Thursday, August 15, 2013

Fan-Casting DC's JUSTICE LEAGUE: Part 1

Welcome to utter lunacy!  If you haven't already, peruse the intro to this fan-made outline for a Justice League trilogy of films, as well as an explanation on my casting decisions.

Just as The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit each told one story broken into three theatrical installments, so to will JUSTICE LEAGUE.  The three individual movies that make up the whole are Part 1: The World's Finest, Part 2: The Brave and the Bold, and Part 3: Legends.  The title The World's Finest refers to the first published meeting of Superman and Batman in World's Finest Comics in 1940*.

96 pages for only fifteen cents?  Man,
the 1940s must have been such a happy,
peaceful time to live.
Since then, the phrase has also taken on a kind of nickname for the two most iconic heroes in the world.  In keeping with that idea, the first movie of the Justice League Trilogy will focus almost exclusively on Batman and Superman.

Likewise, the second movie's title, The Brave and the Bold, comes from the the comic book series of the same name, where the Justice League of America first debuted in issue #28, dated 1960.  The second movie will witness the gathering of heroes, as events in Part 1 convince Superman and Batman that the threat they face is bigger than even the two of them can handle alone.

In Part 2, the World's Finest will recruit Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and Aquaman, to thwart an insidious alien force that has infiltrated and possessed men and women in high-security positions in governments and militaries all over the world.

The alien plot to destabilize our world militarily will come to fruition in Part 3, when a conquering warlord from beyond the stars launches a full invasion of Earth.  Governments are toppled, cities are overrun, people are rounded up into prison camps for slave labor or execution.  All that stands in the way of our total enslavement are Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and the mysterious Martian Manhunter, who has seen the warlord's villainy before, and will stop at nothing to ensure that Earth does not meet the same fate as his home world.

The plot I've cobbled together for Justice League: The World's Finest draws inspiration from numerous sources in comics and graphic novels, including but not limited to: Trinity by Matt Wagner, Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee, Batman: Rules of Engagement by Andy Diggle and Whilce Portacio, Superman: Kryptonite by Darwyn Cooke and Tim Sale, as well as select episodes of Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series, most notably those written by Paul Dini.


My version of Batman doesn't have arms.  I don't think audiences will care.

The majority of the cast will be unveiled as their characters appear in the story.  The leads, however, demand a bit more room because I have more to say about the casting decisions and the way the characters would/should be represented in the films.

Batman/Bruce Wayne (Richard Armitage)

I loved a lot (not all, but most) of what Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale did with Batman in The Dark Knight Trilogy.  That said, my favorite portrayal of Bruce Wayne is still--by a wide margin--Michael Keaton in Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992).  What I continue to love about Keaton's Bruce Wayne is that a) he doesn't look like an action hero, so the average Gothamite wouldn't have any reason to suspect him of being Batman; and b) there are moments in those movies when I look in Michael Keaton's eyes and I see an eight year old boy standing over his parents' bodies.  There is a haunted-ness about Bruce Wayne that Keaton and director Tim Burton captured that no one else has.  That's what I was looking for for my Batman, and I found it in, of all places, Middle Earth.

Richard Armitage, who plays the prodigal dwarf-son, Thorin, in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and its pending sequels, can pull off that haunted quality--that terrified orphan still screaming in the night for vengeance.  He's also good-looking, with a bit of darkness that could veer heroic or villainous depending on the part.  And you wouldn't think of him kicking ass in spandex, which is good, as long as he can capture the other "essences" of Bruce Wayne.

Batman is our window into this epic adventure.  He's the most popular, most recognizable superhero in the world.  He's also relatively grounded in that he has no superpowers, no alien physiology or magic weaponry that sets him above the average man and woman.  Oh, he is definitely above average; even if Bruce Wayne never put on the cape and cowl he would still be one of the smartest men in the world, one of the richest men in the world, one of the greatest fighters in the world, one of the greatest detectives in the world.

And he is not conflicted about what he does.  Bruce Wayne has none of Spider-Man's pathos.  He's more like James Bond, a soldier on a mission for Queen and Country, or rather for Mom and Dad.  He's also not crazy.  He doesn't dress like a bat because he's delusional.  He does it because the costume and the myth about it, the fear it evokes, is tactically his best weapon in the war on crime.

