When you think about comic books there are two factions that immediately jump to mind. There’s DC and there’s Marvel. Yes, as a comic book fan I’m perfectly aware that places like Image and Dark Horse are producing stellar comics, but I’m a comic book guy, I should know those things. For the rest of the main stream it comes down to DC and Marvel. Superman and Batman versus Spider-Man and Iron Man. It’s sort of cut and dry. Which rings in the age old question, are you a Marvel kid or a DC kid? It’s no different than the Beatles or Stones question. Giants or Jets? Pearl Jam or Nirvana? There are no real wrong answers, unless you’re a Jets fan (#shame), it’s what your heart says. You can appreciate one but you’re a fan of the other. For those of you who don’t read my Pull List column, for me the answer has always been I’m a Marvel kid. I feel that’s important info to preface this piece with because I in no way hate DC I just find Marvel more relatable. I appreciate DC but I love Marvel… well I also love Batman but let’s be honest here, Batman transcends comic rivalries. He’s Batman.
With that being said this summer was poised to be the Summer of DC (hence the title here). On paper, man, did it look like they had big things in store for us and as a Marvel kid I was pulling for them. Anything that’s great needs competition to stay great. When there’s something competing for the top spot it forces you to continue to put out top notch material to keep the other at bay, and in this case we the fanboys are the winners of that type of battle. The problem is Marvel has owned everything for so long that DC has really had its work cut out. Yet, this summer really seemed like they were finally going to make that splash and turn this rivalry into a fight.
On paper let’s look at what DC had to offer us. Batman vs Superman, which is the first time these two iconic characters would share the screen together. Insert girlish squeal here. An animated adaptation of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke which is arguably one of the best Batman/Joker stories ever told. Ever. Rebirth, a new comic book series, not looking to reset the entire comic universe, but to appease longtime fans by restoring continuity as well as being accessible to new readers. No easy feat for DC comics which tend to be kind of confusing and layered. Suicide Squad, DC’s cinematic answer to Guardians of the Galaxy with the first live action Harley Quinn and a new Joker to terrorize us. On paper this sounds incredible! And then… then reality hit.
The DC cinematic universe has more less been one gigantic *siiiiiiiigh*. I once had a high school coach who told me that potential is the most dangerous label to put on someone or something. The DC cinematic universe has had the potential to be great, and we’re still waiting for it to reach it. Think of the first time you saw the Batman vs Superman trailer. From the get go I was worried about this movie. Everything I was reading made me believe that DC was trying to do with one movie what Marvel had taken years to do. It seemed like BvS was going to be a convoluted, insert cameo here type disaster. When that first trailer dropped though, I felt hope. I was not a fan of the jumbled mess that was Man of Steel, and this trailer erased that feeling. My immediate reaction was this didn’t look as bad as I expected, which is a sad thought in itself, but I felt myself boarding the hype train. Then… then DC kept releasing more trailers, giving away large plot details, ruining surprises, and that hope started to fade to the point where I went into BvS with super low expectations. Which turned out to be the best thing for me because I ended up not hating it as much as I thought I would. Now, over time it has left a terrible taste in my mouth but that’s after two viewings and digesting what was a clear misunderstanding of the movie’s two core characters. For Christ’s sake, Batman kills 21 people! He has one rule! One!
I actually thought the inclusion of the other members of the Justice League was handled well, one of the films strong points. Although how much cooler would it have been to see Grant Gustin appear as the Flash in the dream sequence? Wold have been more impactful and a show stealer (#notmybarry). I also would argue that Wonder Woman stole the show. Hands down. Everything else was kind of weak. Superman was paper thin and hard to root for. The movie was way too long. Batman was killing everyone (although I thought Afleck did a good job. It was just the material he was presented which was the problem). Lex Luthor was trying too hard to be the Riddler or maybe the Joker. Not to mention Martha. Effin’ Martha. Which is not only the silliest way to bridge the gap between the two heroes, but super lazy. Picture the writing room searching for a connection to unite Batman and Superman. “It’ll never work. Batman wears black and Superman wears blue…I got it! Their mothers have the same first name. Friendship forged! Nice job everyone!”
