James Gunn’s First DC Slate Doesn’t Need to Reinvent the Wheel, but Embrace Comic Book Silliness and Unknowns
Photo by Daniel Knighton/Getty Images ; DC Comics / WB TV
James Gunn is getting ready to deliver his first chapter of DC stories to the world, with a sense we’ve all been here before more than a few times. Since The Dark Knight trilogy ended, Warner Bros. and DC have been running aimlessly around trying to put together a Marvel-like universe.
Every few years, a slate will appear with so much promise and intrigue. Actors talk up their big new movies, the chiefs talk about how this is the real deal, but more often than not — these just don’t go to plan. Lucasfilm, DC, Legendary, Dark Universe, and many more have completely folded within one movie.
DC’s failures have been very apparent to everyone. Gunn has a hell of a task on his hands, but perhaps the best way forward is not to just try the obvious again, but go down the track nobody expects.
To put it simply, audiences and fans are growing sick of origin stories, actors chopping and changing, as well as the conveyor belt of creatives. The biggest victims of this have been DC’s trinity of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman — and as a result — these characters feel burnt out.
Frankly, we no longer need another batch of stories around these three specific characters. They’re marketable, bankable characters but therein lies the issue. They’re too bankable and no risks are ever taken because there’s too much cultural baggage associated with them. They’ve appeared in countless stories in every possible medium, and arguably two of those three peaked in animated form.
While it’s cliché to suggest DC can learn from Marvel, it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Marvel’s biggest risks were their biggest successes, or at the very least, refreshing changes of pace. Iron Man was not a household name, and the adaptation evolved the character without the baggage of fan outcry. Ant-Man is a silly product of 60s pulp comics and has a problematic side to him that would not stand with modern audiences — getting him to work in live-action is astonishing.
Then there’s the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Guardians should absolutely never have worked as well as it did. Yes, it did have a big budget, but DC learnt recently brand value and a big budget don’t necessarily work after Black Adam. Gunn’s writing prowess comes in maintaining a fine line between ridiculousness and dead seriousness. Outcast characters he thrives on, and again, the lack of fan baggage around Guardians helped it to succeed.
With this comes potential for DC. Forget the Justice League as we know them, at least for now. There’s a plethora of ridiculously silly and lesser-known characters who would thrive under Gunn’s tutelage. Azrael, The Question, Lobo (which looks likely), and Plastic Man have qualities that seem very malleable for Gunn.
DC has often faced an issue in the modern day of taking its comics perhaps too seriously. While I’m not saying everyone needs to be full of zingers and one-liners like their rivals, a nice change of pace tonally would help. Grim-dark Zack Snyder’s vision is not appealing cinematically and alienates part of your audience.
Something very enjoyable about the Guardians duology and The Suicide Squad is the vibrancy of the colors and characters. They feel like a comic book adaptation and not a loose extrapolation of the comic pages.
One of my biggest qualms with particularly Snyder’s DC and the first DCEU slates was how bland and unexpansive it felt. It was all too focused on making the Justice League and had no appreciation for the greater universe they inhabit. During Batman v. Superman, it doesn’t feel like anything exists or has any connection to DC. It’s in-name-only and only as fan service.
Gunn has a really good chance with this new dawn to ignore what people are expecting. How much more exciting would it be if mainstream audiences had no preconceived notions and no clue about the new characters being put into film? Complete chance to control a new narrative.
Particularly intriguing as an opportunity is to explore some of the Elseworlds yarns. Stories that don’t fit into a greater canon and present a chance to allow for really different types of stories. If you’re desperate to still have Superman and Batman stories, Elseworlds will give a completely different perspective on these characters, with the promise of a standalone adventure.
Superman: Red Son, 1001 Emerald Nights, Gotham by Gaslight, and more could all make really enticing films or animated
DC, outside of some very hardcore fans who arguably plagued the franchise in the 2010s, doesn’t have a good perception of films in the mainstream. The films have been reviewed fairly poorly for the most part and have been divisive most of the time. Gunn needs to use this as motivation to back himself and learn from what failed.
Nothing from the DCEU canon, outside of his two projects, is something to write home about. Forget the past, and begin something new. Gunn’s first slate is the most important one DC and Warner Bros. will give, if these films don’t work, these properties could end up selling out to studios like Marvel with Fox and Sony in the 1990s.
Gunn’s first slate needs to appear as confident as Warner Bros. seems to be in his direction. Otherwise, it’ll be the DCEU all over again.