Okay, I guess we’re shelving all of my article plans this week outside of the Rippaverse (the Batman one was a time issue) and doing a follow-up to an article earlier this week. Thus is the nature of unpaid blogging by a solo writer. Seriously, anyone who wants to give me money to do this stuff, I’m happy to take it depending on your conditions. Back on topic, though.
Batman seems to be quite the focus this week as well. Talking about iconic depictions and the cancelation of the Batgirl movie, joined by the Supergirl movie with a more egregious race swap (unless my monitor’s off calibration images I’ve seen of Leslie Grace in her Burnside Batgirl costume at give the appearance of red hair, possibly a wig like Yvonne Craig used between her brunette Barbara and red-head Batgirl–but it could also be lighting) and the sequel to Scoob!, a movie that took a ton of liberties with not only the Scooby-Doo gang but Blue Falcon, Dynomutt, and Captain Caveman.
An article in the Hollywood Reporter discusses Warner Brothers Discovery CEO David Zaslav going over his plan during an earnings call explaining why he canceled movies nearly finished to the point that they’re almost ready for release, not even for streaming nevermind theaters. He laid out his new plan for DC Entertainment going forward, but before we all start celebrating it’s what he isn’t saying that still has me worried we aren’t in the clear just yet.
“You look at Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman — these are brands that are known everywhere in the world,” Zaslav said during an earnings call Thursday. “We have done a reset. We’ve restructured the business where we are going to focus, where there is going to be a team with a 10-year plan focusing just on DC. We believe we can build a much more sustainable business.”
Nice to see Aquaman getting some attention but I guess he was trying to think beyond the “Trinity” of Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman, or at least bank off of Jason Momoa’s current fame. Of course Aquaman had his own cartoon in the Filmation days while Wonder Woman has one animated movie, a popular live-action series, one good and one bad theatrical film, and otherwise is known for being on the Justice League. It’s also nice that Zaslav is actually looking at the problems with DC’s recent movies instead of sweeping the problems under the rug with terrible course corrections.
DC has long wished to emulate the success of the Disney-owned Marvel Studios, which Kevin Feige has built into the highest-grossing film franchise in history. Zaslav recently brought Feige’s former boss, retired Disney film chief Alan Horn, on as an adviser. During the earnings call, Zaslav suggested DC would try to emulate the Marvel playbook.
“It’s very similar to the structure Alan Horn, [former Disney CEO] Bob Iger and Kevin Feige put together very effectively at Disney. We think we can build a much stronger, sustainable growth business out of DC,” said Zaslav. “As part of that, we are going to focus on quality. We are not going to release any film before it’s ready…. DC is something we can make better.”
There’s some question if Feige is even sticking to his playbook. Where the early Marvel Cinematic Universe films were faithful to the characters and concepts of the Marvel universe while still being their own thing this has been less and less the case. Their perfect track record was already losing ground and seems to have gotten worse after Avengers: Endgame, as the next wave of creators both for the movies and Disney+ are joining the comics in being outright hostile to continuity and the source material. I’ve got a article in the cue that I hope to go over that proves that point. It’s one left buried during the hiatus.
DC has proceeded in stops and starts following the conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s defining Dark Knight trilogy concluded a decade ago. The studio initially tapped Zack Snyder to oversee its planned universe, which the filmmaker launched in 2013 with Man of Steel. However, Snyder lost the confidence of studio executives after the divisive 2016 Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and some of the films in an ambitious 10-project slate announced in 2014 never came to fruition, including Justice League 2. Executive Walter Hamada took the reins of DC Films in 2018 and has been plotting out a number of films — including several for HBO Max to meet the mandate of then-WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar. Now those plans are changing once again.
I can’t say I’m all that confident in Hamada’s run. While I have a number of adaptation issues with Nolan’s films, especially his Joker, it at least tried to get the concept right, just through a “grounded” lens. Zack Snyder, and this isn’t me slighting him as a director, has a vision of what superheroes are that was great for Watchmen but is out of step with a proper DC universe. The course correct has led to race-swaps of Batgirl and Supergirl, the latter way more noticable, Warner Brothers going behind Snyder’s back to “fix” the DCEU without understanding the problems, Margot Robbie drastically altering DC characters to push her vision of Harley Quinn because she wanted to play that type of character but not necessarily Harley herself, and a Shazam movie based on the comics–but not on the proper Billy Batson because Geoff Johns still has his re-imagining surviving the New 52 and Johns was part of the movie division hierarchy. I’m betting it’s not Hamada’s fault that WarnerMedia was so invested in their HBO Max streaming service but at least Zaslav remembers where such movies should get first play.
