KAPOW! ZOK!! CRASH! WHAMM!!
Batman has been kicking some major ass for a few decades now. Even though I’m a die-hard Marvel fan, Batman is by far one of my favorite heroes. Heck, he is one of my favorite fictional characters PERIOD. DC has some strong characters but it always seems to go back to Batman. On the cusp of a revitalized DC cinematic universe and the new Justice League movie (Justice League Part One), you have to ask yourself:
Can DC do better than Batman?
Here’s a guy whose superpower is simply “resourcefulness”. He learned martial arts and is a bit of a ninja. He employs his knowledge of psychology to exploit enemy weaknesses. He’s arguably the greatest detective, second maybe to Sherlock Holmes (though that depends on which iteration of Batman we’re talking about). Oh, and he has cool gadgets that would make Iron Man blush. If you include the Batman show run from 1966 through 1968 (hey, it’s canon DAMMIT), his dance skills are undeniable as well – that Batusi, though!
FUN FACT: Growing up, Julie Newmar was totally my crush.. I still say she’s the most purrfect Catwoman ever.
Batman has been a compelling force in all facets of geek culture: video games, tabletop games, trading cards, comics, novels, TV, and the big screen. In my humble opinion, all of the Batman content is timeless and even the horribad stuff (say, Batman & Robin of 1997, where there was an entire competitive ice skating scene and lots of frollicking) is enjoyable to some extent. Heck, if you go back to the Sunsoft Batman games of the 80s/90s, they are still super-duper fun and hold up well in spite of the dated graphics – even if you’re not a retro hipster like me! Hmmm, I smell a future #RetroFriday theme…
The Batman universe is so massive that it’s spawned countless TV shows and animated series. Just to name a few, we have Batman (1996), Batman: The Animated Series (1992), The New Batman Adventures (1997), Batman Beyond (1999), The Batman (2004), and Birds of Prey (2002). Yeah, I went there on the last one and you know what? Birds of Prey had tons of potential, as cheesy as it was. We got to see what happens in a world where Batman finally gives up and others pick up the slack. Plus you get to meet his daughter, The Huntress and an older Batgirl – AWESOME!
As huge as Batman is, he’s only a small part of the DC universe but it’s undeniable that he overshadows everything else. I mean, the recent slew of Batman games are still kicking ass, against all odds (you know, because licensed games tend to suck). Beyond the Arkham/Dark Knight themed video games of the Xbox 360/PS3 and Xbox One/PS4 generations, there are a slew of Batman-themed puzzle and arcade-style online casino games that are strangely sticky. It goes to show that we can’t get enough Batman! Now, if we can get a Batman-themed Texas Tea game, we’ll be set – that particular game has paid out quite well for me during my Las Vegas excursions
Marvel vs. DC Cinematic Universe
So let’s talk about the DC universe as a whole. If you ask our fellow geeks, most might say that DC is still lagging behind Marvel. On the TV front, the combined efforts of The Flash, Supergirl, Arrow, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow have created a very believable world with compelling enemies and loosely-connected story lines. On the big screen, they’re not doing so hot.
DC has made it clear that they’re not interested in tying in their television series with their silver screen stuff. I think that is a smart decision as it gives them more creative freedom. Some fans would like to see the TV actors do large-scale productions but that may not work as well. For example, Steve Amell is great but he hasn’t done too hot in movies. Without the TV backdrop, however, DC needs to rely on their movie universe alone or risk losing people.
On the Marvel side, you have the Netflix shows like Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and the most recent Iron Fist. Let’s just get this out of the way: Iron Fist is actually a really strong show but critics are slamming it because controversy and contrarian opinions garner attention. Anywho, all of these shows have fleshed out the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) nicely without getting in the way of each other too much.
Even without rights to fan-favorite The X-Men or the mere mention of mutants, Marvel has been hitting it out of the park. It also helps that they’ve had close to 10 years to build out the world and DC is still playing catch-up. I’d say the sex appeal and more realistic take on Marvel characters doesn’t hurt, either. Krysten Ritter, the actress is who plays Jessica Jones, is bae.
In contrast, the individual characters in the DC universe aren’t as interesting [right now] or evergreen. As such, I think the first order of business is building up the other characters in the DC universe and making us care about someone who isn’t Batman. Superman may be too OP for his own good. They failed to make Green Lantern cool enough. Who is left?
Who Are The A-Team DC Heroes (DC’s “Avengers”)?
Wonder Woman is the character I want to see them build up further. She’s a warrior queen with awesome powers and she makes kicking ass look good. Women will love that she is an empowered woman and the dudes will just fawn over how sexy she is. The production houses and publishers will rake in cash. It’s a win-win-win scenario.
Aquaman has potential but that’s going to be tricky. In the Injustice: Gods Among Us video game, they did a great job making him into a real bad ass and updating his character for modern times. There’s a lot riding on his movie doing well and I believe Jason Mamao can be the man to do it right. Let’s just hope the writing is good because let’s face it: those last few Superman movies were not very encouraging. Really, Injustice has a lot of kick-ass moments to borrow from. You’d be surprised just how awesome the story is, especially for a fighting game.
If you ask me, The Flash is by far the strongest show they have so that should translate into an awesome big screen experience. We already saw a hint of what this could look like in Batman V. Superman. Justice League: Part One should be a home run; after all, all the cartoons have been phenomenal… But DC has long been too comfortable cashing in on Batman alone. I think his back hurts from carrying the brand. *smirk*
New Justice League Movie: What Can We REALLY Expect?
