Age Appropriate Justice League Casting

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.)

Chaplin vs Keaton by Damian Blake

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.

Exhibit DC-A
Exhibit DC-B
Exhibit M-A

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.

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29 thoughts on “Age Appropriate Justice League Casting

  1. Starting with the least important item, I think the most recent Green Arrow origin is very similar to the Iron-Man origin from the film of same name. With the twist that Oliver Queen was stranded on an island had to learn how to shoot a bow and arrow to survive. Yeah, not great, and very likely wrong. Wouldn’t Cary Elwes make a great Green Arrow?

    I’d rather see Campbell and Hamm switch roles. Superman doesn’t need to look older as he ages slower. Campbell’s wittier delivery would be better suited to Flash, depending on if the Flash depicted is the Wally West incarnation.

    There was a version of an elderly Bruce Wayne in Batman Beyond, but the majority of the series was rehashed B:tAS episodes in a futuristic setting. I’ve seen people expressing interest in seeing Clint Eastwood play the aged Batman if there were to be a live-action version of it.

    I’m drawing a blank on older actors to create my own list, other than what I already mentioned. I will say that Michael Rooker would be a horrible Martian Manhunter since the character is supposed to be a bit emotionless and not drunk.

  2. I want Stallone for Supes, to be honest, but I think Campbell just looks more like him. Hamm is too young, in my book. And I just cannot take Hamm seriously.

    I’ve heard a lot about this Eastwood/Batman Beyond thing. I don’t see it. We know what Eastwood looked like when he was younger and we can all agree he didn’t look a damn thing like Bruce Wayne. But Sean Connery…

    I see the point of having Elwes play Green Arrow but I had the luck of using an image of the Justice League that didn’t include Arrow. So if you want to put Elwes in as Arrow, who should play Aquaman? How about Garrett Dillahunt? Because I want him in everything.

    I love Rooker, and he’s got the perfect head for Manhunter. But if you twist my arm, I’ll say Timothy Olyphant can fill in.

    Runners-up for Wonder Woman are Rene Russo, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Kate Beckinsale.

    Now give me $300,000,000 and I’ll make the damn movie.

  3. Aquaman – Daniel Craig or Ryan Gosling. Gosling is barely older than me, but I’m not sure how Atlanteans age.

    I only included Arrow since you had brought him up. I don’t think he was an original member and seen as redundant since they already had two green guys.

    I would also like to include Guy Pierce, but he could be anyone. (See Priscilla Queen of the Desert)

    I like Sela Ward as Wonder Woman. I still like to see WW portrayed as the an Amazonian and not a cover model, but the only woman I can think of off the top of my head is Brigitte Nielson and she looks like a mangled catcher’s mitt. Lucy Lawless is shorter than I thought, Jennifer Connelly even shorter, and Diane Lane is shorter still.

    Eastwood showed he has the old, grizzled attitude that an elderly Bruce Wayne would likely have in Gran Torino.

    I happened to spy The Rocketeer nearby and thought, Bill Campbell for Green Lantern. Fillion has a huge backing for GL, so he’ll really have to work for it.

    Who were you thinking for the villain(s) to face off against the elder JL?

    1. Nathan, Jon, Bruce & Kurt are absolutely perfect, the others I’m not sold on… Just so long as no one casts Daniel Craig or Jake Gyllenhaal I won’t be too devastated!!

  4. I don’t know how you write a villain for the Justice League. I don’t see how Superman is not enough to do everything. Worse still, Martian Manhunter is even more powerful than Superman. Shapeshifting, phasing, teleporting, etc. Jeezo, J’onn.

    I don’t know how to write a Green Lantern story.

    So you gotta have something massive like an intergalactic force attacking from the sky and then something on the ground (preferably on an island) for Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and The Flash to beat up.

    Batman will find a way to be useful, I’m sure.

    I’d like to see the movie, I sure as hell wouldn’t like to write it. 🙂

  5. Okay, so we’re looking at a movie of the JL not fighting anyone, just hanging out at the Watchtower discussing how pointless it was to create a league. Or discuss the point was to be an unbeatable force that humanity would fear and have no choice but to obey. The ‘My Dinner with Andre’ of superhero movies.

    If there were a real JL movie, they would have to use Darkseid and Apokolips. I can’t really think of an alien race like the Skrulls (or whatever they were called in The Avengers) in the DCU. Maybe the Green Lantern Corps could turn on Earth for a reason to be determined. Training exercise?

    Manhunter doesn’t teleport, I think the phasing in out of nowhere has you confused. He is a telepath though. His only weakness appears to be fire, and that’s just a crippling fear. One trip to a hypnotist could solve that.

  6. I thought MM teleported because I’ve read that he teleported to Earth from Mars or vice versa. However, it appears this was against his will.

    It would be amazing to see the Justic League get bogged down in foreign policy debates. Luthor or Checkmate could manipulate international states against each other and while Supes, Lantern, Flash, and WW try to settle it (peacefully), Batman, Aquaman, and Manhunter can investigate the operatives behind the ruse and uncover a massive plot.

    That’s how I’d write it, but it’d turn out more like a Star Trek movie. (Which would be bad for The Flash!)

  7. Yeah, MM was teleported accidentally by a scientist who, I think, had a heart attack and died from his unexpected appearance.

