Much has already been written about how Marvel Studios and their Disney overlords have absolutely embarrassed their rivals over at Warner Brothers when it comes to mining their comic book properties for movies and TV shows. You see, there are two main comic book companies in the world that house most of the big superhero characters everyone knows between them, and while Marvel has been able to use its characters to create multiple stand-alone film franchises, team-up movies that tie all of the franchises together, and even television shows that tie things together even tighter, so far all Warners has been able to do with their DC heroes is make a bunch of Superman and Batman movies that don’t even have anything to do with each other. Okay, so they made a Green Lantern movie too, but that’s probably best forgotten.
With yesterday’s huge announcement that Marvel has signed a deal with Netflix to create four more TV shows, which will then all come together for an Avengers-style mini-series called The Defenders, Marvel’s dominance over DC when it comes to live action entertainment becomes even more obvious. Really, they’re starting to pull so far away from the competition at this point that Warners has to be seen as having egg on their face. The thing is that they have the characters and the resources necessary to catch up though. All they need to do is swallow their pride and start following the Marvel model.
What the people at Warners seem to finally just be understanding is that what fans of genre entertainment, and fans of superheroes in particular, love most about the franchises that they become obsessed with is all of the world-building that goes on in them. Look at the most successful franchises out there, the ones with the crazy fandoms and all of the merchandising opportunities, they’re things like Star Wars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Lord of the Rings. They’re things that aren’t just about a couple of characters and the adventures they go on, but are about entirely new worlds with their own histories and laws, rich worlds that are ripe for exploration and that make our imaginations spin out of control at the possibility of all the stories that could be told in them. This is the fundamental thing that Marvel realized when they started linking all of their movies up and having them exist in the same universe, and it’s the same thing Warners seems to finally have figured out now that they’re making a Superman and Batman crossover movie.
What they’ve yet to understand is how to recreate the focus, patience, and build that led to The Avengers being such a huge success for Marvel though. Marvel took their time establishing each of their characters and each of the little corners of the bigger world that their characters inhabited, so then when it all came together in The Avengers it actually meant something to moviegoers who had been invested in the plan for a number of years. On the other side of the coin, DC seems to just be trying to throw a bunch of heroes who have yet to be established into one movie in the desperate hope that making something with multiple characters will be able to recreate the Avengers success.
It’s not going to work, because not only were they not able to have this crossover include the Christopher Nolan-created Batman universe that everyone was already invested in, but when the Superman/Batman movie starts pulling out all of the rumored Dick Grayson cameos or the rumored Wonder Woman and Flash cameos that seem to be the plan, the fact that all of these characters are occupying the same space is going to be meaningless, because it’s going to be the first time we’ve seen any of them other than Henry Cavill’s Superman.
Warners TV situation seems to be doing a little bit better when it comes to linking multiple DC properties together in a shared universe, but even that is a mess. Adam Bellotto did a pretty thorough rundown of it here. It’s true that the CW is using their successful Arrow show to launch a Flash spinoff, and a new show for the Hourman character as well, but once all of that stuff gets going there doesn’t seem to be any plans to link it to the Superman/Batman movie. What message does it send to fans to have two different Flashes on TV and in the movies? And what are they supposed to think about the Gotham show that’s going to premiere on Fox or the Constantine show over at NBC? Instead of being invested in the direction the DC heroes are moving in, consumers are just going to be confused about who’s a DC hero and who isn’t, and which of these different properties can be linked together and which can’t—and that’s dumb.
All DC would have to do to snowball interest in their vast library of characters is pick a few and follow that Avengers model—that Defenders model—of introducing them separately and then having them crossover. And seeing as their network TV situation is all over the map and their feature film strategy seems to be to cram everything into one movie, probably they should go to one of Netflix’s competitors to do it, let’s say Amazon.
