We apparently love superheroes in America and around the world. Why else would there be so many comic book properties being produced every year, most with a respectable amount of success to show for it? Walt Disney Pictures is especially benefiting from this as the films it produces are the primary superhero films coming out of Hollywood right now.
But some of the most famous heroes, like those found at DC Comics, have been left virtually untouched. Sure, there’s Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy that gave us the Batman movies we all most of us wanted and Man of Steel which upset a vocal minority some fans and enthralled others, but there are notable absences and some glaring missed opportunities.
A big miss came in the form of Green Lantern. With a solid cast and a director known for some great action films (seriously, Martin Campbell, you gave us two great Bond films and a solid Zorro. What happened man?) you’d think this would have been an easy hit for the studio. But, that would have required a cohesive vision and a studio that actually believed in the product it was producing.
Now, another potential missed opportunity is rearing its ugly head.
The TV show Arrow has found a loyal audience on the CW network and has introduced a whole new audience to the great character Oliver Queen, aka Green Arrow aka the vigilante aka the Hood Arrow. It’s also made many comic book fans happy by introducing characters and concepts we never thought we’d see on TV again (ARGUS, HIVE, The League of Assassins, The Flash!). What’s more striking is the tone of the show and how well its dark and gritty nature seems to fit with the world established in Man of Steel.
If the goal for Warner Bros. is to establish a shared DC Comics cinematic universe, then Arrow has done a good bit of heavy lifting for it already.
Is this foolproof? Of course not. There are bound to be snags in establishing anything on this large of scale. But if Warner Brothers is serious about competing and even surpassing Marvel/Disney at the movies, it’s got to up its game. Superman and Batman will put butts in seats, no doubt, but there’s a built-in audience just waiting to be marketed to who’ve spent the better part of two seasons rooting for a character almost nobody had heard of this time two years ago.
There’s even a super-easy way to make the two worlds coalesce virtually seamlessly. Oliver Queen doesn’t really need much spotlight in an ensemble film like Justice League, but The Flash/Barry Allen does and could act as the bridge between the TV and Film worlds. If The Flash TV series is as good and successful as Arrow, it only makes sense for the continuity established by Man of Steel and it to merge.
Warner Brothers, I hate to put it this way, but you’re playing catch-up in a game you’ve already lost. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t make something truly great. Establishing core characters quickly and moving them to the big screen is the only way to be competitive with Disney/Marvel now. A slow build, ala the Marvel method, works great when you’re the only game in town, but you’ve already fallen behind too far to rely on it now.
Skipping Batman’s origin in the Man of Steel sequel is a good idea seeing as the last Batman franchise just ended two years ago. Continuing to build Superman in the context of a larger universe is even better. Wonder Woman still deserves to have a solo go of things before being forced to be a supporting role, but I covered that already. Still, all of these characters are established well enough in the general public to not needs a lot of back story. The Flash, however, might need a better explanation than just “hey, this guy got struck by lightning and can suddenly run really fast.” A hit TV show, for example, might just be all the back story you’d ever need. And people could enjoy that from the comfort of their homes.
Disney has already ventured into the TV arena with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and is expanding to internet TV with its individual Defenders series (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist) on Netflix. Unfortunately, AoS hasn’t exactly thrilled fans the way many expected. However, the lesson there shouldn’t be that moving these characters from big to small screen can’t work, but that it should be approached in a different way. Where AoS only name-drops heroes and villains from the Marvel Universe, Arrow actually puts big name DC characters in its show. The Flash could easily do the same.
Nobody expects Ben Affleck to make an appearance on The Flash or Arrow, but Batman’s never been much of a team-player when he didn’t have to be. But if you’ve turned Grant Gustin into both a TV and film star using the same role, it wouldn’t matter. And after his initial appearance as Barry Allen on Arrow, he’s definitely got the charisma to carry his own show and certainly major star potential. But maybe getting a guest appearance from Henry Cavill as Clark Kent wouldn’t be too much.
This could also be a money-saving way of building all these characters up. Movies cost hundreds of millions of dollars for maybe a two-hour payoff. For the same amount you could get multiple 45-minute episodes, if not an entire 23-episode season. A show like The Flash is going to require a higher effects budget than, say, Arrow since it will feature actual superpowers. But it still won’t require a budget like Man of Steel or The Avengers to be something great.
And while we’re talking about making it something great, if Christopher Nolan isn’t up for being the DC Cinematic Universe’s version of Kevin Feige (the mind behind the Avengers film franchises), maybe Zack Snyder would like the job. In any case, all of these guys, Andrew Kreisberg, Greg Berlanti (Arrow, The Flash) and David Goyer (Man of Steel, The Dark Knight trilogy), need to get in a room together and hash it out. They’re the minds steering the two ships at the moment, but these two crews need to become one.
Geoff Johns can come, too.