Posted on March 3, 2016 at 6:00 am
“When you need to stop an asteroid, you get Superman. When you need to solve a mystery, you call Batman. But when you need to end a war, you get Wonder Woman.” – Gail Simone
Batman and Superman aren’t buddies. They fight for the same team 99.9% of the time but their temperaments and ideology divide them. Batman is distrustful of authority while Superman is far more likely to uphold the status quo because he believes in the inherent good of everyone (authority figures included). You could trace most of these differences to their respective origin stories. The Waynes were murdered in a mugging gone wrong, the Kents usually die of natural causes, and Wonder Woman’s mother created her from clay and is immortal. So without that moral compass of the Kents, Batman/Bruce Wayne is apt to distrust everyone, and Wonder Woman/Diana is an unrealistically just and effective mediator due to her utopic upbringing. So when a newly revealed extraterrestrial (as Superman was portrayed in Man of Steel) levels most of a major metropolis while trying to save it, Bruce is going to have a problem or two with him, and Diana Prince is probably the best shot. This sort of conflict between these iconic heroes has been explored in comics for decades now, so here are some of the best and most relevant to catch you up for their big screen brawl in Batman v Superman (BvS).
Ridiculously popular, it was the turning point for Batman comics–away from camp and to the gritty “realism” which has defined the on-screen version of Batman since 2005. This is the original story-line that underscores the differences between Batman’s and Superman’s characters and their uneasy alliance–essentially vigilante vs. Boy Scout. Here you see their relationship frayed and unraveling. The climax is the prototypical Batman and Superman brawl. The Dark Knight Returns was adapted into an animated film in two parts, which is also available at your local library.
This is an alternate history for Superman, embodying everything that keeps Bruce Wayne up at night (aside from the obvious childhood trauma). Rather than growing up in Kansas, Superman lands in the Soviet Union as a child and becomes a worldwide despot. Batman still exists in this timeline but more as an insurgent/resistance fighter. You can see echoes of this in the desert scenes of the BvS trailer, where Batman takes on soldiers bearing the Superman emblem.
Some of the best character development of Lex is in this comic. It explores the idea of Superman as an outsider and how Luthor thinks he is saving humanity from an overprotective alien influence. He manipulates Batman into taking on Supes, so you get another brawl between the heroes, and some of the plot points are hinted to be in the new film. This is the direction I hope Jesse Eisenburg (who plays Lex in the upcoming movie) will take.
Very little has been shown of how Wonder Woman will be portrayed in upcoming films, and it is unclear as to which of her many versions will land on screen in BvS later this month. The Circle is the beginning of one of her better runs in recent memory, and I hope they will have used it as a source of inspiration. It focuses on her empathy and skills as a peace broker, who uses force as a last resort. Simone balances this well, while still keeping the story fast paced and engaging.
Emphasizing Superman’s alien origins and his role as “other” was a central theme in Snyder’s 2013 Man of Steel, which was the first film in the planned DC cinematic universe. This emphasis was previously used to great effect in Secret Origin. In some ways it makes Superman’s early childhood feel like an X-Men character’s origin–frightened and a bit unsure as he is discovering his powers. Some were not a fan of this take, but I found it an effective way to humanize the most powerful and iconic comic book character. BvS appears to pick up with a Superman still figuring out how to handle his responsibility.
Darker, grittier, and more conflicted. That’s the direction that Azzarello unsurprisingly took Wonder Woman in the rebooted DC universe known as the “New 52.” While I usually appreciate his approach to comics, making Diana a conflicted and slightly morally grey character undercuts what sets her apart from Superman or Batman, namely compassion. This comic does have an interesting story arc with an emphasis on the pantheon of Greco-Roman gods–providing for excellent storytelling regardless of questionable character changes to Diana. It is also the depiction of her that I think is most likely to be in BvS.
Dark and disturbing is putting it mildly for Snyder’s take on the Joker in this volume and while he is not in BvS, his fingerprints will be all over Batman’s world. In the film, it looks as if Joker has been ripping apart Bruce’s extended family of crime fighters, and maybe not just figuratively. In this comic, Joker sets the Justice League against our caped crusader with all of the disturbing theatrics that you’ve come to expect from him. We’ll see Jared Leto depict the Joker this August in the Suicide Squad movie, but look for hints of Joker’s twisted mind in BvS as well.