|I miss the old “bullet” logo.|
In my last “Pete Saves” piece, I wrote about how I would have made BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE. It’s a great candidate for my treatment since it really was pretty rough. Likewise, the live-action world of DC Comics is pretty rough. While Warner Brothers and DC have made millions off of recent live-action versions of DC Comics properties, it can easily be argued that they could be making even more if the quality of the stories and characters was more toward the level of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. This is the key to turning things around for Warner’s efforts with DC’s characters.
Full disclosure, I’ve always been more of a Marvel Comics guy. Something about the real life problems of some of their most successful characters appealed to me at a young age–even before I was aware of why it appealed to me. That said, I still enjoyed DC’s books a lot, too. I found both the darkness of Batman and the optimism of Superman to resonate with me during my teenage years (depending on my hormones, I am guessing).
There are also some amazing stories told with quite a few DC characters. I’m not just talking about the obvious ones, like DARK KNIGHT RETURNS or the myriad other BATMAN titles that seem to catch all the attention. There have been great story tellers across all of the best DC titles for decades. Finally, we are at a place in both American and pop culture where comic books are big bucks when translated into the live-action world. The problem lies in how you adapt the stories and the characters so that they both fit their new media and still capture the essence that made everyone fall in love with them in the first place. That said, there is a structural issue that can have almost as big an influence on quality.
The solution is right under their noses…
|Maybe it’s just because I grew up with it|
My big problem is how some of the DC live-action productions have done an incredibly good job adapting the comics while others have done horribly. What I call the FlashArrowverse (which now includes the super fun SUPERGIRL and the kinda loony LEGENDS OF TOMORROW) represents the best of Warner’s DC live-action storytelling. What makes these shows successful, in my opinion, are two things:
1) Human stories. From the beginning of ARROW, the show told the story of a guy who’d had a legacy dumped on him he did not want but ultimately felt compelled to assume responsibility for, only to discover everyone he loved was not what he thought they were. Learning the world around you is not what you thought it was is something everyone has to deal with growing up. That first time you realize your dad isn’t a hero and your mom can’t solve every problem, for instance. Obviously for the lead character of ARROW, the stakes are higher, but everyone who watches that first episode can feel some kind of resonance with the character.
2) A tight story universe. For most of the existence of series Television (in the US, at least) episodes were just that–episodes. Not chapters in a larger story. For decades, characters would show up once in a single episode and never be heard from again. Plot points from one episode would almost never get mentioned in another. Nowadays, series TV wants to tell one epic tale after another and that choice has resulted in viewers getting much more readily sucked into shows. The phrase “binge watching” wasn’t something Netflix invented–it was something we were doing because we loved a show. We wanted to dive into a fleshed out, fictional universe and not come out for several hours.
The folks at Warner Brothers and DC Comics, don’t seem to understand this second part. DC, for years, has been encouraging their writers to tell stories that are not part of the core story universe of DC. This is fine in the comics since it was always pretty obvious when a reader would pick up a comic that wasn’t part of the same ‘reality’ as the other books. Plus, readers always had that core story universe waiting for them to come back to.
But Warner and DC haven’t done either with their live-action properties.
1) None of the characters in the Snyderverse seem to have real-life problems, only absurd ones.
2) GOTHAM is a separate story universe from FLASH and ARROW while what fans call the Snyderverse, named after MAN OF STEEL director Zack Snyder, is where all of the recent DC Comics movies have taken place in. From what I understand, Warner/DC has said that the reason for this is that they want to give their creative teams the most freedom to tell their own stories. This seems to include a complete lack of editorial control from the studio or the offices of DC Comics.
As a result the “dark” and “gritty” stuff in MAN OF STEEL and BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE is a completely different kind of darkness and grit you see on the CW’s ARROW. The stuff Oliver deals with is brutal, depressing and, most of the time, realistic. Meanwhile, Superman lets half of Metropolis die, gets to date Lois Lane, has no problem compromising his morals to save his mom–it’s just a mess in the Snyderverse. I haven’t seen SUICIDE SQUAD yet, but I hear it’s another horror show. I’ve also heard it was completely recut when the trailer seemed, to producers, to be for a better movie than the one they had made. Worse yet: they had the guy behind the trailer recut the full film.
So, rather than just focus on what the FlashArrowverse was doing right, Warner and DC decided that “artistic purity” was the way to go, at any cost.
Here’s what I think Warner and DC Comics should do with their movies:
Let the events of last year’s FLASHPOINT season finale of FLASH slide the events of the Snyderverse into the FlashArrowverse. Then, FIRE ZACK SNYDER or, at the very least, make him take a class in story telling. The real problem here is that you should be able to tell the same dark-n-gritty story Snyder has been telling while managing to do what the writers in the FlashArrowverse have been doing for years. Forcing the movie-creators into the same boat as the folks on TV makes a lot of sense to me because it makes them adhere to story telling rules that make good sense. Snyder left to run amok? Well, we’ve seen what happens.
What will happen if Warner and DC Comics don’t do this? This:
The shows inside the FlashArrowverse will continue to be some of the most fun genre shows on TV garnering more and more fans the longer they run. Meanwhile the movies in the Snyderverse will continue down their path of “otherness” that fans of the the comics and the FlashArrowverse will reject, as they have already shown they are willing to do. Before long, the Snyderverse movies will eventually go the way of TERMINATOR sequels–where, even the good ones, will bomb.
What I am saying here is that the longer the DC live-action universes stay fragmented, the more damaged the brand will become. It will likely blow back on the FlashArrowverse because people unfamiliar with it will accidentally equate it with movies in the Snyderverse and with GOTHAM.
GOTHAM is so weird and out-there that it is building it’s own audience of fans that seem to be supporting it. I don’t personally get it since I couldn’t justify sticking with that world since it had nothing to do with the characters I already care about in the FlashArrowverse nor was it contiguous with the Snyderverse.
How do I know my ideas will work?
I know my ideas will work because what I am suggesting is essentially what’s been Disney and Marvel’s plan for years. What I feel is proof that DC is doing it wrong is the way the tone of ANT-MAN, AVENGERS, and JESSICA JONES all vary from the tone of each other, all while existing in the same story universe. Marvel has made something amazing with their live-action endeavors–a fictional place fans of all different types and interests can go and enjoy themselves. The Marvel Cinematic Universe also largely avoids the fragmentation problems fans of Warner and DC properties are facing.
As a fan of the FlashArrowverse, I can say that I have chosen to not see DC-related content if it is outside of that story universe. I will eventually see the movies when they reach home video or immediately if I happen to win a contest for free tickets or something. But I am not going out of my way for anything else until I get the idea that things have changed.*
*This excludes the new WONDER WOMAN feature because I really really want it to be good. Women deserve heroes and men deserve women heroes.