The other day Steven Spielberg said that inevitably audiences will get “superhero fatigue” and the genre will go the way of the Western. As DC lags behind Marvel with bringing their multiverse to the big screen, the latter is already pushing ahead with bringing their cinematic success to the small screen by the bucket load. But is there a benefit to DC to try and do this too, and can television offer new opportunities to save the genre?
I recently wrote that Gotham was a wasted opportunity to return Batman to the small screen. One of the best, but of course least focused on, parts of the show is seeing how the young Bruce Wayne lives his life. In the films, by necessity, it’s always jumped over or at the very least skips to his decision to travel the world, learn how to fight crime before returning to Gotham to assume a familiar mantle.
Gotham is bad, but it should never become so bad as it becomes Bruce Wayne High. A balance needs to be struck: Wayne can never be happy enough to get over the trauma of his parents’ deaths to live a normal life, but never be so manically depressed as to start jumping off buildings and seeing bats in Rorschach tests before being sectioned. Wayne is not Peter Parker, and as the series progresses it must resist the temptation to get too caught up
What it must do is to provide a believably consistent misery that stays with him. The character was always stoic, but what does he do in his spare time at age 10? Does he go about the normal ins and outs of a day to day routine; does he listen to music; does he watch films or television? What does he eat, what does he do, does he have friends or are we to believe he sits in the dark waiting for trouble like Michael Keaton in Batman Returns?
I also speculated recently whether superhero comics and films exist in the universe of the superheroes we watch and read about. If not, then the manner in which they live their days is unique and without precedent. If they do, in the manner of Watchmen when they know that they’re costumed heroes, do the likes of Batman and Superman know they’re modelling themselves off comics (and why does no one ever say anything)?
I’ve found the thought of Clark Kent/Superman eating breakfast to be hilarious. DC characters always had a such a burdened, grandiose nature that the idea of them munching on cereal in such a normal, mundane way, seems hilarious. Marvel gets away with it, and Tony Stark drinks and eats enough for everyone. DC having a scene with Batman ironing his suits (in a serious, non-Joel Schumacher film) would be interesting because in DC films there is a tendency to only ever explore moments of heroism and character development and not the little moments of life that would confirm to the audience that they’re as ordinary these realistic and gritty films try to make out.
I’ve not lost my mind: in a deleted scene from Superman, Reeve’s Superman asks Jor-El why he needs a secret identity. His father explains that if Superman was there all of the time then human beings would take advantage and call on his help even for matters that they could solve themselves. In other words, it’s moral hazard summed up with the most appropriate answer ever.
So a perfect explanation as to why Superman adopts the Kent/Man of Steel dichotomy was inexplicably cut by Richard Donner in what can only have been a fit of madness. Thank God for YouTube, because that one scene brings us closer than even the Nolan brothers did in their efforts to make the exceptional seem as ordinary as you or me.
This is the next evolution for comic book heroes; the final stage in their myth busting that brings them down to – pardon the pun – Earth. Gotham is a set on TV, but I’m happy to bet money that before long people will suffer from the fatigue and boredom Spielberg spoke about.
Before long superheroes will find their natural home on television, with big screen outings seen as a treat rather than their de facto haunt. It will allow the genre to recharge, to usher in a new age of character introspection and developments that move beyond the teenage angst of Smallville, the campy outing of the 1960s Batman and the herculean blockbuster. DC needs to get on this as Marvel have, otherwise, there won’t be any cinematic spoils for them left to enjoy.