Comics on Film: 3 Ways Forward for the Future of DC Comics Movies

Comics on Film: 3 Ways Forward for the Future of DC Comics Movies

May 11, 2018

Justice League

Now that the dust has settled after the release of Avengers: Infinity War, superhero fans the world over may find themselves wondering what's next for the resident alternative to Marvel's very successful cinematic iteration. Ever since the conclusion of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy, DC characters have had a pretty rocky relationship with movie audiences when directly compared to the near-universal acclaim that Nolan's Batman films earned.

With Marvel's runaway success after Black Panther and now their complete box office dominance on display with Infinity War, there's undoubtedly more than a few meetings happening at Warner Bros. that will still try to "crack" how films based on DC Comics can break into a comparable level of success.
 
So, here are three possible paths that the so-called DC Extended Universe can take in order to have a more prosperous future at the box office.
 
 
 
1) Reboot the Shared Universe by Adapting a Continuity-Altering Comics Event
 
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
 
The most blatantly "comic book-y" way to reorient the shared universe, this method has the opportunity to use the existing films as a baseline for new efforts while wiping the events of those movies out of the chronological history of the DCEU going forward. As often happens in the pages of comics, an event that takes this path would make it possible for future films to reshape the history of the characters, while also allowing previously explored story threads from the existing films to be told again in future efforts, but in an all-new way.
 
For instance: if the DCEU decided to go with this kind of event in the form of adapting comic book stories like 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths or 2011's Flashpoint (the latter of which may or may not be happening, depending on which rumors you believe), then future Superman movies would then effectively work from a blank slate, allowing The Death of Superman to be explored on film again in a potentially more truthful way than we saw in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League.
 
A new Batman movie could be more explicit by showing the full history of Robin, and other characters we've seen wouldn't be beholden to the way they were depicted in previous DCEU films. A reshaping like this would also potentially allow previously established characters to be redefined and, potentially, recast. Instead of Batman being close to 50 years old, maybe he's closer in age to Superman, for instance.
 
This would, basically, be a totally clean break from what we've seen from the films so far, and would allow the filmmakers and the studio to reshape the shared universe as they see fit, while also adapting a kind of comic book storytelling that has yet to make it to the big screen: the "cosmic reset button." It would also have the effect of rendering previous films meaningless to the wider framework of the shared world, though, which may go a step too far for some in the audience. So, that leads to another option...
 
 
 
2) Soft Reboot Without Explicit Reference to Prior Movies
 
The Incredible Hulk
 
This is, what I like to call, "The Incredible Hulk approach." If you watch both 2003's Hulk and 2008's The Incredible Hulk back-to-back, it's kind of amazing because the second MCU film could very well be a sequel to the 2003 movie, just because Hulk ends with Eric Bana's Bruce Banner in South America.
 
In The Incredible Hulk, Edward Norton's Banner is hiding in...yep, South America, and General Ross clearly has a history with and interest in all of the major weapon capabilities that the Hulk could represent for the military. Incredible is not an origin story, all of the characters know each other, and there's nothing in the 2008 movie that necessarily steps on the toes of the 2003 film, even though a very different kind of philosophy drives the later effort. Some aspects of depicted history in the newer movie contradict the older one, but overall the 2008 movie doesn't feel like anything resembling a blatant repudiation of the 2003 film.
 
You could do the same kind of thing with future DC movies, which wouldn't necessarily necessitate recastings. You can recast some characters if you want to, but just don't even worry about mentioning them. This kind of approach would be beneficial if the filmmakers would like there to be some kind of pre-existing history between certain heroes and villains, without necessarily explicitly defining what that history is or where it took place.
 
It could very well have been in movies like Man of Steel or Batman v Superman, but it also could've been different than audiences remember. Comics take this approach to continuity all the time, and there's no reason to think it wouldn't work in a cinematic setting as long as the rules are well-enough defined.
 
 
 
3) Move Forward Without Fundamental Changes
 
Justice League
 
While Justice League was certainly not a critical darling upon its release last November, many fans – including this one – saw it as a very positive step in the right direction for the DCEU. Yes, the whole ordeal concerning the way that the team-up film was chopped up, reshot, reoriented and de-moustached is a bit of a mess, but future movies can benefit from all of that groundwork that had been laid down by having absolutely no need to revisit any expository information.
 
While Justice League was a pretty sloppy culmination of the story that began in Man of Steel, the team-up movie and what came before it places all of the characters in a very satisfactory position for future movies: the League is established, Lex Luthor and Deathstroke are out in the open, the Joker is operating in Gotham, Superman is alive and well, Wonder Woman is seen as a beacon for the first time in a century, Barry Allen got a job at the Central City Crime Lab, etc.
 
While not the perfect set of DC films, all the characters are at a wonderful new starting position for future movies to tell new stories that can be faithful to the source material, while also allowing filmmakers the latitude to tell the stories they want to tell. So, this is a perfectly viable approach, and makes clear that the DCEU doesn't really need a reboot, unless they want to drastically reposition the characters away from what we know about them in the movies we've seen so far. It wasn't perfect, but Justice League set the pieces of the universe in places that are perfect for other filmmakers to pick up and run with.
 
 
So, those are our three ideas. What're yours? How would you like to see DC Comics explored on film in the future? Be sure to sound off below, and we'll see you next week on an all-new Comics on Film!

Chris Clow is a comics expert/former retailer, and pop culture critic/commentator. He hosts two podcasts: Discovery Debrief: A Star Trek Podcast and Comics on Consoles. Find his column "Comics on Film" weekly at Movies.com, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

Categories: Comics, Features, Geek, Editorials
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