Hey, apparently there’s a big movie coming out next week. I thought we had some more time on it, actually. Despite my strong dislike for Batman, this was one of a few movies on my list of choices to see in theaters this year. See, my husband and I typically do one or two movies every year, so I try to make them count. Lately my biggest consideration is how cool it will look in 3D. Movies I know I’ll like enough to watch at home repeatedly I don’t need to spend the money in theaters. Movies where the effects are awesome and I’ll be missing something if I only see it in 2D, maybe worth it. Movies where I only care about the effects and don’t think I’ll ever want to watch it again, that’s a theater one. So Batman v. Superman was definitely looking like one to see in theaters, but it’s so soon. For some reason I thought it was in May. It’s too nice outside and my life is too busy right now to waste time in a theater. So we’ll see.
But it has had me thinking about the three heroes featured in the film. (Or at least in the trailer. For all I know the whole Justice League shows up somewhere in the film.) I’m not a big DC fan in general and definitely not a Superman or Batman fan. But I have read (and watched) a fair amount of Batman stuff. And have strong opinions about it. And I’m so sick of Dark Knight Returns or The Killing Joke being everyone’s go-to recommendations for new comic fans or people who want to know more about Batman. Okay, they’re horrible comics. Horrible. But my feelings about them as individual works aside, I especially don’t see how anyone thinks they’re good starter comics. They’re very hostile, especially towards women. They’re important to the evolution of comics and maybe worth reading later, but we’ve moved on from that. They’re not a good representation of what comics are today and it makes a lot more sense to me to introduce people to the newer friendlier stuff before exploring the bizarre dystopia of ’80s comics.
So what would I recommend you read instead? Well, mostly awesome new things like Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur or Jem & the Holograms or The Wicked and the Divine. Batgirl and/or Black Canary if you really want to see some more traditional DC superheroes. 😀 But I’ll stay topical and pick my favorites for getting to know Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Because, you know. They’re there, and no amount of ignoring them is actually going to keep them out of my sight. Might as well deal with it. (And Wonder Woman is actually pretty cool.)
1. Wonder Woman
Starting with the best! Wonder Woman had kind of a rocky start, but given the time period I think that’s to be expected. All things considered, her story’s remarkably progressive. She was created by a proto-feminist psychologist in a poly relationship and the two women in his life had a strong influence on shaping the character. He had some screwy ideas about gender roles and what makes a “good woman,” but I do kind of love that he saw and addressed issues way back in the 1940s that I’m just starting to discuss and I doubt there were even words for it. I can talk about “toxic masculinity” today and most people who have spent any time in social justice/feminist circles probably know what I mean. He didn’t call it that, but he talks about it. He also discusses femmephobia without having a word for it, and created Wonder Women to show that a woman could be strong and powerful without sacrificing traditionally feminine qualities that were degraded by the masculine culture. And he thought comics were a great teaching tool and the best way to change those attitudes, which definitely resonates with me and my work. (Or the work I want to be doing, at the very least.)
That all sounds great, right? Too bad he apparently thought that meant the ideal woman was strong without ever taking credit for her own work, submissive to the men in her life, and physically beautiful. Wonder Woman is far and away the strongest person in her setting and she’s constantly saving the day…but then she tries her best to give all the credit for her work to Steve Trevor, her love interest. So upsetting. At least he tries not to take the credit, insisting that an amazingly strong woman did it all, much to Diana/Wonder Woman’s frustration. It’s…weird. I think maybe there’s some sort of “women submit to your husbands, husbands love your wife” stuff going on here, like women are supposed to be demure and focus on elevating their boyfriends/husbands/significant-men-in-their-lives but then the men in question are supposed to elevate them instead. So like Wonder Woman in these early days is never allowed to take credit on her own, she only receives praise and respect when it’s given to her by Steve.
Steve’s a problem in general. Wonder Woman used to live on an awesome island populated entirely by women with no men allowed. An American pilot crash lands there, they nurse him back to health, and this being the first man Wondy’s ever seen she falls for him immediately. So she disobeys her mom and enters a contest designed to choose the best woman to bring him back to Man’s World and be a sort of ambassador to it. Ta da! Here she is in the US disguised as a quiet nurse pining for a guy who barely knows she exists in that identity but idolizes her heroic one. You know, the real her. She doesn’t like this and just wishes he’d appreciate the person she’s pretending to be.
More recent adaptations have fixed this. One very simple children’s book I have removes Steve altogether and has Wonder Woman just wanting to help the outside world since she sees people are hurting. Other versions have Diana as Wonder Woman’s name from the start (not an identity assumed when she enters Man’s World), as she was named after Diana Rockwell/Trevor, Steve’s mom. She was also a pilot and had crashed on the island years before Steve! She died saving the Amazons (the women on the island) and they named the queen’s daughter after her. (Her original costume in this case is also based on Diana’s flag and uniform logo, I think.) I like the way this re-centers the story on women and possibly makes helping Steve more like repaying her sacrifice and completing a circle of events rather than “wow a man let me have it.”