When it came to the animated version of The Killing Joke, again the hype train was in full swing. Conroy and Hamill reprising their iconic roles in an iconic story, yes please. DC animation eclipses anything Marvel has done in the animation department and if you need further proof all you need to do is watch Flashpoint. How could this possibly be bad, and yet…What had so much promise turned into the objectifying of Barbara Gordon (even before the Joker actually objectifies her) and the taking of a classic story and somehow allowing it to fall flat on its face. I don’t know if I was the only one here, but the animation seemed kind of lazy and uninspired which lead to the voices of Conroy and Hamill not really fitting in. That’s not to say that Hamill didn’t straight up kill it (pun intended) but the animation didn’t match the liveliness of his performance. The ending, which works brilliantly in the comic and is filled with urban legend, comes across as an abrupt and lazy way to end the film. I love that ending but it seemed that the creators of the movie didn’t understand the impact and lazily just said “movie over, bring on the credits”. Crazy amounts of disappointment.
Suicide Squad is a tad bit more tricky. The trailers got better and better leading up to the movie (opposed to BvS) and it really seemed like the DC equivalent to Guardians with the music selection and a band of misfits saving the world. Then the reviews hit three days before the film and they were rough. Instantly the high I had been feeling for the film was shaken. There was no way, based on the trailers, that this could be bad. So when I went to the midnight showing at my local theater all the joy and excitement I had been feeling was sitting in this strange limbo and I watched the movie a bit guarded. I will say that Suicide Squad is a disjointed, poorly edited, mess of a film but I also really enjoyed it. In no way is it on the same emotional or enjoyment levels as Guardians of the Galaxy (that movie had feels) nor do these guys ever feel like a team. Yet, the movie has a campy charm to it and the erratic, disjointed feel of it actually works in the films favor as most of the characters are erratic and disjointed. Will Smith is excellent, for the first time in a while it seems, as Deadshot. Margot Robbie is Harley Quinn for all intents and purposes. She steals the show whenever she’s on screen. Viola Davis is straight fire as Amanda Waller and the real star of the film. And Leto’s Joker… well it’s a bit all over the place. In no ways is it as good as Ledger’s but it somehow manages to exist on its own. Which I mean as a compliment. Do I think some of the criticism for the film a bit harsh? Sure. Do I understand it though? Yes. It’s the response to people who were hoping for this to be the savior of the DC cinematic universe, which I don’t think it is despite how unfair those expectations may or may not be.
The proposed Summer of DC hasn’t been a total bust though. The launching of the Rebirth event has been one of the best things to happen to DC comics in a long time. Helping to explain away the New 52 opposed to pretending it never happened has allowed DC to tell some very interesting stories which bring in old readers who were angry about the way the New 52 changed everything, and also invites new readers in with accessible jumping on points. As a matter of fact while writing my Pull List column I noticed that Marvel’s Civil War II was Comixology’s number one selling book but the other books filling out the Top Ten all belonged to DC. Me, as a mostly Marvel reader, have been devouring these Rebirth books. So on the comic book front things are glowing with promise, and making Geoff Johns the president of DC Entertainment was another excellent move as Johns really understands the workings of this universe.
Not to mention DC kind of stole the show a couple of weeks ago at Comic Con. The trailer for Justice League was a super surprise and exciting to see even though Bruce Wayne was trying to do his best Tony Stark impression while Barry Allen was trying to do his best Peter Parker (#stillnotmybarry). Regardless it stole some headlines. Then there was that Wonder Woman trailer which was crazy town banana pants. From a visual standpoint it seems like the brightest DC movie thus far (they’re all so gloomy) but they also get to beat Marvel to the punch by releasing a female lead super hero film first. Plus it just looks awesome. Although we should stay cautious as we’ve learned DC trailers are masters at telling lies. That still doesn’t take away the excitement of seeing these two things coming to fruition.
Which brings back the argument of potential. Despite the ups and downs DC has had this summer there is still that word looming over head. The summer of 2016 did not go the way DC planned, yes there was money made, but both critics and fans have been super unhappy and one has to hope that they aren’t alienating their fan base. It would be a shame to see everyone jump ship before that potential can be reached. Because it’s there looming overhead like the Bat Symbol. Hopefully DC answers the call.
Images from DC and WB