This past weekend, the news was finally made official that Justice League would be the movie to follow up Batman vs. Superman, and that it would be directed by Man of Steel/Batman vs. Superman director Zack Snyder. This drove fans online into overdrive; Some people are very pleased this news was finally official, while a great many others out there are groaning that Warner Brothers is approaching this all wrong, that they need to do things the Marvel Studios way or it’s just not right. In other words, Wonder Woman needs a solo film first, followed by the Flash and possibly a Green Lantern reboot, and then they all team up in a Justice League movie. After all, that’s how Marvel did it to tremendous success with The Avengers. But Warner Brothers and DC aren’t Marvel Studios, and they won’t ever be. And I’m gonna break it down for ya just why.
First off, Marvel Studios is just that: a studio dedicated to making only Marvel films. Warner Brothers has no equivalent. There is no “DC Studios.” DC is merely a company they own, which happens to have several valuable IPs. Yes, they would be smart to exploit their DC properties, but there is no rule saying they have to exploit them in the exact same way Marvel Studios does. And according to everything we’ve seen about how they’re approaching Batman vs. Superman and now Justice League, it doesn’t look like they’re going to start now.
Here’s the other thing; DC only has six, maybe seven viable superhero properties with enough name recognition to translate to the big screen. I know this will make DC fanboys out there insane, but it’s the truth. And I say this as someone who is a bigger DC fan than a Marvel fan. Sure, DC has dozens (if not hundreds) of viable superhero characters, many who are household names, but that’s not the same as viable franchises. Over the past seventy five years of DC comics history, there have only been five solo characters that have been in nearly continuous publication: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, and Green Lantern (with Flash and GL taking an extended break between 1951 and 1957 or so, before being reinvented into the versions we now know.) These characters are so popular and world-renowned, especially Superman and Batman, that even their spin-off characters and sidekicks, villains and supporting cast are household names, many in fact who have their own ongoing comic book series.
But Warner Brothers isn’t going to look at it that way. They’ll see characters like Supergirl, Nightwing, Robin, Batgirl, Superboy, Harley Quinn, etc. as great additions to some future Batman or Superman sequel, but they aren’t going to spin them off into their own movies like the way the comics have spun off the characters into their own titles. So for future solo films, cross off the other heroes of Gotham and Metropolis from getting their own movies; Warners is simply not going to risk sullying their big two brands with movies that might not work. They don’t want another Catwoman on their hands.
As for the other members of DC’s “Big Five” heroes, Green Lantern has already had his shot at a movie, and we all know how that turned out. The Flash is currently scheduled to get a TV series on the CW network; if the show is a hit, forget a big screen solo outing, and if it flops, same thing. This, of course, leaves Wonder Woman, who will probably get her own movie eventually because it’s getting embarrassing for Warner Brothers to continue making excuses why they haven’t been able to get the most famous female hero off the ground. It’s the one thing they can have over Marvel Studios, a famous female superhero who isn’t just famous as being a member of a team.
But now you’re saying, “Well, what about Hawkman? The Atom? Martian Manhunter?? Aquaman???” Well, yes, all those characters are DC mainstays for sure, but have had very rough goes at keeping ongoing titles (with Aquaman arguably having the best luck.) Because of that, Warners will look at these characters as second stringers at best. Will they show up in a Justice League movie or potential JL sequel? Without a doubt. But Warners isn’t going to risk $150 million on potential franchise starters on these guys, especially after Green Lantern tanked. Green Arrow might have been the one hero who might have had a good shot, but with a successful television series, you can forget that happening anytime soon. Why ruin a good thing?
If fans want to know how Warner Brothers is going to be rolling out the DC Universe on screen, then they should really look to Warner Brother’s straight-to-DVD DC comics animated features for a preview of how they are going to handle these characters in live-action and on the big screen. Since the DC heroes animated films series began in 2007 with The Death of Superman movie, there have been twenty of these made; seven feature Batman, four feature Superman, two feature Batman and Superman together, five feature the Justice League… and only two feature Green Lantern, and one features Wonder Woman. And Green Lantern only got a second animated movie as a tie-in to the live-action movie; Warners had decided that both the Wonder Woman and Green Lantern movies didn’t move enough units to justify sequels, and have killed all attempts from producer Bruce Timm to make movies based on other properties like Batgirl, Teen Titans, and others. The suits always come back with “we can’t make the numbers work” with anything not Superman, Batman, those two together, or the Justice League (which, of course, has those two guys front and center.)
If Warners sees relatively low budget animated movies not featuring Batman, Superman and the Justice League as too much of a risk, what makes anyone think they’ll take a different approach with their live action counterparts when way, way more money is at stake? In short, it doesn’t look like they’re going to. Expect WB to treat the DC Superhero universe as one movie property, just like Harry Potter was one movie series. Man of Steel was merely “DCU Movie #1” with Batman vs. Superman and Justice League being the Parts 2 and 3 of this one franchise. We’ll then get a rotating DCU movie each summer – in between Justice League movies, there will be solo entries for Batman and Superman (and as I said, Warners will likely be shamed into giving Wonder Woman at least one movie). But for the most part, that’ll be it. Notice that the Wall Street Journal article that broke this news mentioned other DC Comics properties currently gaining traction: Fables, 100 Bullets, Sandman. Only two other superhero properties were mentioned, Metal Men and Shazam!, and based on the nature of those properties, they are probably aiming for animated or family type movies for those two.
Do I wish there was a “DC Studios” within Warner Bros.? Heck, yes, I do. But that’s just not the reality, and until then, the bean-counters are going to have the final word on which superheroes make it onto the big screen in their own films. The best we as fans can do is hope that Zack Snyder and David S. Goyer do their best with the various DCU characters within this series. Let’s all keep our collective fingers crossed.