I am going to start right here with the obvious, DC comics is not Marvel comics. I think the executives over at the Warner Brothers movie productions need to be told that. If you look at the way they have tried to bring the comics to life on their silver screen it has been a photoshopped copy of marvel movies.
Here is my math. Batman vs Superman, a movie that comic book fans have been screaming for. It can be summed up as a copy of Captain America 3 Civil War. Two main protagonists are manipulated to fight each other by the actions of a mastermind villain. In Civil War, it was Zemo messing with Captain America and Iron Man. For Batman and Superman, they got Lex Luther.
In both instances, they were also used to introduce new characters to their respective universes. DC hadn’t made that big one yet so they needed this to even conceive of a larger universe. They used it to introduce Wonder Woman, Cyborg, Flash, and Aquaman. Civil War introduced us to Black Panther and Spiderman. The difference between the two is that Marvel had a universe already going, and DC was rushing to try and catch up with a single movie worth of storytelling.
You can do the same with most of the other DC movies. You can pair the JLA movie with the Avengers. Aquaman with Black Panther and Wonder Woman with Captain America: The First Avenger. The only ones they released that seemed to not be a copy of Marvel is Suicide Squad, which relied on its star-studded cast to make a good movie instead of a good story. Although nothing against the actors themselves.
As I mentioned before it is the studio executives that are trying to use what is hot in popular news to tell a story, instead of listening to what fans want. This, of course, is not new. Fox was plagued with this, with them trying to take extreme creative license with some of the appearances of their characters until Disney took it back. Often times their work being outdone, by leagues, by doing it yourself cosplayers.
So that raises the question, what should DC be doing?
Here is my answer. DC has a rich history to draw on, and need to look at what each character means in the larger universe. They need to look at not only what does each character does but the why and how. Take the two most overused characters in their arsenal, Batman and Superman. Ask yourself what do they stand for in the DC universe?
Batman is the type of hero who is only able to function because of their training, planning and the fear they put into their enemies. The usual line drawn between the two is Green Arrow and Batman. Bruce Wayne never created the persona to inspire the people, but to scare the criminals.
“Criminals are a cowardly lot.”
Being one of his most common mantras. Taking it a step further is the how. All of the Batman movies only vaguely show you the Greatest Detective being a Detective. They may do a throwaway scene where all of his work is summed up by some made-up technology, but they mostly show the cosplayer ninja side of him.
To really get his character done right they need to show the viewer how smart Bruce Wayne really is. Show him thinking out a problem. In one of the comics, he talks to the reader (not Deadpool style but with Narrative text) as to why he is using acid to cut the lock instead of picking it. The answer was simple, he only had an estimated 30 seconds before Killer Croc got back and he wanted to save the hostage before that. Picking would have taken too long.
Then, of course, there is the how does he affect the larger universe. Heroes that patrol the streets, and not the world, see him like a beacon. A goal for them to strive towards. Even a mentor at times. He himself has created a group of heroes called Batman Inc. Where he trained and placed heroes molded after him around the world.
On to Superman. The last man from krypton is always treated with abject awe when they introduce him. He is a God-like being that criminals fall too and Kal El or Clark Kent only has a passing problem or personal conflict for what he is doing, or how. In reality, especially if you are going to do an origin story, you need to show him questioning everything.
In DC comics Superman has always been about inspiring people. To be a symbol of hope to the people, not the enemy of criminals like Batman. Don’t get me wrong, both characters would stop to save someone who was thinking about killing themselves and would allow the criminal getaway to save a person, but how they would handle it would be different.
Batman might sit with them and let them talk, might tell a story to talk them down. If that didn’t work he would force them to a hospital. Superman would sit there and show general empathy towards the person. They would still end up at the mental hospital, but because they wanted too. That is the biggest difference Superman shows how much he cares for the people.
A good DC cinematic universe needs to be rooted in this concept for each character. For the most part, all other characters take their cues from Batman or Superman, sometimes both. The comic Kingdom Come showed us what happens when that balance is upset. Cliff notes, it goes to hell. (Also highly recommend you read it)
On a basic note, start with Batman. I know groan like we need another one. Make his Origin story, and not the ‘his parents die’ story. I am talking about before he figures out how. Don’t make this movie about the first appearance of Batman, but Bruce Wayne figuring out how to become the Batman.
If I were to write the script I would draw heavily from the origin laid out in new 52. Bruce Wayne would put on the costume until near the end, all so he can save Bruce Wayne on camera and stop the Red Hood gang. The ‘saving’ of Bruce Wayne done with a camera trick and forever cementing the first appearance of Batman is saving Bruce Wayne. With the Red Hood gang being the main villains it sets the stage for the Joker’s creation.
For Superman, it would be also done closer to the New 52’s Superman. Lex Luthor would be introduced, but not as the main antagonist. Just as a puppet master pulling the strings. The really knockdown fight would be with the Anti-Heroes called The Elite. They also try to set things right, but they kill and don’t care about the laws. This creates the why and how Clark Kent is Superman. Creating the hope that he shows the world.
There is so much more that DC can do, but the last thing I want to bring up that would make something truly legendary is their timeline. They are able to introduce retired Superheroes that did a lot of good work, but history seemed to forget about them. Then even have their timepiece movie and you can even introduce their successors.
The easiest example is Jay Garrick, the original Flash. Nowhere near as fast as any other Flash, he had the advantage of not drawing his powers from the Speed Force. So when that disappeared he kept his speed. Have him appear as an old man in Barry Alan’s movie. As the movie goes on, this man seems to know a lot about moving fast. End that with a name drop and you just connected him to a larger universe.
Later on, you can expand on Jay Garrick with his own movie, or more likely a Justice Society movie, which was a precursor to the Justice League. You can still have Wonder Woman, Green Lantern (Alan Scott), Dr. Fate and a host of other characters in that team. With most of those, the name became a title and you can pass it on. Making the world of heroes not feel new, but as something is and has been living and breathing for a long time.
This is just a quick overview of what DC should and could do with their universe. I have my ideas on how to do each movie.
Hopefully, someone is listening to their fans and knocks some sense into the producers.