Coming To Terms with the Truth
While DC Comics and the DCEU still have their fans, at this point, it cannot be denied that overall it was a mixed bag at best, and a flop at worst when it comes to overall fans and general audiences. Some can appreciate the creative liberties taken with darker takes on characters like Superman, others just couldn’t get past them. Even films that were box office and critical successes like Wonder Woman and Aquaman were not loved by everyone. And while universal acclaim is very difficult (even the MCU at its most popular was never universally loved), many of the executive decisions made behind the scenes at Warner Bros. made it quite the uphill battle.
Henry Cavill could and should have been a great Superman, but he was written to only truly care about Lois Lane and wasn’t a beacon of hope at all. Ben Affleck’s Batman was over-bloated and given way too much focus in a sequel he didn’t earn when he is the one DC hero who didn’t need a reintroduction of such focus due to his many adaptations successes. Gal Gadot‘s Wonder Woman was easily the best part of Batman v. Superman but proceeded to star in a film that, while popular, primarily focused on her love life and teaming up with men, as well as her power coming from a male. Her sequel was widely criticized and a flop when it came to the fans. Aquaman was also a successful movie but in that movie and in the Snyder Cut he remained surrounded by whiteness (why did we need that Nordic chorus heralding his departure? Why not a Pacific Island setting with other brown people?) and every other character who had natural powers was white. The Flash continues to suffer as Ezra Miller’s continued crimes and disturbing behaviors come to light, and even beyond that many fans were displeased with their casting in the first place. Cyborg and his actor Ray Fisher, of course, were completely fucked over by DC powers that be Joss Whedon, Geoff Johns, and Walter Hamada, among others. Scenes cut in projects, scenes reduced in the theatrical release of his first appearance, and overall nastiness. And while it is good that Whedon and Hamada in particular have faced some reckonings for what they did, it seems Geoff Johns is still getting calls to do stuff for DC, which is not good.
Some people were delighted that James Gunn, a controversial figure but one who can bring results for the superhero projects he gets behind, would be the new head of DC films.
A Cause for Concern
While it is true that Gunn is very successful at getting high box office scores for his superhero projects, there is reason to caution against giving him too much power when we look at some of those projects. Guardians of the Galaxy is beloved by many, but some take issue with cast members like Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana (for her participation in the Nina film about Nina Simone, which she apologized for but only after the backlash she ignored for years beforehand). Women, and Asian women, in particular, are also not always treated in the most flattering light. Gamora is severely underpowered and relegated to love interest to one of the most despised characters in the MCU these days. Mantis is a hot mess, a non-fighter, and is nothing but Asian stereotypes. Nebula fares better, but more so under the Russo brothers. Even in The Suicide Squad, Harley’s “consent” to sleep with her kidnapper wasn’t really consent because it was made clear that she would be forced to marry the man whether she wanted to or not. And while her escape sequence was cool, it relied way too much on bad guys forgetting to use their guns, attacking one at a time, and generally running into her blade in order to work.
While Gunn’s projects work for a lot of people, others are not interested in a company full of projects featuring white male leads, laden with dude-bro humor, ethnic supporting characters who likely will be underpowered and poorly utilized, and style over substance. And while Guardians as a mostly niche (beforehand) property then made popular worked in the MCU, the DC Universe films will need heavy hitters and popular characters, teams, and franchises done right. And maybe soundtracks that aren’t all 80s top hits.
A Hard Pill to Swallow If Gunn AND the Rest of Us Want a Fresh Start
Many fans liked or disliked different aspects of the DCEU. Some loved the Snyderverse and wanted his vision seen through. Others felt it was overrated, overblown, and unnecessary. Some thought Henry Cavill was robbed of a chance to properly be Superman, while others felt his performance was too wooden to take seriously. Whether you liked Superman, Harley Quinn, Black Canary, or Shazam among others, the fact is that in order to get a clean slate and a fresh start, everything must go.
For Gunn, that means doing away with The Suicide Squad cast (including Margot Robie), and the Peacemaker cast. For the rest of us, it might include that same cast, as well as each and every cast member of the DCEU whether we like them or not. We can have no exceptions. We need all new faces playing some of these same roles and new faces to play new roles we didn’t get before. If James Gunn plays favorites and cherry-picks people from the DCEU, especially his own projects he headed, then viewers will never truly let it go. They will always cry out for the Snyderverse, for Cavill, Batfleck, Gadot, Momoa, or just about anyone they liked because it won’t be fair to maintain some of the status quo and not all of it. With the rumor that Jason Momoa could stay on, but play Lobo instead of Aquaman, perhaps we could get some (but definitely not all) DCEU actors to play other characters. Aldis Hodge has already voiced the John Stewart Green Lantern in an animated project, he could easily play him in live-action (hopefully a worthy solo film, and not one where Green Arrow gets the spotlight). Jurnee Smollett should be brought on to play a new character as well. But no one should be reprising the same role. New stories, new faces, and maybe some old but in new roles. New characters. Fresh clean slate.
What We Need, Mr. Gunn…
Should James Gunn ever see this article, please understand what we need. We need variety and diversity in front of and behind the camera. There needs to be Black, ethnic, queer, etc. people behind the scenes making important decision-making roles. Executives as well as creatives. We need Black, ethnic, queer, etc. actors, and characters. And while racebending white characters to ethnic, or changing straight characters to queer is welcome, do not do the reverse, and maybe prioritize introducing, highlighting, and including these kinds of characters who were always Black, ethnic, queer, disabled, etc. Give us Nubia, Black Lightning (and his family), Static, Mr. Terrific, John Stewart, Vixen, Martian Manhunter, and a Black Miss Martian (don’t be like Young Justice). Give us Ryan Wilder, Thunder, Grace Choi, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, the Kalduram Aqualad, Tim Drake, Kate Kane, Dreamer, and more. Some of these characters should get their own films or series, or be the main protagonists in team projects, headed by writers who can speak to experiences similar to theirs. Fellow Black, ethnic, queer, disabled, etc. writers.
We need more women characters played by female athletes (also given all the necessary acting training) to make some of these female characters look like actual superheroes. We need a truly remarkable Wonder Woman and Nubia in particular. We need the George Pérez Pre-52 version which is the best version (except Nubia needs to be her twin sister instead of just another amazon. It’s magical, flying amazons, so forget about people being confused as to why a Black woman could be Diana’s sister. Nubia needs to fly). No Zeus, and no Steve Trevor. Give us Donna (Diana’s little sister), Cassie Sandsmark, Yara Flor, etc. Give us the Amazons and make them awesome. The Amazons of Themyscira are the closest way DC could compete with Black Panther and Wakanda, but all women and everyone has powers. Do another Birds of Prey project with Oracle aka Barbara Gordon (whether or not you want to have Batgirl projects be flashbacks, or focus on other batgirls like Cassandra Cain or Stephanie Brown). Harley belongs with the Gotham City Sirens, in Gotham stories in general, or with a revamped Suicide Squad. Bring in the Milestone characters and writers/creative team. Should their series end, give us big-budget Titans and/or Teen Titans (let everyone fly who should be able to fly) and Doom Patrol projects. Swamp Thing and Hellblazer as well.
Do right by us, and we will make you more successful than you can imagine.