Gregory Paul Silber of The Beat has been accused of having a somewhat… obsessive personality. Each week on Silber Linings, he takes a humorous look at the weirdest, funniest, and darkest bits of comics and pop culture he can’t get out of his head.
This week, The Hollywood Reporter Hollywood reported that the pop superstar Lady Gaga is in talks to play Harley Quinn in the next sequel to Jokerthe (sort of) Oscar-winning 2019 film directed by Todd Phillips and featuring Joaquin Phoenix in the title role. That would have been quite newsworthy; Lady Gaga isn’t just massive star power, but a genuinely inspired choice for the role of the Joker’s Brooklyn-born psychiatrist turned beleaguered girlfriend (Gaga herself is from Queens). But the real news, at least as far as I’m concerned, is that the sequel would be a musical.
Admittedly, I did not like Joker, for reasons best left for another article. So I don’t expect the sequel, which turned out to be titled Joker: Madness for two, neither be good. But if it’s a musical, at least it will be differentwhich means it will be at least interesting. Obviously Joker wasn’t exactly a superhero movie, as it tells the titular supervillain’s origin story set in an early ’80s Gotham town where Bruce Wayne is still just a little boy. with living relatives. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s set in a superhero universe, or that it’s honestly kind of weird that there’s never been a proper superhero movie musical.
Before exploring Why there have been no superhero movie musicals, or why such a thing should do exist, we have to recognize that singing superheroes isn’t an entirely new idea, at least in other media.
Comic books, the native medium of the superhero, notably lack sound, but various creators have embraced the flamboyance of the superhero genre with singing superheroes like Dazzler and Black Canary; DC even released a pair of EPs modeled after Black Canary’s band in 2015-2016 led by Brendan Flecher and Annie Wu which are well worth your time if you like synth-tinged and pop-tinged electronic rock artists like Chvrches and Phantogram (it’s also a good comic book series).
There have been a handful of superhero musicals, like the 1966 Broadway flop It’s a bird… It’s a plane… It’s Superman! and Julie Tayloris infamous 2011 Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark with music from U2 bono and The edge. I’ve never seen that one either, but you might recall that this Broadway show was plagued with issues, including injuries from the actors, who kept falling off during aerial stunts . Still, I maintain that the fundamental theatrics of colorful heroes and villains is perfect for the Broadway stage, so maybe one day The Big 2 will be ready to give it another shot.
TV superheroes have very occasionally dabbled in musicals, such as when The Music Meister (voiced by Neil Patrick Harris) was the villain of the week on Batman: The Brave and the Bold. It’s happened at least once in live action too, when Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) visited The Flash (Grant Gustin) on his self-titled show for a musical crossover.
[Editor’s Note: I have this HORRIBLE sense that NPH would be perfect as the supervillain in a musical… for some reason. —AJK]
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that there’s already been at least one superhero movie with a handful of musical numbers: The Lego Batman Movie. But while I love this movie, I don’t think it qualifies as a musical if you can count the number of scenes in which the on-screen characters go into song.
Perhaps the closest we’ve gotten to a live-action superhero musical so far is Scott Pilgrim vs the worldbased on Bryan Lee O’MalleyGraphic novels. Like the others Edgar Wright films, music plays a central role, and some of it is even diegetic. Scott (Michael Cera) plays bass in his rock band, Sex Bob-Omb, and there are several songs performed by others he meets in the Toronto music scene. It’s arguably a musical, but even then it’s only marginally a superhero movie. Like the Scott Pilgrim comics, the film borrows various tropes and aesthetics from superhero fiction, but Scott himself is hardly a superhero.