    Lex was President for awhile before the reboot, so they could create a Super PAC (GET IT?!?) and try to stop his campaign. There have been stories about the UN, or another international organization, discussing the threat that the JL represent and a need to do something about them. An older JL probably wouldn’t be the group to face that since they’d been around for 20+ years.

    The show Young Justice has a similar set up to your use for Batman, Aquaman, and MM in your scenario. The Justice League is so high profile that villains and the media are keeping tabs on them like TMZ on the Celebrity Wreck of the Week. Different purposes obviously, So they employ their younger sidekicks/partners to take on espionage and covert operations.

  8. Love the post. Not sure I like all the choices for actors, but some are dead on…and most of all I love the comparison between Marvel and DC. I grew up loving DC from the start, and I was never quite sure why when Marvel seemed to be the ‘hip’ choice back in the day (1970s-80s) with X-Men leading the way. I think you hit the nail on the head though, and I continue to be a huge DC fan (though I rarely read comics anymore) and can’t wait for the new Superman movie, or for the long-awaited JLA film (if it happens).

    Anyway, really enjoyed this post…glad I found it!

  9. Even if you are using the younger versions of the flash and green lantern, Superman is about five years too old and WW would not appear so old due to the fact that she is supposed to age slower. I would have Superman be in his late fourties/early fifties and WW be late thirties. The rest of it works though.

  10. Interesting take on the DC/Marvel dichotomy. By the way, I hate to point this out, but your Justice League looks like it could get invited to Mitt Romney’s place. Even the Avenger’s have a little diversity in the form of Colonel Fury.

  11. Monolithbooks, I agree. Kosmo told me about the aging slower concept. I just like the idea of Kingdom Come-era DC, which I know is not really canonical. And I also like the idea that Supes has been around since the 30s.

    And to your point, Rami, what are you talking about?! JL’s got a MARTIAN! How more diverse can you be? 😉 Seriously, though, I am casting based off an Alex Ross painting, and Ross painted six pallid heroes. I’m all for Ving Rhames playing Bruce Wayne and Irrfan Khan playing Jonn Jonzz and Gong Li playing the Flash. Aishwarya Rai for WW?! That’d be Wonderful.

  12. Good post.

    I don’t have any specific opinions on the actors but I do agree Leaguers shouldn’t be kids. The big three; Superman, Batman and Wonderwoman are at their best when they’re the most iconic and the best JLA stories I’ve read involved pitting them against World Wide crisis sans a black and white answers.

    I like Marvel but I prefer DC. There’s a whole back-story to that I may blog about in the future.

    On a side Note: Martian Manhunter’s story is pretty amazing IMO. When he was teleported from Mars he was clutching the corpse of his daughter, his people had been wiped out in a plague. His weakness to fire is a psychic aversion to plauge fires, the body of his daughter was about to be consumed when he was brought to earth. Seeing how he deals with grief, living on another planet and putting his ghosts, some of them literal, to rest was fascinating.

    One of the storyI Ioved was when Black Adam took his kingdom back by force. He was brutal but saved his people from warlords and dictators. When the JSA tried to bring him back they actually failed, they had to retreat because, despite (or because of) his willingness to kill his people loved him.

    Then there’s Kingdom Come but I digress.

    Again, good post.

  13. Brilliant, Chall. I’m fascinated by Manhunter as well, but I’ve somehow avoided (unwittingly of course) a lot of his stories. Thank you so much for the recommendations!

  14. I think the debate between DC and Marvel comics is also somilar to the scene in Pulp Fiction where Uma Thurman states:: You’re either an Elvis fan, or a Beatles fan. You can like both, but you like one more than the other. (This is not an exact quote, by the way.)
    The Chaplin/Keaton comparison is good too (I personally prefer Keaton). I’m actually a larger DC fan, mainly because of growing up watching Batman: The Animated Series. As I get to know the Marvel universe, I enjoy it, but it’s just not the same. I prefer the grittiness of a good Batman adaptation.

  15. He said you love Buster when you are younger, and you grow to prefer Charlie when you are older.

    I was the reverse. I liked Chaplin first but after seeing Keaton, I fell for Keaton…until I saw Harold Lloyd. ^_^

    From the Dreamers script:

    “The difference between Keaton and Chaplin…is the difference between prose and poetry…between the aristocrat and the tramp…between eccentricity and mysticism…between man as a machine and man as animal.”

    I love your inclusion of Sela Ward.

  16. I’d love to see a film adaptation of Alex Ross’ Marvels. That was a beautiful graphic novel. If only they could make it into more than just a bunch of crumbling sky scrapers and exploding planetary fragments. I’m talking concept! Art as Ross truly makes within the comic book idiom.

  17. Wow you’ve managed to articulate so eloquently what I’ve been spluttering to people so unintelligibly. But I have to disagree with DC not being as much about change. In all honesty, I’m not really versed in the whole character backstory/universe situation thing in terms of the comics, but I felt like Nolan’s Batman trilogy did have characters that changed and developed, so it’s not so much an issue of the basic premise, just the way in which you choose to tell the story.

  18. Great post, thanks.
    They were great slapstick comedians, who could make so much out of very little.
    They were geniuses of their craft.
    I only wish my cartoons (see my blog) were half as good.

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