Marvel is the king of comic book movies right now, but DC is trying to punch back.
DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. recently announced that they’re using “Man of Steel” and 2016’s “Superman Vs. Batman” as the springboard from which DC will launch its own cinematic universe, starting with Zach Snyder’s “Justice League.” But DC is in uncharted territory here. Not only has it never had its movie properties exist in the same universe, but it’s also playing as the underdog.
If they’re going to succeed, DC is going to have to avoid some dangers from the pages of its own comic books to translate them into worldwide phenomena, just like Marvel has done. Here are six dangers the studio faces, and how it can avoid them.
6) So … Many … Storylines
DC was founded in 1934, and launched its first superhero — Superman — in 1938. That’s over 75 years of content to draw from for movies, from one character alone! It could be very, very easy for DC to get lost in a sea of its own history, trying to cram in villains and storylines from almost 3/4 of a century of superhero history.
Avoid Through A Singular Vision
Instead of getting sucked down the rabbit hole of content, DC needs to make sure it has a clear idea of what tone it wants to take for “Justice League,” what era of comics it’s invoking, and which writers it wants to emulate. Having Zack Snyder at the helm of both “Superman Vs. Batman” and “Justice League” will help insure that vision, but Snyder also must make sure that he and DC have a well thought out plan for the universe going forward.
No one wants to see them take a dab of “Death Of Superman,” mix it with a bit of “Dark Knight Returns” and sprinkle in some “Crisis On Infinite Earths.” Pick one great story, don’t try to do all of them simultaneously.
5) Batman, Superman… And Some Other Guys
In the JLA comics, Batman and Superman are often emphasized above the other heroes. But since we already knew the other heroes from their own comics, it never felt like they got short shrift. One of the biggest problems with launching the “Justice League” movie as DC plans is that Superman will have appeared in two films, Batman will have had one, and everyone else will either be a guest star in “Superman Vs. Batman” or debut in “Justice League.” That’s not a lot of time for us to get to know, or care, about the rest of the seminal league of superheroes.
Avoid Through Character Development
Sounds pretty simple, right? But it also means that DC will have to plan out each character in a very, very short time. Since DC hasn’t given itself time to make a movie about each character, like Marvel did, DC has to make sure each character gets a defining moment in either “Superman Vs. Batman” or the first act of “Justice League.” Marvel allowed growth for all its heroes, and DC has to remember that they’re all important for DC Studios’ future success.
4) Adding Characters Too Quickly
Here’s the thing: the Justice League is enormous. Though it began with seven heroes (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, Green Lantern, and Martian Manhunter), the cast of heroes ballooned in future issues to include such folks as Green Arrow, Captain Marvel, Hawkman, Cyborg, and others.
Just like multiple storylines, there will be a desire for Snyder and Co. to cram as many faces as possible into the next two films. In fact, Cyborg has already been cast for “Superman vs. Batman,” which will in turn lessen the impact of each debut and confuse the hell out of non-comics fans.
Avoid By Focusing On The Originals
For DC and Warner Bros. there should be no Green Arrow or Hawkman. You have two movies to develop every single Justice League character, plus a couple villains. There is no room to waste space on anyone other than these heroes. If you have a minute of screen time that’s not devoted to one of the original seven, scrap it. Heck, if there is an original character you think you haven’t had time to develop yet or is too weird for audiences (like Martian Manhunter), just don’t include him or her.
Marvel was very patient with its movies’ rollout. We know, DC is playing catch up, but they’re not going to do this all at once. Audiences would rather see five well-developed heroes than 15 paper thin ones.
3) A Bunch Of White People
The last thing DC needs right now is conservatism. With Marvel succeeding in almost every demographic, DC has to match them, and the last thing it can afford is to cast a bunch of random white-bread actors in its hero roles. Though Marvel’s heroes weren’t diverse at all (see above: the second most common skin color was green) the addition of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury did help to mitigate that in what was otherwise a not-too-diverse cast. Put some realistic color on the screen to differentiate yourself from Marvel and get different demos excited about your movie.
Avoid Through Smart Casting
This isn’t a comic book danger: this is a comic book opportunity. Green Lantern, for many of the younger generation, is not Hal Jordan but the African-American version named John Stewart. If he’s included in the Justice League, he would become the first major minority superhero (all due respect to Cyborg and Falcon, who would be just shy of major). Audiences already rejected Hal Jordan a few years ago, anyway.
DC needs to inject some fresh blood into this film. This shouldn’t be limited to Green Lantern, though, and DC should take every opportunity to make the Justice League of America an actual representation of the country they’re protecting.
2) Superman Saves The Day
Batman is a great detective and fighter, Wonder Woman is a Greek goddess, Flash is super fast, but Superman, well … he can do everything. If the DC Studios team gets writer’s block, it’ll be very easy for them to just have Superman and his insane powers save everyone else as the ultimate, and ultimately unsatisfying, Deux Ex Machina.
Avoid Through Clever Writing And Working Together
The comics have had plenty of interesting ways of de-powering Superman, up to and including blocking out the sun. Obviously, no one wants Superman totally neutralized — we want to see him kick some major Jesse Eisenberg ass — but no one wants a hero who renders the others basically useless. The best Justice League issues find creative ways of the team using their powers and abilities to complement each other, something that was the coolest part of the final battle in “The Avengers.” Superman can do anything, but it doesn’t mean he should.
1) Aliens And Mermen And Gods, Oh My
This is the same problem Marvel faced when making its cinematic journey: how can we package all these incredibly disparate heroes into one universe? Audiences can individually buy that Superman is an alien from Krypton, that Wonder Woman was a Greek goddess, that Aquaman was king of Atlantis… And even that Flash got struck by lightning and is now super-fast. But put them together in the wrong way, and these differences will only become starker and harder to reconcile.
Avoid By Getting A Sense Of Humor
Look, the idea of a Justice League, just like the idea of The Avengers, is pretty weird. Marvel made it work mostly through tone: Joss Whedon’s light-hearted script allowed the characters themselves to point out the ludicrousness of each other’s background, which made us, as the audience, laugh with them and embrace them. DC’s cast of characters is just as strange, if not stranger and, if “Man of Steel” is any indication, the movies look to be more self-serious than Marvel’s films.
DC has to change that, at least a little bit. You can’t spell comic book movie without “comic,” and if audiences don’t laugh with you they will laugh at you (again, “Green Lantern”). For all their superpowers, it’ll be the ability to crack a joke and a smile every now and then that might define the Justice League.