Saturday, November 8, 2008

Franchise Flexibility: How DC Can Be Distinct

I have mentioned in other posts Warner Brothers' intent to emulate the crossover technique recently initiated by Marvel Studios in their upcoming DC-Comics-based adaptations. The plan is to "[release] a single film for each character, and then [use] those movies and their sequels to build up to a multicharacter film." This move is clearly an attempt on the part of Warner Bros. to capitalize on current industry trends and compete with Marvel. After all, DC and Marvel have been rivals in the comic book world for years (as represented by the epic battle depicted to the right). It is only logical that their respective film studios should challenge each other as well. While the temptation for any business might be to replicate what is already successful, Warner Bros. can in my view better counter Marvel's efforts by differentiating itself from the opponent rather than copying them.

If anything, Warner Bros. should look to the critical and financial accomplishment of its own summer sensation, The Dark Knight, as an example of abstaining from popular convention. The movie works as a complete, self-contained story without any promise of future character crossovers, unlike Marvel's two interrelated films from this year, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, which serve as precursors to the upcoming Avengers film. Director Christopher Nolan even recently told the L.A. Times, "I don’t think our Batman, our Gotham, lends itself to that kind of cross-fertilization." Furthermore, regarding future Batman-related projects, leading man Christian Bale has said that he finds it "tricky to imagine working on it without it being a collaboration with Chris." As such, it is unlikely that fans will see Bale's version of the Caped Crusader in a non-Nolan-directed Justice League film unless the studio can manage to lure the actor with either an irresistible screenplay or a huge paycheck. This may certainly be the case if Armie Hammer ends up filling the role in George Miller's possible Justice League adaptation, which remains in pre-production limbo but might resume at some point.

Rather than interpreting it as a detriment to the existing Batman franchise, the recasting of the character could be seen as an opportunity to tell an entirely different self-contained story, removed from the continuity of Nolan's films altogether. By concentrating on just creating the best and most complete narrative rather than trying to connect it to other movies for the sake of crossing over, the Justice League film could prove a more worthwhile effort than some people expect. For this to happen, the adaptations for each individual character from the superhero team would have to be isolated from the Justice League movie. If Mark Millar is able to make his proposed eight-hour Superman trilogy, which would follow the character from the beginning to the end of his life, it would, like Nolan's films, leave no room for crossovers. As far as the Justice League picture goes, this means Warner Bros. might have to use a different actor for Superman than whoever they decide to go with in the upcoming reboot. Planned films for League members like Green Lantern, The Flash, and Wonder Woman must also remain separate from the superhero team in terms of both casting and continuity.

Another way Warner Bros. could distinguish itself from Marvel is to take the idea of reboots to a whole new level. Rather than milking every superhero franchise to its last drop, the studio could actually plan on definitively ending a series and then taking it in an entirely different direction with a new series. In other words, they could treat their superhero properties like the everlasting James Bond franchise, which cycles different actors through the title role over time, constantly changing flavors and reinventing itself with each leading man. As IGN points out, the Batman films to date have actually been remarkably diverse with each incarnation (symbolized by the multiple Batmen from the comics to the left), though not until Nolan had any been treated as a storyline with a definitive ending. Adam West and Joel Schumacher both interpreted the concept as a campy comedy, Tim Burton's films channel 1930's film noir and Gothic fantasy, while Nolan's installments reflect more of a realistic crime drama sensibility. There are multiple possibilities as to where the Batman franchise can go after the conclusion of Nolan's films, aside from changing actors. For instance, it would be interesting if the next wave of Bat-films drew from supernatural horror or perhaps even placed the character in a different time period. A live action rendition of the futuristic sci-fi animated series "Batman Beyond," which was at one point considered, might be in order. This franchise flexibility would also leave room for adaptations of individual stories from the comics like Batman: Year One, The Long Halloween, or The Dark Knight Returns, which in my view could hold their own as distinct, unrelated films.

Ultimately, this method of constant reinvention can work, if the lasting success of the Bond franchise is any indication, with its six actors and twenty-two films over a period of forty-six years and counting. Such reboots open up doors for quality storytelling and creative freedom, as superhero films would not be limited by the need to awkwardly align with other movie continuities. Perhaps more importantly, it offers an alternative to the current Marvel mode of doing things, with which audiences might become disillusioned should the studio's crossover agenda prove less satisfying than expected. With the promise of constant fluctuation, DC Comics fans could always look forward to a new and refreshing take on their favorite characters instead of waiting for the current series to go sour. If nothing else, Warner Bros. could at least avoid seeming desperate in an attempt to copy Marvel and actually give their rival studio a run for the money.


Anonymous said...


Thanks for including a link to one of my posts in this well considered post. Really good stuff here. I would add Matt Wagner's Grendel as a great case study as well, at least from a comics standpoint. The Grendel character has gone through many interpretations, with a variety of writers and artists. They are linked by the Grendel character, but have diverged widely in many aspects. And yet they all to some degree build on what came before them.

Michael Bowles said...

First of all, thank you for choosing to write your blog on a topic that is both interesting and fun. I know that comic books were a very influential thing for me at one point in my life, and it is really nice to see that they are continuing to impact so many people in a positive way.

As many others have felt, I believe that superhero movies have really been coming into their own as of late. Many of the films that I enjoyed as a youth probably would not hold much interest for me now, but more recent ones such as "Iron Man" and "The Dark Knight" were not just enjoyable to me, but held clout as two of the best movies I saw all year. My question for you is whether or not you believe that this trend will continue if Warner Bros goes about actualizing their current plan to build toward a multicharacter film. I agree with you wholeheartedly that, as far as superhero movies go, it is better to create self-contained stories with single characters. Otherwise, I believe that things could become convoluted, and silly quite frankly. When a film ceases to be about the development of a character rather than simply a medium through which to show special effects and superhero powers, I think that the audience will lose interest.

On a personal note, I am curious what you think about Warner Bros plan, and whether or not you think a multicharacter film would work, not simply in terms of making a profit, but as a well-made film. I think that it is interesting to look at all of the ways that Batman has been represented, and to notice that the most recent, and realistic, version of him has been the most popular. When you start to add in other characters, however, it could become over-saturated with supernatural "powers" and things of that nature, which are, apparently, not what the public wants. Also, just out of curiosity, I would love to know what character you would most like to see adapted to film and why.

Anonymous said...


If you're into comics, you gotta check out Grendel, especially early Matt Wagner stuff. There was also a Batman-Grendel special worth checking out. To answer your other question, I knew you linked to me because that is a feature offered by the Wordpress platform.

Great site.

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