In a rare moment of sobriety thanks to a flu that is so bad people in the 1800’s would have attempted an exorcism on me, I spent the weekend in bed. On a justice buzz and feeling a bit dark and gritty I decided to watch Batman: The Killing Joke after re-reading Tony’s excellent analysis of it.
This then evolved into me finally getting around to the Magnum Opus that is The Dark Knight Returns: Part 1 & 2, and then on to FlashPoint Paradox. Intrigued by all these different versions of Batman falling somewhere on the spectrum of moral corruption I did some research on the various versions that have been portrayed. A 2 part analysis of The Joker by TheFilmTheorists on YouTube that explained the 3 Joker arc from the comics pieced it all together for me beautifully. But this gives the Joker too much credit (the only time I’ll ever say that sentence, Joker is life).
The one key advantage that DC has over Marvel is their compliance and openness to the parallel universe theory present in both publishers. All of the comics have spin offs and cross overs that work very well into the comics but only DC embraced it into the film unapologetically.
Allowing for alternate versions of the characters with different relationships and more importantly, different dynamics allows for more creative story telling and less suspension of disbelief. Consider the versions of Batman & the Joker we’ve seen in the live action films alone. You had:
- Keaton/Nicholson (the classic hero and the criminal).
- Bale/Ledger (the ying/yang dynamic where one created the other out of necessity, the morally incorruptible and the sociopath)
- Affleck/Letto (the dangerous hero and the criminal).
All in three films, without any huge need for explanation. If you take these character variables into the animated films you see the absolutely haunting Flashpoint Batman, who is essentially an anti-hero, out to kill and help nobody… whose Joker is his ex-wife. So we have seen 4 different versions of the Batman & the Joker all with the ability to lead their movie in very different directions and explore other versions of what may have been with the bat logo still attached.
The closest Marvel ever got to this sort of alternate versions of the character was the Iron Man arsenal all being controlled at the same time in Iron Man 3…and that was by far the single best moment in that film and if you didn’t get goosebumps when they all appeared over the water you’re dead inside and should seek help.
DC even had the opportunity to destroy the idealism of Superman in FlashPoint Paradox by portraying him as weak, vulnerable, skinny and of no use initially, shattering the standards of heroes in comics as god like physique holier-than-thou beings. All of this possible by embracing the multiple universes that the comics explore so well.
But of course, executives don’t like this, it confuses the fans, segments the market and blah blah blah. Comic fans enjoy this stuff, and it must be embraced, yet another example of the safe bet driving decision-making for big screen adaptations.
Allowing the characters to be put into different contexts created new challenges for the writers and even better situations such as historical versions and crossovers. (Sherlock Holmes & Batman)
That’s why DC’s animated films are a far better than Marvel’s. They’re winning in the animated arena. Hulk vs Thor is a fun story, but watch it in the same afternoon as The Dark Knight Returns (animated) and you’ll appreciate a whole new level of storytelling that you just don’t see in an animated movie.
For example, our latest on-screen Batman having no problem with killing versus the moral clauses in TDK’s Batman that; while made for an interesting cinematic experience, did notably hold the films back. Affleck’s Batman kills people now, they just showed it, no big deal or fuss made about. Context now set. Ten seconds. Marvel-take note.
Now we can be darker straight off the bat (pun intended) and with one simple act in his new opening scene we’ve set the tone and the context for this version that we’re looking at… no full movie back story needed, no standalone movie to give him a place in the wider franchise. That’s the expensive format that Marvel are now stuck with.
No, DC can do it in one scene and that’s their advantage. If run right they can make more efficient films quicker by embracing the parallel universes and trusting the audience. Marvel doesn’t trust the audience…consider how long it takes to get from a phase 1 standalone movie to a team up like the Avengers- 5 movies. DC are now ready for the justice league after 3 movies.
The real reason parallel universes happened initially was because of regulations in the comic industry in the 1940s that created a need for a drastic shift to the characters (the CCA claiming violence couldn’t be glamorised) and then the subsequent abandonment of them 20 years later.
