Welcome to a brand new weekly piece here at Movies.com! Do you like comic books? Do you like comic book movies? It's true that in a lot of cases there's a bit of a disconnect between people that walk into comic book stores every week and the droves of movie fans that flock into theaters to watch films like Man of Steel, The Dark Knight, Thor and The Avengers. Some people may not bother picking up the comics because of a multitude of factors. In most cases, these people love the characters but aren't exactly greatly dedicated to their history or their appearances in the source material.
That's where I come in with this new piece you're reading now.
I'm Chris Clow, former writer of the Geek Beat (which you can still check out weekly courtesy of the talented Rick Marshall) and The Dark Knight Rises Countdown here at Movies.com, and I'm no stranger to comic books or their films. Like most people growing up in the 1990s, my "in" to superheroes was first through the movies: my dad told me a story about when the family went to see Tim Burton's original Batman film back in 1989 at a drive-in theater in Southern California, when I was about 18 months old. According to him, I had my head sticking out the window the entire time, and pretty much from that day forward I've been enamored with superheroes. Comics helped me learn how to read, and I became promptly obsessed with not only the cool stories featuring superheroes but also with the history surrounding them. I've managed to parlay that passion into spreading "the gospel": I've been a comic-shop employee for the last six years and a comic book reviewer and podcaster and editorialist for almost as long.
So, it's a pleasure to bring you a dose of understanding so you can greater merge your inner movie fan and your interest in comics and their characters. With that, some pretty massive news came out of the San Diego Comic-Con that has the entirety of both the comics and movie worlds buzzing, and that's the 2015 unity of arguably the world's most popular and iconic superheroes.
Anyone who's familiar with my time on the Geek Beat or elsewhere knows that I have a particular fondness for many DC characters. So, when director Zack Snyder announced that the sequel to Man of Steel would feature a team-up/throwdown of my two absolute favorite characters in comics, let's just say it's a good thing I was sitting down when I heard the news. Warner Bros. has tried before to make a film teaming up the "World's Finest" heroes on the big screen -- most notably in the early 2000s with director Wolfgang Peterson -- yet it's never worked out and had the kind of mass public announcement that this film received.
While Frank Miller's seminal 1986 graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns was cited as something that's "informing" the new film, I don't think people should look too far beyond the concept of conflict between Batman and Superman in that story. While DKR was highly influential in charting the course for both the friendship and rivalry between Batman and Superman for years to come, the story's characterization of Superman left a lot to be desired. And that original book was a story of endings. The sequel to Man of Steel will likely be at the beginning of both men's careers.
In that spirit, here are my five recommendations for reading, as well as for what could potentially inspire some awesome movies featuring the characters. These stories are some of the best that the modern age has to offer with DC's top two heroes.
5) Superman/Batman: Public Enemies
Originally Published In: Superman/Batman #1-7 (2003)
Written By: Jeph Loeb
Why It's Good: Critically acclaimed writer Jeph Loeb is no stranger to good stories with Superman and Batman, having written celebrated stories like Superman: For All Seasons and Batman: The Long Halloween. His effort to bring the characters together in a new monthly title was no exception because of the attention paid to the differences in both men's personalities. The first issue starts off on a rather somber note, with both Batman and Superman reliving their origins. "The dream always begins the same," Superman tells us, accompanied with the image of his parents carefully placing his infant form into a rocket ship. "I can only imagine how difficult it was for them sending their only son into outer space, as their world died around them."
Then we see a young boy holding the hands of his parents as they walk down a dark alley. "The nightmare always begins the same," Batman tells us. "I can only imagine the fear that gripped them when the gunman stepped out of the shadows, never knowng that these were their last moments alive." It's that kind of dichotomy and change of perspective that helps to make Public Enemies a very engaging read, and it helps to highlight what those major character differences are between Batman and Superman.
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Originally Published In: Lex Luthor: Man of Steel #1-5 (2005)
Written By: Brian Azzarello
Why It's Good: You might be surprised to see this book on the list, and although it takes place within the ordered-yet-chaotic mind of Superman's arch enemy, it actually gleans a fair amount of insight on the characters' partnership -- albeit from a rather skewed perspective.
