DC Universe is playing with fire by introducing 'Multiverse' in its complex world. Here’s why

WION Web Team
New DelhiWritten By: Sameeksha DandriyalUpdated: Jan 05, 2021, 04:51 PM IST
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The world of DC  is more dark, layered, and complex. The comic characters have more shade than those of Marvel and a dense storyline. Playing field with the multiverse in an already complex universe is indeed playing with fire.

The news of three Batmans existing in the same year as part of DC’s Extended Universe or DCEU has taken fans by surprise. The presence of three masked crusaders indicates the introduction of the multiverse in the cinematic universe of DC, a universe that is still finding its footing in terms of developed storylines and better execution. 

The multiverse is a familiar concept in comic books, where standalone series like ‘Superman: Red Son’ can offer a new take on a popular character without affecting overall continuity. And of course, different universes can cross over whenever DC wants, like how Affleck’s Batman might encounter Michael Keaton’s Batman in the upcoming Flash movie in 2022. While the idea looks exciting on paper, it’s the execution where the troubling thoughts come in. 

In comics, multiverses play out over several issues and series, so there’s more room to get used to the idea. DC has played the concept of the multiverse with its TV series, namely, ‘The Flash’, ‘Arrow’, ‘Supergirl’ and ‘Legends of Tomorrow’. The concept was still digestible on television, as the medium allows, for longer-form storytelling that can navigate the intricacies of multiverse mechanics. However, even then, the crossovers and the many Earths possibilities were confusing, even by the most dedicated followers of the series. The concept being tested on a limited-time big screen, where not many have the patience and deep understanding, is a point to be taken into consideration by the makers. 

The studio is relying heavily on the assumption of the audience being well-versed in the DC Universe already, but what about the ones who are not too familiar with the darker comics world? 

DC Films also plans to release one or two movies directly onto HBO Max. These are considered to be riskier projects, which may not generate the necessary revenue needed to justify a $200 million production budget and another $100 million on marketing. They will, however, help bolster HBO Max subscribers if they work as intended.

DC Films President Watler Hamada has an ambitious vision. The studio will also use theatrical releases to launch spinoff TV shows, which will stream on HBO Max. GCPD will stem from The Batman, while Peacemaker is a John Cena-led spinoff based on his character of the same name in James Gunn’s Suicide Squad. “With every movie that we’re looking at now, we are thinking, ‘What’s the potential Max spinoff?’” Hamada told the Times.

From 'The Suicide Squad' to 'Zack Snyders Justice League': Check out the DC FanDome trailers

Just like Marvel’s strategy where Doctor Strange as a character ties into WandaVision, which ties back into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The same for Yelena in Black Widow (theatrical release) appearing in Hawkeye (Disney Plus show).

Also read: Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield to feature in Tom Holland's 'Spider-Man 3'?

There are a lot of questions about how this will all work. What about Greg Berlanti’s Arrowverse, for example? And all those other DC shows on the CW? Will they just continue existing in their own space the same way DC Universe’s original series (Titans, Doom Patrol, Harley Quinn) do on HBO Max? What if DC Films decides it wants to make a Batgirl spinoff — do two Batgirl TV shows just coexist alongside each other? Remember when Jeph Loeb created an entire Marvel universe on Netflix, Hulu, and ABC — and then Marvel Studios effectively scrapped all of it?

Currently, DC releases about one or two movies a year and has seen mixed success. Birds of Prey and Shazam! failed to perform well, while Aquaman and Wonder Woman saw impressive box office returns. In 2019, Warner Bros. also saw tremendous success with Joker — a movie not tied into the greater DC universe that nonetheless became an unexpected hit.

Under the new strategy, there will be two cinematic universes under the DC banner: the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) and the DC Films multiverse. Films like Joker and The Batman will exist as part of DC Films’ multiverse, which will be comprised of individual stories based on DC characters that do not tie into a bigger narrative arc.

Movies like Wonder Woman, Shazam!, Aquaman, Flash, and likely future Superman and Green Lantern movies will fall under the DCEU. Wonder Woman and the gang will have their own stories and then come together in some kind of Justice League setting again. This means there can be two different Batmans (Batmen?) around the same time: Robert Pattinson can have his own adventure in Matt Reeves’ The Batman and Ben Affleck or a new actor can play Bruce Wayne in the DCEU. This will chart a complex path for the followers of the series and there is going to be a point when things will get complicated, beyond the studio, to be managed, resulting in cancellations and mid-way endings. 

