It’s been a little while since I had a good old fashioned, by the book, giddy-up exciting geek speak nerd chat. I’d say on any given day, I participate in geek speak. Just relaying news and rumors from around the web-o-sphere that relates to comic books, movies, games and anything in between. Sometimes it just devolves into pop culture trivium like quoting movies. Other days, it takes the high road and postulates on the future of franchises and the hands that control their fate. Today, my nerd chat with one of my best good friends, David Wilkinson, took that high road. And it nearly blew both of our minds.
We were just discussing the special features of the recently released Man of Steel when the conversation titled to the future of the Superman mythos along with the future of DC hero titles at Warner Bros. The talk alternated between rumors about the Batman/Superman film being filmed/produced right now to who we’d like to see cameo or flat out appear in that film. Then we began theorizing about that cinematic universe and how different it was from the previous film universes and the comics in general. We came to an agreement that Zach Snyder, Chris Nolan, David Goyer and the Warners people aren’t interested in telling small stories about our heroes and instead are interested in telling a bigger story that encapsulates these heroes and (hopefully) will weave them together into a beautiful tapestry of magnificence.
The idea was mentioned how the Man of Steel ends with Clark joining the Daily Planet team and how unlikely it would be for a “real world” to not figure out who he is quicker than it took Lois to track him down in the film. With social media, camera phones and the ability to compare and contrast with ease, it would only take one photo of Superman standing still compared with one photo of Clark Kent standing still to see that they are indeed the same person. Unless there’s a clever way to hide one of their identities, the whole “change clothes and add glasses” routine just isn’t enough to fool a very savvy and persistently nosey public.
It was at this point that our idea shifted from the thought of the next Superman film being about his relationship with Lois or his employment at the Planet or his need for secrecy and became the idea, “What if Superman didn’t care who knew who he was?” Lois already knows, so we won’t have the Christopher Reeve days of Lois/Clark/Supes walking and talking over each other in a thinly veiled attempt to keep the ruse going. Instead, we know that Lois and apparently most of Clark’s childhood friends and their families know that he is special. Now, thanks to the very public battle with Zod, all of those people can confirm that he is in fact an alien and they were right that he was “different.” We won’t have Lois dating Clark, we’ll have her dating Superman. Its not going to take 2 seconds for a digital age Perry White to look at Superman close up (which he did not seem to get a good close view in Man of Steel) and realize that he just hired him at the Daily Planet. With instantaneous uploading, satellite video footage and all kinds of other instant media, Clark Kent won’t be able to disappear at the onset of danger, fight the villain, then come back at the end to “report” on everything he saw and write the report and get it into the Sunday edition of the Planet. Perry White is going to be calling him on his cell phone wondering why he hasn’t updated twitter in the last 30 seconds and why he’s not blogging about Lex Luthor’s latest caper or Brainiac’s appearance or Darkseid’s coup of Metropolis. And no, Superman can’t tweet while duking it out with his rogue’s gallery. He’s good but he can’t beat social media.
We kept discussing this at length and decided that Warners and the powers that be must not be interested in telling the love story of Lois and Clark or the identity secret of Smallville. Instead, they want to tell you the definitive story of how heroes came to be on Earth and where their adventures took them from that point onward. Ben Affleck being cast as Batman continues to confirm this thought process. Ben is in his early 40’s, apparently the same age they want Batman to play in the next film. He’s not the young upstart crime-fighter that gets to relive his parent’s death in a flashback or create his nemesis in a chemical bath or discover a league of vicious ninjas in the mountains of Asia or assemble his crack entourage of misfit orphans that all get to borrow his tech and resources to wage their own war on the streets of Gotham.
According to the rumor mills, if you believe that kinda stuff, Batman already has all that. He might have Nightwing and Batgirl. That stands to reason that he might already have Robin, and is that his second or third Robin? Maybe his fourth. What about Batwoman, Huntress, Oracle (pre-Joker or post-Joker?), Red Hood and several other potential entourage members? See, a 40-year old Batman will have already fought the Joker, possibly multiple times. He’s already encountered Two-Face, the Penguin and the Riddler. He’s saved Gotham multiple times and he’s sacrificed a lot in the process. Batman at that age is more stable, he’s more jaded, and he’s a lot less trusting of anyone outside his circle. Warner Bros aren’t interested in his early stories, they’re interested in the big story of NOW.