Lex Luthor is one of the most fascinating characters in comics, period. From celebrated works by creators like Mark Waid and Grant Morrison, he has become very interesting in his own right. As he headlines this story, we see Superman through his eyes: the Man of Steel is a terrifying demigod, with his eyes always aglow with a ready burst of heat vision, ready to take us all over and put us under the thumb of his oppressive, alien rule. Or so Luthor thinks. He even uses that perspective to feed Batman's own fears about his powerful partner, and though the story will always stand as a great portrayal of that bald villain, it also helps to illustrate how tenuous the alliance between Batman and Superman can be.
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3) Superman: Dark Knight Over Metropolis
Originally Published In: Superman (vol. 2) #44, Adventures of Superman #466-467, Action Comics #653-654 (1990)
Written By: John Byrne, Roger Stern, Dan Jurgens and Jerry Ordway
Why It's Good: It's very easy for people to be fascinated by the rivalry between Batman and Superman, but there's also something equally astonishing about their friendship. In this story, Superman enlists Batman's aid in his latest battle in Metropolis with Intergang, an organized crime group that had secretly been getting weapons from the Apokoliptian despot Darkseid, in order to spread further suffering to the planet Earth. After the adventure concluded, Superman began to truly understand that Batman, though shadowy and employing some questionable methods from his perspective, was an ally to be trusted.
As a result, Superman entrusted the Dark Knight with a ring made up of one of the rarest elements on the planet: Kryptonite, the one physical weakness that the Man of Steel had. "I have many enemies of great power," Superman said, telling him that many of them may have the means to control him. "I want the means to stop me -- to be in the hands of a man I can trust with my life." From that moment on there was a newfound respect between the two heroes, and it's hard not to recommend this story on that basis alone.
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2) The Man of Steel
Originally Published In: The Man of Steel #1-6 (1986)
Written By: John Byrne
Why It's Good: This graphic novel features one of the more widespread reimaginings of Superman's origin story, but issue #3 focused on a tale of the first meeting between the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight. While it's definitely rooted in an older brand of comic book storytelling (Batman uses the word "trifle," which sounds really awkward), the idea behind the modernized first meeting was strong. This was the first iteration of that meeting told after the sweeping characterization brought about by The Dark Knight Returns, which means that unlike previous generations, Batman and Superman weren't chummy when they first set eyes on each other. In fact, Superman was hunting him.
When Superman hears of a vigilante operating within the borders of Gotham City, he immediately sets out to capture the man who he feels is an outlaw. Superman interrupts the Dark Knight while on the trail of a supervillain, and Batman manages to evade the Man of Steel through his unmatched knowledge of Gotham's streets, and with a threat. Batman tells Superman of a force field around his body, saying that if he penetrates it, it "will detonate a bomb hidden somewhere in Gotham City. The explosion will kill an innocent person." Superman is shocked by this, and after he backs off and actually helps Batman apprehend his perp, the Dark Knight reveals that the innocent person was... himself! David Goyer has relayed a fondness for this iteration of Superman's origin. Could a similar type of conflict be awaiting us in 2015?
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1) Superman/Batman: The Search for Kryptonite
Originally Published In: Superman/Batman #44-49 (2008)
Written By: Michael Green
Why It's Good: If ever there was a story that showed what the strange friend/rival relationship between Superman and Batman is really like, it may be this one. When Superman enlists Batman's aid in disposing of the world's supply of Kryptonite, Batman is surprisingly open and encouraging of the idea. The story sees them travel all over the planet, from the highest mountains to the deepest oceans (which Aquaman has a bit of a problem with). In the end, it looks as if the pair succeeds in their goal, until we as viewers get a look inside a secret vault of the Batcave. Although he just claimed to help him get rid of Kryptonite in all its forms except for Batman's little ring, we see the Dark Knight sitting in a room filled from floor to ceiling with every color of Kryptonite.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Henry Cavill cited this book as one of his primary inspirations for taking on Superman. "He’s inherently good, he’s raised by very good people, but it doesn’t mean he’s not going to have an emotional reaction to something,” Cavill said. “He has great willpower — incredible willpower — but sometimes your emotions get the better of you." At the same time, it also highlights that Batman can be kind of a bastard and take advantage of that to his own ends.
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That does it this week on Comics on Film! Have you read any of these comics? Do you have different ideas for great stories with the World's Finest heroes? What do you think should be on the table as David Goyer and Zack Snyder construct the new film's story? Sound off below, and we'll see you next week!
Chris Clow is a geek. He is a comic book expert and retailer and freelance contributor to Movies.com, GeekNation.com, The Huffington Post, Batman-On-Film.com and ModernMythMedia.com. Check out his blog and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.