I just realized superhearing is impossible. Comic book physics might be almost infinitely pliable, Superman's physical abilities might fly, pun not intended, on the face of conservation of energy, whatever, but I draw the line at Chaos Theory: superhearing is mathematically impossible, the signal-to-noise ratio of trying to listen to somebody yelling for help a continent away being what signal?
So: what if Superman is impossible? What if, and hear me out, Superman is invulnerable to almost everything but magic because he's magic?
What if Martha and Jonathan Kent, alone in that dark hotbed of wild magic that is Deep America, built as it was on genocide and oblivion, went crazy with grief and in their desire for a child made a pact and got a perfect, a perfect child in return, fallen from the sky like his true father once did?
What if the cost of that pact was the death of a planet far away? Why would the Kents have cared, with their empty nursery and the midnight fields whispering possibility?
What if kryptonite is mortal to the immortal because the souls of sacrificed billions haunt the Universe-strewn ruins of their home and want, need, claim their revenge?
It's something of a trifle next to the deep ridiculousness of the "metal" plot device, but the way the "dark Batmans" collapse in so psychologically and aesthetically improbable ways makes it impossible to take it seriously.
Batman going "wrong" isn't impossible, or implausible. Owlman is fun (except when they show you how much of a vicious creep he, naturally, is), and I've had enormous amounts of fun with the idea, from a Bruce Wayne who kills to one who built his own prison/asylum under the Batcave. You can even break the current Batman into something worse.
But you have to do it plausibly, and the end result has to be consistent with who he is. These Batmans definitely aren't; at least so far, they aren't shown as Bruce Waynes who went through very different lives, but rather as near-canonical Batmans who had a Bad Day (which is a very Batman thing to happen) and responded to it in an overly dramatic (also a Batman thing) but not Batmanish way.
That also goes to the core of my distaste of Injustice. It's not that I dislike dystopias where a canonical Superman kills somebody and then takes over the world (ah, A Better World, what fun we had); I dislike dystopias where a canonical Superman kills somebody, takes over the world, and starts behaving like a petty, insecure, sadistic tyrant. (I also dislike Injustice in that the worst possible outcome *always* happen; there's a difference between horrendous tragedy and a sadistic universe.)
My main takeaways are that Jae Lee and Ben Oliver totally kick the art out of the park during the first issues, and I wish I could read more of the older (Earth-2?) world. I know they eventually got Darkseid' to pieces (and then there was a very long and silly migration and whatnot I only sort of followed), but I think TPTB made that happen because Batman and Superman had sort of won.
But mostly, the art was gorgeous; moody, strange, dramatic. As an example, here's Bruce Wayne (in disguise) sitting in a park bench:
It's all like that. The perfect style for that pair of over-dramatic prima donnas (in all fairness, everybody and everything looks over-dramatic drawn that style).
He has either the best or worst secret identity management skills in the business.This has lead to some of his friends suffering, but, to be fair, this also happens a lot to his more secretive colleagues. In a world full of cameras and databases, there's much to be said for the open, humorous approach.
I mean, can you imagine Clark Kent doing that? Granted, he has much more powerful enemies, and it wouldn't be compatible with either Superman or Clark's public images as they currently stand — you can't really be Superman (I thought about using words like "the world's most beloved superhero", "iconic", etc, but, no, the right phrase is "you can't be Superman", which is both all of this and more) if people know you have a day job and lived in Smallville, USA. Hell, the US would reinstate mandatory military service just to get to give him orders.
So, really, there are practical issues to this idea. Bruce could be an open Batman more easily. He breaks the law every night, but have you seen his lawyer pool? If Luthor gets away with trying to take over the world every other week, Wayne would definitely get away with saving people all the time. Plus, most of his big enemies already know who he is, so that cat (pun not intended) has left the bag.
But Bruce, professional trinity-level badass that he is, doesn't have the kind of godlike power Clark does. Nobody particularly wants to use him, either as weapon or for propaganda; if anything, they'd like him to go the hell away.
