Heroes we deserve: ‘The People v Batman v Superman’ podcast

Dennis Cooper and son George (upper-left) and Chris Ayers (lower-left) of 'The People v Batman v Superman’ Podcast
Dennis Cooper and son George (upper-left) and Chris Ayers (lower-left) of ‘The People v Batman v Superman’ Podcast

What do the Fantastic Four, Supergirl, Catwoman and Howard the Duck all have in common? If you guessed that they are all super-bad superhero films then you are correct. But if you took all of the problems of all of those movies combined you would still not match the contentiousness created by director Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

It’s not that B v S is a worse movie than those other films (it’s not), it’s simply that Snyder’s take on Superman misses the mark on so many levels that many lifelong fans find it personally insulting and damaging to the ultimate hero’s mythos.

So what to do? You can’t fight city hall (Lex Luthor blew that to bits) and you can’t fight Hollywood, especially when their misguided movie still makes more bank than the gross domestic product of some small countries.

Along come two uber smart super friends, Chris Ayers and Dennis Cooper, who understand that in order to defeat a mad scientist you first have to understand him; and what better way to do that than to dissect his monster piece by horrifying piece.

With their popular and entertaining The People v Batman v Superman podcast, these dedicated DC Comics fans – together with a plethora of geeky guests ranging from anthropologist and Kryptonian language creator Dr. Christine Schreyer to local hero and Ignite Phoenix mastermind Jeff Moriarty – analyze the good, the bad and the ugly of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

So while Chris and Dennis are trying to figure out why in the heck Lex selected an old fashioned egg timer to count down Martha Kent’s demise, we thought we’d try to figure out just what makes these guys tick.

From Episode 0 of the podcast I know you guys have been friends since 2004. How do you two know each other?

CHRIS: We met while both living in Chicago playing a geeky superhero tabletop game called HeroClix. We quickly realized that we had lot of other things in common. Dennis is the biggest comic book fan I know and his geek knowledge dwarfs mine most of the time. We haven’t seen each other in person in about 9 years, but when I had the idea for the podcast Dennis was the first person I thought of.

DENNIS: While Heroclix helped us connect through our mutual love of superheroes, Chris and I discovered that we shared a lot of common interests: comics, film, music, and politics. I was heartbroken when he moved away, but it seemed like the right choice for him. My favorite thing about doing this podcast has been the chance to re-connect with Chris.

What was the impetus behind creating a podcast that focuses so closely on the Batman v Superman minutiae?

Chris Ayers
Chris Ayers

CHRIS: In the last couple of years I have become obsessed with listening to podcasts. I probably average about 20 hours a week. Leading up to The Force Awakens last year, I started listening to a podcast called Star Wars Minute. That show covers the entire Star Wars saga, for better or worse, one minute per episode. That might sound boring to some people, but I ate it up.

When Batman v Superman came out earlier this year, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wanted a platform more substantial that an essay or a blog post to talk about it and then I remembered Star Wars Minute. I didn’t think it was feasible to cover the film one minute at a time, but I considered breaking it into scenes.

I had started another podcast called On the Grid earlier in the year, which is focused on creative and interesting people in Phoenix. I was just getting my feet wet with podcasting and I’ve learned a lot in the last year, producing one episode a week.

DENNIS: Chris asked me. This has been his vision all along. I’m happy he invited me along for the ride.

For each of your episodes, how much of the film is covered (on average)? How many episodes do you think you have left?

CHRIS: I would say the average episode covers about four to eight minutes of the film. There isn’t a set length. We try to group the scenes with some thought to themes and the story structure.

DENNIS: Chris has broken down the episodes by scene(s), and it appears we will have 26 episodes on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, not counting the bonus episodes on the trailers and Suicide Squad.

How many times have you guys watched the film now?

CHRIS: I saw it once in the theater and then I watched the Ultimate Edition all the way through once. And then I go through and watch each individual section at least twice before we talk about it. When all is said and done I will have watched the film at least four times, maybe five.

DENNIS: If you count watching each scene at least twice as two, I’ve also watched it about five times.

For each of you, what is the most interesting thing you’ve discovered about the film from doing the podcast? What’s the most interesting thing you’ve discovered about yourselves and your own fandom?

CHRIS: I’ve discovered that there is a very loud vocal contingent of people who really love this film. My previous perception was that the film was poorly received. But we have to keep these people in mind as we’re recording the show because a lot of them do listen to the podcast. We don’t like to be too negative and we frequently have guests on the show who love the film and are willing to defend it.

Related to that, I realize that Dennis and I have a very similar perspective on pop culture but there are a lot of people who have a very different perspective. We remember the impact that Christopher Reeve’s Superman had on us, as well as Adam West’s Batman and then later the Tim Burton Batman films. That’s the era we grew up in. There are a lot of people whose first Batman or Superman film might be this one. That doesn’t make their perspective wrong; it’s just different than ours.

DENNIS: My most interesting discovery was the degree of symbolism and what I would almost consider “mysticism” the filmmakers put into the movie. When Dr. Christine Schreyer told us that they wrote quotes from Joseph Campbell in Kryptonese and put those into his uniform, that seemed like a magical attempt to infuse meaning and depth into the movie.

