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How do you stay relevant in a world where Batman is terrible?

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The challenge of Warner Bros.

The text-less cover of All-Star Batman #9 (2017) Jock/DC Comics

There isn’t much of a DC Cinematic Universe, despite a flurry of films that have done pretty good business while bringing critical scorn on Warner Bros.’ handling of the characters. Ben Affleck seems more than ready to leave the role behind, and the rumors of Jake Gyllenhaal taking on the cowl are ... safe. It’s a good fit that doesn’t yet seem to bring anything interesting to the role.

So how does Warner Bros. stay relevant in a world where Marvel and Disney are dominating so handily with both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars? We have some thoughts.

What is interesting about Batman?

Affleck’s Batman was a brute who looked like a stone rectangle that has been carved with bumps where you’d expect muscles to be. He’s scared of Superman, and then he brings Superman back from the dead but he mostly reacts to what’s going on around him, while killing a bunch of people. He’s not the world’s greatest detective as much as he’s an openly violent and murderous lunk who probably shouldn’t be given sharp objects.

Batman is busy waiting for Batman to show, and we identify with that
Warner Bros.

Affleck wasn’t able to bring much to the character, and the scripts he was given never really helped things. His Batman was big, loved guns and was kinda dumb. Sometimes these things don’t work out, and holy shit did things ever not work out in this case. It’s no surprise that Affleck is ready to move on, he’s stuck with a character he can’t seem to do anything interesting with while he’s turning into an image of all that’s wrong within the DC Cinematic Universe.

Warner Bros. is shaking things up, because there’s not much choice at this point. The DC movies have been a disaster, with Justice League skating by on the strength of the jokes that all seem like they were put in and shot by Joss Whedon. It’s not that these characters are bad, or even that the casting is off. The vision of the entire mess is just not there. So Warner is stuck trying to do something with Batman that elevates one of the strongest characters in pop culture back to the big leagues.

The secret — outside of getting rid of Zack Snyder and his inability to understand what people like about superhero movies — is that there has to be a movie that brings Batman back to what makes him such a great character. We don’t need to see the origin story again, we all know how that happened. We need to slow things down and show that Batman is both tortured and impossibly decent.

He’s a genius who can crack any case and bring the bad guys to justice with his brain as much as his fists. He’s trying to leave Gotham a little bit better than he found it, and the city as a whole always seems to fight back just as hard. He has a Sisyphean task that will never be done, and will likely kill him. But he persists. That’s who he is, and that’s a side of the character that’s completely missing from the xenophobic and borderline hateful caricature that Affleck and Snyder brought to life.

It’s hard to say “just get back to the character,” but that’s the challenge. The Batman of the past few films has left a bad taste in everyone’s mouths, from the audience to the actor bringing him to life. It’s time to start over and shine a bright light on what makes Batman unique. Don’t crowd the frame with other characters or a bigger universe, at least not yet. Give the role to a new actor, remind audiences why they love Batman and why he’s a hero and not just a shadow on Gotham’s wall and watch the fans run back to him.

Batman is failing at the box office because he’s not a hero, and there is currently no understanding of what makes him such a great character. He’s not tortured but driven by the need to help in these films, he’s just a dick. Until that gets fixed, Batman is going to continue to be an also-ran in a world where Marvel is doing everything better. We want to love Batman, but Warner has to meet us halfway. This is the character that topped the charts in the comic book world through all of 2017; the audiences want to love him.

But we have to be given an excuse to love him, and that won’t happen without a strong script and a good star to take up the role. Until we get there, Warner Bros. is going to continue to waste one of its best assets, and that’s a shame.