Just imagine if Warners took a couple of the second-tier DC characters and gave them each their own Amazon series, only to cross them over in a big mini-series, or even a theater-released feature down the line. It would be great, and the perfect characters to use would be the ones that appeared in all of the ‘Justice League’ comics that were written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis. Those guys were never really allowed to get all of the big guns together when they were writing Justice League stories, so they made their books interesting by adding more humor in them than you could when writing Superman and Wonder Woman, by fleshing out the quirks of their characters further than you could heroic archetypes like Superman and Wonder Woman, and by actually changing and developing their characters more than you could icons like Superman and Wonder Woman, and it worked. Whether they were called ‘Justice League,’ ‘Justice League International,’ ‘Formerly Known as the Justice League,’ or even ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League,’ the core of characters that Giffen and Dematteis kept coming back to rocked. Let’s look at four possible series that could lead to a not-quite-the-Justice-League crossover.
The Blue Beetle
Ted Kord is the second DC superhero to be named the Blue Beetle. He’s a scientific type who creates a bunch of little gadgets that generally adhere to a beetley aesthetic. Think of him as being like the owl dude from Watchmen, but with beetles. Kord is kind of a dork and kind of a doormat, but he’s also the sort of good-natured go-getter who could work as the defacto leader of a group of ragtag heroes. Sometimes he struggles with a weight problem. Often he struggles with his love/hate relationship with Booster Gold.
Booster is a vain movie-star wannabe from the future who uses future tech to appear to have superpowers and who uses his knowledge of future events to stage heroic publicity stunts. He’s a real smug douche, and kind of a slime ball—the sort of guy who worries about getting on magazine covers and would sell ad space on his superhero costume. When push comes to shove, he generally finds himself begrudgingly doing the right thing though. Living life as a super hero, like living life as anyone, should always be seen as a work in progress, after all. Certainly he never struggles with weight problems, and generally he never struggles with his love/love relationship with best buddy the Blue Beetle.
Fire and Ice
Fire is a Brazilian lady named Beatriz da Costa who gained the power to control a powerful green flame through mysticism. Ice is another mystic named Tora Olafsdotter, but seeing as she is the princess of a tribe of Norseman and not from Brazil, she’s able to magically manipulate ice. One of them is a bit wild, one of them is a bit innocent, and they have powers that cancel each other out, but they’re best friends. Guys would be interested in watching their show because they’re hot chicks, gals would be interested in watching their show because of the strong female relationship, and everybody would be interested in watching their show because fire and ice powers are some of the coolest super powers out there. So many different characters have them for a reason.
Warners didn’t do so well taking the straight-faced approach to making Ryan Reynolds into a big screen Green Lantern, so instead of trying over with the Hal Jordan character again, why not dip your toe back into the Lantern mythos by introducing the loudest, crudest, most pig-headed Lantern who’s ever joined the corp, Guy Gardner? Guy is your typical anti-hero—he comes from a troubled background, he doesn’t play well with others, and he acts more out of an overload of testosterone than he does a sense of justice. He’s a scrapper who’s good to have in a fight though, and he’s exceptionally loyal to people who have found themselves fighting on his side—especially to that aforementioned lady named Ice who he happens to be pretty sweet on.
After Warners establishes these five characters, they could then add a couple more of the Giffen/DeMatteis regulars during the big crossover event. Maybe a heavy-hitter with the potential to launch his own feature film like Captain Atom, or perhaps the Oreo-loving Martian Manhunter, who’s actually a DC A-lister but might be a bit too weird for a mainstream Justice League movie. Heck, they could even have Ben Affleck’s Batman show up in a cameo to tell all these people that they’re idiots, they’re not the Justice League, and to recreate the iconic scene where he knocks Gardner out with one punch. That’s one of the beauties of the situation that Warners is in. While Marvel doesn’t have access to some of their most popular characters, like Spider-Man or the X-Men, they can do whatever they want with the DC stable. And it would be super rad for all of us if they actually got the process of world-building started.