Saturday, March 19, 2016

Batman and Superman: Drawn to Justice

As published in Issue 74 of F*** Magazine



F*** looks at the animated escapades of the World’s Finest
By Jedd Jong

The Dark Knight will come face to face with the Man of Steel on the big screen at long last in this month’s superhero blockbuster, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The two big guns in DC’s stable of characters have not always seen eye to eye, but have been associated with each other since they first shared the cover of New York World’s Fair Comics #2 in 1940, having their first proper crossover story in 1952. Interestingly, the first shared storyline wasn’t in the comics but in the Adventures of Superman radio play, in 1945.

We’ll be taking a look at some of this duo’s memorable encounters in the realm between comics and live-action movies: that of animation.  For a long time, DC fans thought a live-action World’s Finest movie would be forever outside the realm of possibility, with an attempt in the early 2000s falling through. However, the various animated alternatives were more than an adequate substitute and after the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it will be fun to compare the common threads that movie shares with previous depictions of the earth-shattering first encounter between two very different heroes.

Super Friends (1973-1986)

Allow us to issue the disclaimer any writer has to when discussing comics-related media: this might be confusing. In 1968, CBS aired The Batman/Superman Hour, a Filmation animated series that consisted of episodes from The Adventures of Batman packaged together with shorts from The New Adventures of Superman and The Adventures of Superboy. Now, the name “The Batman/Superman Hour” naturally makes it sound like our heroes team up, but they do not and the Batman and Superman segments of the show are separate. The Batman/Tarzan Adventure Hour, aired from 1977-1978, shares a similar principle.

The first time Batman and Superman actually interacted with each other in a cartoon was in the animated series Super Friends, produced by Hanna-Barbera, the animation studio known for Scooby-Doo, The Flintstones, The Jetsons and Yogi Bear. Based on the Justice League comics, the first season of Super Friends featured Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Robin as the core members, with new characters being added over the course of the show’s run. Additionally, the sidekick characters of Wendy, Marvin and Wonder Dog were created for the show, for kids to identify with.

Super Friends popularised the catch phrase “Meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice…”, delivered by the Narrator. Super Friends was, as expected of Saturday morning cartoons at the period, generally pretty goofy and it’s been poked fun at a fair few times in recent memory. Also, even though this is the first time Batman and Superman are seen on the same team in a cartoon, their first meeting is not depicted. Episodes that focus specifically on the duo include Invasion of the Brain Creatures, in which Batman and Superman get possessed by – you guessed it – brain creatures, and Warpland, in which they’re pulled into a space warp and Superman is transformed into an eagle and Batman gets turned into an actual bat. It’s safe to assume these wacky fates won’t befall Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck.

World’s Finest (The Batman/Superman Movie) (1997)

The DC Animated Universe (DCAU), which began with 1992’s Batman: The Animated Series (B:TAS), is widely regarded by fans as the pinnacle of DC media outside the comics. Key figures in the development of B:TAS  and its follow-up Superman: The Animated Series (S:TAS) include animators Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski and writers Paul Dini and Alan Burnett. B:TAS was praised for its maturity, thematic complexity and the quality of its animation and voice acting. The success of B:TAS led to the creators of the show making a series starring Superman, which first aired in 1996 and was similarly well-received, with the general consensus being that it had updated the character for the 90s while retaining his spirit. The DCAU continuity would eventually encompass Batman Beyond, Static Shock, The Zeta Project, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, as well as four Batman-centric animated feature films.
In the S:TAS episode Superman: The Last Son of Krypton: Part III, Clark Kent’s beloved Ma tells him “I don’t want anyone thinking you’re like that nut in Gotham City.” Clark and said nut would finally meet in the three-episode World’s Finest arc, which was later re-packaged as an animated film and released on video as The Batman/Superman Movie. A joint venture between Wayne Enterprises and Lexcorp brings billionaire Bruce Wayne to Metropolis. As the Batman, Wayne has an ulterior motive: he is hot on the trail of the Joker, who has stolen a priceless statue known as “the Laughing Dragon”. The Laughing Dragon is carved from Kryptonite, and the Joker makes Lex Luthor this offer: for $1 billion, he will kill Superman. Wayne intends that the Wayne/Lex T-7, an insect-like robotic probe being developed by the two companies, be used for space exploration, while Luthor pushes for it to be fitted with guns for military applications. Superman disapproves of Batman’s brand of vigilantism and the two get into an argument as Batman is interrogating a thug. Further causing the tensions between the pair is Lois Lane, the reporter developing a crush on Wayne.

If Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ends up as much like the S:TAS World’s Finest arc as possible, we’ll be happy. There’s a great central conflict that brings the heroes together, they initially get off on the wrong foot but soon discover their differing approaches to justice are complementary, and we also get a villainous team-up, with the intelligent, conniving Luthor and the unrestrained, insane Joker as the antagonists.

