In a previous blog post, we examined the history and future of the various DC Comics cinematic franchises that make up what I (apparently alone) am calling the DC Cinematic Multiverse. But DC isn’t the only company to have a massive tangle of cinematic universes under its belt. It’s long-time rival Marvel has been even more prolific when it comes to adapting their material for the large and small screen. Unlike DC, though, Marvel gave up control over much of it’s catalog during the dark times (the 1996 bankruptcy and subsequent reorganization), resulting it several different studios having access to bits and pieces of the Marvel world. To this day there is still a lot of confusion over who has what rights, who can be in which films, and on-screen with who else, and which films belong to which shared canon.
Note: As with the DC post, I am mostly ignoring the animated parts of the Marvel multi-verse. There have been 36 (to date) animated shows and about a dozen animated movies. In general, with two notable exceptions, these shows all exist in their own separate universes, with their own separate designations in the Marvel reality catalog, and otherwise play no role in the live-action TV or movie worlds.
So, as we did with DC, lets see if we can make some sense of of the tangled mess that is the Marvel Cinematic Multiverse.
As we prepare for the first in a long line of tightly-integrated films based on popular DC characters, this seems like a good time to take a look at the current state of DC Comics foray into television and movies. In this post, we’ll take a look at the history, and the current status, of the DC Cinematic Multiverse (a term I just made up.) That is, we’re going to look at all of DC’s movie and television adaptations, and see how they are (or aren’t) related.
A quick note: I’m intentionally excluding animated shows from this discussion. While I’m a huge fan of DC’s animated work, for the most part these shows played by a much looser set of rules (Batman and Robin meet Scooby Doo, for example), which tend to muddy the waters. For our purposes here, we’re going to define cinematic as meaning live-action adaptations only.
“You’d love this,” said Scott. “I know you liked ‘Transmet’–” that’s the sprawling journalist-meets-dystopia Transmetropolitan “–and this is even better. And the art is amazing.” With this recommendation from my comic shop, I picked up the first and only “Planetary” collection: All Over the World and Other Stories.
Over the years, I read the rest of the stories Warren Ellis and artist John Cassady created about this team of “mystery archaeologists”. The titular team operates in a world complete with analogs to copyrighted pulp-fiction heroes. The series is a single story formed by the intersection of pocket-sized tales, and contains some of the best writing in superhero comic books. (Don’t even try to call “Planetary” a graphic novel; the story’s too firmly rooted in the pulps for that.)
The story was continued in the second book, The Fourth Man, which had a detour into Elijah Snow’s past as well as a reinterpretation of the entire story to date. However, the story wasn’t even halfway finished when Ellis seemed to lose interest in the tale, and Cassady–then becoming more well-known–started taking on other projects. Whatever scripts Ellis tossed his way probably ended up on the back end of the priority queue.
It was a decade after the release of the first issue that issue twenty-seven ended the story. The last few issues seemed fairly anticlimactic, but was that because they were of lesser quality? Or did our waiting months and sometimes years in-between issues rob us of momentum?
2 weeks ago, DC began an ambitious experiment that spans their entire line of comic books. DC has set aside existing continuity to begin a new continuity that’s similar but different to the prior one that’s existed for almost 80 years. They’re accomplishing this starting with the ending of the summer event Flashpoint, along with the first book in the new continuity, Justice League #1. Many, but not all of our familiar heroes are in this new continuity, but their histories are different, relationships changed. During the course of September, DC will be releasing 52 #1 issues. Every book in their lineup has been reset to #1. Each will help establish the new universe that’s spun out of the events of Flashpoint.
Personally, I’m a lapsed DC Comics reader. I read many of their books (especially Superman, Green Lantern, and Flash) up until early last year. As such, my knowledge of the old universe runs up to the start of Brightest Day. I haven’t read Flashpoint, but I know the premise that The Flash mysteriously ended up on a parallel Earth, and somehow after unraveling the mystery of that other Earth, this new continuity was created. Due to logistics, I don’t receive the new comics on Wednesday, as many comic fans do, so my posts here discussing the new reveals lags a bit behind what is currently known. At this point, I’ve read Justice League #1 and Action Comics #1. After the information we learned in Justice League, I knew my priority had to be to read the first Superman book that came out.
