The last decade or so has seen comic book culture pervade Hollywood’s every intimate crevice, in a fashion not unlike a sentient mass of locusts that take it upon themselves to permeate a cornfield, an allegorical biblical tale, or a locust convention. It is as if the town were bitten by a giant spider, which instead of bestowing super powers upon it, instead infused it with an irrepressible zeal for explosions, sequels, repetition, explosions, and sequels. And repetition. With the subtlety of the hammer of Thor himself, and all the panache of a Chris Hemsworth facial expression, Disney and Warner Brothers have taken turns to beat us over the head with their revamped versions of comic book superheroes.
Some of these films have been fantastic; the best of them usually combining a darker, more contemporary spin on the original character, with a self-effacing sense of humour that gives due respect to the source material – a sort of referential reverence that never strays into outright parody. Unfortunately though, for every Dark Knight there is a Daredevil lurking in the shadows. Or perhaps in plain sight; it’s not as if he’d know the difference. And in recent years, the balance in the comic book movie multiverse has definitively shifted not towards Christopher Nolan’s Yin, but rather headfirst into Ben Affleck’s Yang (ooh, matron).
Like any creature in the midst of its death throes, this leviathan is currently preoccupied with firing desperate parting salvos in a brave attempt to delay the inevitable. The latest of these is a mooted sequel to the recent commercially successful but much- (and somewhat unfairly) maligned Man of Steel, set for a 2015 release. The big news is that it will see Henry Cavill’s Superman cross paths with DC’s other marquee attraction, Batman. With anticipation already feverishly high, one does not envy the burden placed on the shoulders of Zack Snyder to revitalise an ailing mini-industry with his impending blockbuster.
What kind of dynamic can we expect between the two heroes? Will they overcome their moral, political and sartorial differences and become fast friends? Will Lex Luthor loudly ridicule them for being a pair of tights-wearing orphan homosexuals? Well, two years is too long to wait to answer these questions, so here’s an account of what we might expect to see…
Bruce Wayne closed his eyes as he lay back into the luxurious bubble bath Alfred had drawn for him. His body was bruised from his night’s work, and he could not remember the last time he took some time to himself to unwind. As the soothing tones of Strauss’ Die Fledermaus overture filled Wayne Manor’s opulent bathroom, Bruce felt himself drifting off to sleep.
The sound of the doorbell woke Wayne from his snooze with a jolt. As he wondered who could be calling at this late hour, he tentatively lifted himself out of the bath and wrapped a towel around his waist. When he reached the landing he looked down to find Alfred inside the front door, accompanied by a gigantic figure that Bruce had no difficulty recognising.
‘Mister Kent to see you, Sir.’
‘Thank you Alfred,’ he replied after a pause. The butler headed for the kitchen, leaving the two men staring fixedly at each other in silence. Bruce’s visitor narrowed his eyes as he looked up the staircase.
‘Is that a bat on your towel?’
Bruce clenched his teeth and replied with a snarl,
‘Is that a giant S on your suitcase?’
‘It’s not an S,’ Clark retorted. ‘It means hope.’
‘Funny way of spelling hope,’ Bruce muttered to himself as he walked down the stairs towards his guest.
‘You know I have super hearing?’
‘Yeah I found that out at Wonder Woman’s Christmas party.’
‘It’s not my fault I couldn’t sleep with you and her going at-’
‘Okay, I’m not having this conversation again. Come on, I need a drink.’
The two sat by the fire in the study, Clark sipping from a glass of lemonade as Bruce nursed a tumbler of whiskey. Kent squirmed as he tried to fit his giant torso comfortably into the armchair.
‘Will you be careful you big lump?’
‘This chair is impossibly small.’
‘Just take it easy, everything in here is an antique.’
‘What about that Nintendo Wii?’
‘That’s…Alfred’s,’ Bruce replied curtly.
‘That must be his Wii dance mat in the cupboard then.’
‘Look, did you just come here to show off your silly little powers or is there a point to this visit?’
Clark set down his glass and sighed deeply,
‘Look, I’m sorry to bother you so late Bruce but…I was wondering if I could stay for a few days. I…kind of got evicted today.’
‘Evicted? Don’t you live in some giant igloo somewhere? The Fortress of Platitude or something?’
‘Solitude. Yeah…that melted. You know, climate change and all that. I’ve been living in an apartment for a few months now.’
‘What did you do, break all their antique armchairs?’
Clark glowered at him, ‘No, I…burnt the building down.’
‘You did what?’
‘I know, I know. I was tired, my microwave was broken, I tried to cook one of those ready meal things with my heat vision…next thing I know the place is covered in goose fat and the walls are on fire.’
‘The worst part is I was supposed to be doing Celebrity Masterchef next week. Fat chance now.’
Bruce drained his glass and rose from his chair.
‘You can stay as long as you need to Clark. Come on, you can sleep in Robin’s room.’
‘He’s not here?’
