To anyone not paying attention to industry news, it sure seems like DC Comics adaptations are doing great. Not only are The Flash, Stargirl, and Superman & Lois continuing the legacy established by the Arrowverse (even if not all of them are actually in the Arrowverse), but The Sandman has become a huge hit. But upon closer inspection, one realizes those do nothing to raise the esteem of Warner Bros.’ streaming service HBO Max. While the former three do show up on the service after premiering on The CW, The Sandman is a Netflix property, bringing acclaim to an HBO Max rival.
While this might be a disappointing reality for those who hoped that HBO Max would be the home for all things DC-related — after all Warner Bros. has owned DC Comics since 1969 — the third-party approach might be the saving grace for some highly anticipated series. We already know that the animated series Batman: The Caped Crusader, from Batman: The Animated Series creator Bruce Timm, The Batman director Matt Reeves, and producer J. J. Abrams, is being shopped to Netflix and other services after being passed on by HBO Max. Now two more series from Abrams are receiving the same treatment, Constantine and Madame X.
Constantine would be the latest series about DC Comics’ resident scum-bum/magician John Constantine, and would have British author Guy Bolton on as showrunner. Unlike the Arrowverse Constantine played by Matt Ryan (who recently reprised the role for Legends of Tomorrow) or the 2005 American adaptation starring Keanu Reeves, Abrams and Bolton promised a more diverse lead and a darker take on the character, better mirroring the tone of the Hellblazer comic book series from the ’80s and ’90s.
But last week’s surprising news of a greenlight for a sequel to the Reeves film, written by Akiva Goldsman and directed by Francis Lawrence, certainly makes this character’s big and small screen future a little more confusing. Will they exist in separate universes with a different version of Constantine as the protagonist, while Reeves plays the big-screen version of the paranormal detective? There is a lot up in the air right now.
The same is true of Madame X, which Abrams planned to produce with actor Angela Robinson. Madame X focuses on Madame Xanadu, a key figure in the magical parts of the DC Universe, often interacting with Constantine. Xanadu has recently appeared on the screen in the form of Jeryl Prescott on Swamp Thing and voiced by Cree Summer on Young Justice.
According to insider reports, this process of selling off pieces of IP is part of a strategy by new Warner Bros Discovery president David Zaslav. According to The Hollywood Reportor, as with The Sandman and The Rings of Power, where WarnerMedia once “zealously guarded its films for HBO Max, now Warner Bros. Discovery is open about the fact that, well, they are, as CEO David Zaslav says, ‘open for business.'”
While this approach may raise concerns about the studio’s commitment to some franchises, it also offers opportunities for projects to be made without the blessing of Zaslav and other Warner execs. The strategy came too late for canceled Batgirl, but it may provide hope for shows like the ambitious Green Lantern series currently in production.