The executive also revealed that while he is focused on theatrical releases, “a number of movies will be released with shorter windows…and with different marketing campaigns. But we’ll always be agile, and the focus will be on theatrical.”
Before the pandemic, theater owners could demand an exclusive theatrical window of 74 to 90 days. Now, a film opening to $50 million or less domestically can be made available in the home as soon as two to three weeks after its theatrical release (Universal was the first major Hollywood studio to strike such terms).
Zaslav said that expensive films for streaming did not make economic sense.
“The objective is to grow the DC brand. To grow the DC characters. But also, our job is to protect the DC brand, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
What this means for HBO Max is still speculation too rumor-heavy for me to even go over, outside of a report that just dropped from CNet about a merger with the Discovery+ service insiders saw coming. However, it’s not like they’re tossing everything out. While no word has been given about a Blue Beetle movie that was in production and based on third Beetle Jaime Reyes we are still (as of this writing) looking at a sequel to Johns’ Shazam reimagining, a Black Adam movie (and apparently nobody has told Dwayne Johnson that Black Adam is a Shazam/Captain Marvel villain as he keeps talking about wanting to fight Superman) set with that same reimagining in mind, and despite the horrible press thanks to Ezra Miller’s growing insanity and legal issues the Flash movie seems to still be going ahead. Amber Heard’s own legal drama hasn’t seemed to dull her appearance in the sequel to Aquaman’s movie. Both Batgirl and Blue Beetle were intended for HBO Max before getting shoved into theaters with a punched-up budget so that brings up further questions about the previous regime, but you know what wasn’t mentioned in this DC discussion?
Nothing about DC Comics.
Now this could be on The Hollywood Reporter, and a Variety article on the same earnings call ignored them as well, because as I keep bringing up there’s a media pecking order and these are dedicated to Hollywood productions. They couldn’t care less about the comics, much like the studios apparently. To Disney and Warner Brothers, Discovery or otherwise, they’re just IP generators; what happens in them is otherwise none of their concern. This has allowed chaos. While Johns got to make his revision of Billy Batson’s history and cast, other writers at DC Comics see a chance to put their own spins on heroes and villains in the hopes that they’ll be the ones to get into the shows and movies, and thus controlling how they’re viewed by pop culture and other non-comic readers. They just gave Sina Grace his own shot at doing a Superman YA graphic novel, and the description he gave in a CBR interview sounds like more of his Iceman run…closer to “What If Sina Grace Was Superman?” than trying to understand Clark, his parents, and any classic take of mad scientist/evil businessman Lex Luthor. Apparently the only thing Grace can write about is his own life story. Meanwhile Clark has been replaced in his superhero identity even after revealing his secret to the world…again…by his own bisexual hyperaged son when he isn’t being dead along with the rest of the Justice League.
And DC has long since abandoned the all-ages (as in both adults and kids can read, enjoy, and get something out of the story) audience that made comics an existing media format in the first place. (Which I would have brought up in the article I planned to make today among other commentary. Next week?) The tone has gotten darker, and now they have superhero comics written by people who don’t want to make superhero comics, especially in the Young Adult line. According to these reports Zaslav had nothing to say about the comics, the kids movies, getting superhero action shows back on TV for the kids (while the Arrowverse may well die off with the CW), or even the video games. His only interest appears to be the movies, and maybe the streaming shows (even that’s only guessing).
So no, I’m still not hopeful. I still have a lot of trust to bring back that the DC I know, in tone and style since I have no delusions of returning to Superfriends or the Bronze Age of comics continuity-wise) is coming back. Let’s see the movies he allows through. Let’s see if ANYTHING changes at DC Comics, or the kids shows, or anything besides what’s going into the theaters. I’m open to see something good. You just have to actually prove to me you care about the mythos you’ve been put in charge of. Past experience has dulled my faith in that regard.