As we continue the rising tide of build up for the new starting point to DC Comics cinematic universe Empire has devoted their latest cover to Superman and Batman. This is in conjunction with Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice, one of the dopiest and most misspelled titles this side of Star Trek Into Darkness. This cover marks the first time any official media has put the two stars side by side in addition to a much better static look at Batman then we’ve seen in any of the promotional stills. There’s been the occasional trailer moment of clarity but this is different. This cover is DC and their WB handlers putting their best forward with this film and introducing us to the designs and visuals of the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel. And they look…kind of dopey and ridiculous, much like this entire production.
For the most part Superman’s costume looks pretty much the same as it did in Man of Steel. It’s still got the weird and superfluous cufflinks and the awful texturing that makes the suit look like it’s made from reclaimed tire rubber rather than the chainmail aesthetic I think the costume designers were stabbing towards. The biggest new addition, or at least most obviously new, is the strangely visible belt buckle on his suit in this picture. In Man of Steel all Cavell’s Superman was sporting was a peculiar golden disk on his crotch that connected to a metal support structure designed to accentuate his abs. The support structure is still visible here only more toned down and with colors blended into the suit design overall but the square buckle at the waist is a welcome change. I know these seems like a small thing to bring up but it really highlights the very backwards approach DC/WB are taking to this film and its relationship to Man of Steel. Like basically all the major decisions coming out of Warner Brother’s comic book arm the thinking seems to be that rather than change anything about their approach they should just fall back on the old standard of throwing Batman at it, hence this cover.
Speaking of, let’s talk about the Dark Knight himself, as he is easily the most ridiculous part of this whole cover. There are some good aspects to the design like the texturing looks better as it seems more like an actual costume than the thick rubber of the Burton years or the tacti-cool armor of the Nolan era. Additionally the utility belt looks shockingly functional and Affleck’s physicality is downright spectacular. However all of that falls a part as soon as you look at his face and head. I don’t know whether this is the fault of the cowl or just how he was positioning his head but it’s painfully obvious the mask and cape were not designed for mobility on this suit. I’m guessing this might also have something to do with the angle and lighting of the shock as it seems that his neck has just disappeared into the folds of his cape. It all has the effect of making him look like he’s scrunching his head down to avoid from bumping into the empire sign.
Now obviously none of this is really a reflection on the film but I do think it serves as a great microcosm for the plethora of issues that have plague Batman v. Superman’s marketing campaign. It’s been 2 years since the film was first announced and since then the steady drip of teaser images, posters, and trailers has been divisive to say the least. Some folks have really responded to the campaign, showing a lot of enthusiasm for the film’s titular conflict while others, like myself, have had a harder time getting into the spirit. For me, what’s always held me back from really being on board with Batman v. Superman is how much the promotions end up draining away the film’s cool by going over the top with it. Like this cover or Batman’s infamous “do you bleed?” line from the first teaser, it all smacks of something that’s trying to be an approximation of cool out of a desire for affirmation more than anything else.
That’s part of why I’ve found the film’s hero worship of Batman to be so alienating even though I’ve been a dedicated Bat fan since before I could read. What it comes down to is what Batman v. Superman actually sees and values in Batman, which itself is just a reflection of the common question “why is Batman cool?” This is a question basically every nerd has hard once or twice and the standard answer is always “because he doesn’t have any powers,” but that answer comes with a great caveat. What we’re saying there is that Batman is cool because he doesn’t need help, because needing help or relying on other people isn’t cool. That’s why so often “cool” Batman is only defined as someone who single handedly punishes the innocent. This outlook infects the entire projected ethos of the film. The film wants you to root for Batman and side with him because he’s cool and adult, because he’s a lone wolf hero who punishes the guilty unlike Superman who is the living embodiment of cooperation and helping others. That’s why it’s so alienating and disappointing that the film wants to frame itself as an affirmation of superheroes and comic books as mature storytelling. Batman v. Superman wants to stand up loudly and declare that superheroes are adult, they’re mature, they’re realistic, but it’s definition of all those things boils down to “refusing to accept help or offer it to others,” and that’s a pretty stunted view.
Warner Brother’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice comes out on March 25th, 2016