Pardon me, as we interrupt this week's regularly scheduled recommended reading with an op/ed piece.
Comic book movie casting is incredibly divisive in fandom. If you've ever spent anytime in a comic book shop, or on the comic book internet, you've seen it. And when I signed on to check Twitter yesterday evening, I admit to being completely shocked by two things. First, by the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman. I mean, I'd been thinking about all sorts of actors, and Affleck wasn't even on the long list, let alone the short one. But what really shocked me was the sheer level of vitriol being spewed by nearly everyone.
Now, as I said, comic geeks on the internet spewing venom is par for the course, but this was pros, both creators and journalists, rending their garments and declaring undying hatred for Affleck, DC, Warner Brothers, and Hollywood in general. And as I read down, and saw the occasional positive comment, all it did was make me shake my head in wonderment. There's something to be said for the emotion that the casting of a fictional character can bring about, and what it means to people. And Batman means a heck of a lot to me, as much if not more than to a lot of the irritated masses. But I wasn't that angry. And I'm going to give you two reasons.
The first is the simple one: We haven't seen the movie. We haven't seen anything about how they're portraying Batman. Affleck might not be your cup of tea. He's not an actor who I go to a movie to see, but I will say he's shown a lot of growth as an actor since Daredevil and Phantoms (although he was the bomb in Phantoms. Hands up if you recognize THAT obscure reference). I've said this before about the way comic fans react to announcements of new creators on comics or a change of direction; there is a preconception about liking a creator/plotline, and there's this immediate, flying off the handle response. If you have seen something and hate it, then you can rant and rave til your heart's content. Until then, maybe you should give it a try. You might actually like it; it worked with green eggs and ham. If Dr. Seuss told us something, it's probably right.
But more than that, the thing that made me look at it, shrug, and think that this isn't that big a deal is that, frankly, this Batman too shall pass. Batman is a character who is just shy of seventy-five years old. Do you know how many actors what played Batman on screen? Seven, and that's if you're not counting voice actors. You factor that in, both TV, movie, and video game, and the number hits the upper teens if not the twenties. And I don't think any one of them has ruined the character. And it doesn't make the old movies you may or may not have liked disappear.
I have a very specific vision of who and what Batman is. I've written about that before. But a new interpretation doesn't nullify those other versions. This was a big discussion when DC's New 52 initiative started, and a lot of fans were angry that the stories they had read, "didn't matter," anymore. And I'm sure if the internet existed at the time, we would have a similar reaction when Crisis On Infinite Earths happened. But DC staff said is true: that stories you love matter to you, and that's where it really counts. DC didn't come to my house and burn all my post-Crisis/pre-Flashpoint comics, and I can still revisit those versions of the character whenever I want.
When it comes to Batman on screen for me, I have a personal favorite vision. And it's not either Chrsitopher Nolan or Tim Burton. If you want the ideal Batman movie, you have to go no further then the oft-forgotten gem that is Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. It's the big screen movie from the creators of Batman: The Animated Series, and it is brilliant. It has a solid, coherent plot that doesn't crumble in the third act, some of the slickest animation you could imagine, and voice acting from Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as Batman and Joker. It is moody,smart, and I'd wager half of you reading this haven't heard of it, and maybe half of you who have haven't seen it (it is available on DVD, and if you haven't seen it you should check it out). But I don't think I've ever seen a Batman more true to my vision than that one. But that didn't stop me from loving Christopher Nolan's vision of Gotham too.
And speaking of Batman: The Animated Series (B:TAS for short from here on out), let's briefly talk about Batman in animation. The last time I heard nerd rage nearly to this level was each time a new animated incarnation of Batman has been introduced since the run of B:TAS wrapped. I wasn't a huge fan of The Batman, although I warmed to it in its last couple of seasons. But I remember a major huff when the idea of Batman: The Brave and the Bold was introduced. A light, kid friendly Batman? "NOOO!" cried fandom, "Not Adam West again!" But after a couple episodes, I know I was completely sold, and I think a lot of other fans were too. It was a different take on the character, but Batman wasn't the joke in the series, and while he wasn't the dark avenger of B:TAS, he was a hero and played the straight man in a ridiculous, sci-fi world, and there was charm in that. And because fanboys never learn their lesson, when Beware the Batman was announced, there was a similar outcry. The computer animation, the special ops Alfred, the use of Katana; all seemed to stir up a lot of wrath. I'm still not completely sold on the animation, I prefer traditional to computer animation in most cases, or the actual design of Alfred, but I've enjoyed the series thus far, and plan an Animated Discussions on it shortly. It's a solid show, and the choice of villains have been really interesting.
I understand the casting of an actor and the complete reboot of a comic book universe or new animated series aren't a perfect analogy. There are additional elements at work in the movie casting, including the belief that the actor can't carry the role, or that it's stunt casting or favoritism. There's an intense feeling of possessiveness that comes with being a fan. And if you do choose to skip the new Superman/Batman movie because you feel that strongly about Ben Affleck, go for it. Stay home and rewatch Batman or The Dark Knight and once again experience those interpretations. But me? I'm willing to give it a shot. I might be surprised. Or I might hate it. But I'm gonna give someone else's Batman a shot for a bit and see what they have to show me.