Justice League gives us our first peek at this new world, and it does so with a flashback. The entire issue takes place 5 years prior to the present. It shows us Batman and Green Lantern meeting for the first time, and alludes to some of the changes this new world brings.
Batman and his prey are being chased by Gotham City Police Department (GCPD), and it’s clear they view him as an enemy. The criminal Batman is chasing has superhuman abilities, and soon attracts Green Lantern (Hal Jordan). Green Lantern came to investigate an “unauthorized extraterrestrial”, which turns out to be the criminal Batman is chasing, who reveals himself to be somehow connected to Darkseid. He plants a Mother Box and escapes in an explosion, which potentially was some sort of new violent Boom Tube. After a brief stop to introduce Vic Stone, the duo arrive in Metropolis, and the issue ends with Superman appearing.
So from this, we see that superheroes are still new on the scene. Batman clearly hasn’t developed a positive relationship with the GCPD, and for some reason even Green Lantern isn’t known as a hero to the GCPD. The heroes haven’t even met and teamed up, it seems like the next few issues will deal with origin stories and the initial formation of the Justice League. The criminal they were chasing establishes that the Fourth World and New Gods are a factor here. In the old continuity, they’d died in 2007’s and 2008’s events Death of the New Gods and Final Crisis. It’s unclear if they’re still dead in the new continuity, as this criminal could have been a non-New God alien that worships Darkseid and has a piece of leftover Fourth World tech in his Mother Box.
The story jumps to Vic Stone, high school football star. The name indicates this fellow is Cyborg, but he’s still fully human in the story so far. The story only devotes a couple of pages to him, but we learn he’s being scouted by several colleges and his father’s a barely-present workaholic. His father apparently is involved in studying the new superhuman menace. As we know his future role of Cyborg, there’s not too much new insight to the new world in his introduction, but he’s going to be a part of the new Justice League, which the old Cyborg wasn’t in the previous continuity. In the previous continuity, he was instead a member of the Teen Titans and later the Titans once they grew out of the “Teen” moniker.
After seeing the hostile treatment of the heroes in Justice League, when I received my comics from week 2 of the New 52, my first stop was Action Comics. This was because one of the ideas in Final Crisis was that each of DC’s parallel Earths had a Superman, and he was a key part of each universe. You could see this in some of the differences between New Earth and Earth 2. In Earth 2, he wasn’t a superhero, but instead a supervillain, and so the Justice League of that world was all evil, and the universe had the tendency for evil to triumph over good. So I sought some more information on this new world from the first Superman book I could read. And it definitely helps clarify things.
Action Comics #1 introduces us to a new Superman. This is a younger, angrier Superman who takes some pages out of Batman’s playbook. His powers seem weaker than the Superman in the old continuity, and this new Superman isn’t even capable of flight. I guess he’s back to just “leaping tall buildings in a single bound”. He roots out evil white collar criminals as well as your regular street criminal. This new Superman roughs up criminals and will scare them into confessing their crimes, decidedly more violently than Superman acted in the old continuity. This helps explain the way the authorities treated heroes in the Justice League issue. Superman is relatively new on the scene as well, and he is more of a violent vigilante than he was in the prior universe. Without the kind leadership that the older Superman provided, there’s no one providing a positive connection to the government in this new world. The story also introduces us to younger main characters. Clark, Lois, and Jimmy are all much younger than they were, and Clark isn’t an established journalist yet. So I expect our first month of #1 issues will give us similar glimpses into the early careers of many familiar and not-so-familiar heroes.
Overall, I’m very curious about this new universe. Part of me is not enthused by the decision to have the superheroes not on good terms with the police, as it comes off as an attempt to make this new world ‘dark and gritty’, which is a trope that’s been overused of late in all media. But the blank slate this universe offers has me excited by the possibilities that this offers long time comic book writers who are now freed from the previous status quo. I also appreciate the decision to add Cyborg to the Justice League as one of those changes, as more of the B-list heroes deserve to graduate up to the A-list.