Early on in Andy Muschietti’s The Flash, a solemn Bruce Wayne aka Batman tells Barry Allen aka Flash, “These scars are what have made us who we are. You don’t want to change them. Take that from someone who’s always lived in the past.”
Ben Affleck, in possibly his last appearance as Bruce Wayne, has a deep sadness in his eyes as he admits that he feels ‘alone.’ The moment hits Batman fans even harder, knowing that Affleck has hung up his Batsuit.
Barry (Ezra Miller), however, pays little heed to the DC veteran and runs so fast that he ends up back in time when he can save his mother’s life. When he tries to go back, he ends up in an alternate dimension of his reality where his parents are alive. He encounters the 18-year-old version of himself. For lack of confusion, let’s call that version ‘Marvel.’
Marvel vs DC
Marvel is an exuberant yet entitled brat who’s always been given everything on a platter, including the tidying up of his apartment. Marvel just follows whatever DC (yes, that’s the OG Barry Allen) asks him to do. DC is trying to save the world here, whereas Marvel just wants to lap up all the fun in an adventure whose consequences he has no clue about.
When their newfound allies die in the battlefield, Marvel insists they go back in time to keep them alive, just like how DC prevented his mom’s death. But they end up tiring themselves out, as their allies keep dying even in the alternate dimensions. It’s then that DC tells Marvel what Bruce Wayne had been stressing on all this while, “The scars are what make us.” And for that, one must come to terms with their grief instead of always trying to change the past, and in turn, themselves. “This world is supposed to get destroyed. Don’t try to stop it.”
Marvel’s obsession with the multiverse
Marvel, the studio, not the 18YO now, has relied entirely on multiverse storytelling while building its Phase 3, 4 and the upcoming 5. The three phases come under the umbrella of the Multiverse Saga. Trust me, it was quite a moment to watch all the Spidey-Boys, Tom Holland, Andrew Garfield and Toby Maguire, in action side-by-side. And watching Willem Dafoe as Green Goblin, Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus and Tom Hardy as Venom pop up was as much of a hoot.
But the mumbo-jumbo of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and the saturated CGI of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania have made the whole new lease of life in the MCU feel circuitous and frustrating. Even Loki was pushed through these multiverse motions at the hands of the Time Variance Authority in the Disney+ series. Ms. Marvel attempted time travel too, and the teaser of The Marvels shows no signs of slowing down as far as multiverse and time travel is concerned. Even the Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is being followed up with two sequels that are more about the Spider-Verse than Spider-Man.
Marvel should thus take a cue from The Flash and make a note that while playing around with time and space will give it enough shots at franchise building and inserting cheap-thrill cameos, it won’t be able to do so as organically as it did till Phase 3. It’s great planning and writing to build 10 years of franchises with different branches and organically lead them up to a culmination. And it’s quite lazy to go back in time and retrofit plot twists for the sake of furthering a plot.
It’s exactly why there’s grace and true emotion in watching Tony Stark breathe his last. Or to see Wanda let go of her 1960s American sitcom make-believe world with Vision and their two kids. Or to see Guardians of the Galaxy slug it out to save their friend Rocket in the third part. Or going back in time, as Marvel often tends to do, having Uncle Ben from Spider-Man utter his last words, a mantra Marvel can learn to live by.
Why so serious, DC? Why so superficial, Marvel?
Ever since Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight franchise, DC has been painted in dark colours. Only titles like Shazam! and The Suicide Squad have managed to infuse it with colours. On the other hand, Marvel has not shied away from making the most forlorn of characters blurt wisecracks in quick succession.
When Barry lands up in that alternate dimension in The Flash, we see a Batman that’s more Marvel than DC. Michael Keaton, who played the craped crusader in Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992), is introduced in this film with silver locks and beard, performing silly karate on a table and gobbling down spaghetti like a bored, clumsy old man. It’s how Batman would be after the passing of his loyal butler Alfred. It’s how Batman was pre-Nolanaissance.
When Barry makes him dust off the Batsuit and Batmobile, he finds a renewed purpose. He’s neither the brooding Batman that Nolan championed, nor Robert Pattinson’s Batman whose quest for vengeance is rather too fresh; neither Affleck’s Batman ready to retire nor George Clooney’s Batman whose only recall value is its meme potential. On his death bed, Keaton’s Batman tells Barry when he’s trying to save him, “Not this time.” “But we can bring you back.” “You already did.”
That’s exactly the scene Marvel must be watching and taking notes on. Here’s a DC veteran telling you it’s okay to let a dead man die, as long as he’s lived a full life. Because if you think you can meddle with time, and throw spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks, you may just lose the Affleck Batman for the Clooney one.