Justice League Has A Major Narrative Problem

Have you everworked at a company that had multiple CEO’s? I have, and it’s really, really weird. Imagine two (or more) people juggling a single leadership role…strange, right? Unless they’re also sharing a brain this almost never works. Warner Brothers and DC’s upcoming Justice League movie has a similar power-distribution problem, and it’s unclear how it’s going to shake out. Batman (Ben Affleck), Superman (Henry Cavill), and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) are DC’s legendary trinity, they’re also the ultimate peers, each with a distinctly strong personality. So, who’s calling the shots inside the JL and who’s taking a step back?

Let’s frame the debate: Batman’s clearly the boss, there’s no question about it! Oh yeah? So are you suggesting that Wonder Woman should take a step back and let a man run the show? Wonder Woman takes a back seat to no one. Good thing Superman’s dead, amirite? Yes, yes, we all know Superman’s coming back, and when he does he’ll probably be riding the pine… Yeah, unlikely.

For Justice League to make storytelling sense someone has to grab the reins and steer the team. Last year’s Batman v. Superman was a wildly uneven film that illustrated aspects of this leadership problem. Some people will tell you that this was Batman’s movie, while others contend that it was Superman’s film. When Wonder Woman showed up, nobody knew what the hell was going on, as evidenced by this clip:

Superman: Is she with you?
Batman: I thought she was with you.

Given that Wonder Woman just kind of dropped into the middle of the Doomsday fight there wasn’t much time to divvy-up command and control responsibilities. However, this scene illustrates how confusing this trinity can be in practical, narrative terms. Without a clear focus, the Justice League will be a storytelling mess. Consider Marvel’s The Avengers, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is the team’s center. Sure, Stark is kind of an asshole, but he’s funding and de facto leading the team at a high level, while Captain America (Chris Evans) manages tactics in the field — and even with this logical arrangement, the Avengers still fractured (albeit in a subsequent film).

Another oddity of the DC trinity is their humanity (or lack thereof). Batman is a human, Superman is an alien, and Wonder Woman is a demigod (if you believe in that sort of thing). Most of the other members of the Justice League are metahumans, which leaves Batman the odd-man-bat-out — or — it makes him the perfect hero for the job. Yet, Superman and Wonder Woman can claim more objective viewpoints, they’re above humanity’s flaws and pettiness… except, maybe cold objectivity isn’t the best way to manage such a powerful group of individuals. Unfortunately, we all know Batman isn’t exactly known for his warm personality. S**t.

Further complicating things is the recent, ongoing, and extraordinary success of DC’s Wonder Woman movie. This film has captured a broad and diverse audience, and Gadot’s performance is clearly resonating with millions of movie-goers around the world. One could imagine a board room scenario wherein some executive at Warner Brothers stands-up and demands, “25% more Wonder Woman in Justice League!” From a business standpoint, sure, I can see that…except that such an increase in Wonder Woman’s screentime correspondingly means less for Batman and Superman. The right play here is for balance between the three characters.

I’m going down this particular rabbit hole to raise the issue that the Justice League — like any superteam — needs a definitive leader. In the X-Men it’s Professor X, the Inhumans have Black Bolt, and The Transformers defer to Optimus Prime. Interestingly, Marvel and Netflix’s The Defenders, which premieres this August, is an apt case study: a four-headed monster without a clear boss; although, many expect Luke Cage (Mike Colter) to be the face of that team, but we’ll soon see.

The Avengers, through Tony Stark’s near-fatal sacrifice, was ultimately Iron Man’s movie — Stark’s redemption story was the film’s throughline. Will Justice League be Batman’s, Superman’s, or Wonder Woman’s story? It can’t be all three, or we’re looking at another confusing, muddled mess like Batman v Superman (I really like the extended version of this film, but it’s clumsy at-best).

The real question we should be asking: through whose eyes will we see the Justice League? Who’s the “everyman” in this movie? My money is on Batman, he’s the sole, unmodified human, a loner who must embrace the concept of “team.” Batman’s journey can provide the most inner-conflict and the most opportunity for growth. If Justice League is going to be the epic film we all want and expect, we need to identify with its characters at a human level — this means someone has to stand at the center and be the team’s main source of gravity. For me, that’s the Bat, but I can totally understand if you see Wonder Woman or Superman taking the lead too.

Who do you think should be leading the Justice League? Let us know in the comments down below!

Justice League hits theaters on November 17, 2017.

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David Kozlowski

David Kozlowski is a writer, podcaster, and visual artist. A U.S. Army veteran, David worked 20 years in the videogame industry and is a graduate of Arizona State University's Film and Media Studies.

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