By going back to Batman for HBO Max, DC is missing a golden opportunity

DC Comics’ Dark Knight has a new movie on the way from director Matt Reeves, but The Batman isn’t the only upcoming project in the works tied to WarnerMedia’s world-famous vigilante. A new series following the Gotham City Police Department, set in the same universe as Reeves’ film, will also debut on the company’s HBO Max streaming service.

On the surface, the decision to return to the Batman well makes plenty of sense — even if the notion of launching a new police procedural series seems more than a little tone-deaf at the present time. Batman is one of WarnerMedia’s most popular characters, after all, with two successful solo movie franchises and a few Oscars — and Oscar nominations — for projects tied to the Dark Knight himself and his most infamous foe, Joker.

But for all of the wins in Batman’s multimedia record, there are plenty of big flops, too. And by focusing on the Dark Knight once again, DC is neglecting its other heroes — some of whom have been DC’s biggest commercial and critical successes.

Bat-failure

Batman’s most recent incarnation, portrayed by Ben Affleck in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League, played a key role in two of Warner Bros. Pictures’ biggest disappointments to come out of its superhero-themed DC Extended Universe. The response to those films was so bad, in fact, that it pushed Affleck to exit the role (and the director’s chair) well ahead of schedule, forcing the studio to scrap its plans for a new solo franchise and paving the way for Reeves’ upcoming reboot film.

Batman-themed spinoffs don’t exactly have a great record on the big or small screen, either.

Fox’s recent Gotham series barely kept its head above the water ratings-wise for four of its five seasons, while this year’s Birds of Prey movie earned positive reviews but failed to fill theater seats — a problem exacerbated by the widespread, pandemic-fueled theater lockdowns that began a month after its premiere.

The jury is still out on Batwoman, the new CW series that had its first season cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic, but earned positive reviews before getting a second-season renewal in January.

With such a mixed bag of recent Batman material, one can’t help wondering why WarnerMedia is overlooking the golden opportunities presented by the rest of its DC superheroes.

What about Wonder Woman?

To date, 2017’s Wonder Woman remains among the most critically and commercially successful film in the DCEU, earning the best reviews and one of the best returns on its production costs of any film in WB’s modern superhero universe. Director Patty Jenkins’ film turned Wonder Woman into one of the shining stars of the live-action DC Comics universe, and with a sequel on the way, it’s unfortunate that WarnerMedia seems disinclined to bring some of that bright light to the small screen, too.

It’s not too difficult to imagine the possibilities of a series set in Wonder Woman’s world of mythological gods and demons sparring over dominion of Earth, with Wonder Woman and her fellow Amazons tasked with safeguarding humanity.

Similarly, the worlds of 2018’s Aquaman and the following year’s Shazam! are both equally rich, populated by characters that can seem both larger than life and all too real. Given Aquaman‘s status as the highest-grossing movie in the entire DCEU to date, there’s clearly some measurable interest in the undersea kingdoms introduced in James Wan’s film, while the critical success of Shazam! (currently the second-best-reviewed film in the DCEU) suggests there’s some untapped potential in that character’s world, too.

While critics of these DC heroes’ mainstream TV potential will likely contend that they inhabit a corner of the DC Comics universe that isn’t as widely populated or well-established as Batman’s territory, one need only look at the success The CW has had with characters like Supergirl, Flash, and maybe most prominently, Green Arrow, a little-known DC hero with no superpowers who sparked an eight-season TV success story and an entire spinoff universe. The fact that the characters already have solo movies just gives their spinoff series a head start at success.

Character concerns

Batman’s presence tends to loom large over Gotham City, so the version of the character in Reeves’ film is also likely to play a role — even if it’s an off-screen one — in the events transpiring in the HBO Max show. Wonder Woman, Shazam, or Aquaman could play similar roles in their respective, potential spinoff series, and as we’ve been shown time and time again, casting a different actor for alternate versions of a character isn’t a dealbreaker with audiences.

Both the aforementioned Supergirl and Gotham series introduced new versions of Superman and Batman, respectively, while DCEU films were in production. Meanwhile, Joker managed to win Joaquin Phoenix an Oscar as the title character just a few years after Jared Leto played the same role in the DCEU film Suicide SquadSupergirl actor Tyler Hoechlin even parlayed his supporting role as the Man of Steel into an upcoming Superman & Lois spinoff series for the CW — a role he played parallel to Henry Cavill’s portrayal of the same character on the big screen.

Despite all of the evidence in favor of other DCEU spinoff series, though, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that WB is opting to go with what initially seems to be a dark crime project instead of testing more colorful waters.

Grimness fatigue

Ever since Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy became one of the most successful superhero franchises in Hollywood history, WB has been trying to capture that same grim-and-gritty lightning in a bottle, even if it means squeezing traditionally vibrant characters — like Flash or Shazam, for example — into oppressively bleak stories. Some of those same characters have thrived on the lighter, brighter CW network, though, and the multiseason success of shows like Supergirl and Flash offers evidence that stories set within the DC universe need not be joyless and hued in a dark palette to succeed.

Sure, it’s easy to be intrigued by a series connected to Reeves’ The Batman, which pairs a phenomenal filmmaker with a great actor — Robert Pattinson — and has all the makings of another fascinating chapter in the Dark Knight’s big-screen history. At the same time, though, taking yet another stab at a Batman spinoff feels like a decision made with blinders on that fails to take into account all of the potential in trying something, well … new.

Whether it’s Wonder Woman or Shazam, or even Aquaman, there are plenty of characters in the DC universe that offer an opportunity to create the expanded, interconnected multimedia franchise WB seemingly wants to establish around its cinematic properties. DC Comics has a rich history filled with colorful characters, and WarnerMedia would do well to devote more attention to the heroes and villains outside of Batman’s small corner of that universe.

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