A Plea to DC Comics
So earlier today, I sat down and watched The Amazing Spider-Man.
The movie was enjoyable overall, I think it does things better than previous versions, some things worse. Yet, as I was watching it, I wasn’t really thinking about Spider-Man that much. When it was over, I definitely wasn’t thinking about Spider-Man.
Instead, I was thinking about DC Comics.
For the market share they possess, DC Comics has been exceedingly quiet when it comes to the superhero film phenomenon that has been sweeping through our nation for the better part of a decade. While Marvel Studios has gotten so fat off of its near continuous string of hits, they’ve actually started to greenlight their B and C-list superheroes, DC Comics and its film partner Time Warner are still wringing their hands over whether or not America can handle a Flash or Wonder Woman movie. Frankly, I really can’t be certain as to why.
Ok…well there was that.
And to a lesser extent there was this.
At the same time though, there have been successful television series, and the Batman franchise has remained consistently successful. Even with a third installment that Christopher Nolan openly admits will not be as good as previous entries, it still stands as the main cash cow for the DC-TimeWarner alliance. Hell, even after the Green Lantern Talkie Fiasco, TimeWarner is so desperate for something to replace Harry Potter that they approved of a Green Lantern sequel.
Furthermore, Bruce Timm made certain that the same generation that threw all of their money at JK Rowling and Suzanne Collins has a strong sense for a shared DC continuity. Wally West, John Stewart, Diana of Themyscira, and J’onn J’onnz the Last Green Martian are known to them. Hell, they also know who Captain Atom and The Question are. A few might even be vaguely aware of both people that bore the name Starman. Or well, they’re at least familiar with the second Starman’s cosmic staff as wielded by Stargirl.
Yet, while steam is finally being picked up on Marvel’s Ant Man and Iron Fist films, my hopes to see some sort of Hawkman film are laughable.
I don’t understand why.
DC Comics characters aren’t anymore ridiculous than the ones in Marvel. They in fact are a bit more epic and grand in scale than their counterparts across the way.
Perhaps, that’s the first problem.
Batman works with audiences because Batman is ultimately human, and we think about him as being human. It’s easy to pitch a dark, interesting, Batman story because Batman is a very accessible character. Much like another orphaned vigilante, his origin story has also been retold so many times that some people have favorite versions of it. Batman also has a popular rogue’s gallery that is filled with human characters, who seem to leap right out of twisted depictions of our own world. Batman, as a character who is himself a strange twisted version of justice and order, opposes characters who are twisted versions of various opposing ideologies. Batman even has a love interest that is an agonizing forbidden fruit, something that many people can relate to on some level.
Superman though… Supes is larger than life. He’s the big blue boy scout, and people start to feel uncomfortable with him. Especially in our hyper-real post-modern era where everything needs an extra dose of grit, people have started to view Superman as almost quaint.
They start to think of all the DC heroes, who they remember from the Super-Friends rather than Superman: The Animated Series, or The Justice League, as being sort of quaint.
Yet they’re not.
They’re epic struggles, they’re grand ideals, and they’re real people who sometimes have to remember that their grand world saving happens in the context of a real world around them. One of the ground breaking comic book stories was a Green Lantern/Green Arrow tale about heroin called Snowbirds Don’t Fly. DC has grit, but it also has big scope, and epic storytelling.
In that lies the strength that DC seems to be forgetting it has.
Spider-Man gets boring when he fights the bad guy, because you know even when he seems outmatched he’s going to win, either by outsmarting the enemy of through some kind of help. This is because, villains aren’t the true threat to Spider-Man. Villains finding out his secret identity and harming the people he loves is the threat that Spider-Man faces. His real life issues are what take center stage.
Iron Man needs to fight the fact that he’s sort of a douche, Thor needs humility, the Hulk needs to learn to love the Hulk. Marvel is in many ways some sort of weird Wizard of Oz, where all the characters really need to deal with personal or interpersonal problems but yet for some reason end up dealing with something completely different. It’s cool, it’s nice, it’s their thing. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t read Marvel comics, or that I haven’t enjoyed nearly every movie they’ve put out over the past ten years.
Superman is the last of his race. He yearns to find a place in the world, while also being burdened with the moral duty to defend a world he doesn’t fully understand. In Clark Kent, Superman tries to connect with the society around him but is instead awkward and strange. When he takes off the mask, he’s an individual who must struggle with the fact that Earth does not meet the standards of Krypton or even the standards of the Kents. Superman is the lone good deed in a weary world.