Building off this fateful first meeting, Batman and Superman would form the anchors of the Justice League. This incarnation of the team had Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Hawkgirl, Green Lantern and the Flash as additional founding members.

The Batman/Superman Story (2007)

In 2004, an animated series called The Batman began airing. This show was unrelated to the DCAU, with a different voice cast, creative team and featuring character designs by Jeff Matsuda of The Jackie Chan Adventures. The Batman was not warmly received by fans of B:TAS and its affiliated shows, but things started to turn around with the fourth season, which introduced Robin (in this continuity, Batgirl became Batman’s sidekick first) and was closer to B:TAS in tone. In the last episode of Season Four, Batman meets Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Hawkman and the Flash aboard the Watchtower satellite, base of operations for the Justice League.

Season Five kicked off the with The Batman/Superman Story, a two-parter in which this version of the Caped Crusader and the Big Blue Boy Scout first meet. Superman has arrived in Gotham to deliver a check from the city of Metropolis to aid rebuilding efforts following an alien invasion of Gotham in the last season. This is interrupted by Metallo, who has been sent by Lex Luthor to kill Superman.  When Metallo fails, Luthor unleashes members of Batman’s rogues gallery, including Black Mask, Bane, Clayface and Poison Ivy, to finish Superman off after kidnapping Lois Lane. Luthor drugs Superman with Poison Ivy’s mind control gas, which Luthor has laced with Kryptonite. Donning mechanized suits of armour, Batman and Robin have to engage in combat with Superman, now under Luthor’s thrall.

Several voice actors from the DCAU were roped in to reprise their roles, including George Newbern as Superman, Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor, Dana Delaney as Lois Lane and Lex Lang as Metallo. Newbern replaced Daly as the voice of Superman in the Justice League animated series. Luthor co-opting Poison Ivy’s mind control plant spores to use against Superman is reminiscent of when Poison Ivy directly controlled Superman’s mind in the comic book arc Batman: Hush. Also, this incarnation of Mercy Graves, Luthor’s icy personal assistant, appears to be of Asian descent and is voiced by Singaporean actress Gwendoline Yeo. In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Mercy Graves is also Asian, played by The Wolverine’s Tao Okamoto.

When Batman brings up that Superman declined an invitation by Martian Manhunter to join the Justice League, Superman replies “I prefer to work alone.”
“So did I, once,” Batman answers. “But I found out you never know when you might need a friend.” Aww!

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)

Warner Bros. Animation and Warner Premiere have been steadily releasing direct-to-video DC animated films since 2007, putting out three such movies on average per year. These films do not tie in to the DCAU and while some of the DC Animated Movies are related, some are stand-alone stories directly adapted from existing graphic novels or comic book story arcs.

2009’s Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is based on Public Enemies, the opening story arc of the Superman/Batman DC Comics title. The comic was written by Jeph Loeb and pencilled by Ed McGuinness, with the animation style in this movie taking inspiration from McGuinness’ designs.

It’s Batman and Superman against the world as Lex Luthor is elected president, forming a government-assembled task force of superheroes including Captain Atom, Katana, Black Lightning, Power Girl, Starfire, and Major Force. The World’s Finest remain untrusting of Luthor, and their suspicions are confirmed when the President frames Superman for killing Metallo and puts a one-billion-dollar bounty on the Man of Steel’s head. Batman and Superman fend off a horde of supervillains, including Cheetah, Bane, Captain Cold, Black Manta, Deadshot, King Shark and Lady Shiva, in an attempt to prove Superman’s innocence. They also have to stop a meteorite from hitting the earth. In the meantime, Power Girl’s loyalties are torn, and government official Amanda Waller discovers the extent of Luthor’s schemes.

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies showcases just what a great team the Dark Knight and Man of Steel make and that it’s generally better off if they figure a way to work together instead of trying to take each other down. Voice director Andrea Romano fought hard to get many of the voice actors from the DCAU to reprise their roles. Conroy is back as Batman, Daly as Superman, Brown as Luthor and CCH Pounder as Amanda Waller. Allison Mack, who played Chloe Sullivan on Smallville, voices Power Girl.

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010)

Public Enemies was followed up with a direct sequel, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, based on the comics arc entitled The Supergirl from Krypton, also written by Loeb. This time, the animation style was based on the art of late penciller Michael Turner.

