We're back to tights and flights this week on the Geek Beat, since it seems that the future of DC Comics characters on film seems to be back to its apparently normal state of chaos.
Those of you that regularly follow this piece know that I talk a lot of my particular fondness for the characters of DC Comics, and it just so happens that a lot of comic book movie news has revolved around the uncertain future those characters have on film. For practically the entirety of March, a rumor surfaced saying that Warner Bros. was actively pursuing Christopher Nolan to produce a new Justice League film, while simultaneously pursuing Christian Bale to return as the Dark Knight in a shared, cinematic DC universe. Zack Snyder and Henry Cavill's names were floated as moving forward from their respective roles on this summer's Man of Steel to the proposed team-up film, and it looked like the proverbial ball was going to really get rolling in the coming months.
Then, a little over a month later the news was basically dashed down by Warner's head honcho for film development, Jeff Robinov. Robinov told Entertainment Weekly that Zack Snyder's forthcoming Superman film is a "first step" toward a world that has allowed the studio to "introduce other [DC] characters into," without saying that the inevitable stop on that road would be featuring the Justice League.
In the same interview, Robinov addressed the Nolan rumors saying that they weren't true, and that what follows will be coming from other sources. As we've heard for the last several months, the truth of the matter is likely that Warner Bros. is trepidatious about any future DC Comics films (outside of Batman) until it is able to see how Man of Steel has performed at the end of its theatrical run.
Why Warner Bros. Doesn't Make Enough DC Films
Now, as a confessed DC Comics fan, I have often expressed frustration about Warner Bros.' lack of commitment toward creating films based off characters it owns. Unless a hefty licensing deal is reached with another studio, nobody else can make DC Comics-based films. This in and of itself begs the question: why doesn't the studio make them? Why is it so coy when a studio that has similar properties is making millions of dollars (in one case billions) in box office receipts and merchandising?
As devout fans, it's sometimes difficult for us to understand the business reasons even when they're very valid concerns. Conventional wisdom of the day, though, says that comic book films are big business, especially for Marvel Studios. Where is the bottom line in an attempt to understand what's going on? Basically, I think it's in the very reason the studios make the types of films they do in the first place.
How many different types of films does Warner Bros. make every year? Drama, action, comedy, romance and on and on. How many different genres does it dabble in? Sci-fi, fantasy, period, literature adaptations and on and on. Comparing the way Warner Bros. makes movies to the way Marvel Studios makes movies is basically like comparing Superman to Deadpool. Marvel Studios is constantly churning out superhero films because that's the only kind of films it makes. Superhero films are the proverbial bread and butter of Marvel Studios, and because it has been successful thus far, it was acquired by Disney.
I think this is key in understanding Warner Bros.' filmmaking philosophies when compared to Marvel's. Warner Bros. won't go under if it stops making superhero films, nor will its production schedules be affected significantly. While Marvel Studios likely won't go under now, when it got started in making the first Iron Man film, that was a definite risk on its part.
Justified Fan Frustration
At the same time, fans are left curiously and loudly wondering why Warner Bros. is turning its back on what could likely be a sure thing. Yes, the folks at Warner Bros. got their noses bloodied somewhat with the commercial failure of Green Lantern in 2011. But, to have your entire output damaged by one miscalculation seems odd because unlike every other original film Warner Bros. backs, the characters of DC Comics (particularly with the Justice League) already have built-in audiences waiting to be expanded and catered to.
This was especially true in the years leading up to the release of The Avengers, because the Justice League was everywhere. They were in animation since at least the '70s on up through 2006; they were in video games, on millions of licensed consumer products, and in the collective public consciousness. As a comic shop employee, I remember trying to sell someone on an Avengers graphic novel and telling this prospective customer who the Avengers were, and what characters made them up. The customer then told me, "So, they're like a less-famous Justice League?"
Nowadays, it's the League that has taken a backseat in people's minds because it's harder to find them. The assault of advertising and product tie-ins associated with summer blockbusters like The Avengers means that those characters are always in people's faces. It's only now that Warner Bros. is ratcheting up its creation of new Justice League products, seemingly in a comparatively quieter voice than the one Marvel is currently wielding.
