The Trouble With Titles (Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Laziness)

Do you like the title of this editorial? Look at it. Look hard. Maybe squint a bit. Look at it upside-down. Okay, stop standing on your head; you look ridiculous.

That wasn’t probably what you were thinking about when you clicked the link to come here, but it speaks volumes about you. Do you prefer long titles or short? Do you enjoy a little wit or play on words, or would you rather they stay straight-laced and to the point? How much ambiguity will you allow before you put your foot firmly down?

I ask all this, because titles are heavily subject to taste. There is a great deal of one man’s trash and another man’s treasure. If you don’t agree with what I have to say here, it does not make either you or me wrong. I welcome any dissenters to do so without fear of derision from me, and I will do my best to defend you from others who would do so. However, there is also a such thing as “good taste” and “bad taste”, so I shall be carrying forth with my argument forthwith.

Oh, wait. Sorry, I forgot to mention that this writing will be dealing with subject matter related to the upcoming film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I won’t be mentioning anything that’s not in the trailers, but if you prefer to walk in blind, know that there are potential SPOILERS ahead. You’ve been warned. Now, onward.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Wow, is that a long title (though, I guess I’m one to talk). Plus, what does the v stand for if not for “versus” (which has been confirmed to absolutely not be what it stands for)? Why tack on “Dawn of Justice”? Why is Batman’s name first in a movie that is a sequel to a Superman film (whether DC and Warner Brothers want to admit it or not)? It raises more questions about itself than it does about the movie, and that doesn’t work for a title like this.

To really get some context on this, we should rewind a bit. Let’s go back to May 2014. Man of Steel is just under a year old. Most of the world has accepted that this is what DC’s Cinematic—oh, I’m sorry—”Extended” Universe will be, for better or for worse. We all know there’s a sequel coming, the sequel to Man of Steel, and it’s going to have Batman in it. Oh, what are they going to call it? Will it be cool? Will it be savvy? Will it acknowledge the general intelligence of the audience to which it is marketing? Then, from the nerd heavens (or at least nerd purgatory… nerdatory?), it descends. Say it with me now, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”.

Did you say “v”, or did you say “versus”, because it’s especially important that you don’t say “versus”. Remember, this is not “a straight ‘versus’ movie”.

This is where our first problem lies. Why is the “v” there if we’re not meant to think about this strictly as a movie in which Batman fights Superman? Why put that in front of us if you’re just going to trivialize it? Oh, speaking of trivialization, you did remember to say “Dawn of Justice” at the end, right? You have to make sure you say “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and not just “Batman v Superman”. If you don’t, you’re not saying it right.

Understand that I’m channeling the man, woman, or whatever who came up with this title. Personally, I find myself dropping the subtitle from my vocabulary every chance I get. Throughout the entire research phase for this little rant I’ve typed up, the vast majority of my Google™ searches were formatted as such: “batman v superman [insert detailed subject matter here]”. I mean, really, it’s just too long. Furthermore, it trivializes the story of the film. “Dawn of Justice”, okay. So, now we all know that this is just going to be one big trailer for the “Justice League” film that’s increasingly imminent over the horizon (remember, we’re talking from the May 2014 perspective. Justice League wasn’t officially announced until October 2014). In fact, here’s an article that confirms that exact mentality. They straight-up say:

The film is part of the setup for director Zack Snyder’s next project, a movie about the Justice League.
Why would you allow your own movie to be trivialized like that? I understand wanting to build hype for the sequel, but it should never be at the cost of the film you’re trying to sell right now. Look at how Marvel did it. Their last film before The Avengers was Captain America: The First Avenger. Sure, you think about The Avengers coming up, but first you get to watch a movie about the guy who started it all. It’s active, whereas Dawn of Justice is passive and reminds one of the inevitable passage of time, like “how much time is left until Justice League comes out?” This film is still about Batman and Superman, yes? I mean, their names are the only two in the title, which means that they’re still getting the most screen and story time, yes? It’s called “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”, not “Batman v Superman and Wonder Woman as well as Aquaman: Dawn of Justice featuring The Flash with special guest star Cyborg”, so I’m expecting to see more of the former than the latter.

Oh, hey, while we’re on the subject of names, you made sure to say “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and not “Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice”, right? It’s vital that you remember that Batman is at the front of this title, not Superman. Okay, yes. This movie does directly follow the events of a Superman film, it does feature Superman as a main protagonist, and the villain is a Superman villain (remember, it’s May 2014, we still hadn’t suffered the film’s own creators spoiling Doomsday being in the movie, so yes, “villain” not “villains”). However, Batman has had the more successful cinematic run lately, so he gets the first name spot. (Actually, here’s an article that provides an alternate theory that I can get behind… sort of. I’m not sure how okay I am with two titans duking it out being likened to a court case, but it does fit the characters’ motives.)

You know what? No, I’ve had it. This title is terrible. It’s blunt, it’s wordy, it’s way too easy to get confused, and it suffers from a supreme lack of focus. In a franchise opened by a film titled Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice should never have even made it to the table. What it lacks in subtlety, it makes up for boundlessly in convolution. Is this even the same team that worked on Man of Steel? Did somebody have a stroke? What gives?

What makes this all worse, though, is that DC had a title sitting there, ripe for the picking. It’s short, simple, and it would have made this film seem like the best thing ever to both those who know what it means and everyone else. It comes from the first Superman/Batman team-up comic You see, before it was called Superman/Batman, the team-up was called, quite simply, World’s Finest. While the series ended in the 1980s, the phrase itself has become synonymous with the two pillars of the DC Universe. What’s more, with only two words, it sums up what Warner Brothers couldn’t with six.

What makes Batman and Superman so interesting to watch together is that they are as different as day and night (to make the obvious comparison). They do have very different perspectives, and they do disagree. However, being the World’s Finest examples of American ideals, they always eventually push past their differences to see their shared goal of justice and freedom in a world plagued by crime and tyrants. What’s more, it doesn’t hesitate to give you chills. Re-watch the teaser for the film. I’ll embed it here:

Now, imagine Batman’s final words being followed by World’s Finest instead of the market-tested mess you’ve been force-fed for the past two years. Did you get chills? I got chills. The juxtaposition to the subject matter of the trailer, the reverential homage to the source material, the beautiful cleverness of it all, it’s almost enough to make me tear up a bit and wander down to my lake house that I don’t have throwing bread to the ducks and wondering what could have been.

Plus, they gave up on what could have been the most high-profile game of chicken in all of history. Who would be the first to use the superhero’s actual superhero name in the film title? This one simple change could have had rippling effects all the way down the line of the DCEU. Wonder Woman might have been titled The Spirit of Truth. The Flash might have been titled The Fastest Man Alive. The new Batman solo film (which we all know is coming) could have been The Caped Crusader. This could have gone on for ages, and it would have been fantastic.

Unfortunately, they ruined it. I’m still going to see the film, and I’ll probably like it, but this train of thought will be swimming around in the back of my mind the whole way through.

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