Superman died on January 1, 1993, but I don’t recall that being a drab winter day; rather, I remember skipping home from the comic-book store, warmed by the knowledge I had three comics in my hand — all I could afford with my allowance, but also all the store allowed per customer.
I was happy Superman was dead. I was sick of the Man of Steel.
On the other hand, a few months later, when the same comic book company, DC, made Bane break Batman’s back as part of the “Knightfall” storyline that would eventually inspire The Dark Knight Rises, I was horrified. How could they do that to Batman?
Some might find my cheering the death of Superman while staying loyal to Batman nothing short of sacrilege, but even in those early days of the Clinton era, I knew one thing, which occurred to me again last night when the Internet exploded over the announcement that Ben Affleck will play Batman in the sequel to Man of Steel: Superman has been useless for years.
People are angry about the Superman sequel for the wrong reasons. Sure, Affleck will, at best, be about as good as George Clooney in his new role. He already had his shot at playing a superhero with Daredevil, and that didn’t pan out too well — but Affleck isn’t that bad of a choice when you think about all the other terrible candidates who could have gotten the role. And really, has anybody ever been that satisfied with any actor’s portrayal of the Caped Crusader? Adam West was too funny; Michael Keaton — my personal favorite — wasn’t cool or tough enough for some people; Val Kilmer had already played Jim Morrison and Top Gun‘s Iceman, which I personally couldn’t get past; George Clooney is George Clooney; and Christian Bale talked like “Macho Man” Randy Savage with a really bad case of strep throat.
We are never going to be satisfied with the actor playing Batman, but in the case of this latest announcement, I believe our outrage is subconsciously about something deeper than Batman: We can’t admit to ourselves that we will never see a great Superman film. It is going to take more than just pitting the Man of Steel against Matt Damon’s best friend, dressed up in a cape and driving the Batmobile, to change that. Our denial is based in the idea that Superman is the “greatest American hero.” He is supposed to be the symbol of everything that is great about America, and therefore we must make sure he is treated as such, by any means necessary.
Superman, along with baseball and Detroit, is just a once-great American thing that we can’t stop wishing would stay the same forever. Detroit might just get up and running again someday, but it will never be the way it once was. Baseball will take years to climb out of the pharmaceutical hole it has dug itself into. Superman, while an American icon, is a product of another day and age. Yet here we are again, trying once more to make the Man of Steel work on the screen — only this time we’re dragging Batman into the whole mess, rather than giving his franchise the decade of rest it deserves. That’s the biggest problem with the announcement of Ben Affleck playing Gotham’s Knight: that the whole film is even happening at all.