With a background in literature, I can appreciate stories on different levels, but the stories have to succeed on the basic level before I delve deeper. This movie does not work for me on the basic, surface level. All of the Easter eggs in the world aren’t going to make it a better film. But at least I can appreciate the Easter eggs.

There was no way I was going to tell a comic book legend to shut up.
– Chris Ayers

Do you have a favorite P v B v S episode? Why?

CHRIS: My favorite episode is probably the one we did with Brian Augustyn. I read his Batman graphic novel “Gotham by Gaslight” when I was 11 years old, and he was a co-writer on The Flash, one of my favorite characters. Our episode length is typically about 30-45 minutes but we talked to him for nearly two hours. There was no way I was going to tell a comic book legend to shut up. We go off on a lot of tangents because Brian had a lot of great stories and anecdotes about working for DC Comics in the 90’s, including one where Mark Hamill visited the DC offices and only spoke as The Joker, which annoyed Brian so much he wanted to throw him out of a window.

DENNIS: I enjoyed talking with Jamal Igle, and bonding with him over our love of Superman, and our mutual disappointment in Zack Snyder’s version. I think he might have been more upset by the movie than I was, and I’m doing a podcast about it every week.

What single thing do you think the filmmakers got most RIGHT in B v S?

CHRIS: I think it’s more than one thing, which is what makes this film so complicated. I really do appreciate the visual style that Zack Snyder brings to the film, particularly the design of the costumes. There’s a devotion to the comics that we haven’t seen much in the DC films. I think it’s very difficult to pull that off and Snyder does it well, just as he did with Watchmen.

DENNIS: I think the casting was great overall. Ben Affleck is an inspired choice for Bruce Wayne/Batman. Henry Cavill is very handsome, and would be a fantastic Superman in a different movie. Gal Gadot may not have been the Wonder Woman I envisioned in my head before seeing her in the film, but she is now. Jeremy Irons had a great turn as Alfred. Jesse Eisenberg would have made a fine Jimmy Olsen.

What is your favorite Superman film? Batman film? And what’s the most important lesson that director Zack Snyder and his B v S screenwriters could have learned from those previous films?

CHRIS: My favorite Superman film is probably Superman II, although I wouldn’t argue that any of the Superman films are without their problems. You can’t knock Christopher Reeve’s portrayal though. My favorite Batman film is The Dark Knight. I love the practical visual effects and Heath Ledger’s joker and Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent.

I think the biggest lesson would be to understand that Superman is not Batman. Snyder has tried to emulate Christopher Nolan’s dark and serious tone, even in Man of Steel. Batman and Superman should be at odds with each other because they are so different, but I feel like Snyder doesn’t understand that contrast. Without the light there cannot be the dark. It’s a difficult task to put those characters in the same movie and not have it clash tonally so Snyder opted for the dark tone for the whole universe. I think that’s the film’s biggest failing.

Dennis Cooper and son George
Dennis Cooper and son George

DENNIS: I’m going to cheat and go with the direct-to-video All-Star Superman as my favorite Superman movie. It’s based on one of the greatest Superman stories ever, so it’s hard to go wrong. Not as great as the original comics, but still good.

I grew up watching Christopher Reeve’s Superman and Clark Kent, but watching them today, they feel a bit dated. Superman needs opponents who are worthy of him, and the live action films either haven’t presented enough of a threat or challenge; or in the case of Man of Steel presented TOO MUCH. I think we’ve yet to see Superman face a villain in his “Goldilocks” zone.

For Batman, I’ll say the 1966 Batman: The Movie starring Adam West, although I’m hoping Lego Batman will become my new favorite. I really enjoy the sillier, more fantastic elements of Batman that were exorcised from the Nolan-verse. Tim Burton’s Batman included those elements, but Burton’s Batman also didn’t have any reservations about killing bad guys. As I’ve said quite often in the podcast, Batman’s “No Killing” rule is important to me.

I guess technically, Batman and Robin kill the Penguin’s re-hydrated henchmen in Batman: The Movie, but that wasn’t done intentionally. Batman: The Movie is just a goofy, good time. It doesn’t want to be taken too seriously, so I don’t take it too seriously.

I don’t feel that B v S understands the concept of “heroism.” Some might argue that the filmmakers are trying to deconstruct what it means to be a hero, but Superman and Batman are great characters and don’t need to be deconstructed. If you deconstruct them, they fall apart.

Superman should be all-good AND all-powerful. If he’s not all good, then his powers become really scary really quickly. A super-strong, indestructible man who can shoot lasers from his eyes, acting as judge, jury and executioner is terrifying. The only reason Superman is not terrifying is because he is so good.

Similarly, Batman, being the peak of human thought and physicality, is terrifying as judge, jury, and executioner. While he exploits fear in the DCU, only criminals fear him, and it’s not because they think he’s going to kill them. I think the filmmakers try to show what would happen if these characters existed in our world, rather than taking us to theirs.

If you were to give Zack Snyder one piece of advice while he’s working on the Justice League film, what would it be?

