Filling The Bat-Shoes
Before I get going, don’t get me wrong – the Pattinson Batman looks fine. He’s a good actor, he’ll be able in the role, the production looks pretty good, the aesthetics are fine, etc, etc.
But, like, was anybody else just so…tired watching that? Every beat seems utterly predictable, the conflict seems deeply deeply familiar, and I just couldn’t summon up any excitement. Which is weird, because I’ve always loved Batman. For a long time he was my favorite superhero – clever where others are powerful, resourceful where others are simply aggressive. He was the thinking superhero, not another flying guy with laser-beam powers.
And Pattinson’s Batman seems to be that! If anything, he looks like he’ll be more of a thinker than a number of other iterations. Still, I’m just struggling to generate interest. I think I know why, too.
You know Die Hard? Sure you do. Who doesn’t love Die Hard? John McLane, the regular cop in the strained marriage, trapped in the office tower surrounded by machine-gun toting terrorists. Man, what a story. The next couple sequels were pretty good, too (though less so the fourth and fifth installments). John McLane is great!
But say, just for argument’s sake, they were to re-make Die Hard. Not a sequel – just the first one. Nakatomi Tower, Christmas party, Hans Gruber, etc. Put a different cast in there – Vince Vaughn as McLane, or Liev Schreiber. But, you know, same basic set up. Sure, you’d go.
But then say they did it again, ten years later. Different cast, same set-up. And again five years after that. And again. And again.
At what point do you stop going to see Die Hard?
See where I’m going with this? Ultimately, what all the Batman remakes have degenerated to is aesthetics. What does the Batsuit look like? What about the Batmobile? Who is playing who? What’s the tone?
The story? The story is exactly the same. The themes are essentially the same, too (though they have slightly different focuses, slightly different messages they’re trying to get across). People call this Batman “a gritty take” but Batman has been a gritty, dark character for decades. What we’re talking about is not the presence of grit, but the quality and texture of said grit. This Batman wears eye-liner, you see. But not the same eye-liner as Keaton did. Messier eye-liner.
“But you like pizza and it’s just a difference of texture, right?” says you. The difference between pizza and movies is that a movie is forever. I can watch The Dark Knight any time I please and it’s just as present as The Batman will be. Food is, by its nature, more ephemeral. And anyway, don’t you get tired of eating pizza sometimes and eat other a stuff for a while. Don’t you shake up the toppings?
A friend of mine tweeted that Batman has become our modern-day Hamlet – a universal character that young actors cut their teeth on, but the story never really changes. It’s the same thing.
In that respect, Pattinson both has his work cut out for him and he doesn’t. The movie will be a success, just like Hamlet always is, but it will also be boring. Only the performances will let it stand apart. No pressure, I guess.
For me, I’m tired of Batman. I’ve been done with the character since Lego Batman so thoroughly exposed how empty and repetitive those plot beats are. That doesn’t mean I’m done with Gotham. I loved Birds of Prey and will pay money to see Margot Robbie reprise the role anytime she likes. I think we deserve a Batgirl movie. I think we should do a Batman Beyond and more with the Robins – Nightwing is particularly interesting. There’s just so many other stories to tell in that space that we just never see because we have to hear those gunshots ring out in the alley and see those pearls hit the pavement, again and again. We have to go through Commissioner Gordon learning to trust Batman, over and over. Another young actor in a cowl, punching clowns.
I don’t know if I can do it again. I mean, we’ve already seen this movie. All of us have. Is it worth the price of admission anymore? I doubt it.
I Want a Wonder Woman Video Game
I stumbled across this gif today:
This, folks, is badass. Wonder Woman (Diana) is depicted doing stuff like this all the time, too (especially in the cartoons) and is one of DC’s heavy hitters alongside Superman, Batman, and Green Lantern (and she’s cooler than Superman and Green Lantern by half, too). And yet, very little love coming her way. We should totally change that, obviously, and I submit that, while movies would be cool, I think she’d absolutely rock in a video game.
By now, the Gods of War/Arkham Asylum format of third-person adventure game is pretty well known. Diana, as luck has it, fits into this format wonderfully and would make a really cool character to use. Why?
Wonder Woman’s lasso is a really cool, stylish weapon to be wielded in a video game. You could use it to grab enemies and items from afar, swing from ledges, trip people up, interrogate bad guys, etc, etc.. It’s basically made for a video game format.
Everybody loves deflecting bullets with their lightsabers, so why not do the same thing with her bracelets–built in defense, cool effects (ricochet bullets into other targets! Re-direct the boss battle’s big attack at the crucial glowing thing!), and so on!
Wonder Woman can fly! So go flying! Nobody has done this particularly well in a game yet (to my knowledge, anyway) and she’s a great place to start.
While not as gadget-intense as Bruce Wayne, Diana has used a wide variety of alternate weapons, armor, shields, jets, pegasus wings, and so-on to fight evil. Why not put it in the game?
…Sounds pretty stock. How do you make it different?
Okay, so here’s my pitch. Keep in mind I don’t make video games and therefore the prospect of this ever coming to pass is negligible, but still.
Wonder Woman is similarly invulnerable to attack as Superman (perhaps not quite as durable, but near enough). The challenge of a video game starring a character this powerful is how to make the game difficult. Let’s face it, it’s kinda stupid if WW gets tackled by a bunch of no-name thugs, even if they do have tasers or whatever. Batman it works – he’s ultimately mortal – but you can’t do that with WW or Supes because, well, it just doesn’t make sense.
