In the fictional Entourage-iverse, toxic sex monster Vincent Chase soared to stardom in 2006 with his lead turn in Aquaman. That hypothetical flick had a formidable pedigree, boasting James Cameron as director and a script by Andrew Kevin Walker, the acclaimed screenwriter behind Se7en and Sleepy Hollow. When Walker got wind of the shout-out, he sent Entourage creator Doug Ellin a bottle of booze and a box of cigars. Finally, at least some version of Walker had his DC superhero movie brought to life.
Just a few years earlier, the writer watched as his screenplay for a different superhero franchise in the same world was greenlit, rewritten, and eventually scrapped. Although the screenplay is now permanently lodged in the netherworld of Hollywood lore, the idea behind it has zoomed back into the zeitgeist with a vengeance.
The project Walker had labored over was called Batman vs. Superman.
As the intense, indefatigable marketing campaign has no doubt made you well aware, today marks the release of another Batman v Superman movie. This one carries the unsubtle subtitle, Dawn of Justice, a war cry of sorts signaling DC’s rampant desire to catch up with Marvel in the shared universe space. While it will inevitably make enough money this weekend to theoretically repair some of the damage done to Metropolis in Man of Steel, the new film has been largely panned, receiving the worst notices in either of the titular franchises since Batman and Robin, the 1997 candy-colored car wreck directed by Joel Schumacher. While taste is obviously subjective, the new film just may not be the creative victory DC diehards have been hoping for. It's as good a reason as any to contemplate the film's aborted predecessor.
Recently, Co.Create took a look at some of the lost concept art for the Nicolas Cage/Tim Burton Superman that was never to be. Now, we’ve talked with Andrew Kevin Walker about working on the Batman vs. Superman movie the world might have gotten instead of the one we did.
"I was lucky enough to write Batman vs. Superman, but it lead to a lot of insomnia," Walker says. "When I got those two characters to go off and fight, I was incredibly weighed by a sense of nervous purpose. It felt like a great responsibility to write these two incredibly iconic characters and the characters that surrounded them."
It started with a meeting with Air Force One director Wolfgang Petersen’s production company and development executive Sam Dickerman. Walker was one of many writers summoned for the opportunity to pitch on the project, and he was thrilled to get the meeting. Previously, he'd written a draft of X-Men and a Silver Surfer script, but this was a unique crossover project, and one that proved to be ahead of its time. After a general discussion, the writer came back with a more granular sketch of what he hoped to do, and worked with the team to flesh out a concept for Batman vs. Superman. He handily won the job.
"It was a combination of material kind of stolen, rightfully and legally, from wonderful ideas from the comics and melding those into an original storyline," Walker says. "I think a lot of the inspiration, if not specifics . . . lie in Frank Miller’s work, specifically in those issues of The Dark Knight Returns.
Frank Miller's Batman books from the mid-'80s are widely cited as fan favorites, especially among the fans who went on to become filmmakers. (The admiration is never mutual, though; Miller has not embraced any Batman movie ever.) The Dark Knight Returns run featured sophisticated storytelling, a darker, more violent version of Batman than before, and some antagonism between the top dogs of the DC universe. Director Zack Snyder would eventually cite this series' influence on his own Batman v Superman film. For Walker, the grim tone was a palette he was experienced in working with, and he looked forward to the challenge of counterbalancing it with Superman's more affable brand of heroism.
"Batman in my opinion has always been the cooler character. I think in a lot of people’s opinions, too," the writer says. "Superman is a bit of a tougher character to deal with. Not just for audiences, but for writers to interpret and make interesting. It’s a bit of a cliché at this point. Because he’s so invincible, because he’s so clean-cut, because there are certain tropes in his world. Superman’s a little harder to pull off."
Midway through writing the script, however, something happened that not only made it easier to write the Superman character, but even imbued the act of doing so with a sense of importance.
"There were certain things in the script that I had to look at differently on one side of 9/11 and then on the other," Walker says. "It was interesting how Superman was kind of perceived and is now a little more even—there’s a certain amount of difficulty in dealing with the wholesomeness of Truth, Justice, and the American Way, which is Superman's thing. Batman was always seen as darker and more complicated and interesting. But after 9/11, Superman was suddenly much, for lack of a better word, cooler all of a sudden. He was something people kind of needed in a different way than before. And I don’t mean to say that lightly. Suddenly, Truth, Justice, and the American Way wasn’t ironically wholesome or passé. In a way, he kind of became the character people cherished and wanted a little more."
Walker blended the idealism and hope of the time period with the classic darkness of Batman and his own filmography, and created something new. He was excited about the results, and so was the rest of the team. Everyone made sure to keep details of the project under heavy secrecy. There was an elaborate plan to initially market the project as Batman and Superman, keeping the true nature of the film hidden. Posters everywhere would read Batman and Superman, but then, a week before release, they would be replaced with posters that were identical except with the middle word ripped out and replaced so they read Batman vs. Superman. It's hard to overstate the sheer amount of nerd discombobulation such a move would bring about if properly executed.
Asylum was the studio's code name for it because a screenplay with that title would be far less likely to leak than Batman vs. Superman. Copies of the screenplay were printed on red paper because it was much harder to photocopy. To the credit of everyone involved on the production—and discredit, perhaps, of the period's movie bloggers like Ain't It Cool News—Walker's script never leaked. What did eventually get out was the rewrite, which was penned by Akiva Goldsman, the screenwriter behind both Joel Schumacher Batman movies. Walker has never fully read this version, which still exists online. While it has a lot of interesting ideas, including both Lex Luthor and the Joker as villains, it only hints at the greater potential of its previous incarnation.
Ultimately, this Batman vs. Superman project was scrapped altogether. Its chances of failure seem rather slim in retrospect, viewed from our era of knowing pretty much nothing but comic book movies. However, if the movie had tanked, it could've ruined two potential franchise revivals. Warner Brothers instead relaunched Batman with Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy, and the man of steel with 2006's Superman Returns. From hearing Walker talk about it, his version of Batman vs. Superman seems eminently more enjoyable than the one released today, but if never seeing it is the cost of getting 2008's The Dark Knight and Heath Ledger's indelible Joker performance, perhaps the trade-off is fair.
Walker has kept busy with many other projects in the meantime, including the forthcoming Nerdland, but he has yet to return to the world of superheroes. Well, except for his being attached to the Aquaman movie in Entourage, of course. Oddly enough, a year or so after that episode aired, Walker actually did land a meeting about possibly being the writer on the Aquaman movie.
"Life was trying to imitate art," he says.