows a lack of understanding of both the concept and characters.

His approach is that  the film will be Superman Vs. Batman, and that’s the reason it will fail. I agree – but I don’t think that the film at its core will be a Superman Vs. Batman story. The theory here is that the climatic battle between Superman and Batman will be just that, climactic and set at the climax at the 3rd act. Reeve’s issue is that there are a number of ways this won’t work – the motivation for the two characters to be at each others throats, the mixing of tones between the two of them, the fact that Batman is weaker than Superman. These are all fair points, but they miss the major point —

This won’t be a Superman Vs. Batman film — it’ll be a Superman and Batman team-up film. Yes – they’ll fight. Everyone wants to see that. But that shouldn’t be the climax of the film and I suspect it won’t be.

The consensus that Superman and Batman will take each other on is based on the announcement made at Comic Con by Zack Snyder where a portion of The Dark Knight Returns was cited. For those of you unfamiliar with that click below —

In TDKR, Superman (depicting as a government stooge) is tasked with taking out a grizzled, older Batman who has gone rogue and broken his self-imposed vow of not killing. It’s an all-time classic fight – one of my favourites – and involves Batman beating Superman with superior tactics, grit, self-belief and a pair of Kryptonite gloves. A great deal of fan reaction and opinion seems to be that this scene will be the basis for the film’s story. Again, I respectfully disagree. I think Bats and Supes will and should fight (and the kryptonite angle seems obvious) but I don’t think it’ll play out like this.

In previous versions of a Superman/Batman screenplay this was indeed the basis of the plot – Superman hunting a Batman who has gone off reservation. Indeed, it’s the core of a draft by Andrew Kevin Walker and Akiva Goldsman Scriptshadow discusses here . I haven’t read this draft but I think Carson does have a handle on why this particular take doesn’t quite work. Internet commentators have made a great deal of why, following ‘Man of Steel’, that the motivations behind Superman and Batman’s antagonism won’t work. Batman has always had a vow against killing, even letting the Joker live on numerous occasions. Superman isn’t a killer either – although he’s broken that vow a few times in the comics and kills Zod in ‘Man of Steel’. Much has been made of the carnage and death left in the wake of Superman and Zod’s Metropolis battle at the end of ‘Man of Steel’. So – people say – having Superman hunt a Batman because of his willingness to kill is both illogical and hypocritical – and won’t work as a plot point.

I agree wholeheartedly – which is why I don’t believe that Superman hunting Batman, will or should be, the focus of the Superman/Batman film. Let’s look at where Superman ends up following the climax of ‘Man of Steel’. He’s saved the world, revealed himself as a super-powered alien and whilst defeating a greater threat in General Zod he’s also wreaked havoc across a major American city which has left many people dead and injured. The military and government don’t fully trust him – why would they? Whilst Superman agrees to assist them, it’ll be on his terms. Essentially he’s a one-man rogue state who is himself a weapon of mass destruction.

So in the shared filmic universe who here is the threat? A masked vigilante from Gotham who beats up criminals? Or an alien with godlike powers who’s already killed – even by accident – hundreds of Americans? Therefore – based on ‘Man of Steel’ it seems clear to be it won’t be Superman hunting an out of control Batman but vice versa – Batman (the paragon of all it is to be human) hunting or trying to stop Superman.

Now – as I mentioned earlier – this plot point isn’t the whole story. In fact pitting Superman versus Batman should be (and I imagine will be) the 1st half of the story. The Scriptshadow article above seems to have a lack of understanding of the nature of the classic comic book team-up. The genre trope of the team-up is that two heroes, often differing in methods and ideologies, come to blows, realise the error of their ways post-fight and then ally to defeat a common foe or threat bigger than themselves. A classic film example of this is the Iron Man versus Thor fight in ‘The Avengers’. Now – in many cases both heroes are pitted against each other by the machinations of a villain, they are tricked or manipulated in some way. Again – the first time the Avengers meet in the Marvel Universe is when Loki manipulates The Hulk into fighting Thor and Captain America and Iron Man get involved. This fight and eventual team-up happens in the beginning of the 1st act or during mid-point of these team-up stories, and that’s how I’d play the Superman/Batman screenplay.

This – a pitting of two heroes with different methods and ideologies against each other by a villain – is the core of the team-up, and should be the basis for the 1st and 2nd act of a team-up (not versus!) film like Superman/Batman.

But how to do that? What would be an exciting, interesting and plausible way to combine  Superman and Batman (along with their respective supporting characters) in a team-up film? What villain to use? Why are Batman and Superman at each others throats?

Now I was going to reveal my take on Superman/Batman in this blog-post, but what was an introduction has turned into a small essay, which is why this has been labeled ‘Part 1’. However, over the next few days I’ll be working on a summary of my ideas on how a Superman/Batman film could, and may possibly work, for your reading pleasure.

In the mean time, feel free to comment below. And if you want to see what I’ve already done with Superman and Batman, there’s a spec comicbook script for a JLA/Authority cross-over downloadable on this page of the my blog.

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