How to Smartly Create the Next Batch of Superhero Movies
Well it’s been a few weeks since Man of Steel hit screens, and, for the most part, it feels like it really could rev up the DC Comics universe in a more polarizing way than even Nolan’s Batman saga. Yes, I saw it, and yes, I believe that it definitely has the gusto to do what Iron Man did for Disney/Marvel a few years ago. But, all that being said, does it have the legs to masthead a franchise and ultimately turn the Justice League into The Avengers? I don’t know… but I have my doubts.
The Marvel Side
What marvel has done was something very sly and smart. It took what really was a character that few of us (either comic geeks or occasional readers/those who know names of heroes and little more) imagined could be the foundation for a franchise, and literally turned him into everything we all wanted. Sure, Iron Man has been a relatively big player in the Marvel Universe over decades of comics, but he’s still not the guy you’d first imagine as leading a far bigger cast. But Marvel has had its toes in the water for a long time now… and it took Iron Man (over so many others that just didn’t succeed in various ways) to do what he did; a shrewd ploy but one that worked like a charm. Why? Because he’s just that much more relateable: not a super-power-enhanced superhero, not a mutant, and definitely not an alien. In other words -despite his rich, Playboy exterior- he’s just like you and I. And that’s really important.
We all know Marvel had dropped Spider-Man (Raimi’s, I’m referring to here), X-Men (the original trilogy, not First Class), Wolverine, The Hulk, Ghost Rider, Blade, and The Fantastic Four. But none of these really did what Iron Man ultimately did. Why? Because those characters were just too popular (with the possible exception of Blade, even if a pretty decent trilogy was made from a B-Grade Marvel character). That’s right, heroes like Wolverine and Spidey are just too well-known, well-loved, and far too, well, ‘everywhere‘. Just take a quick look at the comics section at your local book store and you’ll see what I mean: Wolverine and Spider-Man make up roughly 60% of the titles, with each having half a dozen separate books! Especially back when the two names hit the screens originally. Sure, now Marvel has lopped off a bunch of superfluous comics, but the fact still holds true. So, for this reason, people just got a little sick of the heroes they’ve seen so much of also exploding all over the movie screen.
Enter Iron Man, Tony Stark, and Robert Downey, Jr. The secret answer to every comic fans’ questions: “Can they at least do a decent comic adaptation that isn’t a re-hash or a reboot? PLEASE??” Well, we all know now that Marvel had the Ace up its sleeve and that’s why the groundwork was laid so perfectly for The Avengers. With the relative freshness of Iron Man, Marvel (with the fresh taste of Disney) made the Superhero Movie worth making… and seeing, again.
The DC Side
Sadly, DC Comics is a whole different animal that took a vastly different path than the seemingly wiser Marvel. Why? Well, let’s just say that it not only suffered (and currently suffers) from the same maladies that Marvel had, yet it simply hasn’t discovered a way to free itself from those chains.
I have to say, though, were it not for DC’s big two -those being Superman and Batman- even the basic brass tacks for any comic book movie would never have been hammered down. We all know Richard Donner’s Superman started it all way back in the late 70′s, and we were taught even then that a smartly made movie about a comic book character was more than possible; it was necessary. Granted, the tongue-in-cheek aspect of the film was incredibly evident, but no one seemed to care when we were all made to believe that a man could actually fly. And then there was a whole bunch of nothing. Well, nothing after Superman II I should say, since the latter two sequels were borderline cringe-worthy.
Nothing, that is, until Tim Burton basically put the Superman mythos in a room full of dark shadows and gave us an excellent -albeit slightly campy- Batman. And then followed with the inevitable sequel -an awesome spectacle- followed by two more that just reeked of opulence and rotten eccentricity. And nipples.
But that’s when the troubles really began for DC. They, too, were suffering from too popular of characters being used as stepping stones to potentially something greater. When Nolan took the reigns of a seemingly dead Batman story, a lot of new life was injected into what the original third and fourth films killed… but they did surprisingly little to build hope for a new Superhero Team on the horizon.
Yes, sure, they then went with a Green Lantern movie which, despite what everyone says, wasn’t entirely devoid of likability. But it was for that very reason that this, the third member of the rumored Justice League movie, didn’t strike the chords many hoped it would, either. So, we can see from the trifecta of DC Comics live-action movies that seeds were being planted -however unfruitful- for a J.L. flick sometime in our lives. But they’ve thus far failed. And it’s really by no faults of the movies released so far. Six Superman’s in, Seven Batman’s in, and a Green Lantern just didn’t have the nudge needed for a full-fledged Super Team flick to get off the ground. Which is bizarre, when you think about it, since Batman alone featured a few tag-alongs on the forms of Robin and Bat Girl. But the essence of a group battling alongside one another just didn’t germinate properly.
But why? Simply because the characters were just too popular. Again, we look at the books from whence they sprung and we see that Superman, Batman, and even Green Lantern to a great extent, make up well over half of DC’s titles! They’re everywhere! It’s in this comparison DC needs to look, and to find its Iron Man with whom it can truly kick a new directional franchise in the ass.
