Marvel and DC, the two biggest names in the comic book industry, have been duking it out for superhero supremacy for years. The battle has jumped from the printed page to the movie screen in the past decade, as each studio has worked diligently to translate their franchise characters into action film heroes. The war seems set to shift focus yet again, as the companies now prepare for a showdown in a most unlikely arena: the stage.Much has been written (most of it bad...) about Marvel's 'Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,' a 65 million dollar Broadway production helmed by Julie Taymor. The musical extravaganza (featuring songs from U2's Bono and The Edge) won't open until Feburary – nearly a year after its scheduled debut – as terrifying injuries to actors and other problems have plagued the production at nearly every turn.
DC is hoping to avoid a similar fate for their newly announced stage show, a live-action adaptation of Batman's origin story, entitled 'Batman Live.' Unlike 'Spider-Man,' this show won't be a musical nor appear on a Broadway stage. Instead, 'Batman' is a full on arena show, a spectacle filled with elaborate sets, a gigantic stage and a huge video screen.
Produced by Nick Grace, the man responsible for popular traveling versions of hits like "Mama Mia!,' 'Batman Live' will travel across Britain and Ireland and be staged in large venues. The show promises acrobatics, pyrotechnics, fisticuffs and other feats guaranteed to delight audiences – all on a stage roughly 100 feet wide and 60 feet deep. As The Telegraph article points out, "it's not Batman on Ice.' 'It's not Batman the Musical.' 'It doesn't have long, discursive scenes – Batman doesn't lie back and say: "Isn't that an interesting cloud?"' Instead, 'Batman Live' will be roughly 85 minutes of fast-paced mayhem integrating live action theatrics complemented by a large video wall showcasing effects and other elements designed to interact with the actors.
The stage show is set to make its debut in Manchester before moving through nine British and Irish cities over an eleven-week run. Grace's plan for the production calls for up to three performances per day – which seems ambitious, but given the producer's track record, shouldn't raise too many eyebrows. For Grace, bringing a live action Batman to the masses is a fulfillment of a childhood dream. He states he was always a fan of Batman – going so far as to build his own custom utility belt as a child and carrying a torch for Catwoman as a young lad. This should make fans at least somewhat comfortable – Grace knows the source material and has a genuine passion for it.
What will make hardcore comic fans even more comfortable is the fact that DC scribe Geoff Johns was responsible for the story of the stage version – which means it will hit all the notes DC readers have come to know and love when it comes to the Dark Knight and his sidekick Robin. Like Spider-Man, Batman doesn't resonate so deeply with his fans because of his powers, but because of his humanity. Johns explains "he's an orphan. He's experienced something that all of us can relate to – loss – that's just a part of being alive and being a human."
Clearly, Grace and DC Comics are hoping that large numbers of British and Irish folks can relate to those very things in order for 'Batman Live' to succeed. Even if it doesn't, it seems likely to find an appreciative audience when it makes its way to America in 2012. When that happens, we'll finally know which comic company is the king of the stage -- provided 'Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark' hasn't already closed. If you could see only one of these two superhero productions, which would you choose? Cast your vote below and then stop by The Telegraph to read more.
Note: Images above are of set design models, not the actual sets.