This is shown in the fact that Adam West’s Batman, essentially being a comedy was based on the comics of the regulated era, Affleck’s tale of a dark twisted criminal city that is Gotham being based of the newer editions. When Batman became The Dark Knight.
This abandonment of the standards meant the comics had to somehow get back to the dark, gritty and violent villains of the golden age of comics without ‘starting again’. Other worlds were born and right there in the 70’s and 80’s after the World War 2 propaganda left comics and Superman stopped chasing Hitler, the alternative universes were formed in creative writing and we had a blank slate that didn’t just wipe out what came before it (cough, X-Men Days of Future Past, cough). They used the pre-existing context to build rather than rebuild.
Marvel’s problem of having to constantly brush the old Spiderman away and getting stuck in canon conflicts like artificial web shooter or natural web shooter doesn’t happen with DC because of a fundamental paradigm of ‘how it is now’ being embraced. We know this happens in Marvel because of legal disputes and ownership conflicts but in their story telling it creates problems when a character is suddenly in play again thanks to a court ruling in the real world. But canon is something slightly missing from DC as some things do get a bit blurred to the newer fans, so it is by no means a perfect solution.
While it may seem like a bit of a cop-out to use and abandon various story arcs or facts at different points in the history, I think it leads to more opportunities to move and adapt. Marvel can now only make drastic story shifts with drastic actions, like killing a character off, and we know that in the comic world one of the biggest frustrations is the sudden re-appearance of character thought to be dead. We can’t suspend our disbelief too far…that said DC now has to bring Superman back to life (BvS spoilers, sue me).
If you take it back to the key concepts of why we even indulge in things like this; it’s to be entertained and amazed. When you lay out ground work with endless possibilities you get something so captivating and new each time. You drop the need for a bigger explosion or a jumped shark each time you need to impress your audience. Civil War by Marvel was amazing because they proved you don’t need to level a city in a hero movie, but only did that because they couldn’t be the ones to level a city again, they added greatly to the stereotype in the film genre. One might even say in recent times they’re responsible for it.
So the key trump card that can still save DC is creating a parallel universe crossover, a crisis event that brings different universes together. Their inclusion of multiple universes does the following for them:
- Separates them from Marvel.
- Provides huge fan service; which is needed more in this genre than any other.
- Resets mistakes like the Green Lantern…which we won’t talk about.
- Brings huge box office.
- Adheres to the roots from the comics.
And that’s one thing DC has the potential to do that Marvel doesn’t… I’m not saying they will but with what they’ve already done across all their canonical mediums of; comic, film, TV and animated…there is nothing stopping them creating an inter-dimensional, cross generational crossover.
Imagine a universe of Bale’s Joker and Affleck’s Batman winding up in the chaos of a battle in the one city…I would love to see Affleck’s Batman take on Bale’s Joker., and the inverse is true too. This possibility is here now. And if that paragraph lost you and you think it’s a reach, TheFilmTheorists on YouTube explain it quite well in their Suicide Squad theory.
Long story short, the table is now set for an inter-character cross over.
All of this is what makes the fever-dream desert sequence in Batman v Superman make sense- the inclusion of Darkseid, a villain known to be the worst in DC’s entire catalogue, DC’s Thanos. Darkseid’s emblem is what pops up in the desert sequence of BvS and it is also what is known to be what Lex summoned at the end. Darkseid is able to cross multiverse’s in the comics.
Given the little visit from another member of a future justice league Bruce Wayne got in his lab in BvS and what we know about DC already committing to a multiverse theory the path is being set. Geoff Johns, the man responsible for continuity in films from Comics (read as, their head comic writer now head of DC films) already stated that the multiverse is considered when they write the movies. I think the DC films are playing a long game here that will involve alternate versions of characters meeting.
This means that DC’s film universe won’t get as stagnant, maybe it won’t have the legacy element to it but there is far less to remember. Comic lore spans nearly 100 years of creativity and is a universe in its own right, but I think DC is playing the right game here.
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