I was recently asked two fairly fundamental questions about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in the comment board for one of our recent JLU Podcast episodes, and I thought I would share my answers here, as well. The questions were from Dragan Dnjidic.
1. What would you say to people who were expecting a primarily ideological rivalry between Batman and Superman and who were disappointed that they just fought because of Lex Luthor kidnapping Martha Kent?
I think the marketing for BvS set up a little bit of an expectation
for ideological rivalry (e.g., they included Lex's lines about "day
versus night..."), but I also think people had built that up themselves
as something they were really expecting in the movie, and it's most fair
to judge a movie based on its own story it was telling, not based on
expectations or what you would've wanted in your personally preferred
version of the movie. Now, I would say that it's not a very accurate
characterization to say that the fight was just about Lex kidnapping
Martha Kent. Lex, of course, did kidnap Martha as his final piece of
leverage to exert control over Superman to make sure the fight happened,
and to fulfill his fantasy of having god kneel before him.
But the pump
was already primed before this because Superman was frustrated because
the world was giving him a hard time after all of his own actions, even
when he was just trying to help and do the right thing -- there were
unintended consequences and unfair responses from people to what he was
doing. Meanwhile, Batman was seemingly getting a free pass even though
Batman is much more brutal and working outside the law. It was
frustrating for Superman to see someone doing things that Superman
himself would get crucified for doing. And Batman now going across the
line in terms of taking the law into his own hands also conflicted with
Superman's sense of justice. (So there is a little bit of ideological
conflict in there, but I think it was much more a psychological basis
for the fight.) On Batman's side, he had more reasons to fight than just
Martha Kent being kidnapped, too. Speaking of which...
2. How do we know that Bruce's powerlessness is his primary motivation and not the 1% doctrine (which we call a rationalization that he used to convince himself that he was justified in persecuting Superman)?
is not wrong about his 1% doctrine, but we argue throughout our podcast
that this is his rationalization and that his true driving force,
primarily subconscious, is his feeling of powerlessness and his
desperate effort to prove to himself that his life as Batman has been
worthwhile. We cover this most directly in the following episodes
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tg9jkfgvb1E) but to summarize some of
the evidence, Alfred gives us a keen insight into Bruce's psychology
early when he explicitly states that he has observed Bruce drifting off
because of the feeling of powerlessness. This helps us even interpret
the opening scene in a different way --- we can notice that Bruce first
was powerless to save Jack and his employees and then was visually
powerless as a man running into a huge cloud of debris. Importantly,
this was BEFORE he stared up in anger at Superman and Zod (powerlessness
first, anger at the threat of Superman second as a rationalization).
Later on, we get more evidence besides Alfred's observation because we
see that the taunt that really worked on Bruce was to say "You let your
family die!" --- that is, Bruce has failed and has been powerless to
save important people in his life (think Robin suit and his parents,
especially). If it was truly an arc about the 1% doctrine, then it
should've been "He could murder us all" or something like that as the
threat that really got a reaction out of Bruce.
Another piece of
evidence is the mausoleum nightmare (personal issues) that happens
before the desert Knightmare/vision (Superman as threat) --- the
mausoleum nightmare is straight from Bruce's psyche and it involves his
parents' death still haunting him, which we take to be connected to his
feeling of powerlessness, not being able to save them or redeem them.
Oh, and that reminds me, that the Beautiful Lie poem at the beginning is
another big piece of evidence, because he starts out by saying that
his time as Batman has been a lie -- he hasn't made the difference, in
the world or in his own life, that he thought he would as Batman. That
opening narration is more important for interpreting his arc, I think,
than the 1% doctrine that comes later.
Anyway, there is more
evidence, but that's enough to get started. And in our analysis, we have
not found any evidence that contradicts the notion that it goes (A)
powerlessness then (B) 1% doctrine as a rationalization. And the most
important reason to interpret Bruce's issue this way is because that it
makes perfect sense of the big Martha moment. Without the powerlessness
angle, it seems like a fast and too convenient turnaround (because
Superman's 1% threat is still there). Also, it makes it so that Bruce's
character arc and Lex's become a very interesting parallel of two men
trying to deal with being emasculated by the arrival of Superman.