An attempt to project the strategy of DC and Marvel with regard to the long term sustainability of their various film franchises is an interesting exercise. In the case of Marvel, projection is not difficult for we already know what the strategy is at least for the time being: Introducing The Avengers roster in preparation for May 4, 2012 in what may be a make or break event for large scale superhero films. Marvel is pulling no punches in its build up to The Avengers. The Marvel live action strategy is well ahead of DC, at least in porting comic-style story telling over to the big screen.
DC’s plan for its franchises is murky at best. Chris Roven, the producer for the upcoming Superman and Batman films, was recently asked about the potential for those two films to crossover. He said, “That may be in somebody’s mind, but right now the Batman lives in his world and the Superman lives in his world. Those stories are those stories, and we haven’t thought beyond each individual picture.” There is vague and unspecific language in that quote which leaves the door open for various avenues of freedom in the near future.
The health of DC heroes can be called into question. Batman is a healthy franchise unto itself thanks to Christopher Nolan’s uber popular take on the Caped Crusader. However, the Batman that resides in a world of superheroes and super villains is no where to be seen. Superman is suffering from years of inactivity followed by a tepid if well meaning Superman: Returns which once again (and inexplicably) rendered the Man of Steel as a player in a melodrama and not as, oh I don’t know, a super-powered alien boy scout who can kick a ton of ass. Green Lantern looks like it will have good if not spectacular box office success, but the critical reception of the film has been uneven.
The first and second things that DC needs to compete with Marvel in scale are superhero versions of their tent pole superheroes. Superman has never been accurately portrayed on the big screen and Batman is in serious need of some sort of cinematic reboot just to compete in a comic universe. Looking at other heroes on the DC roster, there is a possible Flash movie quietly in development.
With those four heroes leading the charge, DC has the potential to set up a nearly unlimited amount of films with crossover storylines that could pull in billions. How can DC do it?
The Brave and The Bold
The Brave and the Bold format has been around for DC since 1955. The series is most recognizable for providing superhero team-ups between two heroes in the DCU. This is a great place to start for DC’s cinematic endeavors (DCMU). Using The Brave and the Bold style stories can move superhero franchises toward each other and possibly bloom into a large scale Justice League movie. Some of the possibilities are intriguing: Obviously Flash and Green Lantern makes sense – those two have a long running bromance that carries over to each incarnation of the heroes. Superman and Batman also makes sense – they have appeared in many comics together in temporary team-ups and can be just as interesting when exploring the relationship between Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, and their various supporting players. A The Brave and the Bold style movie would feature two heroes in a team-up, but there could also be other DC characters introduced with extended cameos. That’s how Wonder Woman, Aquaman, etc. can be introduced and groundwork could be laid for a massive team movie later down the road.
It’s hard to picture such a thing as a live action The Brave and the Bold format with what we know about the current status of DC heroes and what movies are already in the pipeline. However, with some tweaking and assumptions that are only available in Hypothetical Studios, a plan is revealed.
For example, the Green Lantern movie is fine as an origin story for one of DC’s second tier heroes. The Dark Knight Rises is problematic for it is obviously going to feature the incompatible Nolan Batman which will not fit into a proper superhero universe. We will call Nolan’s next feature unrelated and proceed to the Zack Snyder directed Man of Steel.
All this Superman feature needs to do is acknowledge that other heroes exist. A cameo or two would be great, but at very least Man of Steel (and every DC movie from this point) should provide passing mentions or obviously hidden easter eggs verifying the existence of the DCU. I realize this is taking a page out of the Marvel playbook, but it was a smart move for them and will be a smart move for DC.
There are many ways to mix and match heroes in co-starring or minor supporting parts in forthcoming films like Flash and Green Lantern 2. The most important and controversial move, however, will be how to reintroduce Batman into the developing DCMU. The best way to get Batman into the mix would be as a supporting hero in the sequel to Man of Steel. Having Batman team-up with Superman would present the chance to get a non-Nolan Bats back on the screen without having to worry how to reboot the character away from his previous incarnation in a feature film.
Finally, a future feature Batman film, acting a bit like The First Avenger, can be the last steppingstone before a massive Justice League movie. This Batman film would build on the character introduced in the Superman sequel and also include minor roles for several of the heroes that have been introduced in the previous The Brave and the Bold DCMU films.
The door would be open for an incredible Justice League movie.
- Green Lantern
- The Dark Knight Rises (unrelated)
- Man of Steel
- The Flash: The Brave and the Bold
- Green Lantern: The Brave and the Bold
- Superman: The Brave and the Bold
- Batman: The Brave and the Bold
- Justice League
One of the better JLA comic arcs that I have read (which was also brought up as a suggestion by fellow Bunker-mate Elwood) is Tower of Babel. This is an excellent story arc from which it would be easy to borrow elements and create a dynamic script. This film would not have to be (nor should be) a faithful adaptation, but the theme and participation of the various JL members are varied enough where the storyline could be stretched to encompass portions of five films, possibly being resolved early in a Justice League movie only to segue into another, more group-centric plot where the team can finally work together. Engineering Tower of Babel as an origin device for the Justice League may be tricky, but the payoff would be immense.
Below is a summary of the Tower of Babel arc from wikipedia. It has been heavily edited for brevity:
Tower of Babel deals with Batman‘s perceived betrayal to the superhuman community by keeping records concerning the strengths and weaknesses of his allies in the JLA, including plans to neutralise his allies in a fight. His files are stolen by Ra’s al Ghul, who uses them to defeat the League through a coordinated attack to prevent them from interfering with his latest scheme.
The attack briefly but effectively incapacitates the League members long enough for Ra’s al Ghul to enact his plans. After they all recover, the JLA must also deal with Ra’s al Ghul’s attack against the language centers of all humanity, using a specially-designed tower to generate a low-level sonic signal which causes written language to be scrambled into total nonsense.
League members recover from their injuries and Batman reveals Ra’s al Ghul’s actions to them, which causes much friction between him and the rest due to his role in devising the traps that nearly killed them. After Superman is able to destroy the machine that is causing the chaos, Ra’s al Ghul reveals that a deadly nerve agent is about to be released on the entire Earth’s population. As Superman, Batman, and later a restored Aquaman and J’onn move on Ra’s’ base, Flash, Green Lantern, Plastic Man and Wonder Woman are able to prevent the release of the toxin barely in time thanks to Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter Talia providing them with the locations of the bombs.
Batman claims that his plans were a cautionary measure. Recognizing the dangers of villains gaining control of the heroes, he created fail-safes in case such a situation ever happened.
It’s possible villains and some heroes can be swapped in or out to make the plot work, but I can foresee a way for the above arc to be converted into a story that ends in the formation of the Justice League. It’d be exciting!
Do you think something like this would work? What ideas do you have for DC in the long term? Do you even want a massive group movie?