DC Nation and the Shadow of the Batman
Let’s try an experiment for this article. Just remember the first thing that pops into your mind for the following questions. What is your favorite DC movie of all-time? Your favorite DC television program of all-time? Your favorite DC game of all-time? Got it?
Raise your hands if the majority of your responses included Batman in some fashion! Don’t be shy, I’m fairly certain that the vast majority of people who answered honestly would have picked him for most all of those. There’s good reason for that, for nearly 30 years, Batman has been the dominant brand in comics, not just limited to DC Comics. He has a tremendous track record in animation recently with bona fide classics like Batman The Animated Series, Batman Beyond and Batman: The Brave and the Bold. He can lay claim to the first actually amazing comic book games with the duo of Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City. And as of right now, the only comic franchise in history to have two billion dollar films under its belt coming out of Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” trilogy. It’s easy to see that The Caped Crusader is large and in-charge.
That said, Batman isn’t DC’s only character. As much as DC tries, he is a far cry from the only character that exists in their universe. Yet they continue to put a huge focus on products with him in the title role. DC’s desire to make sure that he remains relevant and in the populace eye has them living in the shadow of the Bat!
Before we go any further though, I just want to say that this isn’t an article intended to bash the character of Batman. There is no secret that I love the character, and he is one of my favorite fictional characters, not just comic characters. But to examine the overall process and resources DC uses that they could probably allocate to helping expand the appeal of their entire roster of characters and books.
To begin this journey of ours, I think we shall stop off in the realm of video games. A most magical and majestic place. And a medium that comics are still trying to find their legs in, we’ve had a few successes, but a ton of duds to counter that. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City are the two finest comic book games to grace the industry to date. However, have you ever stopped and thought about the amount of games DC had to release to get to this point? Since the NES, there has been nearly 2 dozen games that have featured Batman in the title role. If you include games that he is a part of or plays a major role in, the number increases even more with the likes of three DC fighting games, an MMO, and a beat-em up or two thrown in there.
Do you want to know about the other DC characters in comparison? Superman, their number 2, has the 2nd most games with about 14 titles in which he is the main star. And then there’s a huge gap in release quantities. You get a Green Lantern game here, an Aquaman game there and a Watchmen title as an arcade release. I’m sure there are other titles as well, but you get the idea.
This leaves hundred of characters without any titles. And I’m not going to argue that they all desire a game that’s just a waste of time and resources, but there are a lot of interesting and mainstream-esque characters who would be ideal for their own game. Characters like Wonder Woman and Catwoman would be interesting in action-drive vehicles. We even got a great hint of it when Catwoman was playable in select segments of Batman: Arkham City. Deathstroke and The Grifter would be interesting to see in a Devil May Cry type action game. They’ve already got the tools of the trade. Jonah Hex could break new ground by bringing a Western flair to the comic world. Developers could even look to Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption as a template to build off of. I will grant you these aren’t the most original ideas, but this is what I came up with thinking about the subject for 5 minutes. Imagine what a development studio with creativity, talent and money could come up with!
Instead of focusing on these potential properties, what does DC currently have lined up for us? In the next month, we’ll get Injustice: Gods Among Us, a DC-fighter game which looks fairly interesting, but relies heavily on Batman characters (We have seen Batman, Nightwing, The Joker, Harley Quinn and Catwoman thus far), a port of LEGO Batman 2 (Which included the Justice League, but weren’t good enough to include in the title) for the Wii U, and the reveal of a 3rd Batman Arkham title sometime soon. It’s an interesting slate, but it once more relies heavily on Batman.
Now we’re going to move over to the catalyst for this article. As many are aware, at least I hope so, this weekend Young Justice and Green Lantern: TAS are set to air their final episodes. After a spotty airing schedule, both shows were deemed unable to move enough merchandise for Warner/DC and will be pulled. What bright, new and exciting shows are set to replace them? A re-tread of the Teen Titans cartoon from a few years back with Teen Titans Go!, and a new Batman animated series. Yes, after taking a full year off from his own cartoon, Batman is back in his next animated adventure. I’m sure you are all excited that we get that.
Don’t get me wrong, Beware The Batman looks like a fairly good show from what little we have seen of it. But over the last twenty years, we have had 5 different Batman animated series with Batman TAS, The New Adventures of Batman, Batman Beyond, The Batman and most recently Batman: The Brave and the Bold. This isn’t counting his major role on Justice League/Unlimited or his minor role on Young Justice. Beware the Batman will become our 6th animated series starring him.
