The DC Movieverse has been a total disaster. Creators who have no respect for the source material, if not outright loathing (yes, I’m still picking on Todd Philips and Zack Snyder) for it, nor respect for the movies and TV shows that did. Now it’s in the hands of James Gunn, someone who used his platform to attack Scrappy-Doo, is one of those quirky-obsessed directors, and knew enough of the right people to actually escape his Twitter controversy. It does not breed confidence.
MatPat over at The Film Theorists has decided to take on the DC films and TV shows now under Gunn’s care and attempt to build a better post-comics DC Universe. He came up with a five-step plan that he believes will make the productions better…but does it actually hold up to scrutiny? Well, let’s dive in and see if Mr. Matthew Patrick has hit gold…or kryptonite.
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Okay, the fact that his thumbnail has Superman in bright colors is a plus and I wish Henry Cavill had been given that outfit at any point. Let’s look at each of Matt’s actual ideas.
Step 1: Take Care Of Your Heavy Hitters
“Story should always come first.” That’s something many of us critics have been saying. Story hasn’t come first. He gets into adaptation later, so we won’t get into that here. Making good stories with these characters are easy. It’s literally been done for decades…which is why I question some of MatPat’s list of “obscure” characters. Static was so popular that DC basically took over Milestone Media to use him…and only him as characters like Icon and Hardware have faded into the background. Shazam! didn’t debut in the DC Extended Universe. His first out-of-comics appearance predates his time in the DC Universe when Adventures Of Captain Marvel was a serial playing in theaters. After DC screwed over Fawcett and took over the rights Billy Batson had two TV series by Filmation, including a live-action series that wasn’t a great adaptation but still enough of a nostalgic favorite that Billy Batson’s actor, Michael Gray, still makes convention appearances. This was followed up by an animated series as part of The Kids Super Power Hour that was closer to the comics. Since then he’s had his own animated team-up with Superman on home video as well as appearing in the last three team-up shows: Justice League Unlimited, Batman: The Brave & The Bold, and Justice League Action. The movie was more in-line with Geoff Johns’ re-imagining that tossed out the Marvel Family in favor of the diversity brigade so they didn’t even get the actual Marvel Family.
Swamp Thing has had even more success. Two theatrical movies, one of which admittedly wasn’t very good, two live-action series, his own animated series, and numerous appearances throughout the DC animated productions in recent years. He’s not that obscure, just not as big as Superman and Batman. Booster Gold is the only one on that list not many people know, but he’s also appeared outside of comics. I think the Creature Commandos appeared in an episode of The Brave & The Bold but only as the cold open team-up, not a feature adventure, but I could be wrong on that. If you wanted obscure, try B’Wanna Beast or The Spectre, or even Dakota North. Not every MCU production has been a superhero series. Also, there was a Doom Patrol series but I guess that wasn’t as well liked as Peacemaker’s.
Step 2: Respect The Source Material
Good luck with that. Also neat to hear MatPat slam Velma (in name only) and The Witcher. The thing is, as I’ve chronicled multiple times, there’s a pecking order to media and comics are low on that list. Joker was the result of Todd Philips hating superhero movies and using a comic character to entice people to the types of movies he thinks matter. I’m not convinced Matt Reeves didn’t do the same with his take on Batman. We’ve see the She-Hulk showrunners outright attack fans for not liking the MCU’s version of Captain Marvel with the false claim of sexism. Auteur directors have complained about superhero movies and action-based science fiction. Hollywood has no respect for the source material. That’s also obvious in how Warner Brother Discovery has done nothing with the comics, using it only as an IP-generating machine without having to license stuff and not caring about the current state of the comics.
This isn’t even a new thing. For every Superman: The Movie, and there are moments I find questionable even in that, you have Man Of Steel. The only Batman movie that reflected the comics was the 1960s one based on the TV show, and that was just a coincidence as it was meant for parody rather than attempting to reflect the Silver Age properly. TIm Burton isn’t responsible for a darker Batman because the comics were already doing that, but did give us broken Batman because that’s the type of character he likes to focus on, and his take on the Joker was practically the main character. Later writers broke Batman even more because even Burton’s killin’ Batman still reflected some semblance of who Batman is. Taking something that exists, stripping the premise of proper adaptation to push their own plot and tastes isn’t new and I’m not sure Gunn–the guy who wanted to make Velma gay for no good reason and Shaggy a stoner for no logical reason–is the man for the job. Even his Guardians Of The Galaxy didn’t reflect the comics; the comics instead started reflecting his movies. One of the MCU producers even stated that he doesn’t want people who know the comics because he finds it restricting and wants the creators to make an original take, aka not reflect the material they’re adapting but not wanting to make something truly original because of cheap marketing.
As far as that Supergirl story “fans and critics loved”…no. If you’re using Tom King as your example, you already failed in making a proper adaptation. “I hate you all so I’m going to go get drunk on an alien world with a lower age limit for my birthday without any of you” is not the Supergirl I want to follow.
