The Batman has always been obsessive; it’s a fundamental piece of Bruce Wayne’s psychological makeup. Throughout his seven decades and counting run as one of the pillars of DC Comics and in his myriad adaptations across all forms of media – especially in his mega-successful feature film franchises helmed by Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher, Christopher Nolan, and Zack Snyder – Batman’s obsession has been his primary driving force.
What makes the upcoming and hotly anticipated Justice League different from every other cinematic version of the Dark Knight is the source of his obsession. We all know Batman’s origin by heart, and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice just last year repeated the origin again for anyone still somehow missing the crucial details of who Batman is and how he came to be: a young Bruce Wayne and his parents were felled upon a criminal after seeing a movie. The gunman shot and killed Thomas and Martha Wayne, leaving Bruce an orphan irrevocably traumatized by his powerlessness to save his parents.
Batman V Superman flashes ahead 35 years to depict an older, weary Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who has been at war with the criminals of Gotham for two decades. It has cost him dearly; his family’s ancestral mansion lies in ruin, his young partner Robin murdered by the Joker (Jared Leto) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), and he is now older than his father ever was. In Batman V Superman, Batman was also more frightened than ever before. His whole adult life was spent amassing the training and weapons he needed to be the Batman and wage war against criminals, all to prevent what happened to his parents and to the young boy he was from happening to anyone else. He has had successes and failures, but like every other Batman before him, Ben Affleck’s Batman was all about keeping the vow he made to his parents.
Then Superman happened. The destruction of Metropolis at the conclusion of Man of Steel was retconned in BvS: we learned that Gotham and Metropolis are sister cities separated by a bay, and that Bruce Wayne was in fact in Metropolis on the day Superman (Henry Cavill) fought General Zod (Michael Shannon) to the death. Bruce Wayne is accustomed to witnessing horrors, but the day that became known as the Black Zero Event broke Batman in a brand new way. The rampant, apocalyptic destruction, including of the Wayne building in Metropolis, and the deaths of many of his employees and friends, was a new kind of horror Bruce Wayne was not ready for. The chaotic world he struggled to create order in now had all-powerful, god-like aliens living in it.
Superman wasn’t a hero or a savior to the Batman, no matter how many heroic rescues he performed around the world. Metropolis built a statue in Superman’s honor, the Daily Planet wrote puff pieces about their new hero, but Batman never believed it all. All Batman saw was an enemy – the enemy – and a war that only he knew how to fight. As Batman raged to his faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth (Jeremy Irons): “He has the power to wipe out the entire human race, and if we believe there’s even a one percent chance that he is our enemy we have to take it as an absolute certainty… and we have to destroy him.”
Batman V Superman changed the focus of Batman’s obsession from his parents to Superman. It was no longer about saving Gotham, and by extension saving his parents. For Batman, it became all about Superman, and Batman hated Superman. In the two years that passed between the Black Zero Event and his duel with Superman, Batman’s driving focus was to save the world from the menace the Man of Steel could become – and in Batman’s eyes already was. Zack Snyder’s depiction of Batman was controversial (to say the least) because this Batman was an unrepentant killer, and he spent two years plotting to kill one Kryptonian in particular. His plan was even to stab Superman in in the heart with a Kryptonite spear. Everything Batman did in Batman V Superman was working towards one goal: to kill Superman.
The name “Martha” essentially rebooted Batman’s mind. It’s always been a weird coincidence in the comics that Batman’s mother had the same first name as Superman’s adoptive human mother. As much as it’s been mocked since, the pivotal plot point of Batman discovering Superman’s mother is also named Martha jolted Batman and instantly changed him. Suddenly, Superman was no longer an alien monster pretending to be a hero. He was a person who has a mother, the same name as his mother. In this one (admittedly silly) way, Batman realized he and Superman were the same. Batman’s instantaneous reboot turned Superman from an enemy to a friend, but he was still obsessed with Superman. He agreed to save Superman’s mother from death, and it meant the world to him to be able to save someone else’s mother named Martha the way he never could his own.
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