DC Is Losing the Movie Battle, but Winning at Everything Else
While Marvel does have the leg up in the film department, there are areas that DC is ahead. Warner Premiere puts out a DC Comics-based animated film every few months, focusing on a surprisingly broad variety of DC characters. While several have been released strictly under Batman's name, five have been released for Superman (with one dropping next month) and four have been released under the Justice League name, with another one coming at the end of the summer. DC has taken the route of adapting several of its most beloved comics stories, including The Dark Knight Returns, The New Frontier and All Star Superman into animated films, and have even made solo films starring Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, with the next Justice League outing being based primarily on a 2011 comic book arc starring the Flash. Marvel Animation has increased its output, but the collective critical reception to its efforts has been far less warm as it has been to the DC efforts.
DC seems to be ahead on the video games front, too. Dropping in stores today is the DC-based fighter Injustice: Gods Among Us, featuring a surprisingly wide variety of DC characters starting at the heavy hitters of the Justice League and extending down to more obscure characters like Solomon Grundy, Killer Frost and Black Adam. The critically and commercially successful Batman: Arkham games (2009's Arkham Asylum and 2011's Arkham City) are the examples many people believe show the best of superhero gaming, while Marvel is making movie tie-in games and underdeveloped cash grabs.
DC even has its characters on world-record setting amusement park rides, with Six Flags Magic Mountain's Lex Luthor: Drop of Doom currently the world's highest drop tower ride at 400 feet, and is also tied for the fastest drop ride on Earth at a terminal velocity of 85 mph. I've been on it, and it's awesome.
So, why is it difficult for Warner Bros. to exploit these characters in feature films? The studio is plastering the characters' faces and logos everywhere else, is it really so difficult for one of the most prolific and storied movie studios in the world to make a good movie based on the Flash? How about on Aquaman?
How You Can Help
It seems that we'll all be holding our collective breaths and wondering until Man of Steel hits theaters. The best way to ensure that future DC films will be made is to go see the studio's latest effort involving Krypton's Last Son, because while we truly can get our DC fix in anywhere from gaming, to animation, and even roller coasters, it won't happen in movie theaters to any satisfactory degree unless it's proven that people want it.
Superman used to be the most popular superhero on the planet, his popularity only outdone by his power level. Man of Steel looks very promising. It's time we send the studio a message about what we want by rewarding it when it gives us a good DC superhero film outside of the Dark Knight. Since there is no way to vote about what we want in this instance, our dollar serves as our only vote, and when it makes good products based on DC licenses, we need to show the studio that there might be something to these Justice Leaguers. So, see Man of Steel in theaters a few times! If you're a gamer, buy Injustice. Pick up the Blu-rays of Superman: Unbound and Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox this summer. Go to a Six Flags park and ride a Superman coaster, or get a T-shirt. Only then will it be a little more likely that we'll see the World's Greatest Heroes in a film of their very own.
My Pick This Week at the Comic Shop (Releasing 4/17)
This week, Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis's Justice League #19 is released, and it looks as though someone has broken into the Batcave to get their hands on one of the world's rarest elements: Kryptonite. This leads to a bit of a mystery revolving around who that might be, but more importantly, why does Batman have Kryptonite in the first place?! Longtime readers likely know the answer to that, especially if you've read Mark Waid's terrific story JLA: Tower of Babel. The Shazam! back-up story also continues this week, with the origin of Billy Batson's magical alter ego seemingly coming to a head in the next few months.
Justice League has been one of DC's best titles in recent months, largely because of the breadth of characters being used and for the interesting interactions brought about in the last several months (like Wonder Woman and Superman's burgeoning romance, or Aquaman's struggle against his own people in Throne of Atlantis). All in all, this week should prove to show us a good issue, and the fantastic art team of Ivan Reis and Gary Frank certainly doesn't hurt matters.
Thanks for checking in on the Geek Beat this week, be sure to come back next week to see what we'll be examining next!
Chris Clow is a geek. He is a comic book expert and retailer, and freelance contributor to GeekNation.com, Batman-On-Film.com and ModernMythMedia.com. You can find his weekly piece The Geek Beat every Tuesday and the Star Trek Into Darkness Countdown every other Wednesday right here at Movies.com. Check out his blog and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.