DC Comics have shaped so much of nerd culture during their tenure as superhero kings. Their comic books have shaped dreams, inspired heroes, and sparked imaginations. Their animated series have left fans in wonder, have created iconic characters, and connected superheroes to viewers outside of their normal audiences. DC has created some of the most memorable heroes to ever exist: Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman.
This year at the San Diego Comic Con, DC revealed several new productions about their superheroes. Fans marveled at all the upcoming projects. The company showed trailers for two films, Aquaman and Shazam, one live action series, Titans, and the continuation of their animated series, Young Justice: Outsiders.
Aquaman is a film set after Justice League, following the life of Arthur Curry, son of a sea-queen and a sailor. Because of his mother’s heritage, he has the powers of an Atlantean, setting him apart from his human peers. After all, little Jimmy down the road can’t talk to fish and breathe underwater. Arthur’s main struggle, though, is his heritage. He is in line for the throne, but finds himself unfit to rule for many reasons. However, despite his intentions, he’s thrust in Atlantean politics because his half-brother intends to attack the human world.
Shazam is the story of Billy Batson, the pure of heart orphan who is chosen by the Wizard Shazam to be his successor. In the film, Batson will be struggling to find a place to belong, skipping through several foster homes, and finding a new friend in his superhero-loving foster brother, Freddy. When he receives his powers, he and Freddy explore them, until trouble finds them. Then Batson has to use his new, superpowered alter ego to save others.
Titans is the live action series about a fan-favorite hero group, the Teen Titans. This Titans iteration begins by following Nightwing and Raven. Our friendly Dick Grayson shows that he’s not so friendly with Batman any longer, and Raven shows up at Grayson’s precinct to beg for his help. There are also quick shots of both Starfire and Beast Boy, two other classic members of the team. The trailer seems to show Raven’s struggle with her dark side as the main proponent of the group getting together.
Young Justice is an animated DC series with already two seasons under its belt. It originally aired on Cartoon Network and fans were outraged when it was cancelled. Years later, writers are picking up where they left off, continuing the stories of the Young Justice team. It shows the lives and missions of the young heroes, many of which become Justice League members as they age. The show will be renamed Young Justice: Outsiders. It also will pick up after the devastating loss of some teammates after a brush with Darkseid, and the troubling partnership of Darkseid and Vandal Savage.
While having so many reveals was exciting, these trailers also received a lot of skepticism from casual viewers and fanatics alike.
Each property seems to have its own problems and causes for concern:
Aquaman is worrisome because of the mixed reviews from Justice League. Fans also see the parallels between the Black Panther storyline and what has been seen from the Aquaman plot, and don’t want just a poor copycat of the Marvel blockbuster. Also, of course, few viewers want the dark, gritty, tone-deaf voice of the past DC films to continue here. Wonder Woman was a light in the dark DC tunnel, but Justice League brought it right back into darkness. No one knows where Aquaman will land.
Shazam is exciting, as few mediums other than comics involve the superhero. However, the entire trailer is played up for comedy. While not inherently terrible, it is a wildly different tone than all other DC films. Also, the very time-sensitive meme humor is mildly concerning, as its something that will quickly date a film and easy to send it into the “fellow kids” territory of jokes. Lastly, of course, is Billy himself. Billy, in the comics and other series, is seen as this pure-hearted character. A kid with boundless hope and the power to try to make it happen. It’s heartwarming and inspiring. However, the trailer shows early Billy to be kind of cynical, which is an odd take and an uncertain way to go about his characterization. Only the film will tell if they can pull any of it off.
Titans is likely the most concerning of all. Teen Titans was an animated darling of the early 2000’s, pulling in countless fans for the DC Universe. It had a “perfect storm” mix of humor, heart, and intensity. Many original fans are still upset about its cancellation and then subsequent revitalization as a fluffy, whimsical show for younger kids. This show is likely DC’s rebuttal, giving old fans the darkness part of it. However, it was that perfect storm aspect that fans loved. On a more specific basis, Raven’s new characterization is odd and nearly unrecognizable. Raven is known as a stoic, guarded character. However, in the trailer alone fans see her crying, panicking, asking desperately for help. While Raven, in all forms, is a tormented soul, she’s never been put in this light as an openly emotional young girl. Nightwing is a little too edgy and murderous. Perhaps it’ll be interesting, but its a bit dark. And last, Starfire’s main civilian clothes are nearly offensive. They recast Starfire as a black woman, which is neat. However, they now made her street clothes look like an 80’s hooker. That I find mildly problematic, as she’s the only women of color as a main character and she’s the one dressed like a hooker. Just a thought.
A novel could be written about the troubling issues with Titans, but that’ll have to be be a different article all together.
Lastly, Young Justice: Outsiders. There’s little to say that’s bad, honestly. The only concern is that its been years since the show was running, so hopefully writers live up to expectations. Fans will be excited to see where the show goes.
Overall, the tone of the shows and films are just wildly confusing. It helps build the easy case against DC that, film and tv-wise, they absolutely don’t know what their voice is. They are just writhing and wriggling, hoping one day they catch something that works for them and becomes a big a hit as Marvel’s work.
But not everything is negative. Like said, Young Justice: Outsiders is one of the best properties DC owns, and its fantastic they decided to give it a second shot. The show rightfully deserves it.
Aquaman could be another Wonder Woman, despite concerns. Arthur was the funniest part of Justice League and he has a successfully distinct voice from all other DC superheroes. And, of course, the character is played by the brilliant Jason Mamoa, who injects all his charm and humor into the role. While there are warning signs, there’s a lot to be hopeful for with the film.
Shazam has some serious red flags, but it also could be a turning point to adding humor back into the DCEU. If the writers and filmmakers hit all the right notes, Shazam could change the game and help DC find their voice. However, they’ve had dicey films forays so only seeing the film itself will tell how this goes.
And Titans? At least the Nightwing and Beast Boy outfits are OK. Quite honestly, hopes aren’t high for this show. It’s hard to find many good words about it. But who knows, maybe DC will surprise fans.
DC has somehow managed to have clear, impressive ideas and directions when it comes to animated features. But it has also managed to simultaneously become a tone deaf, blind fish when it comes to its live action properties. For the love of all DC fans, hopefully one of these films or shows can be their seeing eye dog, and maybe DC lovers can get the stories they love from the company done right. Then maybe these beloved superheroes can capture nerd hearts all over again.
And DC? Please, for the love of god, start by firing Jesse Eisenberg. Every Lex Luthor ever will heave a collective sigh of relief. They don’t appreciate being misrepresented.