Alright, we need to talk about Batman.
Word on the street is that both the studio and the director are in favor of putting more Batman and less Superman in the upcoming Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, which even in terms of a movie title has way more focus on Batman than Superman in something that was supposed to be a Man of Steel sequel. Of course we should take this, and any, piece of news with a grain of salt until we actually see the movie. But let's be honest, this sounds exactly like something they'd do, given their track record over the past 30 years or so.
And let me state this right off the bat (heh): Batman is a great character. Any list of the best superheroes needs to have him in the top 3 somewhere. Personally, I'm a Superman guy, so I'm probably a bit biased on certain areas, but there's no denying the fact that Batman is a compelling, inspirational, and completely badass character. I love the guy. But honestly, we are approaching peak Batman here.
If you've been paying attention to pretty much anything DC has put out over the past few decades, you may have noticed that Batman has slowly taken over their entire universe. And I'm not just talking comics (though the Bat-books currently consist of 17 different titles, not including team books like Justice League, Earth 2, etc. and upcoming limited series like Batman & Robin Eternal, and Dark Knight III, which is happening for some reason), but also movies, TV, animation, video games, and so on. What I'm saying is that if you're looking at a product with a DC logo on it, odds are it's going to include some reference to the Batman. Or his city. Or his sidekicks. Or his villains. Or some characters who may or may not one day become his villains so keep watching to find out!
The point is, DC's big gun is very clearly the Dark Knight Detective. And it's easy to see why they use the guy so much. He's had arguably more success than any other character since the seminal graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns back in 1986. In the dark, troubled, and brooding anti–hero, they have found a winning formula that works wonders, and have doubled, tripled, and quadrupled down on it. And that's not really a problem per se.
The problem is that DC has learned all the wrong things from Batman's success.
The Dark Knight Returns is objectively a masterpiece. It revolutionized the art form, and is essential reading not just for Batman fans, but for anyone looking to get into comics in general. Going forward in time from there, Tim Burton's Batman was an enormous hit, if a little bizarre in hindsight. Batman the Animated Series was a groundbreaking cartoon that exists in the minds of a lot of people my age as THE definitive Batman. Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight and the Rocksteady's Arkham Asylum series have set the bar for superhero adaptations in in film and video games, respectively.
Batman has had some huge hits in various media over the years. But instead of trying to give all their other characters big hits, DC has just been trying to make all their other characters Batman.
Without even getting into whether Man of Steel was good or not (it wasn't), it's pretty clear they were not trying to make the best Superman movie they could. The goal with that was to apply as much of the Batman formula to Superman as possible. And due to the nature of Superman, and the timeline in which these characters have existed for 75 plus years, the logic of that plan will never work.
In the most literal terms, Batman exists in a world that Superman created. Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster invented the idea of the superhero with Action Comics #1, and in some way or another, every mainstream American comic character that's come along since has at least been a reaction to the Last Son of Krypton. Superman is THE superhero. That's just the way it is. The fanboys can go back and forth all day about who's better (and that would probably be a better movie than the one we're getting next year), but if Batman was supposed to be the prototype for superheroes, they'd be called batheros. And that word just looks dumb.
In a world where everyone is a scowling, desaturated, sad person, Batman can't really stand out. And more importantly, all the other characters lose what make them special. The Justice League should be a collection of individuals all inspired by Superman in some way or another, with Batman sulking in the shadows as the creepy loner. It should not be Team Batman, starring Batman, with special appearances by 6 different Batman–lites.
Say what you will about the Marvel movies being "flavor of the week," but at least there's a bit of diversity in there. Yes, Iron Man definitely set the tone for their whole cinematic universe, but Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not the same movie as Guardians of the Galaxy, which is not the same as the Daredevil series, and so on. More importantly, Captain America, Star Lord, and Daredevil are all very different but also likable characters, who are all reasonably similar to their four–colored counterparts.
And there is one more problem with this whole Batman obsession:
If we trace the sort of "modern" Batman back to The Dark Knight Returns, the climax of that story includes Batman completely belittling, pummeling, and outsmarting Superman. At the time, this was Frank Miller's assault on the status quo (and probably a personal disdain for the Man of Tomorrow), but in 2015, this is just proclaiming to your fanbase that Batman is the best and he could totally win in a fight against anybody.
I could really go on about how much of a chump Superman is in that book, and how terrible it is that it seems to be the biggest inspiration for the next movie we're getting, but I'll try to wrap this up here. The point is, DC's biggest "must read" after Watchmen ends by proclaiming that Batman is better than Superman. So now we have a whole generation of fans who think that Superman sucks, and instead of giving him any kind of rebirth to the character's heyday like Batman got following the Adam West era, they just keep trying to retrofit him to the Batman mold. And it's not just Superman.
To be fair, I'm talking about the broad strokes over the sort of general corporate strategy here. There are plenty of really unique titles being published by DC, and of course characters other than Batman have had great stories. I'm actually a big fan of a lot of the DCYou books that are going on right now and I really hope they are successful. One of the best Superman stories of all time was published within the past 10 years, and I'd honestly place Geoff Johns's Green Lantern run as one of the most influential comics from the same period. And aside from Arrow, their television efforts appear to break away from Batman strategy (bategy?) quite a bit. I just wish it made better financial sense to do it more.
Batman is cool, DC; we get it. What else you got?