Comics on Film: Ben Affleck's More 'Traditional' Batman, and the 'One Rule'

Comics on Film: Ben Affleck's More 'Traditional' Batman, and the 'One Rule'

Aug 18, 2017

 
We are now just about exactly three months away from the theatrical bow of Warner Bros. Pictures' Justice League, the film that many fans the world over have been waiting for, conceivably, a very, very long time. When Marvel Studios' The Avengers first hit theaters back in 2012, DC Comics fans hoped that its success would hopefully prompt the chronically indecisive Warner Bros. to engage more directly in creating a wider swath of movies based on characters living in the house that Superman built. Five years later, that is now an inevitability.
 
It's been well documented here and elsewhere that Justice League as it exists today is in a strange state of flux, not the least of which being because it had to endure a change in directors that couldn't be helped, and because the shared universe the film is a part of has had only one documented critical hit among the films that have all managed to make a fair amount of money.
 
As we prepare for the impending release of Justice League, one of its key stars – playing perhaps the most popular and iconic superhero in the world – has spoken out a bit about a change in tone the upcoming team-up film will be taking with his character, which will likely have some pretty big implications on Justice League, the upcoming solo Batman film directed by Matt Reeves, and the DC Extended Universe at-large.
 
 
'More Traditional'
 
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, incumbent Batman Ben Affleck talked about the ways in which Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice may have presented a synthetically harder-edged character than people were likely used to seeing. Justice League, the actor says, will cast the Dark Knight in a more heroic light. He said:
 
"BvS departed a little bit from the traditional Batman. He started out with all this rage directed at Superman, because of his coworkers who had died in the fight Superman had with Zod. He was holding on to a lot of anger, in a little bit of an irrational way, whereas this is a much more traditional Batman. He’s heroic. He does things in his own way, but he wants to save people, help people."
 
Affleck's own estimations of Batman as he was seen in BvS are, of course, right on the mark. When the film was first released, it was commonplace to walk into a comic book store and hear the most devoted fans of the character – namely those who pick up new issues of Batman and Detective Comics as they come out every other week – display disappointment with a vigilante who actively killed his enemies and who committed to the idea of killing the Man of Steel.
 
 
 
The One Rule
 
Even in the comic book work that BvS was most visibly based on, Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, Batman doesn't actually kill anyone. That story does show him using a gun once (which in and of itself is quite a departure for the character), but the target of the shot doesn't appear to have died, and he goes out of his way to mention that the tank-like Batmobile is equipped with non-lethal rubber bullets when he comes upon the Mutant Gang's hideout.
 
Taking things further, this older, more cynical Batman appears to have broken the Joker's neck, but in that now famous scene from that book, Joker explains how Batman's fear of becoming a killer kept him from breaking it enough to actually end the hateful clown's life. In an act of spite, Joker finishes the job for Batman by breaking the rest of his own neck, before telling his nemesis, "I'll...see you...in hell."
 
Not killing his enemies has been one of the primary differentiating factors that have made Batman a hero, from decades of comics on up through Christopher Nolan's revered Dark Knight Trilogy. While the Nolan films may have bent that rule in a couple of notable instances, the entire plot of the first film is based around Bruce Wayne's developed idea that killing criminals is not just, casting Batman in a light truthful to the source material.
 
Though he wants a kind of revenge for the injustice he suffered as a child, Batman's prime, driving force is not unreasoning vengeance: it's justice. To him, in the comics and in his most critically celebrated films from Christopher Nolan, death is not justice.
 
 
 
A Loose Batman Timeline in the DCEU
 
Here's what we seem to know about the DCEU conception of Batman, and how Affleck's comments about his evolution will shape his future in the shared universe. The films seem to be painting the character by saying that after a 20-year career as the Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne had grown so cynical that he likely, at some point, abandoned his "one rule" and started doling out a harsher brand of vigilantism more indiscriminately. One of the catalyzing events that could've pushed him in this direction was likely the death of his partner, Robin, at the hands of the Joker and (as we discovered in Suicide Squad) Harley Quinn.
 
Then, what pushed him to a higher level of outright anger was the destruction visited on Metropolis by Superman and his clash with General Zod in the climax of Man of Steel. Already consumed by rage through the death of his partner (which could've been either shortly or long before the events in Man of Steel), Batman's new, harsher way of perceiving reality led him to believe that he needed to take it upon himself to stop this destructive alien...just in case he were to ever turn against the people of Earth.
 
This is, of course, before he knows much of anything about the man Superman really is. After being forced to view Superman in more human terms and seeing the Man of Steel selflessly sacrifice himself to save countless innocent lives, the apparently dormant heroic, principled selflessness of Batman has been awakened once more, and with the new threats visiting the planet, he takes it upon himself to be a uniting factor for a team that can help the Earth stand a chance against threats that can come from beyond the stars, the kind of threat which he now seems to realize that Superman did not represent.
 
 
 
Justice for All
 
And that would seem to be where Justice League will pick things up. Sure, fandom can debate until they're blue in the face about whether or not Dawn of Justice gave enough service to the idea of Superman "saving" Batman's soul, so to speak, at least to a degree. In truth, though, it all depends on how Justice League will pick up the ball that some fans and critics believe was fumbled by the release of Batman v Superman.
 
While there have been a lot of rumors circulating about what's exactly happening with Justice League behind the camera, we'll have our own chance to see how much it succeeds when it opens in theaters worldwide on November 17. Until then, the speculation will likely continue at a maddening pace until the first signs of critical reception begin to trickle out from those who have actually seen the finished movie.
 
It may not seem like much, but for DC Comics fans, those three months may end up seeming like an eternity. Here's hoping for some light at the end of the tunnel, courtesy of the World's Greatest Heroes.

Chris Clow is a comic book expert and former retailer, and a writer with work having appeared in the Huffington Post, Fandango and others. He also hosts the podcasts GeekPulse Radio and Comics on Consoles. You can find his weekly Comics on Film column every week here at Movies.com, and you can follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

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