Zack Snyder, director of upcoming super-slugfest Batman V Superman, has come out swinging himself. But what exactly is his target, with comments like:
“I feel like Batman and Superman are transcendent of superhero movies in a way, because they’re Batman and Superman, they’re not just, like, the flavor of the week Ant-Man — not to be mean, but whatever it is. What is next Blank-Man?”
What exactly does transcend mean here? These two are perhaps the epitome of the genre – they embody everything that it initially set out to champion, to idolise. These are two men who use their power and privilege to help the disenfranchised, and they have not only battled bad guys who steal money and property, but also racists and warmongers. To transcend is to go beyond, to exceed, to break through limitations or confines. If you are the basis upon which the genre rests, as Snyder seems to acknowledge when he describes them further as the “most mythological of our superheroes”, how do you transcend yourself?
Unsurprisingly, I think Snyder is wrong. I think these two greats of the superhero typology are the ultimate superheroes, with all that this entails. No heroes have ever come close to their immediacy of recognition, their iconic status. As such they epitomise the genre – all that is good, and all that is bad. They will always embody confidence in liberal individualism, and benevolent colonialism, by dint of being powerful white men who save people. They may be able to transcend their origins, to transcend the medium of the comic. But they cannot transcend their very selves, their inherent identity, unless they quit.
If Batman becomes a lawyer, or a cop, if he became the next Commissioner Wayne, that would be transcend the paradigm of the lone hero. If he started a free krav maga school for the victims of domestic violence, and empowered the dis-empowered instead of standing for them, that would be transcending the paradigm.* Being really very good at what you do, and so popular that non-comic book heroes will watch your movies, is not transcending.
We have enough ‘myths’ of great, white, men. Hooray for Ant-man, who is not afraid to be small, to seem insignificant. Bring on ‘Blank-Man’, who stands awkwardly at the back, only on screen because he’s pretty, as WonderWomen does her thing.
You know who does transcend the superhero movie? Blade: a heavily-armed black vigilante. Think about the political implications of that for a minute. Who reinvents the superhero movie beyond its current confines? A stand-alone Storm movie could too. Kamala Khan would. Professor X did, until Hollywood got obsessed with making him walk again – some people are wheelchair users, get over it. These are heroes who exceed the current definitions, who push the boundaries of what it means to be a superhero. These are transcendent heroes.
* Turns out there’s a Snyder getting this right, Scott Snyder’s run on Batman explores these very ideas! Spoilers for issue #43 on that link…