I think the difference between Lord Superman in JLU: A Better World and Superman in Injustice: Gods Among Us or, and this is more damning, as it's theoretically the same character, Justice League Beyond's Lord Superman, illustrates pretty well the abysmal differences in writing between those stories.
JLU's Lord Superman was a dictator, but he was the kind of dictator canon Superman would be if he were a dictator, and for the reasons he would be. Justice League Beyond's Lord Superman is a dictator, but he's also a bully, and worse things as well, and in no recognizable way a point B to canon's point A. He's not an answer to how would Superman be a bad guy?, he's just a generic bad guy with Superman's face.
As an aside, Injustice's Superman is not even that. He's just a plot device making whatever bad decision the story requires him to. I understand that the death of Lois and the baby (not to mention Metropolis in toto) twas supposed to crack him, but I don't think that's how his mind works - that's not the way he would crack. Even here, the animated show did it before and better: the world in which Lois died and Superman and Luthor "allied" to protect the city was one in which Superman was a rather oppressive crimefighter, but even then he was still recognizably himself, and the worst of what went on in Metropolis happened without his knowledge, not under his command.
Nota bene/Warning:I'm neither a Christian (nor, for that matter, a believer in any religion) nor very well versed in theology. Nor is this more than speculative thinking-aloud-while typing. If the use of religious images to muse about comics might be offensive to you, I apologize, and ask you not to keep reading.
After the recent SD post, I went and read the entirety of Black Summer. That it's not really very original doesn't detract from its interest, although it was so Bush-specific (without ever naming him) that I suspect it won't age very well. In that sense, it's a lighter version of Kingdom Come, without the biblical approach and gravitas of the narrative, not to mention the art. The carnage is more graphic (although I think the Kansas Incident was worse in any objective sense), but, well, these are clearly just people with powers. They have no other narrative or social standing, which I think is closer to how our world works than DC.
In some aspects, the Kingdom Come disaster comes because Superman couldn't be anything else than Superman, and the Black Summer disaster comes because John Horus tried to do what he thinks Superman should do, but because he isn't Superman, it doesn't work.
The question remains: would it work if Superman did it? A Better World *dared* to suggest that yes, up to a point, it would. That's one of the moments in which comics mythology came the closest to implode and break under the weight of its own contradictions without approaching it from the satirical or the grotesque, and it's still pivotal, I think, to understanding the DC multiverse.
You can't quite do the Superman thing with other characters (e.g., Apollo or Majestic), because, fantastic and interesting as they are, they just don't have the same narrative and cultural specific weight, both intra- and inter-textually. I mean, even leaving aside the latest, not lamented at all Superman movie, the Christological element has always been clear in all sorts of ways (although some writers have tried to go for a more Greek-like approach, e.g. Morrison's JLA).
Perhaps it'd be interesting to compare the Lords' Earth of A Better World with descriptions of how some Christians expect a post-Second Coming kingdom of Jesus on Earth to look like. In a way, Superman *is* the all-powerful man-and-God who never sought secular power (in his case, defending individual lives, etc). And DC 1,000,000 was practically explicit in their apotheosis of late-future!Superman. So you might very well look at A Better World as what'd happened if at some point during the Calvary Jesus would have dropped the cross and said "You know what, fuck this, let's do it the direct way. I'm going to fix _this_ world, and I'm going to do it _now_."
While standing over the burnt ashes of the Roman Emperor.
Turned out to be your standard "Lois sort-of-dies, Bruce and Gotham get addicted to a cola who turns them into crazy cyborgs ---Bruce then blows up the city and uploads himself into a bunch of robot bats---, Clark hides in Indonesia, then his fake daughter sent from the future goes back to the future carrying the Brainiac virus, who then attempts to take over the world until Superman from the past (actually the comics timeline present) drops him into a nanosecond-long gap in time" story. And afterward Clark fucks up the timeline so well that baby-Kal dies in Krypton, which results in (magic!) Mr. Majestic being dropped into Metropolis, and Superman appearing in the Wildstorm universe.
For some reason, everybody in both universes is confused by that. Except possibly Majestros, who is basically Kal, with Bruce's brain, as raised by a Paradise Island in full war mode.