When the US film giant Warner Bros releases its planned 2015 superhero double bill, Ben Affleck's Batman will come face to face with Henry Cavill's Superman for the first time on the big screen.
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Affleck to don Batman suit
Ben Affleck is taking on the role of the caped crusader in Zack Snyder's upcoming Man of Steel sequel.
Before that, however, Affleck will have to overcome an almost unprecedented fan backlash which risks poisoning the film's potential box office before a single frame of film has even been captured.
Affleck was announced last week as the eighth actor to don the mask and cape of the iconic comic book hero Batman on screen – by day billionaire philanthropist Bruce Wayne, by night the crime-fighting "caped crusader".
But within seconds of Affleck's being named, fans of the iconic comic book went into revolt. The social media site Twitter went into meltdown with fans unleashing their fury in a barrage of negative tweets.
Former Star Trek actor Wil Wheaton seemed to sum up the issue with this: "Really looking forward to seeing Affleck bring the depth and gravitas to Batman that he brought to Daredevil and Gigli".
That was followed by a petition from fans on the activism website change.org which demanded he be replaced because he could not do the role "justice". That petition has reached almost 38,000 signatures and continues to grow.
Another petition from fans, posted to the White House website, appealed for intervention by US President Barack Obama. It was taken down because it breached the White House website's terms of service.
Compounding the humiliation for Warner Bros, the hashtag #BetterBatmanThanBenAffleck began to trend. Among its suggestions: Meryl Streep, Steve Buscemi and the inflatable autopilot from the film Flying High.
It is not the first time a big Hollywood franchise has provoked a fan backlash but it is perhaps the first time the full fire power of the new digital world has been brought to bear: online petitions and social media.
Star Wars director George Lucas has repeatedly provoked the ire of his constituency: with his wretched 1978 Christmas Special, sub-par prequels, Jar-Jar Binks and endless tinkering with the "special editions" of his films.
What makes the Affleck situation different is that in an era of social media it is easy for dissent to be heard.
In 1978, when the Star Wars Christmas Special was broadcast, its audience screamed in silence.
This year, when told that the mantle of arguably the most complex and interesting comic book hero in pop culture history was to be handed from Christian Bale to Ben Affleck, the fans are screaming front and centre. And very loudly.
Almost 100,000 tweets were sent in the first hour after Warner Bros announced Affleck, according to the US social media analysis company Fizzology.
Of those, 71 per cent were negative, 15 per cent positive and 14 per cent of "mixed sentiment".
The negative tweets focused on Affleck personally, his last role as a superhero – in the film Daredevil, or referred to the box office disaster Gigli, in which he starred.
Affleck did win one important endorsement from director Joss Whedon.
Whedon, the man behind Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, The Avengers films and new TV series Marvel: Agents of Shield, is something of a demigod in the comic book world.
Whedon's tweet said: "Affleck'll crush it. He's got the chops, he's got the chin. Just needs the material".
While it is easy to dismiss Twitter criticism as white noise from a segment of the audience inclined to complain about anything, that simply isn't the case.
Unusually, we have a rare, recent comparison which is easy to make: only weeks earlier the confirmation of actor Peter Capaldi as the 12th actor to play the title role in the science fiction series Doctor Who was met with an almost universal chorus of approval.
The problem for Warner Bros is that you don't get many chances to get something like this right.
Despite the proliferation of comic book heroes such as Batman and Superman in popular media, only seven actors have played the role on the screen.
Affleck's predecessors – assuming he still has the role in a year's time – are Lewis G. Wilson and Robert Lowrey, who played Batman in the two black and white film serials of the 1940s; Adam West, who played him in the campy 1960s TV series and its spin-off movie, and the four Batmen of the modern cinema age: Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney and Christian Bale.
Not all of those casting decisions were met with enthusiasm, notably Keaton and Clooney.
Affleck is also disadvantaged by the fact that he comes immediately after Bale, who won almost universal acclaim for his performance as the emotionally damaged Bruce Wayne and his cowled alter ego in The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012).
In Affleck's favour is his box office fire power, jokes about Gigli aside.
His last two big films took almost $US400 million worldwide and his overall box office in the past 16 years is more than $US2.5 billion worldwide.
And in the accounts department of a film studio such as Warner Bros, coming out of a summer of blockbusters overloaded with too many films and few big wins at the box office, those numbers are persuasive.
He also has the backing of director Zack Snyder who will direct the new film, from a script written by Man of Steel screenwriter David S. Goyer.
Snyder said Affleck had "the acting chops to create a layered portrayal of a man who is older and wiser than Clark Kent and bears the scars of a seasoned crime fighter, but retain the charm that the world sees in billionaire Bruce Wayne. I can't wait to work with him".
For now, however, the challenge is best summed up with a gloved punch to the palm and an exclamatory: "Holy backlash, Batman!"
The as-yet-untitled film will be released on July 17, 2015, which means Warner Bros has one year, 10 months and just over 20 days to convince a sceptical world that Affleck is worthy of wearing a cowl first sketched in black ink by artist Bob Kane in Detective Comics number 27, 74 years ago.