It doesn't get any bigger than Batman versus Superman. Frank Miller's iconic 1986 graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns features possibly the greatest superhero skirmish in comic book history, with a gnarled and jaded 50-something caped crusader taking on the last son of Krypton with the only weapons at his disposal: cruel cunning and a handy kryptonite-tipped arrow. It's a totemic moment as the two polar opposites of the DC Comics universe come together, not least because Batman very nearly owns his godlike opponent.
Next month we'll get to see such battles played out all over again in multiplexes via Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which will also feature big screen debuts for Wonder Woman, Aquaman and The Flash. Zack Snyder has even borrowed Miller's Batman mech-suit, another techie accessory used by the dark knight to help even the odds against the son of Jor-El, in a move clearly designed to have geeks soiling their smalls in ecstasy.
Indeed, at one point this almighty clash of the comic book titans looked destined to be Warner Bros and DC's answer to The Avengers, Joss Whedon's zeitgeist-shifting 2012 superhero ensemble which brought Marvel heroes Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and Hulk together in multiplexes for the first time. And yet the closer we get to the film's 25 March release date, the more it appears to have become overshadowed by fresher-feeling rival concepts.
This weekend will see the release of Deadpool, the much-delayed solo debut for Ryan Reynolds' garrulous mutant mercenary, which with its fiercely adult humour and self-reflexive smarts really begs the question why crusty old heroes Superman and Wonder Woman are even allowed out to play in 2016. And even more worrying for Snyder's movie is David Ayer's supervillain epic Suicide Squad, which is based in the same DC Comics "cinematic universe" and is currently so hyped that it looks set to turn accepted hierarchies completely upside down.
Batman v Superman has hamstrung itself with a confusing trailer that shows the two superheroes eventually making up to take on a greater threat - possibly a Lex Luthor-controlled Doomsday, though there are rumours this could be smoke and mirrors. And even if Snyder has left a few secrets in his box of superhero tricks, we've already been told by Warner that there are plans for a pair of Justice League movies in 2017 and 2019. So it's fairly apparent that the greatest battle in superhero history - the reason everyone is going to see the movie in the first place, for freak's sake - is destined to peter out into nothing.
Trailers for Suicide Squad, on the other hand, have wisely plumped for a style over plot approach to avoid giving too much away. All we know is that this bunch of hell-spawned misfits have been recruited for a hopeless mission by boss lady Amanda Waller (Viola Davies) in exchange for the commutation of their sentences for previous ill deeds. And yet a few seconds in the company of Margot Robbie's unhinged death cutie Harley Quinn, as the rest of the squad crack beers to Queen and polish their death wishes, has left fans begging for more.
Suicide Squad even has The Joker, Batman's greatest ever nemesis, in the freakishly-adorned form of Oscar-winner Jared Leto. The greatest threat in Batman v Superman seems to be a bundle of pixels which could destroy Metropolis, Gotham and Themyscira put together without anyone really giving a damn. After all, one line of spiky snap, crackle and pop from a villain as entertaining as the clown prince of evil can beat hours of CGI cityscape mega-destruction - which is why Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight will always be a better movie than Snyder's Man of Steel.
Jesse Eisenberg shows plenty of promise as traditional Superman nemesis Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman. But Suicide Squad has an entire platoon of cackling, charismatic bad guys to play with, from Will Smith's Deadshot to Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje's Killer Croc and Cara Delevingne's Enchantress, each of whom will arrive fresh in the minds of all but the most devoted of comic book fans. The only question is quite why, when the villains are always the best thing about superhero movies, no-one has previously thought to bring this punky riff on old warsploitation films to the big screen before.
By contrast, Batman's been rather done to death on the big screen in the past few years, and by better film-makers than Snyder via Nolan's excellent Dark Knight trilogy. Meanwhile, Superman's Hollywood struggles - Man of Steel was well beaten at the box office by the previously unheard-of Guardians of the Galaxy - ought to have made it abundantly clear to studios that the old order no longer counts for toot. In fact, these hokey old heroes' only excuse for hitting multiplexes in 2016 might just be as a means to an almighty superhero smackdown. This had better be some scrap.
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