Greetings, true believers. BAADASSSSS! has returned with the second long-awaited edition of The 10 Best Unproduced Comic Book Movie Scripts.
If you haven’t checked out my bloated, unwieldy nerdgasm of an introduction to the series as well as a complete week-by-week breakdown of clues to each entry on this list you may do so here.
For this sophomore entry in my little venture through territory well-traveled and much more elegantly chronicled I have chosen a script that is bound to elicit its fair share of dissenting opinions. I am prepared for this. I have also read this particular script and highly believe that, while it may not have not been close to perfection – a trait it shares with every entry on this list – it certainly held great potential.
Asylum: Batman Vs. Superman by Andrew Kevin Walker
They’ve scored in recent memory with The Dark Knight and Man of Steel, but believe it or not ten years ago DC Comics’ cinematic output was in the sorriest state imaginable (no, not Rhode Island). The once-mighty Batman franchise had been lobotomized and reshaped into a bombastic nightmare of nipples and neon by parent company Warner Brothers with the reluctant assistance of beleaguered director Joel Schumacher. And if such a thing was possible, their myriad attempts to launch a new Superman movie had resulted in millions of dollars spent on unrealized scripts, pay-or-play talent deals that paid rather than played, and other steadily mounting development costs with absolutely nothing to show for it but massive bills and angered studio suits was far worse.
To compound their collective ineptitude, their rival Marvel had managed to emerge from under a rubble pile of their own failed movie ventures (several of which I will document in future installments) to become the new comic book film blockbuster king thanks to the untold fortunes reaped by the first X-Men and Spider-Man movies as well as the first two Blade features. Just as it happened on the comics market, DC was being made to look like it was run by a bunch of out-of-touch old fogies by Marvel’s hip and brash bullpen of talent. The culturally ensconced preppies could spend all their money and throw big name stars at global moviegoing crowds until the return of Halley’s Comet; it wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference.
Desperate to reclaim their throne as the king of comic book movies, Warner Bros. ultimately decided to take a big chance at the high school dance and began developing a movie that would bring together the DC Universe’s two most iconic superheroes – as well as the studio’s two biggest franchise stars – for an epic team-up adventure that would pit the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight alternately against each other and the dual threat of Lex Luthor and a reanimated Joker, the latter brought back to life as a clone (setting the proposed film firmly in the continuity of the first Tim Burton-directed Batman). The two heroes had been partnering on adventures too big for either to handle on their own in comics and cartoons since before our parents were even born and even had a slugfest for the ages in the concluding chapter of Frank Miller’s miniseries The Dark Knight Returns. This made the idea of having them work together to fight villains on celluloid not seem as far-fetched as most comic and film fans thought when this news was first announced.
The intention of Batman Vs. Superman (top secret working title: Asylum) would be to use its expected box office success to serve as a springboard for the individual relaunch of both characters’ moribund movie series in the future. Andrew Kevin Walker, the former Tower Records clerk (much as your humble writer himself once was) who made his name scripting dark thrillers like David Fincher’s Seven and the Nicolas Cage porn underworld mystery 8mm (directed by…Joel Schumacher), was hired to pen the screenplay for the feature; his draft was later rewritten by Akiva Goldsman, another name forever synonymous with the slow burning death of the Batman franchise despite his laudable work on movies like A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man – not to mention his stint writing and directing for Fox’s sci-fi TV cult hit Fringe.
Dispensing with tired replays of the two heroes’ origin stories, the script establishes Bats and Supes as having been friends and allies in their endless war against the forces of evil for quite some time. Bruce Wayne has decided to leave behind his old life of nocturnal vigilante activities in order to settle down to a life of domestic bliss with his new bride Elizabeth just as Clark Kent reveals that he is getting a divorce from Lois Lane. Turns out the fight for truth, justice, and the American way doesn’t mix with the married life. The murder of Bruce’s youthful ward Dick Grayson – better known as Robin the Boy Wonder, and later Nightwing – perverted the Dark Knight Detective’s mission into a thankless quest for vengeance that made him lose sight of why he became Batman in the first place. Elizabeth could very well be his last chance at a life free of loneliness and pain, but that all changes when she suffers a horrible demise while on their honeymoon. She dies with a gruesomely wide smile permanently plastered on her lovely face, a calling card of Batman’s greatest foe the Joker.
