Who’s Who to Who!
An in-depth look at the mechanics between those illusive Leaguers that pop up in your how-to articles.
YES! Another Justice League article! I know, they’re a dime a dozen, and usually go unread but serve as a topic for comments. As always, I do so promise to give you something different, something to stimulate your mind rather than rant about what is on my own.
You see, the template for a “Justice League” article seems to run like this. An author will select a director, a roster, MAYBE a villain, but nary a story to be found. The author will explain why s/he has picked those directors, writers, actors, and characters – but all too often the words: “nuff said”, or “it speaks for itself” appear there. I believe those phrases have been taken for granted.
I’ve yet to see an article about the relationships of the Justice League characters – how well they work together, and how dysfunctional they can be. Character depth and interaction is by far the most entertaining and appealing part of any movie, and that is something Justice League has quite a lot to offer.
But what makes the Justice League a team? Well in modern fiction, there are typically six different identities within a functional group. Characters typically embody multiple traits and don’t always conform in an exacting fashion (which is good – no two characters from different stories need to be the same), but there are certain patterns that can’t be ignored. I won’t get into the color symbolism though.
There is the leader – someone who inspires the group to work together; someone idealistic who won’t falter if a legal system invalidates their existence. This leader acts as a strong moral compass, which is why the others would be ready to blindly follow with little or no hesitation given. The clear choice is the patriot, not the nationalist – Superman.
With that firm establishment comes the anti-hero – someone who may respect the leader greatly, but is prone to head in the opposite direction because they have difficulty with any semblance of submission. Such a member of the group is a rogue who actually has a great deal in common with the leader, but greatly lacks leadership skills as well as the desire to have them. Such an anti-hero would have to be Batman.
Next up is the expert, the ever-reliable genius of the group. This character is generally awkward because they have more or less distanced themselves from the central activities of the group, and can be something of a loner. The expert is constantly bringing up new topics, new tools, and new perspectives to give the group a broader vision and greater capabilities. There are two choices available – the Martian Manhunter and Cyborg.
As a bit of levity, one character in particular will assume the role of comic relief within the group. The comic relief always respects the fearless leader, and will likely feel that it isn’t mutual, given the character’s seemingly lack of capabilities. When this joker gets serious, however, the group will likely be shaken by the character’s accelerated performance and the demonstration of their commitment. This comic relief is the Flash.
Sometimes a heavy lifter is needed, but often times acts outside of the group for various reasons – most prominently being that the character doesn’t take orders well. Unlike the anti-hero, the heavy lifter isn’t uncomfortable having people depend on the character, but typically feels as though the rest of the group can’t keep up. The heavy lifters are always over-confident because they are doers, not planners, and as the muscle in an operation they feel they can make the hard decisions others would choke on. That muscle can be literal as well as figurative, as perhaps the character can be more charming than the others (or think so), and believes he or she can defuse a situation by attempting a more stylish approach. Such a heavy lifter would be the Green Lantern.
At long last, we come around to the most literal character of the group – the woman. Oh, any woman can embody any of the above characters, and they often do – but this particular woman is a deliberate representation of beauty, sophistication, and the power the two grant her. This woman can get her hands dirty all she wants, but at the end of the day, her words are the artillery. Her means to tear any other character apart or build them up is due to the respect that woman commands – her ability to make others care. Who else, but Wonder Woman?
But selecting those personalities is only a fraction of the work. As we have learned through countless adaptations of existing works, not every character comes out of the woodwork looking and acting exactly as they are expected to. Some have different origin stories for every heavy metal themed-age. For instance, there are many types of Batman – one who would lead, one who would doubt, one who would support, and one who would flex his muscles. Even some of the most established individuals will surprise you when they have to work with other people.
What are they willing to compromise? What is Hawkeye prepared to do and what will Thor refuse to do? What are their goals and ambitions? What is their driving force that motivates them to stay the course? A writer has to take these things into account every time a decision is made. And clearly, not every writer will share the same opinions about these things.
These are also characters that come from different places, have different upbringings, and very different values. When Alliance fugitives find themselves in hot water, what is it that keeps the close-knit group from turning them in and collecting a reward? What moral stances come out on top, and which ones are turned away even though they are the beneficial ones?
Each character represents some unique perspective, great or small, and at some point their beliefs, statuses, and/or personalities will lead them to butt heads. Jayne nearly succeeds in selling Simon and River to the Alliance – a prospect he had been flirting with since they got aboard. Rick comes out of a mostly dead coma and manages to find his wife and son, quickly learns the former was having a secret sexual relationship with Shane… and accepts it to their dismay. Tony hacks into SHIELD’s files to show Steve that Fury is developing super weapons in anticipation of an extra-dimensional threat from Thor’s realm or beyond.
The results compromise the groups greatly, and the bottom line of their rifts revolves around trust. Can Jayne be counted on to do his job and can Simon still be relied upon to patch up the one member of the crew who gets injured the most? Does Rick’s acceptance mean he trusts Lori to jump in the arms of any man offering comfort, and can Shane be trusted to break things off now that he has returned? Does Fury make apologies for his undermining secrets and will the Avengers simply trust that Fury had noble intentions?
Another point to seriously consider is what motivation is there for such a group to STAY together and not go their separate ways once the job is over with? Just because the divided galaxy is willing to work together to stop the Reapers from wiping out all organic life, doesn’t mean they’re going to start making small talk and become best friends. There have to be moments of bartering – giving to get what they want. And not everyone is going to agree with the choices made. At some point, each character is going to bring their problems to work, and they’ll need to rely on their team to help them out.