‘No, he’s off following One Direction on their tour around Europe.’
Kent looked at him quizzically.
‘Yeah, I know. Don’t get me started.’
Wayne grunted in response and walked towards the door.
‘Oh and don’t touch his mineral collection. When people touch his minerals he goes-‘
‘Batshit crazy?’ interjected Clark with a wry smile.
‘You know I could think of a few other things that S could stand for.’
When Bruce entered the kitchen the next morning he found Clark preparing an omelette for breakfast.
‘Morning roomie,’ Kent chimed.
‘Don’t call me that,’ Bruce replied flatly as he sat at the table.
‘You break those eggs yourself? I’m surprised the house is still standing.’
Clark cast him a withering look.
‘Silly me, I thought the Joker was behind bars, but here he is in the flesh.’
‘Christ, don’t talk to me about that maniac. He still writes, you know. Last week he sent me one of his shits in the post.’
‘I know. Not to mention all the other crazies he brought crawling out of the woodwork.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘This card was left at a crime scene last week, have a look and see what you think.’
Clark peered down at the card Bruce slid across the table. It had a question mark on one side, and an almost unintelligible scrawl on the other. Clark read the words aloud, ‘What grows smaller every time you use it?’
‘That’s a bit vague, isn’t it?’
‘Tell me about it. The last few nights I’ve gone to soap producers, pencil manufacturers, tyre yards, candlemakers…’
‘Not to mention pretty much all liquids,’ added Clark. ‘And foods. Cosmetics, toiletries, I mean it could be nearly anything.’
‘Yeah I know. It really is a terrible riddle. Still, it’s the only lead I have. I’m going out tonight to check out the giant eraser factory downtown.’
‘I’ll go with you Bruce, I’m dying for a bit of action. It seems like all I’ve been doing recently is rescuing kittens, freeing people handcuffed to radiators, that kind of thing. I could do with a bit of supervillainy for a change.’
‘What about Luthor?’
‘He disappeared a few months ago after that failed attempt to steal the Taj Mahal.’
‘He’s nothing if not ambitious, that man.’
After nightfall the two heroes made their way to the Batcave. They changed into their suits, Clark waiting impatiently as Bruce put the finishing touches to his black eye shadow. Moments later the roar of the Batmobile’s engine shattered the silence of the still evening, as the pair sped towards town.
‘It’s a bit cramped in here isn’t it?’
‘We don’t all have the luxury of flight, Clark.’
Kent frowned pensively.
‘Why is your symbol a bat then? Surely it should be something a bit more sedentary. How about a panda? You’ve got the eyes down already.’
Wayne ignored Clark, who continued to fidget distractedly.
‘What does this button do?’
Clark looked on in amazement as the entire back seat of the vehicle was transformed. A plush velvet couch revolved into view, accompanied by an ice-bucket and an expensive-looking bottle of champagne. The lights dimmed to a soft, golden hue, and the unmistakeably smooth voice of Al Green reverberated around the car’s interior.
‘Eh…you know Bruce, I like you as a friend and fellow superhero, but…’
‘Don’t even start,’ growled a seething Wayne, pressing the button again as the car reverted to its original layout.
‘This is where I have to do most of my…entertaining. Alfred doesn’t like me bringing girls home since those two hookers stole the Caravaggios from the drawing room last year.’
A few minutes later they arrived at the entrance to the factory, and got out to have a look around.
‘I’ll fly around and see if anything’s happening,’ said Clark.
‘Right, I’ll see if I can get inside.’
Bruce made his way to the back entrance, a rusty door that was bolted and padlocked. It only took him seconds to unpick the lock, and he pulled the door back to reveal the pitch black interior of the building. Just as he stepped inside, a cloud of gas appeared with a hiss and enveloped him. Bruce slumped to the ground, trying to call for help, but to no avail. His head hit the cold concrete floor, and he faded into unconsciousness.
When Bruce opened his eyes his vision was blurred. His head was pounding and it took a moment to regain his bearings. He looked down to see that he had been chained to the inner wall of the building. He pulled at his shackles with all his strength, but to no avail. To his right he noticed Clark, who had been similarly fastened. He appeared to be conscious, though his head was bowed, and he looked groggy.
‘Clark,’ he whispered. ‘Come on, break your chains.’
Kent was unresponsive. It was then that Bruce noticed a small green crystal hung on the wall just above his friend’s head. His heart sank as he realised what it was.
‘Well, I see you finally solved my riddle,’ came a high-pitched voice from the darkness, as a tall, gangly figure loomed into view.
Bruce surveyed the madman with contempt.
‘Yeah, it was a real head-scratcher. So you’ve just been sitting around here all week waiting fo-’
‘Silence!’ he shrieked, a look of anguish contorting his sunken features.
‘Let’s strike a deal, fellas,’ he continued, a frenzied smile crossing his lips.
‘Solve my next riddle, and I’ll let you walk away right now.’
