Throughout the past few months, as the build towards Man of Steel’s release was taking place, one fanboy speculative topic that was thrown around a lot was a Justice League film. Sadly, the overblown CGI and nonsensical story of the latest Superman film yielded nothing that could set up or establish the rumoured team up, aside from a Wayne Tech easter egg. It failed on every level to achieve what Iron Man did in 2008. Instead, questions like the following were brought up:
“If the world was really in danger, where was Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash etc. Wouldn’t they care about an event on that scale?”, “Where can a Justice League movie fit in this universe?”, “Where does the Nolanverse come into this?” etc.
And all of these are great questions. And most, like myself, were left feeling grossly disappointed with Man of Steel, as this was not the promised “Iron Man style” lynchpin of the new DC Cinematic Universe. There was nothing at all that would hint that there was more to this film. Then it hit me, does it have to be the hailed universe builder? Perhaps not!
Unlike Marvel, DC has a semi-forced universe. It is one that was not created naturally i.e. characters created from the grow up to interact and live in the same universe as existing trademarks. Rather, DC bought (or “acquired”) most of their characters from outsiders and simply developed them. That is why Captain Marvel (I hate the name Shazam!) and Superman are at odds, as they don’t really fit together and technically Captain Marvel is more powerful than Superman (see Kingdome Come).
This adoption over creation led to a series of continuity issues at DC over the years, and eventually these were explained via the multiverse concept.
The multiverse is the hypothetical set of infinite possible universes (including the historical universe we consistently experience) that together comprise everything that exists and can exist. In other words, for every choice there is a corresponding universe created. The term was coined in 1895 by the American philosopher and psychologist William James. The various universes within the multiverse are sometimes called parallel universes, or meta-universes. [NOTE: I am not discussing the New 52 in any real way.]
DC embraced this idea heavily, pre-new 52, and the DC Multiverse consisted of numerous versions of the DC Comics Earth, allowing writers the creative freedom to explore alternative versions of characters and their histories without contradicting the continuity of the main universe. An example of this is Golden Age Superman inhabited Earth-Two, where he was portrayed as significantly older and was given the birth name of Kal-L. While at the same time, the younger and more popular Superman was on Earth-One.
The number of alternate universes used by the Multiverse construct has varied over the years due to DC Comics’ policy of using or abandoning the concept at various points in its publishing history. There were many of these alternated Earths, from Earth-Prime to Earth-X. Basically there is an Earth for every single, and possible action/reaction. Owlman discusses it in the DC direct-to-video animated film Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths.
So why mention this? Well, at the moment in the collective pop culture zeitgeist, we have Superman from the 70′s, the Batman films from Tim Burton to Schumacher, the Nolanverse (I will also include Man of Steel here) and you can include the Animated series’ if you wish. Yet, none of these help establish the coming JL film, right? True, what if it none have to? All of these can be explained via the DC Multiverse idea. These films and TV shows introduced the characters but don’t have to set the scene for a team-up film. Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder introduced us to Batman/Superman but don’t have to feed the JL narrative or universe.
Man of Steel shot down any possibility of a team-up when Superman saved the world without help from a race of superpowered aliens. DC’s film department could now work towards a Justice League film separate from everything else in its own universe, yet still connect all the pieces in a small way via the adoption of the DC Multiverse into film canon. This would allow for a lighter take on Batman and Superman to exist, and could also lead in to something on the scale of The Avengers which they can build a franchise around.
Christian Bale’s recent comments about a Justice League film also allows for this move, as he ruled out appearing in it:
“It’s a torch that should be handed from one actor to another,” he continues. “So I enjoy looking forward to what somebody else will come up with. We were incredibly fortunate to get to make three [Batman films]. That’s enough. Let’s not get greedy.”
The huge introduction to this new universe could be a “Crisis event” itself. All of the exposition, brief origins of minor characters and arcs could all be apart of an epic crisis film. Something like this is needed to bring the Justice League (or Earth-Two’s Justice League of America) together in the first place. Let’s face it, there really is no other event that could bring all of the DC Pantheon of heroes together for the rumoured film. Is there? I believe not, after the showing of what Clark Kent can do, and has done in the Nolanverse. He simply does not need any help from anyone.
The Crisis arc is unique to the DCU and is a viable plot device to clean up the mess that is the corpus of the DC cinematic offerings. They have become like the comics, in as much as they are all over the spectrum. Its great rival Marvel has two cinematic universes that exist separate from each other, however this is due to licensing rather than messy story telling. The new DCU, like the New 52, can be build like the Marvel Universe but in reverse i.e. an Event film first and build out.
The most recent Marvel Cinematic Universe, from Iron Man to The Avengers, has the look and feel of an active and an alive world. One that allows for clear and well crafted stories to be told. In fact, history is playing out again this time on the silver screen rather than on the page via the same issues that are rooted in each of the big two’s development. This too may be the reason why DC properties fail to connect with audiences in a similar way to their Marvel counterparts.
Introductory character driven stories are not the way to go for most DC comic book films. This is because most are beyond empathy, a lot of DC’s main heroes are gods in a both in a literal and figurative sense! Batman is so successful at the box office due to the fact that he is just a man. Thus he is the most relatable hero that DC have and so the personal character narrative works. No other DC trademark can do that, the solution is in big event films. This has worked very well for them: 300, Watchman and the slew of critically acclaimed animated stories from the comics. The general public need someone to connect with and the fact it that Aquaman, The Green Lantern, Hawkman etc on their own cannot achieve this. DC as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Whatever way they decide to go, the next few films will make or break the future of comic book films. I honestly feel that another major DC-based flop will end the current boom in superhero films. I will watch with interest at their next move, but we should never discount this ace in the hole that hangs like the red skies and The Anti-Monitor over these films, Crisis. It has saved DC in the past, and it can again. Let me know what you think in the comments below.
This article was first posted on July 5, 2013