It appears that the DC Universe experiment is coming to an end. Launched in 2018 with the noble intention of providing fans with a one stop resource for comics, message boards, and new original programming, the streaming service and comics library has struggled almost out of the gate. Despite producing a succession of critically acclaimed live action and animated original shows, confidence in DC Universe as its own entity never seemed terribly high.
Its flagship live action show, Titans, was met with middling reviews. The next on its slate, Swamp Thing, fared better critically but was canceled and saw its episode count slashed before the first episode even aired (it will now see a second life as re-runs as part of the CW’s Covid-ravaged fall TV schedule). But DC Universe hit its stride creatively with superb animated series like Young Justice: Outsiders and the wildly inventive and hilarious Harley Quinn, a genuine critical darling in the live action Doom Patrol, and a recent back-to-basics superhero success story in Stargirl.
But despite the critical success, the exclusivity of those latter two shows went out the window, with Warner Bros. simultaneously streaming the second season of Doom Patrol on HBO Max, and broadcasting Stargirl on the CW (where its second season will live exclusively)…two sure signs that they didn’t feel these shows were finding the audience they deserved on DC Universe. The writing has appeared to be on the wall for DC Universe as a streaming service for quite some time.
But perhaps that was always part of the problem. Trying to sell DC Universe as a “streaming service” despite it primarily dealing in relatively obscure superhero movie and TV content from years gone by always seemed a little counterproductive, especially when it also served as a library for tens of thousands of digital DC Comics spanning the company’s 80 year-plus history. With recent layoffs across Warner Bros. hitting DC Comics especially hard, and slashing DC Universe’s staff to almost nothing according to reports, the latest announcement, that all DC Universe original content like Titans, Doom Patrol, and Harley Quinn would be moving over to HBO Max should come as no surprise.
“The original content that is on DCU is migrating to HBO Max,” DC Comics Publisher and Chief Creative Officer Jim Lee told The Hollywood Reporter in a wide ranging interview about the state of all things DC. “Truthfully, that’s the best platform for that content. The amount of content you get, not just DC, but generally from WarnerMedia, is huge and it’s the best value proposition, if I’m allowed to use that marketing term. We feel that is the place for that.”
But hopefully this doesn’t signal the death knell for DC Universe, as the subscription service is still a wonderful library for DC Comics fans. Lee’s answer on the fate of the app is a whole is perhaps a little less clear.
“In regards to the community and experience that DCU created, and all the backlist content, something like 20,000 to 25,000 different titles, and the way it connected with fans 24-7, there is always going to be a need for that,” Lee said. “So we’re excited to transform it and we’ll have more news on what that will look like. It’s definitely not going away.”
Hopefully they keep some of the more niche streaming content in their library (my personal favorites include the 1970s live-action Shazam series, the 1980s Superboy TV series, and the 1990s The Flash TV series) available for fans. But in this writer’s opinion, DC Universe would still be a bargain at $7.99 a month as a comics library service alone. Their chief competitor Marvel Unlimited costs $9.99 a month, for example, and there’s no questioning the value of the DC Universe library in relation to Marvel’s, and Marvel Unlimited doesn’t offer a community experience, or access to older streaming titles the way DCU does.
Hopefully AT&T doesn’t deprive comics fans of a wonderful resource, and hopefully whoever is left in charge of DC Universe is able to better market the app on its true strengths once that original content ends up on HBO Max.