Wayne glanced warily at Clark as the Riddler spoke in verse,
‘This two-headed beast is black and blue,
Its night of sleuthing gone askew.’
Bruce responded immediately.
‘Well…that’s us obviously.’
The Riddler’s manic grin slipped from his face.
‘So we can go now?’
‘I’m afraid not,’ boomed a voice from the shadows.
A hunched figure stepped forward into the light, his hairless dome gleaming above the evil visage that was twisted with malevolence. He turned to the Riddler,
‘Edward, we really need to talk about your villain persona. These riddles are just ridiculous.’
‘Oh really, Lex?’ he responded, his voice becoming louder and more agitated.
‘I suppose I’ll just tell my mother I don’t want the question mark onesie that she spent a whole weekend making for me?’
Lex sighed in frustration and turned to his prisoners.
Bruce calmly met his sinister gaze.
‘Cute pet,’ he quipped.
Lex smiled scornfully in response.
‘Simply a means to an end. And now that I have you two under control, that end is looking pretty close.’
Lex retreated to a control panel and flipped some switches. The building lit up instantly, revealing an enormous contraption that looked like a giant antenna of some kind. It began to emit a powerful humming noise, as if it was powering up.
‘You see,’ Lex continued, ‘I’ve been dabbling in software development. A week ago I released an app so fiendishly addictive that every smartphone user in the world has downloaded it. And now I’ll activate the signal I hid in the coding, rendering every one of them a mindless automaton, ready to do my bidding.’
Wayne scoffed at this declaration.
‘You can’t possibly have created something that addictive.’
‘Oh no? I used the most complex algorithm known to man to calculate each variable. It uses data from every meme on the internet to ensure maximum effectiveness.’
‘So what is it?’ asked Bruce.
‘Well, it’s basically just Angry Birds. Except instead of birds and pigs, you throw tiny Nicolas Cage heads at those minions from Despicable Me.’
Wayne’s eyes widened in shock as he imagined the millions of people enthralled by such a prospect.
The Riddler perked up. ‘Ooh, that sounds like fun. Can I play?
Lex ignored him and went on.
‘I’ll have an army at my disposal to…’
‘To overthrow the world’s governments,’ finished Bruce, shaking his head disconsolately.
‘What? No, I don’t want some stuffy office job ruling over billions of cretins. I’m going to have them steal the Taj Mahal for me.’
Bruce stared at him in disbelief.
‘You really have your heart set on that, don’t you?’
Lex cackled to himself as he moved his hand over the console and prepared to turn on the antenna.
A deafening crash echoed throughout the building, as suddenly scores of men in FBI jackets streamed in through the entrances, and rappelled down from the ceiling. Within an instant dozens of guns were trained on Lex. His face etched with fury as he raised his hands, Luthor turned to his accomplice.
‘You idiot. Did you send the feds one of your stupid little non-riddles?’
‘No, I swear I didn’t. I was going to, but I couldn’t think of anything that rhymes with Taj Mahal.’
An officer stepped forward from the crowd and addressed Lex,
‘It’s the NSA you have to thank, Luthor. They intercepted an e-mail sent by you to your mother, in which you explained your plot in painstaking detail.’
‘You damned tyrants!’ Lex screamed as he and the Riddler were taken away. ‘Don’t you see what you’ve become? All I wanted was the Taj Mahal!’
The officer turned to Bruce and Clark as they were being cut from their chains.
‘Well, another terrorist cell safely disposed of. Thanks for your help, guys.’
Bruce frowned. ‘Eh, well I don’t think they really qualify as a terr-’
‘Yep,’ the officer continued as he walked away, ‘a good day for freedom.’
Bruce opened the door to Robin’s room to see Clark sitting up in bed, looking like his usual self again. He sat by the bedside.
‘Well, take your time. With those two off the streets, I don’t think we’ll have to deal with any more supervillains for quite a while.’
There was a knock at the door, and Alfred entered with a parcel.
‘Excuse me sirs, but this just arrived. The postmark says Arkham Asylum.’
‘Christ,’ exclaimed Bruce, ‘what the hell is that smell?’
‘Give that here, Alfred,’ said Clark, who stood up and took the package. He went to the window, opened it, and pulled his arm back over his shoulder.
The astronauts on the International Space Station were going through their daily systems check. A voice crackled in the ear of Lieutenant Chris Johnson as he inspected the communications array.
‘Uh, Chris, radar is showing an unidentified bogey passing by. It should be visible from the east viewing panel. Can you check it out?’
‘Roger, I’m here now, I’ll have a look. Oh Jesus…’
‘What is it?’
‘Well, it’s…hard to say.’
‘Well come on Chris, what the hell is it?’ laughed the astronaut.
‘Is it a bird? Is it a plane?’
‘It’s a box of shit, Frank.’
‘Well I know that Chris, but for the next five months it’s home, so get used to it.’