That’s epic. That’s amazing.
He also has a kick ass Rogue Gallery that can be constructed to connect and interconnect with each other in ways that would make Marvel’s Avengers movie look like it was strung together with scotch tape and string. You can do this, with or without mentioning that weirdo in Gotham City.
The DC universe doesn’t need to be connected because its characters are beautiful and huge all on their own. In many of them are stories that would be breathtaking. Stories of myth and grandeur that would remind us all why we loved comics to begin with, rather than appreciating them in just a new form.
This is the other key thing that DC should pay attention to.
I know I’m not a movie executive or comic book writer, or even a published author. I’m not even a massive comic book nerd or film student. I just… I love the characters, I appreciate the myth and artistry, and I understand that continuity isn’t what some fanboys want it to be.
People know what comics are. They know what a superhero is.
You don’t need to hold their hand and tell them the hero’s journey again. They don’t need to hear another origin story retold. They need to see the stories that can be told within comics. They need to feel the epic scale that these characters fight on and live in.
I’m reminded of Jack Knight, the second Starman.
A legacy character movie without a preceding movie for us to have the legacy of. It could make for a great movie that speaks to the relationship between father and son, finding your place in the world, and so on. Also, Jack Knight’s willingness to eschew the standard heroic garb makes for an interesting and different looking superhero movie.
I think of the original Hawkman. A museum curator who is the reincarnation of an ancient sorcerer who is locked in a deadly battle with the reincarnation of his past nemesis. That’s just a kick ass back story. One that spans thousands of years and can be experienced through a jumble of histories and scenes. No one ever said that Hawkman just had to be one sorcerer and Hawkman after all.
A period piece version of the Justice Society of America set in post-World War II America might be far more interesting than trying to construct a Justice League movie set in the modern day that feels different than Marvel’s Avengers. The Justice Society, sans some of its more well known “honorary members,” (who might not even exist in the continuity of the movie) makes for an interesting group of characters. The movie could begin with them already established, and facing some sort of crisis that threatens to tear them apart as a team. Meanwhile, they’re also dealing with issues of recent American history, and pondering their place in it. The film could end on a grim note, as one of them is called before the HUAC.
Or if a modern team is needed, once more stay away from the desire to do the Justice League and give people something they might not expect: Teen Titans. There’s been a lot of success with that franchise in recent years. A Teen Titans movie can be a rich ensemble cast drama where the relationships between the characters matter more than who they’re fighting. Or it could be a big sort of generation gap tale where the Titans have to strive to prove their worth to established organizations (either superheroic or more mundane such as the police), and thus in a sense proving the worth of the “iGeneration.”
My pleas for this sort of work are not selfless.
I personally spent time writing an Aquaman script. I wrote it in the wake of last year’s Green Lantern movie, where I was just distraught with how such a good character could be so mishandled. My goal was to work from an angle that wouldn’t normally be taken, and to avoid the standard origin story tropes that seem set to plague beloved DC characters for the next several years.
Don’t get caught by origin stories.
I am begging you, DC Comics.
You need to sit down, think about your characters, and talk with your writers. They can certainly come up with a way to introduce your characters that doesn’t feel like its by-the-numbers. If they can’t, then boil your characters down to what makes them important and the stories that you can tell with them, and then find writers and directors who have told stories like that.
I fear part of the reason a lot of good ideas involving DC Comics characters don’t move forward is because there is a fear to take a risk. Yet, what you need to do is take some serious risks. Find young directors that can work on budgets, find writers that are approaching your characters with fresh attitudes, and pair these people with strong producers and script doctors. Someone who has a good fresh take on how you could do a really great Captain Atom movie, might still need guidance. You’re not going to find a Christopher Nolan for every one of your characters, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. It doesn’t mean that no one out there wants to make your characters as big as Batman.
Don’t let people forget that you have great characters. The world has a short memory these days, and let’s face it, no one’s excited to watch Superman slow-motion punch Zod in the face. You need a strong show of force to make people remember why Joss Whedon can be kind of annoying. You have the ammunition, you just need people who can pull the trigger.
By the way, Captain Marvel, I can see the one-sheet now.