Dear DC Comics.
I love you.
Not in the “Boy loves Girl” sense, that would be gross, but in a “your stories have had the biggest impact in my personal growth as a person and served as my moral guidance since I was but a child” kind of way. That’s a bit of a mouthful, but I come from a middle class family with no obvious problems, so it’s not like I didn’t have a proper role model and had to rely on comics or anything. I just thought your stories and characters were THAT good.
This is why your recent incursions into the whole cinematic universe business have left a sour taste in my mouth to the point that I cannot cover it with the sweet, sweet nectar of self-denial anymore. I love your properties and your stories, I think they are the best thing ever, but the way you have handled your cinematic universe has been so erratic and misguided that managed to achieve something I always thought was impossible: you made Batman look lame.
I have been far more forgiving than most fans, almost to a fault. As unlikely as it sounds, I actually really liked Man of Steel. It wasn’t a perfect movie, but I liked its take on the character and thought it was a good foundation to build a series of movies on.
Suicide Squad? That movie is was such an editing mess that you can tell where there are scenes missing, but you had a good, fun cast that made the movie enjoyable for me.
And Batman V Superman was…
Okay, look, Zack Snyder is a talented man when it comes to visuals, I honestly think that there isn’t another Director out there with the same kind of talent that he has, but he kind of sucks at things like pacing, character building and editing, things that are a tiny bit important if you want to direct a movie, especially one that costs enough money to feed a small country.
So yeah, BvS was disappointing mostly because it didn’t work as a Movie, let alone a story, but there was still a lot of brilliance in it; as stupid as the main plot was, this movie succeeded at creating a world where larger-than-life figures like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman could exist and still feel like they are larger-than-life; while the whole Murderous-Batman was, let’s say, controversial, the warehouse sequence is still one of the most brilliant action sequences in any Super Hero movie ever.
[Also, Wonder Woman has the coolest theme any woman has ever had, period.]
Hell, I will even defend the entire Superman subplot. The editing was horrendous, but there was still a very good Superman story in there, which is quite impressive because do you have any idea how hard is it to write a good Superman story? I can count with one hand the number of writers I know who can actually write a GOOD Superman story, and I am pretty sure half of them are already dead.
Point is, there was a lot of good things inside Batman V Superman if you knew where to look, but any potential the film had to be truly great was saddled by a terrible execution, which again, is kind of sad because, for all its faults, BvS managed to create a unique universe with an interesting vision and I was genuinely looking forward to where this story would go next.
And then we got Justice League.
I am not saying that Justice League was a bad movie, because it wasn’t: it was fun and entertaining and all those things that people who don’t read comics want in a movie, but as much as I liked it, it is pretty obvious that this film wasn’t what all your previous films were leading up to.
Once again, BvS was bad, but it was ambitious. Justice League features twice the amount of Super Heroes in it, and yet it is one of the most mundane movies I’ve ever watched. For a terrible comparison that only I could make, remember how The Lion King was the very best thing to ever happen to our collective childhoods? And remember how some years later Disney produced a direct to video, low budget sequel that I am pretty sure half the people reading this didn’t even knew it existed until right now?
That is Justice League.
It’s the low budget, forgettable sequel to an ambitious film that will forever remain forgotten among my VHS collection until someone else’s child comes to visit and decides to watch it because he doesn’t know any better and will enjoy it regardless. Because he’s a child. And children have no taste, like, at all.
My long forgotten point is: DC Comics, and more specifically Warner Bros, you screwed up.
But here’s the thing, you didn’t screw up when you decided to follow the Nolan trend and make serious Super Hero movies, nor did you screwed up when you decided to let Zack Snyder shape a multi-gazillion franchise even though he had only directed like, five movies.
You screwed up when you decided to try and be like Marvel.
Look, you are not fooling anyone: the only reason why you rushed head on into what turned out to be a really dumb crusade was because Marvel Studios has been making stupid amounts of money for the last decade. I really don’t blame you, I blame capitalism mostly, but not you.
Let’s look at the facts: you have some of the most recognizable icons in pop culture the world has ever known. A single DC Hero is more recognizable than five Robert Downey Jr.’s. Compared to the DC heroes, the Avengers are basically a league of side-characters hanging out with The Hulk.
There really is no reason why a Justice League movie shouldn’t be 10 times more successful than the Avengers, and yet, as things stand now, the recently premiered Justice League is shaping up to have a tenth of that movie’s success. I actually haven’t looked up the numbers, but I doubt I’m too wrong here.
I am sure you have heard this before, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why Marvel movies work and yours do not. It only takes a well-informed nerd.
Since their inception, Marvel characters have been all about team ups. Back when it started, Marvel wasn’t that big of a company and most comics where headed by the same group of people, so creating a cohesive universe where 90% of all super heroes lived in New York and were essentially part of a single story was completely natural, if unlikely.
But You? DC was all about the individual stories. Batman and Superman didn’t need to team up. They were perfectly happy fighting for truth, justice, and vengeance in their own books. That is why when they did meet one another, it was so amazing; it didn’t need to happen and made very little sense, but it happened anyways and that was the coolest thing ever.
The DC Heroes were at their best when they were telling their own stories. Marvel Heroes were at their best when they teamed up to fight Dr. Doom. That’s how it has always been and that is why imitating the Marvel model of cranking up the same Super Hero movie every year with a different character and then making a crossover hasn’t worked for literally anyone but them.
