The ancient nerd-forum topic of which actors should play our favorite heroes seems to be re-energized now that Christopher Nolan’ s Batman series has wrapped up.
His producer credit on Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, and the Nightwing/Robin/Batman Jr tease of The Dark Knight Rises, and the success of the laboriously hyped Avengers movie has convinced fanboys that a Justice League movie could finally happen.
Let me tell you: I have many thoughts on this subject.
Spoiler Warning: I think they should make an Alex Ross style old-man Superman movie and my casting selections are down below this wall of text arguing in favor of it.
In my moderately-informed opinion, the easiest way to distinguish DC Comics (redundant!) and Marvel Comics from each other is similar to the way Bernardo Bertolucci once qualified Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. He said you love Buster when you are younger, and you grow to prefer Charlie when you are older. (This came from an interview in Premiere magazine I read when he was releasing The Dreamers. I cannot find the interview online.)
I doubt I will ever love Charlie Chaplin nearly as much as I love Buster Keaton, but there’s an extremely apt bit of logic defending Berno Berto: Buster’s career was cut short, sold-out by his wife, and drowned in booze. Chaplin survived to make an older man’s movies, the 3-reelers of political merit. Modern Times and The Great Dictator are pictures that have no comparison in the oeuvre of Buster Keaton.
So I will steal Bertolucci’s frame: Marvel Comics are for young boys (Keatonesque) and DC Comics are for the boys who’ve grown up (Chaplinesque). Marvel’s stories focus on teenagers struggling with their powers as an analogue to puberty, and in so doing Peter Parker is cast as Buster Keaton, who simply does not have the opportunity to have stories to compare with A Death in the Family, The Killing Joke, and Crisis on Infinite Earths. Peter’s interminably young. Bruce is only young for a moment in time and then he is interminably not young.
See if you agree with my logic.
sidebar: it’s difficult to find a single image that defines the origin of Marvel characters. Peter Parker stands out as the only easily-illustrated origin.
Since I cannot find images, I’ll just break it down for you Marvel-style. Peter Parker was a high school student when he had his run-in with radioactivity. The X-mutation takes hold during puberty. Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, and Bruce Banner are characters that were full grown men before the incident that spawned their heroic careers. Thor is a god (boring).
The events that shaped Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne happened to them when they were very young and entirely defenseless.
Clark and Bruce have built their life around a response to something that happened before they could do anything, they’ve lived singular lives, much like the gods and aliens that fill out the Justice Society*. It almost doesn’t matter when they were born or when they are active. (In the Marvel universe, Thor and Wolverine fit this mold; one because he’s a god, the other because he’s a serial amnesiac.)
In short, the Marvel character arc can be summarized as “adapting to change” whereas the DC character arc can be summarized as “building to a purpose.” Too simplistic? Maybe.
The problem Marvel has with longevity is that the nuanced characters lose their narrative drive once they have adapted to the change. Bruce Wayne can brood for decades about the murder of his parents, but you expect more out of Peter Parker. Please, let me know if you disagree.
I cite Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men: the story belongs to Kitty Pryde, the rest were just given things to keep them busy. I love that series, but I do not want to keep seeing books about Wolverine and Beast fighting super-duper-aliens and mind-control.
Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and Aquaman don’t change. And that allows them to apply their talents/ideologies to many different eras. Marvel characters do change and that makes them 1) better characters and 2) worse products.
Even though I greatly prefer the nuanced characters of the Marvel universe, I’m less inclined to read redundant Marvel stories. DC has mastered redundancy as a business model.
All of this is to say: I don’t care about young Bruce, I don’t care about young Clark. They are personifications of values, not human characters. It makes them timeless and perhaps a little boring.
The world culture is now so self-aware, their simplistic values and old-world codes of honor don’t fit with the young man’s struggle to carve out his niche in his own generation. I’d like to see Batman and Superman cast as the older generation. Still tough, still brilliant, but with the wisdom of a collective consciousness, something that can only be earned together over time and after long reflection.
Let the Dog Mic forum commence. Here are my picks for casting with the actors’ current ages.
In the inimitable words (and caps) of Alan Moore: THE BATMAN IS BIG AND GRIM AND OLDER THAN WE ARE, BECAUSE AS I REMEMBER THE BATMAN HE’S ALWAYS BEEN BIGGER AND OLDER THAN I AM AND I’LL FIGHT ANY MAN THAT SAYS DIFFERENT.
*Arrow and Lantern and Flash were also full grown men when they became superheroes but they are the most vague characters in the DC universe. That is to say, there are four (4) Green Lanterns (plus an entire intergalactic GL Corps), there have been three (3) major Flashes, and I honestly cannot figure out where they hell Green Arrow came from or why he does what he does. One thing that stands out is that I never think of any of them as young men.