Point Three: Respect The Tone
Spider-Man is not a good adaptation in the MCU thanks to Sony’s nonsense, but that’s a whole other article. This where I agree with MatPat conceptually but not in execution. The original Lanterns idea of space cops was closer to what Green Lantern Corp stories should be than this idea Gunn has now for it. Superman is getting more origin story or early years story to better control the flow. MatPat’s idea of leaning on the investigative reporter angle has been done in the past but that’s when Superman wasn’t as powerful as he his now, during the Golden Age with the radio dramas and even Adventures Of Superman with George Reeves before he could juggle planets (which is an exaggeration of Superman’s actual limits by the way…asteroids maybe, or pushing planets). If they go that angle in TV shows like Lois & Clark it’s due to budget and the limitations of live-action when it comes to suspending disbelief…which is why I advocated focusing on animation. The DC universe is more dynamic and fantastical while Marvel has focused on maintaining “the world outside your window”. It’s why “grounded” DC stories like the Nolan trilogy never works for me.
Instead of trying to follow Marvel’s idea of superhero in “X” genre I’d rather see DC embrace “superhero with X genre overtones”, sort of the mirror of the MCU. Superman or The Flash should be a superhero with science fiction elements, Wonder Woman as superhero with Greek mythology elements, Batman as superhero with crimefighting/detective elements. That feels closer to the traditional DC approach and one of the things I liked about DC over Marvel. “Superhero but…” instead of “…but superhero”.
Point 4: Take Your Time.
Good advice for any work in general, but with a mind on budget and deadline. Otherwise you’ll work it to death and never put it out, advice often given to comic creators, especially indie ones. Sometimes you have to call it “good enough” and let it out into the world. Perfection is an illusion and you don’t want to take George R.R. Martin lengths between stories. On the other hands studios in numerous media push things out too soon and the results speak for themselves. It’s worse for video games than movies, but it’s still a problem.
MatPat nails perfectly the failings in approaching the shared universe. Dark Universe and DCEU both wanted that shared universe now. Marvel and the MCU earned that shared universe…though current creators seem to want to move away from that formula and create their own things, basically killing the idea not because it wasn’t working but because they don’t care about creating a shared universe. It’s too much effort and they hate any limits, including good ones that may benefit creativity. Also, Gunn announced there would be games that tie-in and now seems to be backing off at that, possibly realizing how long it actually takes to make a good video game versus a movie or TV/streaming series.
Point 5: Don’t Have A Long Term Plan
I wish the comics themselves would take that hint. Especially in the series (comic and TV/stream), you don’t really need a long term plan. Life doesn’t work that way and doing so just to do so leads to questionable payoffs. I’m not saying you can’t have a big story you’re building up to. Season two of the 90s Iron Man cartoon (season one was garbage and should only be seen as a bad example) and Avatar: The Last Airbender did this pretty well. Maybe don’t even know what you’re building up to, but set up something with potential, like Darkseid in Superman: The Animated Series. Setting up the debut Avengers in the MCU is another example of doing it right, while setting up the Justice League in the DCEU is the polar opposite. Let the story build up, but have an idea where you want to go.
Bonus Point: Following The DCAU
Fans have been pointing to the DC Animated Universe ever since the DC Extended Universe started failing. It was “superhero but…” instead of “…but superhero”. It knew what tone to set. It should also be noted that there was no plans for a shared universe when Batman: The Animated Series debuted. Originally The Adventures Of Batman & Robin, the retitle reflecting Fox’s interest in giving Robin a stronger focus for kids who wanted to see the younger hero have more appearances, and Superman: The Animated Series wasn’t even on the same network or shared an art style or continuity.
Static Shock also didn’t share anything in its first season, which makes sense given that Static and the concept of “bang babies”, urban youth given superpowers when experimental chemicals exploded during a gang fight, were not part of the DC Comics universe. Dakota was not in the DCU but in the Milestone universe, created to give inner city black kids a reality they could closer identify with. DC simply just partnered to distribute the Milestone Media comics. It wasn’t until season two, as Batman moved to join Superman and Static on Kids WB that a shared universe started forming, complete with Batman Beyond, The Zeta Project, and originally intending to include the Teen Titans. Cartoon Network’s Justice League was the culmination of the DCAU and expanded on in Justice League Unlimited, allowing lesser-known DC heroes a chance to be adapted outside of comics for the first time.
Do I think James Gunn can make the DC movies and shows more profitable? Possibly, but I don’t expect it to be a good adaptation. He understands this franchise better than Snyder did but I don’t really think he understands it enough to properly adapt the series across media formats when he chooses the wrong comics and has a personal style that might work for some titles but not others. I’m waiting to see what he actually does to see if we get good quality or good adaptation but history has made me more skeptical, more questioning of Warner Brothers’ commitment to doing it right. Maybe Discovery Network’s influence will help, maybe it won’t. It won’t help the comics either way but you still have to convince me on the adaptations.