Last weekend at Comic-Con -- which, as I've recently mentioned, is the sensory equivalent of driving to Newfoundland in a clown car full of lampreys -- director Zack Snyder announced out of nowhere that his 2015 sequel to Man of Steel will also star Batman. (As of press time, it's unclear whether Christian Bale or Val Kilmer will don the cowl.)
Or Clooney, God help us.
This was an audacious move for DC Comics, as Marvel Studios has been trouncing them in the superhero films arms race and leisurely raking in the billions by tapping their B-List characters for blockbusters. (Remember, up until 2011, Thor's biggest screen role was in Adventures in Babysitting.)
Hell, by the time DC gets around to finally making a Justice League film (with Wonder Woman, The Flash, et cetera), Marvel will have run out of characters to support summer tent-poles and will be forced to make movies out of obscure shit Spider-Man hallucinated in random panels from the 1990s.
Yes, the above sentence was an excuse to talk about Venom Galactus. I'm hoping all 14 of you who know what the fuck I'm talking about enjoy it enough for the other 100,000 readers.
Anyway, Snyder also revealed this sequel -- which may very well be called Batman Vs. Superman -- will draw heavily from Frank Miller's dystopian 1986 graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns. In this comic, Superman attempts to arrest a 55-year-old, out-of-retirement Batman at the behest of Ronald Reagan. (27-year-old Spoiler Alert: Batman beats the living crap out of Superman.)
Of course, you shouldn't expect The Gipper to appear, but it's a fair wager that the Feds will ask Superman to detain Batman, then the Caped Crusader will use his lucre to build a Kryptonite pervert suit. (That, or this new Batman is a wizard. Everybody forgets that Superman's other weakness is magic.)
"Skeptical audience members will by overjoyed to hear that Batman uses an ancient wand to turn Superman into a common centaur. This transformation occurs in the opening credits and lasts the duration of the film, thus allowing disbelief to be properly suspended." -Rotten Tomatoes, 2015
A lot of folks are jazzed that Snyder's tapping TDKR for this next movie. ("It's iconic!" "It's whoop-ass!") Then again, a bunch of people aren't. ("It's an overly cynical relic of its times!" "Snyder will strip the comic of its philosophical underpinnings, just like he did with Watchmen!") But what nobody's mentioning is that TDKR is basically the only famous comic book starring both Batman and Superman a layperson might be able to name off the top of their head.
You see, most modern superhero films can trace their narrative DNA back to specific comic book story arcs. For example, Man of Steel drew from such well-received comics as All-Star Superman and Superman: Birthright, whereas The Dark Knight Rises cherry-picked plot points from three major Batman stories (including the "Geezer Bruce Wayne" motif from Returns).
"Hey guys, I'm back! And I'm gonna to fuck up Superman with my newfound knowledge of weird aperitifs!"
But big-name comic books starring just Superman and Batman? That's trickier. Even semi-famous stories that showcase the interactions between Bats and Supes (such as "For The Man Who Has Everything" or "Public Enemies") tend to prominently feature other DC Comics heroes in large roles. Don't forget, superhero franchises usually dole out new characters parsimoniously to avoid overcrowding the screen. Before 2012, did the public at large know who Bane was? Nope, he was just some no-name A-hole who was eclipsed by Austrian Mr. Freeze.
So we've established that there's a dearth of well-known comics starring both Batman and Superman bro-hanging, mano-a-mano. BUT there are hundreds of comics starring solely The Caped Crusader and The Last Son of Krypton, being pals. There is, however, a catch -- in most of these comics, Batman and Superman act like utter shitheads.
May we never forget the day Batman turned Superman into a homeless person because he evolved into a giant penis.
Yes, for four decades, issues of World's Finest Comics provided readers with tales of an extraterrestrial god-being and his best friend, a trust-fund karate master. Forget about 40 years -- this was a hard formula to write for 40 minutes, so we got a lot of plots like ...
3Batman and Superman Dicking Around
TODAY'S ADVENTURE: "Tennis!"
Given that one of your main characters essentially renders the other one useless, writers of World's Finest Comics always had to either A) shoehorn in ways to handicap Superman (Kryptonite, sorcery, alternate realities) or B) make each issue's stakes so low that Superman and Batman basically lolled around the Batcave with thumbs up each other's asses.
Of course, WFC hailed from an era when superheroes were unapologetic camp. Remember that scene in Man of Steel when Superman is buried in skulls? If such a scene unfolded in WFC, all of those skulls would be made of toothsome almond paste.
"I LOOOOOVE MARZIPAAAAAN!"
But in a singularly backwards way, Batman and Superman's antics in World's Finest Comics are unintentionally more realistic than any movie Snyder or Christopher Nolan could whip up. Let me put it this way: If you were the most powerful creature on Earth, your best friend was the smartest man on Earth, and your enemies all sucked at villainy, YOU WOULD CONSTANTLY BE BORED TO TEARS. In this light, Superman and Batman's goofball behavior make sense -- every day is a new struggle to alleviate their soul-crushing ennui.
Batman's Internal Monologue: "Christ, these dumbfucks really will take anything I say seriously. My genius truly is my prison."
2Batman and Superman Threatening Each Other for Kicks
Unsurprisingly, Batman and Superman's joyless, rote existence has led them to dabble in casual sadism -- World's Finest Comics sees Superman treat earthlings like sopressata marionettes. Take this 1969 issue of WFC, in which Superman and Batman time-travel back to Revolutionary America where Batman is unknowingly possessed by an evil jinn from Arabic folklore (because deadlines).
To scare the jinn out of Batman's body, Superman doesn't chuck Batman a mile up and catch him at the last second. No, Superman goes out of his way to mess with Batman for a few days by convincing the colonists Batman is a witch ...
Batman's boners have zero respect for the time-space continuum.
Burning him at the stake ...
Good job, Superman. You just undid the Enlightenment.
And finally, joining the British Army, just to capture Batman and execute him.
At bachelor parties, Superman brings his time machine and chrono-deletes your balls for a few hours.
Batman wasn't irked about any of this, as he's just as bad. If his parents had never died, Bruce Wayne would be hunting orphaned carnies on some unmarked Pacific atoll with Russian petro-oligarchs and Enron executives. In a 1967 issue of WFC, Batman and Superman pretend to be crime bosses who wear Batman and Superman outfits.
Jughead crowns = the ultimate deception.
And when their gangster henchmen capture the real Robin, Superman gets super-into the charade and barks the following command for no discernible reason whatsoever. (Again, Batman shrugs at this.)
"Oh, he speaks in a 'crime' accent. Definitely not Superman."