In this story, Batman and Superman first meet Kara Zor-el a.k.a. Supergirl, Superman’s cousin, when her spaceship crash-lands in Gotham Harbour. While Superman welcomes his long-lost relative and helps her adjust to life on earth, Batman has his suspicions of the newcomer. Agreeing with Batman, Wonder Woman and Harbinger take Kara to Themyscira where she can be trained, and Superman reluctantly agrees, preferring to watch over Kara himself. Darkseid, the ruthless ruler of the planet Apokolips, learns of Kara’s arrival on earth and plots to capture her and make her serve him as one of the Female Furies. When Kara is abducted, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman contact Big Barda, a former Female Fury who has defected to the side of good, to help them journey to Apokolips to rescue Kara. The Trinity has to battle a brainwashed Kara and break Darkseid’s control over her.

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse heavily features elements of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, a storyline in the comics focusing on the alien planets of Apokolips and New Genesis that was a combination of epic space opera and superhero fiction. The tyrannical supervillain Darkseid, considered one of the Justice League’s arch-nemeses and who succeeded in killing Batman in the comics story arc Final Crisis, was created by Kirby in 1970. Thanos, the Marvel supervillain inspired by Darkseid, debuted in 1973. Concept art for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice reveals Darkseid’s Omega symbol, which the villain uses to mark those he deems susceptible to his corruption. It’s very plausible that Darkseid could be the central villain of the two-part Justice League movie, due out in 2017 and 2018.

Battle of the Superheroes! (2011)

Batman: The Brave and the Bold is an animated series that ran from 2008 to 2011. The bright colours and cartoony animation style, as well as the storytelling, were nods to the “Silver Age” of comic books circa the 1960s. It’s sometimes dismissed as kiddie fare, the episodes are packed with Easter Eggs and loving obscure references for DC aficionados to pick out.

 Battle of the Superheroes! is a Season 3 episode which goes all-out with its Silver Age homages, complete with inter-dimensional imps and wacky talking animals. After battling a series of villains including Lex Luthor, Metallo, El Gar-Kur, Mister Mxyzptlk, and Toyman, Superman is infected with a Red Kryptonite necklace. Luthor secretly snuck the necklace to Lois Lane and the radiation from the Red Kryptonite makes Superman irrational and rage-filled. Batman must team up with Krypto the Super-Dog to hold off Superman until the effects of the Red Kryptonite wear off.

The suit of armour that Batman dons to fend off the Red Kryptonite-addled Superman is taken from The Dark Knight Returns (more on that in a bit). The concept of Red Kryptonite is taken from the TV series Smallville, in which this substance causes Superman to become erratic, emotional and makes him act on selfish impulses.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (Part 2) (2013)

The Dark Knight Returns, the seminal 1986 graphic novel by Frank Miller which was one of the key forces in changing the direction of comic books in the mid-late 1980s, has remained a cornerstone of the Batman mythos even though Miller’s later works are of very questionable quality. The graphic novel was adapted into a two-part animated film, starring Peter Weller (RoboCop) as the voice of an elderly Batman.

The centrepiece of Part 2 is an epic throw-down between Batman and Superman, with the Man of Steel being dispatched by President Ronald Reagan to put an end of Batman’s unchecked vigilante activity. Batman teams up with Oliver Queen a.k.a. Green Arrow, now missing an arm and sporting a full beard. Green Arrow fires Kryptonite arrows at Superman to weaken him while Batman dons a powerful armoured exo-suit to go mano a mano with Superman.

The Dark Knight Returns is one of the main points of reference for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The grizzled, veteran Batman with a stockier frame draws from his depiction in The Dark Knight Returns, as does his use of a full suit of robotic armour to fight Superman. It will be interesting to see how Batman v Superman re-fashions this into a story of the duo’s first encounter, seeing as they’ve already known each other for years at this point in the graphic novel. Star City 2046, the episode of the TV show Legends of Tomorrow, also draws on The Dark Knight Returns, with Oliver Queen sporting a scraggly beard and a robotic arm.

Justice League: War (2014)

This animated movie is based on the Justice League: Origin storyline from the comics, that was the foundation for DC’s comprehensive “New 52” reboot in 2011. The event storyline known as Flashpoint (adapted into the animated movie Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox) wiped the slate clean, and in this story the heroes of the Justice League, including Batman and Superman, meet for the first time.

The story takes place against an invasion of Parademons, Darkseid’s troops. When Batman and Green Lantern first meet Superman, Superman believes the two are working with the Parademons and engages in fierce battle with them. As far as first meetings between Batman and Superman go, this one’s definitely of the “hit first, ask questions later” variety. Eventually, Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg and Shazam form the Justice League.
While some viewers enjoyed the film for its depiction of the heroes not getting along, the drastic changes in the characters’ personalities as part of the reboot did not sit well with others. Several elements of the New 52 will be carried over into the DC Extended Universe, including Wonder Woman’s reworked origins where she is a demigoddess and daughter of Zeus, instead of being carved out of clay by her mother Hippolyta. 


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