The challenge that DC Entertainment now faces

Feature CJ Wheeler 7 Nov 2011 - 14:25

With Marvel's The Avengers breaking box office records, CJ wonders how DC Entertainment can rise to the challenge...

We're guessing that you, along with lots of other people, might just have seen The Avengers by now. Lots of people have.. Some went several times. Bums were put on seats, and the film has now passed $1bn at the global box office already.

Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 are out next year. Captain America 2 and more Marvel movies are scheduled for 2014. Mark Ruffalo has signed a six-movie deal to play the Hulk - widely regarded as the best thing in The Avengers after two solo movies that didn't capture the spirit of the character.

It was a funny movie, and it was fun. Then there was that tip of the hat at the end. You know the one. We're not going to spoil it here.

Yet DC's Batman Begins pioneered this teasing tactic that Marvel's now known for, when Gordon revealed a playing card. That was three years before Iron Man hinted at The Avengers. What happened to those moments?

Ask any child who their favourite superhero is right now. They're likely to say one of these: Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye or Black Widow. The last two weren't really on the radar of anyone outside of the regular comics readership until around a week or two ago. None of them are DC characters.

Heck - ask any adult who their favourite superhero is and you'll get a similar response. Hulk smashing Loki's now a meme and the jade giant's become something of a poster boy for casual atheism. The Dark Knight Rises has had the red carpet pulled from under it. 2013's Man of Steel is a risky reboot after the letdown of Superman Returns, and where does DC go after that?

DC Entertainment's subsidiary DC Comics is one of the two biggest comic book publishers in America, and the world. Their characters, Superman and Batman, are as recognisable as Mickey Mouse or Ronald McDonald.

We're not expecting them to do Superman/Ronald McDonald: Red, Yellow, White and Blue or Batman/Mickey: Gothamtasia crossovers, oh no. Although that would be sweet. No, we're hoping they rise to the mass media challenge that's been taken up so fully by Marvel.

A lot of people are movie buffs, but fewer read comics regularly. Comics fans can't deny that, for a few years now, DC have been ahead of the game.

DC made waves last year with New 52, revamping their entire comics line in one massive sweep. The company made industry history by publishing 52 first issues that included the only new Action Comics and Detective Comics #1s in more than 70 years.

This summer, DC is controversially bringing back their best-selling and most beloved series in Before Watchmen. The thing is: they're so much more than Superman, Batman, and old Alan Moore stories. We don't have to tell them that though, they know it. 

Earlier this year DC rebranded to better reflect a focus on digital media. Recently DC Comics, also pushed ahead with simultaneous digital and print comics release and pioneered a move back to cheaper issue prices. That was truly forward-thinking for comics. The comics readers already know that and we respect DC's history and aspirations for the future.

Does the rest of the world though, when they once believed a man could fly? Now they take it in their stride to see men and women become super-soldiers, super-spies, technologically enhanced knights, gods and monsters.

DC aren't ahead of the movie curve anymore, and this summer they're coming to the finale of their most successful and critically acclaimed movie franchise to date. A dark, realistic franchise in a year that's now defined by a sense of superheroic fun that easily segues into Marvel's comics.

David Goyer is one of the creative talents who's worked with Christopher Nolan on Batman, and on DC's comics. Goyer has proven time and time again that he understands how to make comic book ideas appeal outside of their readership. Goyer had an excellent run with a modernised version of the original superhero team: the Justice Society.

At Marvel, The Avengers' maestro Joss Whedon did the same for Astonishing X-Men. David Goyer is DC's Joss Whedon. He's the perfect person to put on a Justice League movie (to write it, at least). They need to let him go nuts. 

What happens if DC doesn't? In 2009, Goyer went on record saying that his fabled project Super Max - pitched as an out-of-costume Green Arrow movie - could work in either the Marvel or DC stables of characters.

Super Max would see a superhero breaking out of prison after being wrongly convicted, with the grudging help of fan-favourite villains. Hawkeye - Marvel's Green Arrow - is now a household name. They'd do better business with Goyer's concept right now, and Goyer has a history of working with Marvel on the Blade trilogy and TV show.

Speaking as a fan of DC Comics and Green Arrow - they must make Super Max as soon as they can. DC can do it, and not years after Man of Steel. They made RED and The Losers in 2010, so let's see Super Max following up Superman. With the recent announcement of CW's Arrow adaptation of Green Arrow's story for television we seem to be heading back in the direction of Smallville.

We want to encounter DC's other characters on the big screen. Get Chronicle's Josh Trank and Max Landis onboard - Landis clearly loves the DC Universe enough judging by his Death and Return of Superman rant. 

Audiences wanted to love Green Lantern, and it was visually brilliant admittedly, but even the acting talent of Peter Sarsgaard couldn't save the boring plot on Earth. DC could make a Green Lantern 2 and take Hal into space - and throw in John Stewart, Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner as his rivals. It could be the new Star Wars.

Back in the 70s and 80s, DC were the kings of comic book cinema and could be again. How could Batman and Superman be kept timeless in cinema while separating them from the success of Richard Donner's Superman and Christopher Nolan's Batman? How could they fit in with other DC characters?

Well, part of the answer is in a collaboration DC had with Marvel that was published in one of the most difficult years in comics history, 1996. That project was Batman & Captain America. One of DC's alternate universe Elseworlds tales, the story was spun off into three limited series under the Superman & Batman: Generations banner.

Over the course of the three Superman & Batman: Generations series, writer-artist John Byrne showed that Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent could become Batman and Superman in the 1930s and age at a normal rate. No sliding timescales that keep everyone at roughly the same age through decades and hundreds of issues. It's a fantastic read and different from what DC has done on film to date.

Now let's go back to Captain America. The First Avenger movie and The Avengers have proven that period superheroes work and can be very successfully connected with their modern counterparts. It now looks like Marvel are doing it again with Ant-Man.

In 1963, Stan Lee brought back Captain America - when the supersoldier hadn't even been frozen in ice back in the 1940s in the first place. Lee's decision helped to establish retroactive continuity in comics. Here, John Byrne is DC's Stan Lee. The company could craft a pulp, era-appropriate style for its two biggest characters.

Superman & Batman: Generations is the perfect basis for an ongoing serial of interlinked movies that could connect with a modern Justice League. Even a Legion of Super-Heroes to rival Marvel's upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy movie.

How could DC create a modern Justice League movie to rival The Avengers? Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn already did it for them, with JLA: Year One. They're DC's back-up Stan Lees. The series is a witty, updated version of the JLA that could stand up well against its Marvel counterpart.

DC have Green Lantern, The Flash, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Black Canary and Green Arrow: a core team of six. Establish the characters first. Make Super Max, Green Lantern 2, a Flash movie and an Aquaman movie. Introduce Black Canary, Batgirl, Huntress and Lady Blackhawk in Birds of Prey and outsmart Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow.

Batman has a hovering car while the Avengers have a flying aircraft carrier. Oh, and a quinjet. Comics readers never thought we'd be able to use the word quinjet in public and justifiably expect people to know what we mean. Please DC, reach for the moon with your movies in the next few years - and then build the Justice League watchtower on it.

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