So DC Comics and Warner Brothers made quite the splash recently with news that Wonder Woman would indeed be in the Man of Steel sequel, currently going by the name Superman Vs. Batman. If rumors pan out that Dick Grayson is in this movie, they should really just be up front and call this sucker The Super Friends. In any event, that wasn't the only bit of DC news to hit; Bleeding Cool ran a story that Warner Brothers is going to be taking a different approach to their DC properties than Marvel Studios, which so far have only been making big, expensive tentpoles in the $150-200 million dollar range. According to the story, Warner is keeping the tentpoles to their "Big Guns" - one assumes Superman, Batman, Justice League and hopefully solo Wonder Woman films, and a possible Green Lantern reboot. Meanwhile, they'd take their lesser known properties and make "mid budget" films between the $20-40 million dollar range.
If this does indeed pan out, it would be incredibly smart for Warners to do this. Unlike Marvel, a lot of DC's properties outside the Justice League are harder to justify spending major bank on the way Marvel Studios did. Say what you want about characters like Iron Man and Thor being "C-List" - before they got movies made about them, both of those characters had successfully headlined their own comics for the better part of fifty years and almost without interruption. At DC, only five superhero characters have succesfully headlined their own books for decades that length of time; they're the "Big 5"... and then there's everyone else.
The original report says that WB/DC have been considering titles as diverse as Suicide Squad, Deathstroke, Booster Gold, and Team 7 for these smaller budget films, aimed at Spring and Fall releases. Most of these are smart choices (although Team 7? Who's clamoring for that one?) but there are plenty of other characters and concepts for DC to handle in a smaller budget way. And there are some characters who shouldn't ever be handled by cheaping out.
5 DC Characters That Should NOT Get The Small Budget Treatment
Hawkman is a classic DC character that seemingly has always been around, but for whatever reason, is just shy of being one of the true greats of the DC Universe pantheon. Even though a version of Hawkman has been around since 1940, he's always had a tough time holding his own self-titled series for more than a few years at a time. Something about him makes him not quite "click" with readers when it comes to his solo adventures.
Hawkman has enough name brand recognition with Gen-Xers (thanks to the old Super Friends cartoons mostly) that a limited budget movie wouldn't be crazy to attempt...except that Hawkman is a C-list character that comes burdened with a need for an A-list budget. If you do the Golden Age version of the character, which was archeologist Carter Hall, a reincarnated ancient Egyptian prince, you'd need a big budget for all those flashbacks to ancient Egypt. If you do the Silver Age/Bronze Age version which was alien police officer Katar Hol, well...he's an alien from Thanagar, and you can forget doing that for pennies. So Hawkman is just not the right material for these lower budget DC movies, and isn't really famous enough or popular enough to risk a big budget $150 million dollar tentpole on. Poor guy is just eternally stuck in the middle. Who knows, though, maybe he can cameo in Superman Vs. Batman. It seems everyone else is going to.
2. The Atom
Everything I just said about Hawkman kind of applies to the Atom as well, as he's another character that has been around, in one form or another, since DC's Golden Age. The most popular version of the character is scientist Ray Palmer, who created a size shrinking belt that allowed him to reduce himself down to microscopic size. While it is conceivable that with today's advances in special effects technology, one could make an "incredible shrinking man" style super hero movie for about $40 million dollars, give or take, the real problem is that Marvel Studios already has an Ant-Man movie on the docket for release in the Summer of 2015, and they simply beat Warner Brothers to the whole "shrinking guy superhero movie" thing. We may yet see the Atom in some future Justice League sequel, but because of Ant-Man, don't count on his even having a limited budget flick of his own, at least not for a really, really long time. Sorry, li'l guy.
3. The Bat-Family
I'll admit, this one's tricky, because I believe Warner Brothers is quite aware how popular the extended Batman family of characters are to the overall popularity of his own books and his overall "world." Nightwing, Batgirl, the Robins, Huntress, all are beloved characters, and in the case of Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon, some of the most well known comic book characters of all time to the average Joe on the street. And being "street level" crimefighters, they could all have movies in the cheaper budget range.
Having said all that though, my feeling is that we'll see these guys appear as supporting cast in a potential future Batman movie long before ever seeing them in any solo movies of their own. All these added new characters would help bolster another Batman movie, and help to make it different from the Nolan Bat-films, all of which made him sidekick free (no, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's wannabe Robin doesn't count. Stop it.) So while I think it is only a matter of time before we see the likes of Nightwing and Batgirl on the big screen, I think it will be alongside a Ben Affleck Batman, and not on their own. But I would LOVE to be wrong on this one.
4. The New Gods
There is maybe no DC Comics property less suited to a small budget live-action attempt than Jack Kirby's New Gods. Although not known to the average non-comics fan, the mythology that Kirby created over the course of several separate titles during the early seventies (New Gods, Forever People, Mister Miracle etc.) has served as the springboard for a lot of great stories in the overall DC Universe. The saga of an ongoing war between good and evil, represented by Highfather and Darkseid, brought an overall Marvel style grandness to the DCU, and while the actual New Gods comic books never stuck around very long, the overall mythology created in its pages did. Starting with the '80s run of Super Friends cartoons, and then into the new millennium with Bruce Timm's animated versions in Superman and Justice League Unlimited, Kirby's New Gods have become a vital part of the overal DC lore.
But could you take Kirby's sprawling epic mythology and reduce it to a "human" (a.k.a. cheaper) level? Grant Morrison himself tried to do it in DC's Final Crisis series, when all the New Gods were reborn as mortal humans on Earth. But I'm not sure that take was very popular with anyone, and to do the New Gods all Kirby style would cost a shit ton of cash, and they're just not a name brand for Warners to risk that kind of money on (if this were Marvel Studios, this might not be the case.) So forget a New Gods movie done on the cheap, or probably ever. That being said...I fully expect Darkseid and the whole New Gods mythology to play a part in a future Justice League movie or Man of Steel sequel. On that, you can count.
5. The Martian Manhunter
A stalwart member of the DC Universe, and a founding member of the Justice League of America, J'onn J'onzz, better known as the Martian Manhunter, is DC Comics Royalty. Except... he's also kinda not. Unlike the other members of DC's "Big 7" Justice League founding heroes, J'onn has never held on to his own comic book title for more than a few years at most, and even then not until almost forty years after he was introduced. He was left out of all animated versions of Super Friends, making him only known to comic book fans until the 2000's Justice League animated series brought him to life for the first time. Because of this, he has become more of the JLA's "mascot" than a hero in his own right in the eyes of many.
Unfortunately, J'onn is as powerful as Superman, but with more powers than he even has, like shapeshifting and invisibility. So why "unfortunately" is he as powerful as Superman? Because a movie featuring the Martian Manhunter would then need to cost Man of Steel levels of money to get made, on a character that few folks outside of comic book fans have ever heard of. Since that's not gonna happen, a cheaper budget J'onn wouldn't do the character justice either, and be the Martian Manhunter in name only. We might see a legit version of J'onn in a future Justice League movie, and even that's a maybe (expect him replaced with Cyborg, like in the New 52 comics. That was done for a reason, folks.)