There are a lot of great stories you can tell exploring the idea that Batman is as crazy as the villains he locks up in Arkham Asylum, but this is not one of those stories.  The way I see it, if Bruce Wayne is insane, then he cannot also be a hero.  And for this story, Batman needs to be a hero.

It's also important for me to establish right away that this Batman is not the same as Christopher Nolan's Batman, and the universe he lives in is not the same as the "Nolan-verse."  This Batman lives in a world of gods and monsters, of fantasy and science-fiction.

That's why the first villain we meet in the opening scene of the movie isn't a street-level psychopath like the Joker or a globe-trotting mercenary like Bane.  No, in the beginning of Justice League: The World's Finest, Batman is going to face off against a mad scientist with a freeze ray!

Superman/Clark Kent (Jon Hamm)

I've seen Jon Hamm's name pop up on a couple different fan-casts to play Batman, but the first time I saw him I thought he was picture perfect for Superman.  Watching him in Mad Men, you can see that he has the strong, confident bearing and classical looks of a bygone movie star like Cary Grant or Marlon Brando (Okay, the context of Mad Men helps with that).  A knock against Hamm I've heard is that he's too old, but I consider that more of a strength.  I don't want an insecure, college-age, rookie Superman.  I want a wiser, more mature hero who has been doing this, and doing it well, for years.

What further convinced me that he was perfect, though, was when I saw him guest appear on 30 Rock, as a character who couldn't act or look more different than his Mad Men persona.  Because playing Superman is also playing Clark Kent, and Hamm's Don Draper and Drew Baird showcase his range for earnestness, leadership, optimism, and something just slightly short of comic buffoonery.  And if you need evidence of how different a pair of reading glasses and a hair style can make one look, behold:

Spoilers for Man of Steel below.

In addition to being older and wiser than the Man of Steel in Man of Steel, the Superman of Justice League: The World's Finest values life and would never kill an enemy even in the bleakest of situation. The world in general and his life in specific would be better without Lex Luthor, but Superman would never kill him because he truly believes with every fiber of his super-being that Lex can be redeemed.

Superman would never break General Zod's neck when it seems like there's no other way, because he knows there is always another way.  Superman is an eternal optimist; it's the greatest gift from his birth parents.  Whereas Batman was "born" in an act of violence, Superman was born in an act of love.  The Waynes were senselessly, brutally gunned down in front of their son.  Jor-El and Lara sacrificed themselves to save theirs.  That sense of sacrifice and duty was then fostered by Superman's adopted parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent.

"That's why I'm setting my mind to print media,
because I can save anything."
The worst offense of Man of Steel, in my opinion, wasn't the execution of Zod or the millions of innocent citizens not saved by Superman in the movie's climax.  No, I completely understand why Superman didn't use his power to save anyone other than Lois Lane, because that version of Superman had no parental role model to pass those values down onto him.  Pa Kent in the movie encourages young Clark to let other kids die so that no one will discover his secret super powers.  Pa Kent acts ashamed of his son's gifts, and would literally rather die a horrible death than see his son "outed" to the public, a moment that resonated for all the wrong reasons with a lot of viewers.

The scene that I so desperately wanted to see in Man of Steel would form the foundation of Superman's character in Justice League, even if the scene never occurred in the three movies.  Rather than Jonathan Kent telling Clark that if he uses his god-given powers to make the world better then the Men in Black would take him away, I would play that scene in reverse.  It's Young Clark who is reluctant to expose himself out of fear of being taken away from his family.  Then Pa says,
"I'd like to see someone try and take you away.  You're my son, Clark.  I don't know where you come from originally, but you're mine, and no son of mine ever needs to be afraid of showing the world who and what he is."
Superman's family is the most important thing in the world to him.  His greatest fear is disappointing his mom and dad, that they'll regret adopting him and raising him as their son.

To Be Continued…

* The first issue of World's Finest Comics was actually called World's Best Comics, but DC changed the title after that issue.  So, technically, Batman and Superman met in World's Best Comics #1, but since they continued to adventure together for years in World's Finest, the latter has come to be considered canon.


  1. Richard Armitage is an inspired choice - hes been a top actor here in England for many years now, with a tough guy role in the Strike Back series and a regular role as a double-agent spy on Spooks.
    Frewer could also be a good choice too.

  2. Yeah, I haven't seen any full episodes of SPOOKS or STRIKE BACK but I watched a few clips when I was considering him and he's a terrific actor.