Sunday, March 12, 2017

Two Overarching Questions about Batman v Superman

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)?
Bruce 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 ( and 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.

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