Bruce understandably wants to track down Elizabeth’s killer and make him pay dearly, but although Superman wants to help he is not prepared to let his old friend commit murder in the name of avenging the death of a loved one. This causes the two longtime compatriots take separate paths in their efforts to bring the villain responsible to justice. Bruce’s faithful servant Alfred no longer exists among the living, but he lives on as a digital simulation that assists Batman on his mission (similar to the portrayal of Jarvis in the Iron Man movies). Batman returns to the streets and quickly makes it known in true fashion that he’s out to find whoever is posing as the Joker now and give him a swift kick in the ass straight to Hell, while Clark retreats to Smallville to rekindle his relationship with Lana Lang. The killer is revealed to be the real Joker, back from the dead…sort of, and his own return to Gotham is topped off by a car chase and the beating of a lifetime administered to Batman. Superman is experiencing some troubles of his own with Kryptonite falling into the wrong hands and finds that his old nemesis Lex Luthor has been masterminding a grand scale revenge scheme that will ultimately result in Batman and Superman going mano y mano at the beginning of the third act. After several battle royales evil is punished and the world’s finest are BFFFs once more.
Fan favorite characters like Perry White, Barbara Gordon, and the evil Toyman all make appearances throughout the script. Few of them play major roles in the main story, but their presence is welcome.
The finished script – including Goldman’s revisions – attracted the attention of German filmmaker Wolfgang Petersen (Air Force One, In the Line of Fire) and soon the studio gave Batman Vs. Superman the green light. Actors like Jude Law, Josh Hartnett, Colin Ferrell, and Johnny Depp were mentioned as possible candidates for the two lead roles. Soon after the movie went into pre-production executives at Warner Bros. starting getting cold feet about the project; they feared that if the film flopped at the box office or at best performed below industry expectations any interest in future Batman and Superman sequels would evaporate, the latter of which was being developed alongside the team-up project with J.J. Abrams on scripting duties.
Abrams’ grandiose design for a trilogy of Superman films – trilogies were becoming very big in those days – impressed Warner execs with its lighter, franchise friendly tone and greater potential for merchandising and other ancillary revenue. Only one, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, loudly voiced his displeasure with the studio favoring the permanent shelving of Batman Vs. Superman. He left Warner Bros. two weeks after the project was cancelled refocus the studio’s energy and finances on producing the two super legends’ solo pictures and became an independent producer with the Transformers and G.I. Joe movies to his credit. Petersen’s dismay over the project’s collapse was temporarily set aside when Warners offered him the director’s chair on the mega-budget historical war epic Troy. Christian Bale had been considered for the role of Batman during the brief pre-production and though Batman Vs. Superman never made it before the cameras the studio would keep him in mind for the role in a different feature.
The following year Christopher Nolan signed on to direct what would become Batman Begins and give rise to one of the most popular and acclaimed movie series of the last two decades, while the new Superman film would continue down the torturous road of development (read more about that below) before making his return to the big screen with 2006’s Superman Returns.
While the script for Batman Vs. Superman still needed work at the time the production was shut down the time-honored concept of bringing two of the greatest superheroes in the history of human civilization was treated with the respect and intelligence it deserved by Walker and (to an extent) Goldsman. The dialogue is frequently cringe-worthy and I’m not exactly sure which writer to attribute that shortcoming to, but the central relationship between Superman and Batman is established from their first meeting in the script and only gets better as the story proceeds. The second act sags almost disastrously with too much time spent with Clark picking up where he left off with Lana in Smallville while Batman does the bulk of the investigating. Lex Luthor’s introductory scene runs on too long as he bloviates about his diabolical scheme. As I said, it needed work.
Seeing as how the cancellation of Batman Vs. Superman meant that Nolan was free to pursue his plans for a trilogy of Bat-films beginning with Batman Begins the studio’s decision was ultimately a wise and fiscally pragmatic one. But if Warner Bros. does intend to bring the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight together on the big screen to further lay the groundwork for the inevitable Justice League feature they could do worse than to look to the attempt by Andrew Kevin Walker (and Akiva Goldsman I suppose) to do the World’s Finest justice – no pun intended – as a possible guideline.
The image that I chose to be the header for each article in this series was taken from a throwaway moment in the 2007 movie version of I Am Legend. You probably know what I’m taking about…that familiar red “S” shield surrounded by the equally iconic image of a sleek black bat, two of the most singularly recognizable images on this planet, mounted on a marquee in a desolated Times Square. I always found it hilarious that when news of that precocious in-joke made its way onto the Net some took it to be a sign that Batman Vs. Superman might actually become a cinematic reality. It could still happen. In the meantime there are hundreds of hours of animated television that should quench that thirst good.
If you’re curious as to what a Batman Vs. Superman movie would have looked like check out this video “World’s Finest”, a fan trailer directed by Sandy Collora, the former Stan Winston Studios creature designer and sculptor who also made the amazing 2003 fan film Batman: Dead End.
NOTE: Since this feature was written a new movie featuring Batman and Superman was announced at San Diego Comic-Con 2013, and the logo shown off is not much different than the I Am Legend image above.