CHRIS: Don’t forget to allow for some humor and levity. And judging from the footage I’ve seen so far they’re doing just that.

DENNIS: I would add to include “hope,” which I “hope” will come through with some bright colors. With the exception of Batman, the super-heroes on the Justice League all wear brightly colored outfits. I want to see lots of color.

It felt a lot like 9/11, watching extreme heroism in the face of tragedy. Too bad the rest of the film wasn’t like that.
– Dennis Cooper

What is your favorite film segment that you’ve analyzed? Which upcoming episode are you most looking forward to?

CHRIS: I think that the party scene at Lex Luthor’s mansion is the best piece of writing in the whole film. It has all of the main players in the scene with various levels of subtext to the dialogue. There isn’t any superhero action in this scene but loads of character development and clashing ideologies.

DENNIS: I liked the first scene of the movie, which re-visited all of the destruction that occurred at the end of Man of Steel, but from the viewpoint of the man on the street. Bruce Wayne was very heroic, throwing himself into harm’s way to save as many people as he could. It felt a lot like 9/11, watching extreme heroism in the face of tragedy. Too bad the rest of the film wasn’t like that.

CHRIS: I think I’m most looking forward to the epilogue, which includes the Superman funeral and sets up the Justice League movie. I’m also looking forward to that scene because it means we’ll be done with the show. It’s been a labor of love, but producing a weekly podcast is exhausting.

DENNIS: I’m looking forward to discussing the “Martha” scene. No spoilers, but it should be a fun and interesting episode.

Do you have another film-analysis podcast planned for after P v B v S ends? (Wonder Woman, Justice League?)

CHRIS: We’ve talked about it and we’ll just have to wait and see. I’m sure we’ll do at least a special episode for each of those films but I can’t say if we’ll do another series as in depth as the current one. That will be more likely to happen if the films are really great or really bad. If they’re mediocre, it probably won’t be as much fun. I have high hopes for the next DC films, though.

DENNIS: I will follow Chris’s lead, since he does all the work, and I just kind of show-up every week.

Assuming we have Supes back in heroic form for Man of Steel 2, do you have a favorite comic storyline you’d like to see adapted? What villain would you most like to see on-screen?

CHRIS: I’d love to see something that deals with the heritage of Krypton. It was revealed in B v S that General Zod is from Kandor, so maybe that could be explored a bit. I also think it’s high time we saw Brainiac on the big screen. He would be the perfect villain to tie in with Krypton.

DENNIS: I also really want to see Brainiac on the big screen. Super-Man vs. Super-Machine! It would be awesome.

Dennis – What can you tell us about your comic-book library project?

DENNIS: I am currently working on a Masters of Library and Information Science at the University of Iowa. The U of I Special Collections recently purchased a collection of over 10,000 silver and bronze age comics, which I am processing as a student job. I am sharing a lot of fun stuff from this collection on my Tumblr site.

Chris – You are actually an extra in The Dark Knight. At what time can people see you?

CHRIS: At around the two-hour mark. There is a scene of people being loaded into boats, walking from left to right. I’m in the foreground of the shot. It lasts for about 3.5 seconds. I didn’t realize I was in the film until I saw it in IMAX on opening night. It’s a strange experience to see yourself in IMAX.

We shot those scenes at the end of Navy Pier in Chicago. The boats you see at the dock were composited in. All I saw at the end of the loading ramp was a green screen. I heard from the casting agency that Christopher Nolan was reluctant to work with such a large group of extras but he was happy with the end result. There were about 600 people in my group of extras, so I was lucky to make the final cut. I didn’t get to see any movie stars on set but I did get to see Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister behind the camera.

Marvel had a huge hit with the obscure characters of Guardians of the Galaxy. What unlikely character(s) would you like to see on screen from the DC roster? Starring who and directed by who?

CHRIS: I would really love to see a film of the Justice Society of America, possibly set in the ’40s. They’re currently appearing in Legends of Tomorrow, but not the core team. The comic run on JSA from the early 2000’s is my favorite comic series. Geoff Johns and David Goyer wrote that series and they are both involved in the DC films now, so it’s not too much of a stretch. As for director, I really don’t know. Someone good with an ensemble cast. Joss Whedon would be the obvious choice, but I think he’s done with superhero movies for a while.

DENNIS: I think the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle would be a refreshing change of pace for a superhero movie. First of all, he’s Mexican-American, and DC hasn’t done much for non-white superhero representation in their films. He’s also got a great supporting cast with his family and friends, the lovable lunkhead Paco and the “Hermione-esque” Brenda. The only other teen superhero movies so far have been the Spider-Man ones, so the market isn’t exactly flooded. El Paso is a unique and interesting setting for super-heroes. Plus, you’ve got a strange alien suit of armor that beeps and whirrs like R2-D2, so he could talk to it instead of (or in addition to) talking to himself. It would have humor, heart, and hope. And most likely, aliens. What’s not to love?

Earlier this month Nerdvana’s Bob Leeper was honored to participate in The People v Batman v Superman Episode 20 – Lola (in slacks). Listen to that episode HERE!

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About the author

Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.