We got into heavy geek territory at that point and our ideations came quicker and looser. Snyder and Co. did a great service to the overall DC franchise by not calling the first Superman movie anything relating to the word Superman. They called it Man of Steel, playing off the mythos but also alluding to an attribute of a character. Not dedicating the film to a character in particular, although Man of Steel was 100% about Superman. It was also the origin of the modern day hero. Imagine this, perhaps DC/Warners names the next film, we’re referring to it now as Batman/Superman or Batman vs Superman or whatever, something along the lines of World’s Finest or another interesting, existing name that bridges the mythos of Superman and Batman together. Inside that movie, suppose Nightwing, Robin and Batgirl (maybe even more) all show up to confront Superman with Batman. Or suppose the two of them team up to figure out what weird occurrences are happening out in the Atlantic Ocean. Or stop Lex Luthor’s diabolical plan to rule the world.
As a side note, in this “real world” reality they’re living in, Lex’s stereotypical trust issues concerning Superman’s motives and intentions on Earth aren’t as crazy as they always seem in the movies. If you had just witnessed to human-like aliens fly around and level one of the biggest cities in America, you’d probably a bit weary of just throwing your full support toward the guy with no questions asked. I’m just throwing that out there.
If DC plays this idea out to its conclusion, you could continue to name films based on events or mythos and not centric to the character names like Marvel has been doing for the last 5 years. Don’t get me wrong, I love Marvel and will speak on them in a minute. But this DC universe could be onto something special. A movie about the Amazon/Atlantean War featuring Wonder Woman and Aquaman simply titled Themyscira. Or a Green Lantern reboot featuring The Flash called Brightest Day or Speed Force or something equally clever. Introducing characters that way, thrown into the mix, could be the secret ingredient to launching a massive DC cinematic universe that, dare I say it, could trump the Marvel cinematic U with ease.
Think about the great franchises of our day. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter: these franchises built rich and LUSH back histories for the universe within one movie. Star Wars used a title crawl then mentioned numerous times the other events shaping the story like Clone Wars and Jedi Knights. Pop culture exploded. The masses were hooked. Lord of the Rings from Peter Jackson did the same thing. He took Tolkein’s rich back story, weaved it around central story and characters but you left the first film wanting to know MORE. Because it was mentioned but never fleshed out, our brains filled in the gaps and our imaginations can always make stories more engaging than film or even the written word. The hybrid narrative works best, where we’re guided by word or sight to the main points of the story but we let our brains fill in the gaps and then watch the stars explode in our minds as our brains melt out of our ears. Harry Potter achieved this with excellence in the books and to a lesser, but effective, degree in the films. They leave you with questions only your curiosity can satisfy. Are you curious enough to research it, read the additional material, seek out the source? Or are you content to just know there’s more to it and trust your brain’s version above anyone else? Did anyone see Jaws? Yeah, Spielberg mastered that too.
The DC cinematic universe is a shining example of what COULD be. Not detracting from Marvel’s fantastic run so far with their heroes and stories, but DC could do it different. And better. These characters are film icons now, not just comic heroes. Comics, as much as I love them, belong on book shelves because their name denotes their location: books. On the spine is a book about Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Avengers. And everyone of Marvel’s films to date have centered around a hero or a team of heroes. I envision those great films one day side by side on my bluray shelf proudly displaying their Phase One, Phase Two and Phase Three spine names just like my trade paperback collected stories of those characters do on my comic shelf. But this DC universe could take on a different place. Superman began the revolution and opened our eyes to the world of heroes. If every film from here on out is taking us on the path to the Justice League with a culminating film simply called JUSTICE or something of the like, how glorious would the ride be to just watch these characters interact in the build up then team up to fight the biggest villains that ever were? Man of Steel, World’s Finest, Themyscira, The Atlantean War, Brightest Day, Speed Force. I’m just brainstorming what some of these films could be called but at the end of the day, they would be CINEMATIC versions of our characters and not comic versions translated to the big screen. They’ve already taken their liberty with Clark and Lois and Superman and seem to be taking us there with Batman. If they keep this up, they could have a game changer on their hands and I’d be one happy nerd in waiting.