During a recent DC press event that /Film's Jenna Busch attended, co-chairs and co-CEOs of DC Studios, James Gunn and Peter Safran, announced their plans for a new interconnected spate of superhero entertainment. There, Gunn succinctly summed up the current state of DC comics on film. "Yeah, I mean well the history has been s***," he said. "It's been a real f***ed up journey for DC."
This is no exaggeration. Since the release of Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel" in 2013, Warner Bros.' efforts to build up a permanent, ongoing, ultra-successful superhero universe have been met with mixed results at best. Their attempts to emulate the financial success and cultural ubiquity of Disney's Marvel brand have been comparatively paltry. The Detective Comics Extended Universe, or DCEU, provided a long series of films that were only intermittently successful, and generally poorly reviewed.
One only needs to recall Snyder's film "Justice League" for a taste of the blithering chaos the series provided. "Justice League" was not a massive hit the same way "The Avengers" was, and the film's very vocal fans credited its lack of success to the tragic circumstances of its making (Snyder experienced a personal tragedy, and Joss Whedon completed the film). A few years later, a hashtag campaign on Twitter, #ReleaseTheSnyderCut, led to a reshoot/reconstruction of "Justice League," and a four-hour version of the same movie — made for an additional $70 million — was released on HBO Max. That it was only equally entertaining as the theatrical cut was perhaps an issue.
In October of 2022, Gunn and Safran took over the reins of DC Studios, and have since performed an Etch-A-Sketch shake on all the films to date. The old canon is gone, and they intend to build a new one from the ground up.
Before sharing his new plans, however, Gunn wasn't done openly addressing the current mess of DC's films:
"I think that there was basically no one minding the mint and they were giving out IP to any creatives that smiled at whoever was in charge. There was never any real power given to the people in charge. And so somebody could always go over their head and do whatever they wanted. And we had the DCEU, which then became the Joss Whedon 'Justice League,' but it also became the Snyderverse, which became this, and then we have 'Wonder Woman,' and then we have 'Wonder Woman 2,' which doesn't even match what happened in 'Wonder Woman 1.'"
Gunn seemed concerned that there was no unifying plot or aesthetic to draw the previous films together in the way Marvel had already done. DC and Marvel have long been rivals on the comic book shelves, and so it seemed logical to many that the two superhero stables should be equally competitive and overall similar. But, to Gunn's eye, the franchise needed to be drawn together. The new DCU, he claims, will provide that unity.
James Gunn had a lot to draw together even beyond the films. And he was quick to concede that his previous projects at DC just added to the smorgasbord of content:
"We have the 'Arrowverse,' and even us, coming in with 'Suicide Squad,' 'Peacemaker,' and what is it exactly? And then all of sudden Bat-Mite's a real guy. So how can we take these things together and make them make sense and have them unified and have one real universe, one real world? And I think that we've gotten lucky with the next four movies, frankly, because we have 'Shazam!,' which leads into 'Flash,' which resets everything. Which then goes to 'Blue Beetle,' which is totally disconnected, he can totally be a part of the DCU."
The "resets everything" part is an allusion to "The Flash," the notoriously troubled DCEU film due in theaters on June 16, 2023. That film will involve multiple universes and, it seems, shut a few important doors. According to Gunn, however, those slammed doors won't affect "The Blue Beetle," which comes out a few months after "The Flash" on August 18, 2023.
If one finds themselves upset at Gunn's aggressive cleaning house, recall that DC Comics has pulled these sorts of shenanigans in the past with broad, slate-wiping storylines like "Flashpoint" and "Crisis on Infinite Earths." When the roster gets a little too crowded, DC's writers have found an organic way to strike names from it.
Fans of Blue Beetle, meanwhile, can rest easy, knowing that their favorite made the cut.
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