With Warner Bros. announcing nine untitled DC Comics movies, one can’t help but assume they’ve got a plan. And at this point, with the pressure to create a fully fleshed out DC Cinematic Universe at an all-time high, it had better be a good one. With the amount of success they’ve had in adapting their comics to other mediums, the place that DC’s movies should take inspiration from is… DC.
Just to be clear, I’m not getting into an argument about Marvel versus DC. Both companies have great stories worth your time, and they have their share of awful ones you’re better off skipping. It’s clear that Marvel has been outperforming DC as far as fulfilling the potential of their comic book properties on the big screen. It’s also clear that DC means to play catch-up. Lucky for them, they are sitting on everything they need to make it happen.
When it comes to adapting their comics to another medium, DC’s biggest successes have always been on the small screen. Batman: The Animated Series is critically lauded as the best superhero cartoon there ever was and ever will be. Justice League not only showed that the fun campiness of the Super Friends could be taken seriously but made characters like Green Lantern John Stewart and Hawkgirl as cool as Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman; the show defined that superhero team for an entire generation, to the point where general audiences were confused when a white man was cast in the Green Lantern movie.
Those are the most talked about DC TV shows, but people often forget how well-done Superman: The Animated Series was. It gave Superman a proper power level that let him have all the cool abilities without ever feeling overpowered. It embraced all of his signature elements from Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen to the Fortress of Solitude and the Phantom Zone, and so well done was this show that it became “my” Superman, the one my brain automatically thinks of when I hear the name. Another unsung hero show is Static Shock, which showcased a black teenage lead with dazzling powers and more bad luck in his personal life than Peter Parker. It’s a testament to DC’s performance with their animated shows that even the less talked about ones are top tier.
Teen Titans -- and its current predecessor Teen Titans Go! -- even shows that there’s room for lesser known characters to take center stage. Everyone knows Robin, but how many people knew the plights of Raven or the inventiveness of Cyborg? Yet now most children, teens, and twenty-somethings know them as staples of the DC Universe.
Even more recent animated shows like Green Lantern and Young Justice were so good that fans were outraged when they were pulled off the air for reasons that had nothing to do with their quality, which was quite high.
DC’s animated success doesn’t stop at cartoon shows. There are countless quality animated features. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is just as good as The Dark Knight, if you ask me. Justice League: War is proof that modernizing the Justice League can not only be done but done well with humor and action, not to mention a cocky Green Lantern that audiences will fall in love with. And then there’s Wonder Woman featuring the voice of Keri Russell, which is fun to show people who say it’s impossible to make a movie about her. If a template is needed for how to make it work, there it is.
I could keep listing more animated wins, but you get the idea. Believe it or not, that’s barely covering what DC can do with their characters in another medium.
Smallville featuring a teenage Clark Kent ran for 10 seasons on television, which is a feat for any show, let alone for one about a superhero who many write off as “too powerful” or “uninteresting.” I’m not saying every season was gold, but it found ways to delight comic fans and entertain general audiences again and again. Just when I thought I was done, they did an amazing story about the Justice Society of America and I was hooked again.
Arrow started out on shaky ground -- it wasn’t bad, but it just didn’t hook you right away. Now that it’s rolling, the wait for new episodes is unbearable. It took its time building up the idea of a masked vigilante who fights for justice with a bow and arrow, and we’re glad it did because it gave itself strong legs to stand on. It also created a new partner for Arrow named Diggle, a character so well-received they put him in the Green Arrow monthly comic.
The show is performing so well that a series for fellow DC hero The Flash was green lit and will be debuting on TV this fall. I’ve seen the pilot and I must say that it’s pretty great. They establish the Flash’s origin and powers and set up a diverse, interesting cast all in one hour. With many of the same people as Arrow involved, it’s not a stretch to imagine it has a long life ahead of it.
Constantine and iZombie are also debuting this fall, and while not standard superhero fare, they also come from DC’s catalogue. Constantine’s pilot was incredibly strong, nailing the character and establishing his occult world with a few scares along the way. Yes, the female lead will be written out and replaced within the first three episodes, but seeing how she was the weakest part of the pilot, that will do the show a favor in the long run. iZombie, on the other hand, hasn’t been made available for screening, so I can’t comment on it, but it’s one of my favorite comics, so prospects are high from where I’m sitting.
How can I talk about all these great adaptations and not mention the Arkham video games? Taking control of Batman and creeping through the cramped air ducts of Arkham Asylum so he can land on top of an unsuspecting goon is an experience no gamer should miss. The dark atmosphere, the surprising story, the full gallery of signature villains, and all those wonderful toys just a button press away -- the guys at Rocksteady Studios just get Batman, and it shows. They struck gold twice with Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, and from what I’ve played of Batman: Arkham Knight with its tank-missile-firing/glide-launching/puzzle-solving Batmobile, it looks like they’re going to do it again.
The fighting game Injustice: Gods Among Us was a smash hit despite itself. The title doesn’t let you know it stars DC characters. The costume designs were pretty awful. And seeing how it was seen as the followup to the lukewarm Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe game, it seemed destined for failure. But the obscenely fun gameplay, amazing story with tons of great Easter eggs, and over-the-top super moves made up for it, and then some.
The LEGO Batman games are lighter fare, but they are nonetheless excellent entry points into Batman’s world that will get youngins familiar with his tropes, gadgets, and supporting cast, as well as the rest of the DC Universe in the sequels.
As you can see, DC has tapped their source material in numerous creative ways. With a comics library like theirs, it’s easy to see why. They are sitting on a treasure trove of brilliant stories. Between Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke, Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come, and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, just to name a few, they have full rights to use some of the best comic book stories ever written. There’s even more stories that have come out in the past several years that are all ripe for adaptation -- like Scott Snyder’s Detective Comics: The Black Mirror, Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s Wonder Woman run, and Geoff Johns's Aquaman featuring The Others.
Again, this isn’t me saying that DC has all the best stories and they’re way better than Marvel. This is just me pointing out that they have more than enough great material to pull from when they go to make their movies. When you look at how well DC has done for itself in other mediums, it’s hard to imagine that making good movies is a problem for them, but somehow it has been.
Obviously, The Dark Knight trilogy was a big success. No one is arguing that. Granted, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises weren’t as universally loved as The Dark Knight with its jaw-dropping Joker played by Heath Ledger, but overall the whole package is deemed a commercial and critical success.
But outside of Batman, the struggle is real. It was plain to see that DC wanted Green Lantern to be for them what Iron Man was for Marvel -- a movie that would kickstart an entire franchise of superhero films -- but they dropped the ball. The idea of a high-flying hero played by a comedic actor seemed like an easy formula to replicate, but Green Lantern crashed and burned. The flop poisoned future Green Lantern efforts for an entire generation, as evidenced by the perfectly good animated series being cancelled despite its solid ratings.
Despite being a divisive movie, Man of Steel by director Zack Snyder was deemed successful enough by WB to be that much-needed franchise-starter. Snyder is already well underway shooting the next chapter of the DC Cinematic Universe, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, and then those nine untitled DC movies will follow. But to become a successful franchise, BvS can't be another divisive movie -- it needs to have that Avengers/The Dark Knight/Guardians of the Galaxy vibe where everyone left feeling they just thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Given the numerous DC TV shows, animated features, and video games that have hit the nail on the head, it is vital that Snyder and company study them hard to replicate that success.
Source: IGN Comics