The solution is as follows: Wonder Woman is effectively immune to regular, run-of-the-mill damage (it has a slow, aggregate effect, sure, but negligible), but killing the bad guys is not the goal of the game. The goal of the game is to save people. Fighting, if done poorly, takes time. Getting shot knocks you out of the air. But the bad guys are currently in the process of blowing up buildings and you, Wonder Woman, need to get there in time to disarm or destroy the bomb. The game would involve mission-based challenges that essentially worked on a time limit. The challenge isn’t being killed by thugs, it’s figuring out a way to get past them or through them fast enough to make it where you need to be in time. Tack on top of that a couple giant monster battles or enemy immortals (Ares comes to mind), puzzles that you need to solve (can you remove the rubble in the right order to prevent the collapse of the roof onto the injured thearter goers? While being attacked by zombies?), an upgradable combat tree, new lasso abilities, new suits of armor, and so on, and BAM – very cool game.
It would also open up a slightly different style of gameplay from just killing the bad guys. I think the Arkham games did this very well, and a Wonder Woman game done in this vein might also work pretty well, too.
Our Sympathy for the Devil
You ever notice that we tend to like the bad guys better than the good guys? I mean, let’s face it – Darth Vader is way cooler than Obi Wan or Luke. Luke only gets cool when he starts wearing black and force choking Gamorreans who piss him off.
Same goes for comic books. Who’s your favorite: Wolverine or Cyclops? Everybody picks Wolverine. Never mind that he’s irresponsible, violent, rude, and bloodthirsty – Cyclops looks smug. We can never forgive smug. Batman Vs Superman? Clearly the violent vigilante trumps the boy scout in blue. Every single time.
In The Oldest Trick, I’ve got a pretty bad guy as my main character. Calling Tyvian a “scoundrel” is putting it very mildly. He’s a petty, conceited, manipulative narcissist who thinks nothing of throwing other people to the wolves for the sake of his own comfort (comfort, mind you – not even his safety). You really ought to hate his guts.
And yet we don’t. From Frank Castle to Hannibal Lecter, from Dexter Morgan to Lucifer himself, we’re always willing to give the jerks, the creeps, the psychos and the villains the benefit of the doubt. Weird, isn’t it?
Here’s my thinking: Antiheroes (and I use the term loosely, as it can be defined in many ways – here I basically mean someone who is an amoral, immoral, or ‘dark’ protagonist) appeal to us in three major ways.
They Do What We Dare Not
Have you ever wanted to spill coffee on someone because they were being a jerk to the barista? Have you ever wanted to chew out your boss in front of everybody? Have you ever wanted to smash flat some jerk in a BMW who ran a red light and almost killed you? Well, guess what? The bad guy will do it for you.
In a world full of petty (and not so petty) frustrations, there is catharsis in those who simply break the rules to inflict what we see as justice on those we dislike. We refrain ourselves, of course – unlike the villainous personality, we are functional members of society – but we do so enjoy watching the wicked get a taste of their own medicine from those even worse than they are. Heck, this is the entire underlying theme of the Saw franchise, right? Those jerks deserve what they got on some level. We show up to watch them get it.
They Make Us Feel Like Better People
There is also a certain joy in realizing you are a better person and a better judge of character and situation than these otherwise exceptional people. For Example: Hoo, boy – are we ever glad we aren’t Walter White, right? Man, I mean, he’s pretty awesome and what-not, but he just keeps making decisions that’ll get him in deeper, doesn’t he? Were it me, I woulda walked away way, waaay earlier than that. I could do it. There has to be a way, right?
Shakespeare trades heavily on this notion in his tragedies. Iago and Othello keep digging themselves deeper and deeper and deeper and, oh man, you know what’s going to happen, right? That’s what makes it awesome. The good guy – the guy who keeps doing the right thing – he’s dull (or so we think). Captain America is never going to lie to his girlfriend. That makes us feel inferior. You know what the most common criticism levied against Superman is? He isn’t “identifiable.” This I take as code for “he wasn’t a fuck-up in high school.”
Sure Supes is identifiable. He grew up as a farmboy in middle America. It’s not his Kryptonian heritage you find alien. It’s the fact that he never set his dad’s car on fire while trying to re-enact a Jackass stunt. With Batman – brooding, obsessive, loner Batman – you never have that problem. You got it together compared to that nutjob.
The Hope for Redemption
This last one is a bit rarer, but it comes up a fair amount. We all love a good redemption story. We like to think that those crazy villains that we (secretly) admire can, one day, clean up all their bad habits and become good people like us. The whole of the existing Star Wars movies, for instance, is just one long story dealing with the fall and subsequent redemption of one Anakin Skywalker. We eat that up. Likewise, the journey of Tony Stark from playboy to superhero is the most compelling aspect of the MCU at the moment. His character’s personal journey is the one we love best.
See, as much as we enjoy the antics of those antiheros doing what we dare not, we also realize that their lives are not happy ones. Batman is a tortured, tragic soul in many ways. Wolverine is fundamentally alone. Conan the Barbarian lives an empty life. That sad music played at the end of every Incredible Hulk episode for a reason, guys. Being the antihero sucks. Even Lucifer has a rough time of it.
So we watch in the (sometimes) vain hope that they can pull themselves together. That, even in their tortured hearts, the darkness can be pushed back and good can prevail. Even if only for a moment, before they plunge back into shooting mob bosses and blowing up corrupt politician’s cars.
As you know, if you read this blog, I will be attending ITVFest in Dover, VT on September 24th-27th where I will be giving a talk about World Building in Fantasy and Science Fiction on Saturday, 9/26, at 11am. Go and check it out!
Also, The Oldest Trick will be coming out in Mass Market Paperback on September 29th! Pre-order your copies now!
Finally, watch my Goodreads page for the possibility of a giveaway of some The Oldest Trick e-book copies! I plan on doing it as soon as I figure out how!