Once more, don’t get me wrong, it’s not necessarily the quantity of the shows that they produce. Most of those shows have been top-notch cartoons, and that’s actually the problem here. In the past 20 years, we have gotten the benchmark in serious animated Batman with Batman: TAS. We’ve seen the more campy, over-the-top Batman in Brave and the Bold. We’ve seen two different interpretations of younger Batman in both The Batman and Batman Beyond. Beware The Batman needs to find a tone between serious and campy, between seasoned and rookie, and between past, present and future to really offer something quite distinct. Can it do it? Probably. Should it really need to be forced to? Eh
DC has a TON of properties they could adapt to animation. I mean personally would love to see Young Justice and Green Lantern: TAS continue on, but that ship has sailed.Â What about all the shorts that we got exposed to during the DC Nation? I’ve been a huge fan of the Super Best Friends Forever short since they first aired. They have a very unique style to them, a fun and whimsical tone, and it caters to an audience that comic books don’t typically do… girls and women.
The conventional thinking has always been that men won’t watch products that are designed for women. Right or wrong, it’s always been limited thinking. Due to the power of the DC Nation though, you have already exposed a predominantly male audience to these characters and style. The sky didn’t fall and there weren’t complaints. As a matter of fact, in my experience, a lot of fans have been thrilled by the shorts and would love to see it expanded into a larger show. It also helps that it is coming from the pedigree of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, which has found a surprisingly large male fanbase in recent years.
The other short that I think DC is dropping the ball with isÂ Amethyst. A short that only started airing at the start of the year, but it speaks to this generation. It’s about a girl brought into a video game world and her quest to become a hero. Honestly, if you can find a clever and unique way to combine video games and comics into a single product, you probably speak a lot better to this generation than anything else. And once more, speaks to an audience that comics, video games and cartoons tend to ignore for one reason or another.
But these are only shows with a level of exposure due to the DC Nation. There’s a ton of potential in doing shows about other DC characters, and giving them a chance. We have never had a fully dedicated Flash cartoon. Who wouldn’t love to see the Aquaman from Brave and the Bold go on his “outrageous” adventures, Wonder Woman has never had a cartoon, Booster Gold’s trek through DC’s history could be fun, Demon Knights (perhaps with a name change) could be entertaining, a show based around DC’s magicians or their scientists. The list goes on and on. DC has a stable of characters who could be interesting to the mainstream if given a chance, but really won’t get that chance if they exist in the shadow of the Bat.
Speaking of the shadow of the Bat, we’ll come to a discussion that we’ve had before, and will have again and again. DC/Warner and their movies. In the past 20 some odd year, Batman has been in some of their best and some of their worst movies. He however has been in their most movies. Since the release of Batman in 1989, there has been a total of 7Â theatricalÂ releases (8 if you include Mask of the Phantasm), In the same window (not counting the upcoming Man of Steel since it isn’t out yet), we have seen one Steel movie, one Superman movie, one Catwoman movie, one Jonah Hex movie, and one Green Lantern movie for a total of 4 DC Comics movies. If you want to expand the scope to their imprints, then you’ll also get Watchmen, RED, Road to Perdition, A History of Violence, V for Vendetta, Stardust, The Losers, Gen 13 and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. This would give us a total of 9 movies added to the 4 previous ones gives us 13. Which means that in the past 20 years of ALL movies released from DC’s various brands, Batman accounts for 35% of them.
Think about that for a second, more than 1/3 of their entire movie output has been focused on a single character. That’s time, resources, talent, skills and marketing all focused on making sure an already popular character.. gets more popular? While all their other franchises retreat into the background. I get it to a certain degree, most of these movies were of questionable quality.. it happens. Even with the massive drops in quality with Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, DC still saw fit to reboot the franchise only 8-years later. And yeah, Superman is getting another shot in a few short months, but the rest of the roster? Nothing.
Even progress on the Justice League film seemed to be hung up with the character of Batman. Rumors are rumors and it’s always tough to nail down fact from fiction. But we’ve heard a lot about the progress of the film and how Nolan’s character could and couldn’t fit into this expanded universe. So DC is now stuck in a position in which they look over whether they reboot the franchise first, find a way to get Bale back or something to make sure Batman works in their Justice League project. Anyway you cut it, the future of Justice League seems to beÂ intertwinedÂ and interwoven with the future of Batman on the big-screen as well.
Like I said earlier, this isn’t an article to tear down DC and Batman. I enjoy most of the products they have produced for the character recently. It just seems like they are so intent on making sure the character remains popular, without any real signs of his popularity waning, that they ignore the rest of their catalog to make sure he has the spotlight. If they used a quarter of the resources they dedicate to Batman to helping expand their roster’s presence they may be in a much healthier place overall.
DC is showing some growth in the area though. I mentioned before that we’ll see a new Superman movie later this year with the Man of Steel. RED is getting a sequel later on this year as well. The CW airs the new smash hit Arrow, which has already become hugely popular with their audience. There is talk of a Wonder Woman series, but that seems to go back and forth every year. We shall see what the future holds for the company, but let’s hope they can get away from The Shadow of the Bat.