Choosing DC’s New Hero
Marvel had a veritable pantheon of heroes from which to chose its star; The Avengers features a pretty impressive line-up, and even quite a few team originators. And so it picked Iron Man -one of the originals- to helm its new franchise, and it scored big. But the problem with The Justice League is, even though the team in and of itself has featured a good many heroes, the leaders and originators have, for the most part, been used! Superman (out), Batman (out), Green Lantern (out), Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter were your original seven. And as you can see, this leaves only four from which to build your team. So who could it possibly be?
The Case for Aquaman
The Good: Well, he is a strongly written character (at least over the past decade or so), he’s an ocean dweller (so that would look really cool on the big screen), and he either has a hook or a mystical-watery hand! Sweet!
The Bad: His past is pretty silly. Also, his ability to speak to sea-life is pretty goofy even in the best of circumstances. Remember the Super Friends cartoon? Those rings emitting from his head? Yeah… I just don’t see it.
The Case for Wonder Woman
The Good: A strong-willed, scantily-clad Amazonian woman who uses a lasso to wrap up fiendish men and squeeze the truth out of them? Are you kidding? What’s not to love?
The Bad: All of the former, sadly. This was a TV show once, and Linda Carter did a bang-up job (and it was tried and failed back in 2011, too). But this is a TV character at best, and probably not as strong a lead woman as one would like to hope to lead a franchise. And I don’t mean that objectively, especially in a world where leading ladies are all over the place. I could be wrong, but I don’t think that’s the direction DC wants to go.
The Case for Martian Manhunter
The Good: J’onn J’onzz might just be the key. Might. He’s obviously a Martian, and people get all slobbery over movies with Mars in them, right? Hold on… I guess we shouldn’t forget John Carter, should we. Okay, maybe Martians aren’t always cool, but I assure you, the Manhunter is. Lots of amazing powers, a pretty groovy Space-Pirate costume… I’m all in!
The Bad: Unfortunately, J’onzz isn’t really all that relateable. He tries desperately to be as human as possible, so he does have that going for him, but there’s too little of a ‘woe-is-me’ mentality that the public can latch on to and love. He’s very cool, but maybe a bit high on the opposite end of the spectrum.
The Case for The Flash
The Good: John Shipp played Barry Allen in the short-lived Flash TV series and did a pretty respectable job, so we know it can be done. Now this is a guy with every-day issues who just happens to be able to run excessively fast. Think… oh, I don’t know, Tony Stark, maybe (minus the suit-building schtick)? Similar inasmuch as it’s a guy we can all like doing heroic things because he knows he should. Seems legit.
The Bad: There is a lot of baggage in the Flash lineage. A lot of back story and a ton of time-warping nonsense. Not necessarily a bad thing, but comparing it to the fact that Stark (for the most part) has always been Iron Man, there has been something like four or five people who have been The Flash… that’s a lot of history to somehow weave into a coherent story. But it can be done with the right team of directors and writers and such… in fact, I think we’ve maybe hit on it right here.
The Flash is just about perfect. Not too over-saturated enough to be too popular, yet just well-known enough to give DC the ‘Iron Man‘ treatment.
Now that Marvel has firmly established its core team of The Avengers, as well as continued the paths of many of its characters (Iron Man 3, Captain America: Winter Soldier, and Thor: The Dark World), it has chosen wisely to branch off into deeper realms of the Marvel Universe with Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant Man. And let’s not forget that those properties not currently directly under the Marvel helm, including The Wolverine, and X-Men: Days of Future Past, and another Amazing Spider-Man. Yep, Marvel has its proverbial toes in every body of water it conceivably can. But what’s next?
There’s rumblings of movies based on everyone from Black Panther to Doctor Strange to Venom, the former two obviously being directly connected to The Avengers and its upcoming sequel in which Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch stand to play major rolls. Sounds amazing (ha ha), but then what? What titles can Marvel farm for future prospects years down the line?
The Case for Alpha Flight
Basically Canada’s answer to The Avengers, so there’s that. And who wouldn’t want to see a movie featuring heroes named Weapon Alpha, North Star, Aurora, Sasquatch, Snow Bird, and Puck? No one, that’s who!
The Case for Namor, The Submariner
Quite literally one of comicdom’s original characters over-all (and I mean original), and one who’s lost just a little bit of his popularity of late. A perfect beacon just screaming for a movie. Also, given the fact that it’s a version (of sorts) of Aquaman, and we all know that wouldn’t work just yet… but with Namor it just might since Marvel is really well established already.
The Case for new Hulk and Daredevil
Need I say more? Well, okay, maybe just enough to point out the fact that Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk was pitch perfect in The Avengers. I think it’s high time we gave that franchise one more try, don’t you? As for Daredevil… even Affleck can’t make everything awesome.
So there you have it. A potential path down which DC could travel to make their Justice League every bit as good as The Avengers, and a way Marvel could go in order to keep their hits coming. But what do I know, I’m just a writer. And not a very good one at that.