Convoluted is a word many fans often associate with the Warner Bros. DC Extended Universe. The confusion is understandable considering the news as of late, like the upcoming movie slate that includes two separate Jokers and Flashpoint that may or may not reboot the entire DCEU. Oh, and then there's the comments made by DC Entertainment president Diane Nelson, which suggested that the universe isn't really connected. One can blame Disney and the excellent formula it has with the MCU, which contributes to our need for a particular structure when it comes to cinematic universes. However, maybe DC had this figured out and we were looking at things all wrong? According to Geoff Johns, we were.
If we look close enough we might have seen that the #DCEU was on the right track from the start. The idea of having a connected universe with heroes who stand alone in their own worlds is what makes comic books great; it's a formula that has made the DCEU unique.
Heroes Of One Universe In A World Of Their Own
The easiest talking point would be DC's darker heroes, who could have a universe all to themselves. No, I'm not talking about the idea of the convoluted (but possibly entertaining) Elseworld universe; I'm talking about characters like Doctor Fate, Constantine, Spectre and Zatanna. They were members of the band of damaged heroes known as the Justice League Dark, also expected to be part of DC Extended Universe. However, there's no need to look into the future just yet — the DCEU has history on its side.
DC has already proven that the standalone approach works with Man of Steel, where Superman was introduced as a lone hero. Some may argue about Superman's depiction, but the film did receive favorable reviews. The commercial and financial success of Man of Steel was because Zack Snyder told his story without the burden of building towards one common movie. Unfortunately, the second DCEU film did the exact opposite. What appeared to be a sequel to MoS, Batman v Superman, disrupted the formula by forcing a story just to set up Justice League.
Still, the latter two films were able to incorporate that standalone feel. Critics and fans may have bumped heads over Suicide Squad, but it still felt unique. The origin of Task Force X was told without having to worry about the Justice League or any other DCEU connection. Like Suicide Squad, #WonderWoman and director Patty Jenkins reaped the benefits of being able to tell a story of her own.
Instead of making a movie that forced a connection between characters, WB/DC allowed Jenkins to have her own hero story. The result was a major step in the right direction for the DCEU: receiving praise from both fans and critics along with a record-breaking box office run. The success of WW cemented DC's approach, and head of DC Extended Universe (Geoff Johns) said it was something they would apply to future films.
"Some of the movies do connect the characters together, like Justice League. But, like with Aquaman, our goal is not to connect Aquaman to every movie.”
Aquaman is set to be released in December 2018. Director James Wan's (Saw) flick will be the first of many that will connect to a larger universe. The king of Atlantis is similar to Wonder Woman before him in that he's ideal for creative freedom, as he really does exist in a world of his own. In addition to his heroics, Aquaman's story has depth — from his love, Mera, to villains like Ocean Master and Black Manta. Following the adventures and the intimate look at the unfamiliar and isolated world of #Aquaman will come other DCEU heroes who'll bring those same qualities.
Shazam And His Magical, Outdated World
Shazam was announced as part of the DC's Extended Universe future lineup with Lights Out director David Sandberg at the helm. Shazam is a hero unlike any other in DC, let alone anyone currently being featured in the DCEU. For one, he's a kindhearted, troubled orphan teenager whose powers have been bestowed upon him by the wizard Merlin. Those very powers grant him the ability to turn into a superpowered adult hero, #Shazam. Secondly, Shazam has its dark side, but the fact that he is a kid masquerading as an adult allows for some levity. Sandberg made it clear that his movie will focus on the lighthearted nature that exist in the comics — something that the DC has wanted to improve on.
If you consider the day-to-day issues Billy faces as a kid in addition to his adult-sized problems, you'd imagine that there's comedic gold waiting to be explored. This gives Sandberg the opportunity to tell a story centered around his hero without a reliance on the rest of the DC universe.
Flash And The Alternative World: 'Flashpoint'
Barry Allen, a.k.a. the Flash, is in a world that's modernized by technology and skyscrapers: Central City. Unlike most of the other Justice League members who work with the police, Barry has been working in the Central City Police Department Scientific Detection Bureau since graduating high school. Additionally, Barry idolized another iconic DC hero: Jay Garrick, the first Flash. There may not be any mention of Garrick in #JusticeLeague, but Allen's (Ezra Miller) geekiness will be on full display when he comes face to face with Bruce Wayne.
In the world of Flash there's also elements like his love for Iris West, and her nephew, his sidekick tuned legend Wally West. However, his other story involves an alternate world that he created: Flashpoint. Flashpoint is a world created by Barry after he races back in time to stop his mother (Nora) from being murdered. In this alternative timeline, DC is flipped on its ass and many of the heroes we know and love are depicted in an entirely different manner.
The weird, war-torn world of Flashpoint is something we'll see in the near future, thanks to WB/DC as the DCEU continues down the path of more standalone films. Given the nature of its content there's no reason to think that this movie wouldn't feel authentic, and with Gal Gadot on board we'll likely get a true depiction of the entire story.
The Batman Universe: Batverse?
Batman's world of Gotham is very dark and gritty, with a style that blends modern-day tech with '40s and '50s fashion and architecture from the '30s. It's a world we've seen depicted quite a bit, but there's so much more to explore — immortals, secret societies, insane asylums and corrupt police. Bruce Wayne can be done 100 times and still feel fresh, especially in the DCEU. This version has been battle tested and damaged, yet he's still the beacon of hope. So far we've only seen the dark side of Bruce Wayne; however, Justice League promises an inspired Batman. In addition to the JL version of Batman, director Matt Reeves promises a film that highlights Batman's detective abilities and doesn't feel like it's forcefully connected to the DCEU.
In my comments from a while back about not being part of the DCEU, I was talking about The Batman being a story specifically about Batman...not about the others in the Universe. That it wouldn't be filled with cameos servicing other stories -- that it would be a BATMAN story.
Reeves's approach is exactly what will continue to help make the DCEU feel different. Batman's history is so rich that he can have a universe of his own, and that's something the brains behind the DCEU understand. That's why the studio is going full force creating a Batman universe with movies like a Joker and Harley Quinn love story.
Along with the plethora of historic Bat-villains, the Caped Crusader has an entire family outside of Martha and Thomas Wayne. They are his sidekicks — often teenagers or young adults — including: a murdering vigilante, daughter of a police commissioner, the daughter of DC's greatest fighter, and his assassin son. Nevertheless, the most famous sidekick of them all was Dick Grayson, who really became his own man as Nightwing. Grayson's popularity and in-depth story after his stint as sidekick is exactly why the DCEU has taped The LEGO Batman director Chris McKay to direct a movie about #Nightwing.
The story within a story is just the tip of the DC iceberg. Whether it's the villains they face, the city they protect or everything in between, the heroes of DC have always existed in a world of their own. The DCEU allows its heroes to exist in a singular universe but still feel like they stand on their own. Turns out that the men behind the DC Extended Universe, Geoff Johns and Jon Berg had it right from the start. Watch as the DCEU grows into an alternative comic book universe for those who want something a little different.
Which of the standalone DC superhero movies are you most excited to see?