If we look at animated series alone, Justice League: Part One has a lot of quality material to draw from. The namesake show which ran from 2001 through 2004 still reviews well, with the lowest reliable scores at around 8.5 out of 10. Those are strong reviews, especially since the Internet tends to just like to complain about stuff and genuine praise is generally hard to come by. Justice League Unlimited is a bit more polarizing but it expanded the universe to great effect, so much so that there are follow-up animated movies and shorts. There’s a wealth of quality content to draw upon and learn from. The fun part will be the balancing act of making the movie world as expansive while focusing on the most interesting parts.
One of the things that I find makes the Justice League animated series so great is that they don’t focus on Batman and Superman. You don’t get a sense that any character is shoehorned in. More importantly, every archenemy provides an exact opposite for our super heroes, which makes the conflicts interesting. That’s one aspect that the Netflix Marvel shows could work on.
Certainly, Justice League: Part One needs some memorable villains to get people invested in the main characters. This is where I struggle: who are the worthy adversaries? Joker, Harley Quinn, Scarecrow, Darkseid, Deadshot, Penguin, Reverse Flash… Help me out here. We need some real mastermind types to move things along. Without that, the Justice League movie may end up becoming another Suicide Squad: a great ensemble cast with a far stretch of a plot and other questionable creative decisions that take you out of it. Big dumb fun, but not much substance. I enjoyed Suicide Squad, but it felt like a waste of great characters or something that could have been explored on TV.
Speaking of great ensemble casts, we know that there are at least five main Justice League members for the movie. Superman and Batman may be late entries, due to their temper tantrums. Cyborg is one that I find to be an interesting choice, especially since he hasn’t really been a main member in the animated series and that’s what is freshest in my mind. Is this some strange decision to compete with Iron Man or Agents Of Shield? Maybe I missed yet another DC reboot? Honestly, I’m quite behind on the comics…
In case you missed it, the hashtag #UniteTheSix was floating around before but now the creative forces have gone with #UniteTheLeague. Does this mean there might be a few surprise Justice League additions? We know we can count on Batman, Superman, Cyborg, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman so far. The rest is mostly speculation…
Live Action Teen Titans Or Junior Justice League?
I bet a lot of you out there are thinking the same thing here: wait, just Cyborg? What about the rest of the Teen Titans? Imagine a DC universe where they integrate the Teen Titans seamlessly into their other properties. Tackling the chronology and backstory of Robin will be huge in itself. There are just so many questions to address
- Is the Teen Titan Robin Dick Grayson or one of his other incarnations?
- How did the Teen Titans come together?
- When does Robin find the time to lead his own team?
- How does grumpy old man Batman feel about it?
- Which hotties end up hooking up together (LOL)?
Sure, this stuff is handled in the comics but people just don’t read anymore. Movie adaptations should be true to the source material but they also have to ease new audiences in. Heck, I’m sure most folks stopped at the first paragraph of this article, dismissing it as regurgitated or irrelevant content.. And that is why you can’t expect folks to do the legwork for you – certainly not reading! Admittedly, I’m spoiled as well. We shouldn’t have to dig deep to put all the puzzle pieces together.
The Teen Titans and Junior Justice League stories can help bring in younger generations by presenting characters that are easier to identify with and grounded. The tricky part will be integrating everything into this oft-rebooted DC universe. That will be messy as there’s a lot of timey-wimey wibbly-wobbly stuff going on with the multiple Earths, wormholes, and retcons. WatchMojo has a great video on the history of the Teen Titans and let me tell you: it gets me really excited about the potential here.
Riot, Please Nerf Superman?
Perhaps the biggest challenge is what I mentioned earlier: Superman is just too powerful and, by extension, self-sufficient. Batman even recognizes this problem; in fact, Injustice reinforced the notion that Batman has contingency plans for rogue heroes, particularly Superman. Even with some clever narrative devices like that in place, it’s hard to create compelling stories with believable conflicts when you have a character who is virtually indestructible.
Marvel has done a great job at helping audiences suspend their disbelief. You can almost see the Avengers walking down your local streets and interacting with everyday people. On the same token, the stories are epic and larger than life in scope. It’s a delicate balancing act that DC hasn’t quite gotten yet.
I believe that, in order to move forward, they need to give Superman the same treatment they’ve given Supergirl. That show has come a long way, even if it’s not as strong as Arrow and The Flash. Supergirl essentially has the same powers as her cousin yet plenty of baddies kick her butt around, forcing her to adapt, learn new tactics, and rely on teammates. It’s not done in a cheap way, either (you know, like every villain having a secret stash of kryptonite). If they take Superman down a few notches, it’ll give the other characters more opportunity to shine. A great writer can make a character fallible without ruining them.
Batman will likely remain the greatest hero in the DC universe but I see a lot of potential for the other characters to step up. Once they’re able to create solo stories that really get us invested in the DC characters not named Batman, we’ll be on the right track. The Flash, Supergirl, and Arrow are a fantastic start but that’s a tiny world compared to what Marvel has reconstructed since 2008 and teaming up with (well, more like being acquired or bailed out by) Disney. DC has a lot of work ahead of them but they have what it takes to remain relevant for decades to come.
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