[Editor’s Note: But the cast does include Captains Marvel and America, plus whatever Batman villain Jason Schwartzman is eventually cast as. —AJK]
You may be reading this assuming that I’m a music fanatic, but that’s really not the case. I’m not gender-averse like some people (let’s be real: straight cis men in particular) pose as them, but I don’t actively seek out musicals like I do horror, action, comedy, thrillers, or even simple dramas. As for musical theater, having grown up in northern New Jersey and now living in Brooklyn, I probably end up seeing about one Broadway musical a year. Let’s put it this way: I saw hamilton in 2016 with the original cast when the startup I was working for at the time took us all to see it. I liked that. But when I said to my sister “my company is taking us to see this room called hamiltonhave you heard of this?” she got mad at me because she didn’t realize that i really had no idea hamilton was such a freak and I guess I was obnoxiously boasting humbly.
Anyway, regardless of my lukewarm enthusiasm for musicals as a movie genre or otherwise, a superhero movie musical feels like something that should exist. Superhero fiction, much like musicals, often relies on the allure of over-the-top spectacle. And while superhero movies, at least in the 20th century, sometimes tone down the bright colors of comic books (take the original x-men movie from 2000 for example, or Christopher Nolan‘s Batman), superhero comics have their roots in flashy costumes and a similarly ornate aesthetic.
It’s not just about the visuals, though. A key feature of musicals is not just that the characters go into song, but that they express their feelings out loud through the power of song. Yes, it’s incredibly stupid, and I’ve heard many non-musical fans say it’s too stupid a hurdle for them to jump. But it’s also no different from the soap operas of classic superhero comics. Even in recent decades, when thought bubbles have mostly gone out of fashion, superhero comics still have a habit of having characters say directly how they feel in the most direct terms possible. .
Of course, there are superhero comics that deal with more subtlety, especially since Alan Moore revolutionized the way superhero comics are written in the mid-1980s. But for most of the genre’s history, this approach has been the exception, not the rule. When you think of superhero comics, you think overdone and explosive. Kind of like musicals.
I certainly don’t think all superhero movies should be musicals, or even most of them. It’s just odd that it hasn’t been tried in a major way yet when, from where I’m standing, it seems like something that would make sense and has the potential to work beautifully. So why hasn’t anyone tried?
On the one hand, I admit that the idea of a superhero movie musical probably didn’t cross the minds of many people with decision-making power in Hollywood. Even beyond superheroes, the idea of an action musical doesn’t really exist in American cinema. While I think a superhero movie musical makes perfect sense, I understand that on paper for most people it’s unheard of.
But once you get past that initial quirk, I can’t help but think of something I brought up when I defended Joel Schumacheris slandered batman and robin 1997 movie: Superhero movies are still seen as the preserve of straight men, and as a result there is a resistance to leaning too hard on elements that are traditionally seen as more appealing to women and homosexuals. I say this as a straight man myself, but the rich queer history of musical theater is undeniable, and I don’t think it’s controversial to say that, generally, women are viewed as more of the audience musicals than men.
From the perspective of their own financial interests, the studios would not necessarily be wrong to assume that a superhero musical would alienate some of their target audience, even if the audience for superhero fiction has a lot more women and queer people than many outsiders to the fandom would assume. And let’s face it: we all know that a loud corner of toxic fandom within the superhero fandom would throw tantrums. Frankly, part of the reason I’m excited for Joker: Madness for two being a musical is out of spite for the horrible dudebros who loved the original. You know the type: it’s the same men who greet fight club as an epic ode to guys who are guys, rather than condemnation of the toxic masculinity that anyone with more than two brains has to rub shoulders with.
[Editor’s Note: It is a shame they couldn’t have figured this out before it was too late for MF DOOM to appear in a Fantastic Four musical. —AJK]
Either way, even though a superhero movie musical is an original idea, and even a financial risk, I maintain that movie superheroes desperately need more risk right now. Although I love superhero movies and see almost every one that comes out, they’ve become pretty much the same over the past decade. There are of course notable exceptions, but four years later Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Versebig screen superheroes could use another kick in the pants.
And by the way, aren’t you at least curious to hear what Lady Gaga’s song about falling in love with the Joker would sound like?