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.)
DC Characters That SHOULD Get The Small Budget Treatment
1. The Spectre
Ok, so technically Marvel (or should I say, Marvel and Sony Pictures) beat DC to movie theaters with their own “Spirit of Vengeance” in the form of Nic Cage’s Ghost Rider. But let’s face it…no one freaking likes those Ghost Rider movies, because they are simply godawful. And ya know what? Ghost Rider is not as cool as the Spectre. The Spectre is a dead hard-boiled noir detective from the forties, fused with the embodiment of the spirit of vengeance… and Ghost Rider looks like a bad Hell’s Angels tattoo. Spectre wins, even if he does wear green speedos.
In the comics, the Spectre works directly for God…like, THE God of the Old Testament and the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The mean one who’s really petty. Unlike Ghost Rider, the Spectre doesn’t just do a “penance stare”; he finds all kinds of sick, twisted ways to make the bad guys pay for their evil doing. Heck, Instead of making it a superhero movie, make it more of a twisted horror flick. A Spectre movie could easily be done in the $20 to 40 million range. AND, as an added bonus, by doing a Spectre flick you’ve already introduced the character for when they get to the ultimate Justice League movie in the form of Kingdom Come.
Much like the Spectre, this one’s another ghostly character from DC, but one with a lot of potential for a medium sized budget film. In the comics, Deadman was originally Boston Brand, a trapeze artist who was killed, and whose spirit could inhabit various bodies, all in an effort to find the true culprit of his murder. This is a premise that could be done super cheaply, and if compelling enough, could be the basis of a decent ongoing film franchise.
Not too long ago, director Guillermo del Toro was announced as developing a movie version of Deadman, but I haven’t heard anything about that for years now, so I’m going to assume it is scrapped. I know that Deadman is supposed to be one of the many supernatural characters featured in del Toro’s planned Justice League Dark movie (along with the Spectre possibly) so maybe the concepts for Deadman just fused into those for that. Deadman, though, is a hero who is cool enough to be introduced in his own movies first. Whether or not del Toro is the man behind the camera or just a producer, someone out there should make a reasonably budgeted and cool Deadman movie.
3. The Doom Patrol
Ok, by including this one I’m being a bit of a hypocrite, as recently here I said that the Doom Patrol has a snowball’s chance in Hell of getting their own movie. But hey, that was before I heard Warner Brothers was entertaining the notion of doing these mid-range and smaller budget movies. What? I’m not Nostradamus – how was I supposed to know they were gonna go and do that?
Obviously, the main problem with the Doom Patrol is the same as always; you’d still have to differentiate this property big time from the X-Men, a comic which they share many similar sensibilities, except one is super famous, and the other one no-one has heard of beyond geekdom. so maybe don’t have their lead be the Chief in a wheelchair like Professor X ,for starters. Then, focus more on the Grant Morrison era Doom Patrol, who were more a buch of organized freaks and less a group of superheroes. Characters like Robotman, Rebis (a hermaphrodite wrapped in bandages that is home to a negative energy being) and Crazy Jane (a woman with multiple personalities which each have their own power) are the kinds of characters who don’t have to break the bank to bring to life on screen, and whose weirdness might make for a great oddball movie, like something Tim Burton would have made before we all got sick of him. All I know is that If I ever go to the movie theater and see the Doom Patrol travelling around the globe on Danny the Street, their sentient, living, transvestite city block, then all my nerd dreams will have come true.
Kind of like the team the Defenders are for Marvel, DC’s super team the Outsiders have never really had a line-up of heroes that really broke out and could be considered their most popular, so if one is to make an Outsiders movie, no fanboy is going to be screaming bloody murder about how they decided to leave Metamorpho off the team and how dare they! When it comes to the Outsiders, sadly no one really cares enough.
The basic idea of the Outsiders from their original inception in the eighties was that Batman leaves the Justice League and forms his own team to deal with more down to Earth problems, which he felt the League didn’t. Original members included characters like Black Lightning and Katana, and later incarnations (including a team led by Nightwing) had a totally different team with characters like Grace and Thunder.
An Outsiders movie could keep the basic premise of a more street level team, possibly formed by Batman (either on or off screen) and it can be filled with an assortment of DC Comics’ more obscure, more street-level characters, whether they were actual members of the Outsiders in the comics or not, because unlike the Avengers or the Justice League, the fanbase is too small to give a damn. And a modestly budgeted Outsiders movie is the perfect showcase for characters that just wouldn’t cut it in a JLA movie, much less on their own. This one’s a no brainer.
Although lately there have been rumblings about a big budget movie version of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, years ago there were plans to bring the Sandman’s sister Death to the big screen in an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s mini-series Death: The High Cost of Living. In fact, Gaiman had previously confirmed that he was planning on writing the script and directing it himself, with Guillermo del Toro as executive producer.
For whatever reason this never came to fruition, but now might be the time to dig up this idea and give it another whirl, especially in this initiative to make smaller budget films based on DC characters. While there is no way to do a Sandman movie on the cheap, Death: The High Cost of Living could be adapted for very, very little, as the whole story is a rather small and intimate one, about the embodiment of Death taking one day every century to live her life as a mortal human being. If Sandman is indeed being made, this would be an excellent companion piece.
Previously by Eric Diaz:
The Ten Worst DC “New 52” Costume Redesigns
The Top Ten Substance Abusers in Comics
Nine Reasons a Flash TV Show Could Be Better Than a Flash Movie
The Ten Heroes Most Unworthy Of Justice League Status (Who Joined Anyway)