So some things might change, but the basic origin is the same. And despite all its problems, my favorite version of it is definitely the 70s TV series. Great acting, great costumes, really true to the source but still just a bit more progressive-feeling. And the first episode is free on Amazon! Doesn’t get much easier than that…assuming you have a way to watch streaming video. If not, see if you can find the original comics in something like Wonder Woman Archives at your local library, it’s almost exactly the same.
Superman’s not bad. I just…never really found him interesting. Smallville is probably my favorite depiction, but it’s not so great as an introduction to the character as he appears in just about everything else. I suppose Man of Steel is probably actually the best prep for this movie since it’s the previous one in the series, but I haven’t watched it and so can’t comment. Hmmm…
I’m gonna cheat. I have three recommendations. The one for you will depend on whether you’re looking for funny, sweet, or hilariously terrible.
He does well with team-ups. And when he’s not being taken too seriously. I liked Superman/Batman: Public Enemies a lot, but mostly because I found it hilarious to watch those two hidden away discussing their conspiracy theories about the President. (To be fair, it’s President Lex Luthor and they’re right.) They also spend a lot of time snarking at each other, which is adorable and actually pretty funny. Surprise! Superman’s kind of witty.
Depending on who’s writing him. I love Captain Marvel (all the Captain Marvels but we’re talking DC now so I mean the Shazam one), so I was excited to read Superman/Shazam: First Thunder. It was good, and makes for a nice basic intro to Superman as well, lots of his classic truth, justice, etc. Not so much with the humor. That mostly comes from Captain Marvel’s hero worship of him. Like he doesn’t quite realize he’s a superhero too and he’s all “OMG I CAN’T BELIEVE I MET SUPERMAN HE’S SO AWESOME I WANT TO BE HIM.” Like, dude, you are. Except he’s also a little boy and this is all a really big responsibility for a kid and the way Superman responds to that is really touching.
And finally, in what I expect will be the only Mark Millar recommendation I will ever make, Superman: Red Son is actually kind of worth the read. And it’s worth noting that Henry Cavill, who plays Superman in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, apparently took inspiration from this comic (as well as a few others). I learned that just this minute.
Before reading it, I had heard that this comic was meant to explore the goodness of Superman. Like, is he actually just an inherently good person, or is that because he was raised by good hard-working American farmers? What would happen if he landed in communist Russia instead?
Apparently, he’s still pretty great. I mean, he makes some decisions that are not so great based on valuing a communal good rather than individual freedom. But besides the fact that doing so actually creates world peace, he still eventually comes out on the side of individuality and free will being more important than peace. Apparently Millar just can’t imagine a world where Superman is actually a villain in any meaningful way. Lex (always my favorite character) on the other hand is this time genuinely fighting for the country’s safety and doing good things but still manages to come across as the bad guy.
He’s also just a completely ridiculous character whose brain is so overpowered he can’t ever just do one thing, so he’ll be like playing 6 games of chess while reading a book in a foreign language and working on a cure for cancer and learning tennis strategies. I’m not even kidding. (Although apparently I am slightly wrong. TVTropes says it’s just that he’s playing 14 games of chess while learning Urdu on a tape recorder he invented that morning and reading The Prince. At the same time. There, that’s much more reasonable.) The ace up his sleeve in fighting Superman is also my favorite line in any comic ever and I won’t say it because spoilers but if you read the comic I’m pretty sure you’ll know when you see it. You should definitely read it out loud with as much melodrama as possible. And then just quote it at anyone who’s ever read the comic whenever you disagree with something they’re doing and/or want to end an argument. Not that I’ve ever done this. *coughs*
Ugh. Do I have to? Well, no, I don’t. Obviously. Because it’s my blog. But I’ve committed so I’ll do it.
Batman’s not a bad character. If there wasn’t so much hype around him and if I didn’t find so many of his fans so creepy, I’d probably just be kind of neutral about him. But the fact that any time someone’s talking about a “who would win” it’s always Batman, the horrifying way so many of the vocal male Batman fans responded to that Joker alternate cover to Batgirl awhile ago, the way the current writer and artist talked about having to top themselves and be more brutally violent in their recent finale than anything that came before…it all just gives me a bad feeling that no amount of good writing can overcome. Batman is the worst, not through any fault of his own or because of things that happen in the majority of his stories or even because of most of the writers, but because he seems to bring out the worst of the comic book fandom. The Batman corner of the comic book world is a dark, terrifying place and I don’t like exploring it.
But Batman cartoons can actually be pretty decent. Batman: The Brave and the Bold is hilarious campy goodness that also gives a decent (if not exactly serious) introduction to other members of the Justice League. Batman: The Animated Series features the snarkiest of Batmans (Batmen?) and therefore my favorite. From what I hear, a lot of Batman fans also prefer this version and consider Kevin Conroy, his voice actor in this series, to be the definitive Batman voice. I think it captures the more serious and heavy feel of the character without going super grimdark. It strikes a nice balance between humor and drama and is fun to watch even as someone who can’t stand Batman. (Though again, also enjoyed by people who do like him.) Appropriate for all ages, and a good way to get to know the character and everyone around him.
So that’s me. What were/are some of your favorites featuring these three?