If DC is planning to go by the Marvel way, they have to remember that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been one entity since the beginning. When Favreau’s Iron Man became a hit, the Jackson cameo at the end became the key to a new kind of franchise, a movie universe that had architecture. “I could arguably say what we’re planning for the year 2021,” Feige had told WIRED back in 2013 “Will that happen? I don’t know. But what we planned for 2015 in 2006 is happening.”

Since its inception Marvel always had a tighter continuity than DC, however even they had a trial and error with X-Men and the Fantastic Four being contracted to Fox, and Spider-Man to Sony. Under that structure, those characters would never meet. When Marvel became an independent production company in 2009, though, it retained the rights to many of the other characters with less recognition among non-fans and even casual readers. Things took a bigger, grander shape with the acquisition of Disney and it became an entity where multiverse became a possibility without being chaotic. Moreover, the confidence built by MCU over the years is a testament that the cinematic universe makers have a key hold over the execution. The point that Marvel is lighter, in terms of characters and stories, helped in this case giving makers creative freedom, even with the hardcore fans. Unfortunately, DC hardly enjoys any of those privileges. 

The world of DC  is more dark, layered, and complex. The comic characters have more shade than those of Marvel and a dense storyline. Playing field with the multiverse in an already complex universe is indeed playing with fire. The fact remains that when Marvel was toying around with ‘Iron Man’, Christopher Nolan gave another dimension to DC’s ‘Batman’ with his ‘The Dark Knight’ series. The association of Nolan in the DC verse attracted the most sincere cinephile towards the world not necessarily meant for them. The result? The eyes were always on the complexity of the film, then its relevance and connectivity in a grander Universe. 

Nolan, as executive producer on Snyder’s Man of Steel, could presumably have inserted Marvel-style Easter eggs into that movie, but the short-sightedness of the studio heads failed them. DC's Green Lantern tried it with Angela Bassett’s character Amanda Waller, who has a connective-tissue role in the DC universe similar to Nick Fury’s in Marvel. But the failure of the film ruined it for the studio and they shut the spark of an idea. 

Marvel's status as the king of superhero movies was earned because of their ambitious, multi-film plan to build towards the first superhero team-up movie, 2012's The Avengers, worked seamlessly. Marvel's strategy continued to reap even greater results throughout the 2010s as their Phase 2 and Phase 3 films built towards 2018's Avengers: Infinity War and 2019's Avengers: Endgame.

DC Films abandoned Zack Snyder's vision for their cinematic universe after the poor reception of 2016's Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and later in 2017's controversial Justice League, which became the lowest-grossing DCEU film at the time.  DC experienced good response with stand-alone hits like 2017's Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Joker, so the studio didn’t move beyond superhero movies with strong visions from directors. Until now, which appears to be a bit late in terms of building a plan. 

DC comics boasts the original comic book Multiverse, but the DCEU films haven't been as overt about simultaneous existing realities. Instead, it was the Arrowverse on TV that established the DCEU films live within a Multiverse when Ezra Miller's movie Flash made an appearance in ‘Crisis On Infinite Earths’ and met the TV Flash played by Grant Gustin. 

However, the recent announcement that Michael Keaton is in talks to play Batman again in director Andy Muschietti's The Flash movie strongly hints at a Flashpoint-like storyline, wherein the Scarlet Speedster visits other realities, including the Gotham City Tim Burton's movies introduced in 1989's Batman and 1992's Batman Returns.


DC's plans are just beginning to unveil, but they could prove to be equally ambitious since Michael Keaton's role as Batman in The Flash is believed to be the first of multiple appearances in other DCEU films. Further, Keaton's Batman is said to be the DCEU's equivalent to the MCU's Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson): a hero who brings other heroes together. This hints at a bigger, unrevealed master plan in the works, which would be a cause to unite heroes from different realities. 

DC has a lot of ground to cover to prove to fans they can pull off Marvel-style team-ups and integration in their movies since their greatest successes have been standalone films. The case here is of lack of confidence in the DC filmmakers. However, if successful, this might be the most rewarding for comic world fans. 

Ultimately, Multiverses will be a huge game-changer for both Marvel and DCEU films in this coming decade, and they will be the next evolution of the superhero movie genre. The race has just begun, and by the looks of it, the road looks uphill for DC, as it has a lot of ground to cover and most importantly, the confidence of the fans to win. 

(Disclaimer: The views of the writer do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. Nor does WION or ZMCL endorse the views of the writer.)