This week saw the first trailer for the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past. The first reaction was a sense of excitement for this new step in the story of what is probably Marvel’s second most popular superhero team (Sorry, Logan but Stark’s leading the polls.) The second feeling was the sense of joy in seeing Bryan Singers name as the director. The same place it was thirteen years ago when X-Men became the first in a new generation of Superhero movies which has seen the humble comic book elevated to a new high as a form of entertainment media. Looking back on those thirteen years a lot has changed, the bar has been set to new highs, reboots have come and gone and a golden age of comic book cinema has begun. However, one battle continues and it’s not between the X-Men and The Avengers. It is, of course, the age old race between Marvel and DC (Or should that be Disney and Warner Brothers?) And in this race, the gap seems to growing larger and larger.
The key difference between our competitors has been the shared universe versus the lone wolves (or bats). Until The Avengers had already hit the one billion dollar mark the idea of our heroes interacting with each other hadn’t been realised and as recent developments have proven the idea is being quickly jumped upon. Ben Affleck is cast as Bruce Wayne up against Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent. But two characters does a universe not make. If the core members of The Avengers had just been Iron Man and Cap then we wouldn’t have had a movie. Since the golden age of DC comics there has always been a third member and if DC ever have any pie in the sky dreams of a Justice League then you need Wonder Woman.
Not seen on screen in Live Action since Lynda Carter in the 1970s, Wonder Woman, or Diana Princess of the Amazons is probably DC Comics biggest asset in the box office war and has been constantly mismanaged and handed to the wrong people, ending in some embarrassing results it’s hard to believe now but once upon a time some guy named Joss Whedon handed Warner Brothers a script outline for a Wonder Woman movie and was told “No thank you, we’re not interested.” What might have been, huh? Instead DC went ahead with an ill-conceived television pilot which never made it to air. Since then a Wonder Woman television show has been in development hell, handed off from one team to another and finally put on pause while they focus on other projects because “the script is not exactly what we wanted, and with an iconic character like Wonder Woman, we have to get it right." This is in despite of a greatly received 2009 animated film. There has also been rumours that Wonder Woman would make a cameo appearance in the Batman/Superman film.
However, therein lays the problem. Wonder Woman is a character too big to be done justice on a small screen and too grand to be limited to a cameo. She has and always has been an equal to both Batman and Superman and needs to be treated as such. She is their Thor, a powerful and mysterious figure who’s origin and stories and steeped in magic and ancient mythology. Descended from a Greek goddess and with her own world of allies and villains Wonder Woman is also a feminist icon. Which brings us onto point two…
If DC and Warner Brothers want to make an impact then they need to break new ground and do something Marvel has let get away from them. The heroines! While writing this, to date there has not been a single female lead, superhero action movie which starred a strong and independent feminine role model. The closest you could think of would be Halle Berry as Catwoman or Jennifer Garner as Elektra, both peripheral characters to male superhero love interests (and terrible films).
In more recent times Scarlett Johansson has taken her place as the token girl in The Avengers and making cameo appearances across the Marvel-verse. Yet essentially brings nothing to the table as a superhero. Just a secret agent in very tight leather and with two big… Guns. Why a real Super Heroine hasn’t already made her way onto the silver screen in this new age of Comic book films is a good question. Perhaps the suits are afraid that a powerful female figure like say, Wonder Woman wouldn’t appeal to the ever expanding demographic, perhaps the male dominated film industry are afraid of putting money behind a high budget superhero movie starring or written by a woman. Both Catwoman and Elektra could be written off as supporting characters and both films were written solely by male writers. While Black Widow gets to look tough, especially with a writer like Joss Whedon behind her who KNOWS how to write tough women, but really if you put her next to Thor or Captain America then she’s just a cheerleader.
The solution for DC then seems simple enough in theory. Put the backing and confidence behind a character like Wonder Woman and push. Hire a good, female writer who knows her comics and create something that’s not been done before. In my humble opinion that writer is obvious. Her name is Gail Simone, the woman behind most of DC comic’s female characters for the last decade including Batgirl, Wonder Woman and Birds of Prey. She’s also written animated work for DC characters including the 2009 Wonder Woman feature. Come on guys, let Wonder Woman punch through the glass ceiling!
Everyone remembers what a disappointment the Green Lantern film was with it’s over use of bad CGI, unconvincing actors and a leading man who was already blacklisted for his appearance in Wolverine: Origins. It’s up for debate how much criticism the film really deserves but it has generally been considered the most recent critical and financial failure. However, the character of Green Lantern is an important piece for the Justice League puzzle and there is no reason the franchise can’t be put in better hands and come back with a new Leading man. There have been 6 Green Lanterns now including the new 52 version. My money however would be on John Stewart. If you ask anyone who followed Green Lantern in the DC animated universe or comics then this is the Green Lantern you probably know after Hal Jordan, The first DC comics African-American hero and the Green Lantern showed in the justice league cartoons of the early 2000’s John Stewart is a strong enough character to bring Green Lantern past its previous mistakes and fill in another milestone for Comic book cinema which so far seems to come in one colour. All he needs is an actual villain to fight, which has already been set up with Sinestro at the end of the last film.
Beyond the four big guys behind the Marvel movies, the Avengers filled out their ranks with characters like Hawkeye and Black Widow who’d had previous cameo’s but not really enough time to develop as characters. Later Marvel decided to capitalize on the success of The Avengers by sending out Agents of Shield into the land of television. DC is in the reverse position where they already have an acclaimed show, Arrow in its second season and ready to extend its own links to the DC universe with the addition of Black Canary, a link to the League of Shadows and a guest appearance by Nightwing later this season. There’s also a Flash television show set for 2014. Both these shows make great use of characters which unlike Wonder Woman are perfectly suited for television. I think you’d struggle to create a single 2 hour film with a single villain that would be as entertaining as Arrows first year. As for Flash, the scarlet speedster isn’t a hero who’s powers need millions of dollars to create in effects, his secret identity as Barry Allen – Forensic scientist, seems well suited to the modern age of CSI savvy television viewers and his rouges gallery, while second only to Batman’s appear far better suited to episodic adventures than a feature film. With villains like the trickster, mirror master, captain cold and boomerang. These characters don’t sound like they would provide the suspense needed for a movie unless they all ganged together (as they usually do in the comics). Plus the more comical aspects that are inherent to the Flash would be lost.
The big advantage though for DC is that with characters like the Flash and Green Arrow already developed as characters and fully formed they have a chance to give the other ‘fringe’ Justice League characters a chance to shine before their transferred to cinema where they’ll hit the ground running because unlike with The Avengers there won’t be as much need to remind people about that bow and arrow guy you barely saw in Thor.
My last suggestion to DC and Warner Brothers is that if they want to create a fully formed DC shared universe and eventually a Justice League film then you need the right show runner. If Man of Steel proved anything to us it is that Christopher Nolan is not the right man for this job. His ‘dark and gritty’ atmosphere that worked for one character can’t be applied to Superman or the others. I already hear your questions dear reader, who could match Joss Whedon? Who knows these characters well enough to do them justice? And who on Earth could be qualified and trusted enough to handle to entire DC universe? My answer to all three… The man who’s done it for the last twenty years. Bruce Timm! The producer responsible for giving us Batman: The Animated Series in the early 90's, the classic cartoon we all grew up on and which introduced us to original characters like Harley Quinn who have since become icons. The man who then gave us a Superman animated series, the new Batman adventures, Batman: Beyond and an actual Justice League series which ran for five years. Since then he’s directed and produced all of DC‘s animated films. You could say he’s spent half his life waiting for this job.
Then again, if he doesn’t want it, I’ll take it!