A lot’s riding on DC’s next picture: Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. The latest trailer does little to instill faith that the movie will be any good. (We’ll cover why.) It’s hard (but not impossible) to explain how heroes first meet. So let’s look at a shining example of good storytelling: Trinity.
Serving double duty as writer and illustrator, Matt Wagner delivered nothing short of a masterpiece. His 2003 miniseries successfully brought Batman’s, Superman’s, and Wonder Woman’s worlds colliding together in a way that made perfect narrative sense. (It’s also just gorgeous to look at.)
Deep in the antarctic, Ras Al Ghul has unearthed Bizarro— Superman’s errant clone developed and abandoned by Lex Luthor— and charmed the flying juggernaut into his service. Bizarro is charged with hand-delivering nuclear missiles to the Demon’s Head.
He drops one. Off the shores of Themyscira. It’s enough to get Diana’s attention. She leaves her island for the first time, to find Superman (whom she mistakenly thought was carrying the stolen submarine).
One awkward conversation later, the trio determine that yes, they’re all on the same side; the only difference is in their methods. And yes, it takes a while for them to simmer down and get to work, but when they do, magic happens.
Yes: In this story, Bats and Supes already know each other. I wouldn’t go so far as to call them friends, but they have enough respect for each other to play nice together.
This story is about characters. We get in Diana’s head, feeling nervous before meeting Supes for the first time. We get insight in to how much effort Clark puts into his life, like deliberately showing up late for work. Batman... well, is the Batman.
We also get into the Villain’s heads. Ras Al Ghul’s cynical passion for a new world order. A rebellious Amazon seeking her own identity, looking in the wrong places. We even get to hear the toddler-level-thoughts of Bizarro. These are characters.
We also get to see the places they call home: Bruce’s Batcave. Clark’s Fortress of Solitude and his desk at the Daily Planet. Diana’s peaceful oasis on Themyscira. These places matter, because the characters have made them a part of themselves.
Then there’s Dawn of Justice.
If we limit estimations to just the damn trailer, lots of things. Superman and Batman are two figures butting heads in-and-out of costume. Lip service is paid as to why. It’s less important than just getting to the fighty bits.
Jesse Eisenberg minces around like the party gossip, making his version of Lex Luthor that guy at parties no one wants to talk to. Lex even refers to himself as the Devil, breaking rule #1 of good villainy: Never admit you’re the bad guy.
So they fight. And threaten. And trade more blows. Then a sloppy pastiche of Doomsday shows up, cobbled together from the remains of General Zod. They literally picked over the bones of another bad guy to come up with this one.
Then Wonder Woman shows up? She doesn’t actually say anything, or emote, or do any of the things that usually help identify a character. For the purposes of the trailer, you could replace her with a potted plant and a shield.
Fundamentally, this picture is going to be about plot, not people. (Not story, mind you. Plot.) The heroes have to get introductions out of the way before Warner Bros. can make their Justice League movie, so this will satisfy the requirement, I guess.
I know. DC’s taking its headliners and putting them in a thing. If you actually want to see these characters at their best, just getting to know each other, look no further than Matt Wagner’s Trinity. You won’t be disappointed.
And if you feel tempted to catch Dawn of Justice? Follow your gut and just re-read Trinity. It’ll be a better story and a more satisfying experience for you all around.