A circumstance is needed for the characters of the movie to commit. Some will share the catalyst, some will have their own problems that others might understand, but not relate to. You will probably notice that I didn’t mention Aquaman in the above personalities. That does not mean I do not want him included, I just see him as the King of Atlantis – not someone who can be reliably found unless some cataclysmic event threatens all the world… the seas included. He would be the special guest star.
Now that I have my main cast, what will I do with them? How will they be portrayed? Instead of a fancast, I’ve selected some of the best depictions I could think up, for what I believe the casted actors SHOULD emulate.
I was a little hesitant about Superman, but if all goes well, Henry Cavill will likely end up very much like this. You probably see a pompous old man in a uniform. What Jean Luc Picard signifies is moral authority, a sense of curiousness that comes with (usually) having a pretty open mind, and the courage to do what he feels is right even if it isn’t stylish, even if it’s old-fashioned. Superman needs to be stern, someone who can wield a strong hand and point to the door should anyone get in his way once his mind has been made up. He needs to have the respect of his peers and the camaraderie among his friends to make them want to follow him without thinking too hard about it.
Sir Alec Guinness portrayed a veteran who appeared as an eccentric old man with just a small glint of hope in his smile, which would be something considering the hard times the galaxy had fallen upon. He is quite worldly and experienced, and has his own agendas in mind about how to deal with them, many of which he’d prefer to keep to himself. Batman needs to be seasoned, stubborn, and very cagey. He should, in fact, only have one real friend in the group, and see the others as impulsive, naïve, or untested. And he should be looked upon as a questionable asset, someone the others would rather just ignore.
Dejah Thoris has a variety of styles to her person. She is a daughter who looks upon her father with betrayal when she is offered up as a bride; a princess dedicated to saving her kingdom from an ailing war; a woman who would die before submitting to marrying a monster; and a warrior who would stand in front of an able-bodied man to engage multiple swordsmen. Wonder Woman needs to wield all of these traits with a sense of desperation and objectivity. She has left her home to make a difference out in Man’s world, and should have a heart of stone to occupy it. Nonetheless, she should be patient to the extent of understanding where her fellow heroes are coming from, but any indulgence is asking a lot.
Peter Venkman is really just Bill Murray having fun with an expertly written screenplay he was trusted to enliven. He is a goofball who is described perfectly by the dean of Colombia: “ The purpose of science is to serve mankind. You seem to regard science as some kind of dodge... or hustle. Your theories are the worst kind of popular tripe, your methods are sloppy, and your conclusions are highly questionable. You are a poor scientist, Dr. Venkman.” Ryan Reynolds’ approach wasn’t far off from that, but his problem came from underperforming where it counted – where he had to show any emotion, it was all so visibly forced. My suggestion is to eliminate that expectation and simply put him at odds with Batman as brash and overconfident, not taking things seriously enough. Instead of having to swallow his pride and admit that he’s wrong, however, he should bounce it off.
You may not have heard of Remington Steele, as it was a popular 80s tv show with light-hearted detective drama. This was the role that gave Pierce Brosnan the claim to fame, and why he ended up playing James Bond LATER rather than earlier in his youth. Brosnan plays a mysterious con artist who’s impersonating an already made-up private investigator. His role is to seduce both the audience and the leads to his investigations with his charm and spontaneity. “Steele” is a lover of film noir, and likes to compare nearly every situation with a scene from a detective movie… often the wrong ones. He is accidentally right most of the time, and relies on his wits to get out of tight situations. Barry needs to have that determination of mind, that accidental flaw that becomes his saving grace. He needs to be a smartass who loves his job as a criminologist, and loves the adventures his alter-ego takes him.
Enter David Bowie, a man of many talents, who was cast in a slow-crawling social sci-fi film as an alien from a dying planet suffering from drought. He has adopted the identity “Thomas Jerome Newton” and used his advanced technology to earn a large fortune in patents on Earth. While his goal is to move water to his planet, his wealth and addiction to liquor create a series of obstacles that tragically delay his mission and doom his people. Newton is not a social butterfly, falling into habit faster than he can find a passion for anything or anyone. He is direct and forceful when he wants to be, but the dominant trait is a studious one. It is not the man who seduces the audience, but the audience (or its character equivalents) that lures Newton into a trap with his curiosity as the bait. The Martian Manhunter should not reveal himself outright. He lives vicariously through Superman, and the other heroes who aren’t thrown under a bus for their appearances because they have a great deal of humanity about them. J’onn needs to be just as stoic and frightful as David Bowie, and should act as a proctor for the League.
Now that that is settled, we need to deal with the most pertinent question – the bottom line.
What do they want with each other?
What does Batman have to gain by working with superpowered individuals who each represent a destructive potential? Why does Hal Jordan want to join up with this lovely bunch when he’s already part of an elite intergalactic police force? What divides Barry’s attention away from his ritual diamond thieves and bank robbers? What would push Diana to work with these guys in particular, when the rest of the world is still new and unexplored in her eyes? What prompts J’onn to sneak into the Justice League and what would they have to do to prove themselves trustworthy to his secret? And what invitation would Superman be given to join our heroes?
I leave the answers in your capable hands.
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