This is why, DC Comics, you should stop trying to make a Cinematic Universe.
Forget about continuity and massive crossovers, forget about shared universes and random Batman cameos. It’s simply not going to work. Not now, not ever.
What you should be doing instead, is building a Cinematic MULTIVERSE.
Continuity is overrated. And in spite of what years of heroic legacies in your books would have you believe, you have never been good at continuity. Why do you think the Crises books happened in the first place?
So stop it. Forget about the damn continuity and the damn shared universe. I don’t care if Batman and Superman never, ever meet. Okay, that’s a bit of a lie, but again, did you see Batman V Superman?
Here’s a crazy idea, how about instead of trying to keep riding the continuity train even though it feel down a cliff years ago and is now a pile of burning metal, dreams and hopes, you just focus on making movies. Good ones.
Make a Batman movie. Get yourself a whole new cast and make a story about a young Bruce Wayne. There’s a bunch of comics where to pick from, so why not make a Court of Owls movie? Or maybe a low key story of Batman fighting criminals in a city full of organized crime where weird stuff also happen from time to time? You can’t tell me it wouldn’t work, you literally made a successful animated series out of it.
But what about Ben Affleck you ask? Should you just ditch him and pick a new guy?
Well, you could. Or you could also keep him and make the Dark Knight Returns Movie that Zack Snyder really wanted to make. Hell, you could cast Mark Hamill as an elderly Joker and you’d already have the acclaim of basically all of the Fanboys out there.
See, here’s the thing: you don’t have to keep a single actor for the same role. You could have a dozen actors playing the same character in a dozen of different movies and it could still work. You know why? Because people don’t watch movies because they want continuities or whatever the latest Hollywood trend is, they watch movies because they like good stories.
And you know what? You have a literal library of GOOD stories to pick from.
Superman? Of the top of my head I can think of five superman stories that I would love to see on the big screen. Keep Henry Cavill, he could be fantastic with some new material, or bring a new guy with a new director for a whole new take. Remember Brandon Routh? You can still make a great Superman Movie with him. There’s literally nothing stopping you.
Those two are the most obvious, but there’s still so much you can do!
Want to make a drama that appeals to millennials? Teen Titans baby.
Are you up for some more mature stories? That is literally why Vertigo exists.
Do you want to make your OWN Star Wars? The Green Lantern Corps are basically Jedi who can fly!
Hey, remember how in your own stupor you accidentally let a bunch of capable people make one of the best Super Hero movies of the last 20 years?
Why not make a sequel to that, except that without making any connections to any of your other movies? You have about 100 years of history to pick from, and I assure you that there is not an armed conflict in the twentieth century that could not be improved by adding Wonder Woman. Think about it, you already have everything set up to make a movie where she punches Hitler, so why on earth aren’t you already doing that!?
I know this approach would work because, before you decided to adapt every single New 52 storyline tangentially related to Batman into an animated movie, you produced some of the best animated super hero movies EVER. No joke, you already made three excellent animated Justice League movies, and you did it without any of that pesky cinematic universe business.
But wait a moment, you say, what if the audiences get confused by having a bunch of movies featuring different actors that are unrelated to each other?
First of all, that is literally what all movies are.
And second, in the last 30 years Bruce Wayne has been played by five different actors, and I assure you that people won’t care about a sixth or seventh one. See, if there’s one thing you have above Marvel is that many of your characters have been part of pop culture for so long and are so iconic that it matters very little who plays them. As long as you stick to the mythos people will recognize them.
Everyone makes a big deal of how successful the Marvel Movies have been, but many don’t realize that one of the main reasons why their cinematic universe works so well is because they got good, charismatic actors to play character that no one outside of the comicbook fans really knew all that well.
Think about it, before Robert Downey Jr. played him, Tony Stark was only really known for having a drinking problem. Before Chris Pratt no one cared who Starlord was. Hell, before Paul Rudd, Ant-Man was synonymous with Wife beater.
What I am getting at is, most of the success of the Marvel movies is due to their actors being so talented and recognizable that they essentially overwrote the characters they were supposed to be playing. But once they move on into greener, better pastures, Marvel will have to either try and keep going without them or close the shop and restart the whole thing with new people.
That is not a bad idea in itself, but what are the chances of them having the same level of success by just doing new versions of the same characters and basically rehashing the same stories with a small twist to them?
DC Characters won’t have that problem, and I know that because you already went through this.
The moment Christopher Nolan successfully revamped the Batman franchise, he proved that as long as you have a strong vision of the story you want to tell and talented people working on it, you can remake an iconic character and make it work. Having a good actor helps, but DC characters are always bigger than the actors who play them.
For the last 80 years you have remade your characters over and over again in different media, and people have accepted it. You essentially created the idea of a multiverse in modern storytelling, and you made it work. This has never quite worked out for Marvel because for them their universe has always been a single story that is inhabited by all their characters, but your story is not a story of many characters, your story is a story of many stories.
So stop trying to create a shared universe.
Make each story its OWN universe.
And tell as many stories as you want. They don’t need to have the same tone nor respect each other’s continuity, they only need to be good on its own. Don’t make them into a single story, make a story with all of their stories.
Stop trying to be Marvel.
Be DC Comics.
PS: And by the way, stop trying to cater comic book fans. They are an unpleasable bunch.