Apr 23, 2014

DC Should Just Bring the New Gods to the Big Screen

I'm a basketball fan, and a part of being a basketball fan is believing that more than having the best abilities, talent, and skills, it's important to find yourself in the best situation. You can't just put the best available players together (see the 2011 Miami Heat or the 2013 Los Angeles Lakers); you have to take into account skill sets and make sure they all complement each other (see the 1996 Chicago Bulls, or any San Antonio Spurs team since 1999).

This also applies to comics. You can't just pair up a hot artist with a hot writer and have them work on anything you want. It has to be a project on which their skills would complement each other. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons created one of the greatest comics of all time in Watchmen, but their skills would not have come together on a project like Swamp Thing, as Gibbons' line is too clean for a muck monster. You can put Jim Lee on Batman: Hush, a collection of money shots of Batman and his cast, but Superman: For Tomorrow is a harder sell, because it requires a lot of subtle emotion, never Lee's strong suit.

In that same vein, it's true for movies. Look, I know there are fans of DC's movies, and more power to that, but here's what we know for sure, moving forward: Man of Steel was polarizing as hell, and Man of Steel made $668 million while Thor: The Dark World made $644 million, trouncing Superman overseas. Is $668 million and beating Thor by %24 million a box office failure? Of course not. But, would you be happy with those numbers, if you consider the fact that we're talking about Superman, a worldwide icon of 75 years? Would you be happy with mixed reviews and mixed crowd reaction? I wouldn't be. It's something along the lines of the economic concept of capitalization rates; yes, you're making a good return on investment, but is it really the best return on investment you could be getting? I don't think so. You're leaving a lot of opportunity on the table.

Warner Brothers doesn't lead the movies in the superhero genre, just as DC doesn't lead the superhero genre in the comics industry, but heck, you could even say that in the long term, they may not even be number 2. Marvel's pretty far ahead, with their movies all planned till 2028 and their TV shows all locked up, but look at the landscape, and you see that Sony does have a plan with the Spider-Man universe, however weird it is (Travis has joked, or perhaps not-joked, about the Sony version of Avengers being Maximum Carnage, which would be both weird and awesome), and Fox has the entire X-Men and Wolverine franchise to bank on, as well as the Fantastic Four to launch. (And what are the odds they'll cross over eventually? Pretty good, right?) On the other hand, David Goyer's said that Warner Brother really has no plan for their universe.

So I've been thinking about it, and thinking about it, and thinking about it, and BOOM, just like that, my brain fixed Warner Brothers' problem (yes, I'm going to go ahead and call it a problem, even if their higher-ups probably don't think there is one). And, while my brain was at it, it fixed a DC Comics' problem. Basically, it comes down to this. Warner Brothers should shelve Batman and Superman for a while and focus on...

...The New Gods.

Slow down, Superman and Batman fans. Take a deep breath. Work with me. We'll get through this. Take a seat. Let's talk this out. What do we know?

Well, let's take a quick look at what's worked for Marvel. Marvel kicked off this incredibly impressive run with Iron Man, a character who the world probably knew by name and by look prior to 2008, and aside from a transcendent performance by Robert Downey Jr., I think one of the main drivers for this has been the fact that Iron Man has a very strong technological focus, in this, what is probably the best age for technologically focused movies. Not to say that any movie with technology in it is going to be a smash hit, just that it helps to connect with today's audience more readily.

Who am I kidding, of course it'd be a hit regardless.

Another of Marvel's out-of-nowhere successes is the Thor franchise. I say out of nowhere because, for the longest time, I'd heard and read that pulling off Thor was impossible, that it would be too corny, too hokey, and, most of all, too expensive. (I wish I had a source for that last one, but I distinctly remember reading a piece that said making a Thor movie would cost at least $400 million, around 2005.) That's certainly no longer true, and we've seen several works of fiction go the mythical route since. Yes, the fantasy thing had been a genre that led to Hollywood success since Lord of the Rings, but now we're seeing comics like Loki: Ragnarok and Roll and two Hercules movies in the same year? Come on, you can't tell me none of that is on the success of Thor and Tumblr's love for Tom Hiddleston.

While I'm at it, let me mention Almighty Thor, which features Kevin Nash as Odin.

Acting: So much more respectable than pro wrestling.

Okay, so we've got two franchises about technology and mythology, and guess what? The New Gods of the Fourth World meet at the intersection of those two genres. Taking place after the birth of the gods that replaced the old ones (so, heck, starting a New Gods film would metatextually declare war on Thor and Marvel Studios, which may not be that far off), the Fourth World looks at technology and the evolving role it takes in our everyday lives. The mixture of fantasy and sci-fi in the New Gods is simultaneously disarming and arresting, and should be intriguing enough to a new audience.

But wait, you say, no one knows who the New Gods are! No one will care!

Well, you can't really convince me that the general moviegoing public cared so much about Iron Man before Robert Downey Jr. got to him, or even really knew who Thor was before 2011. But, even if you could, they are making Guardians of the Galaxy. That is a movie that's being released this August, and even got a big "World Premiere of the Trailer" thingymabob on Jimmy Kimmel. In other words, it's okay if people don't know who these characters are. Most movie franchises start from scratch. Heck, if anything, the biggest problem the New Gods would have, in terms of public consciousness, is how similar it is to Star Wars (main protagonist, protecting the Source/Force is the son of the main antagonist, who is either named Darkseid or is with the Dark Side), and you could probably easily combat that by pointing out how the New Gods came first.

The New Gods would be a big, sprawling epic. You've seen how Marvel used three (actually four, but we're not going to count the Hulk) franchises to eventually dovetail into Avengers, but that kind of storytelling engine was the type Jack Kirby was working with (and didn't really get a chance to go through with) in the early 70s with the New Gods. Working with four titles, the only real connection between the four titles was the presence of the main villain, the Lord of Apokolips, Darkseid.

"When you cry out in your dreams, it is Darkseid that you see."

Darkseid himself should be a good enough reason to do this. Not only has Darkseid's status as a villain favorite been cemented in his appearances in Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League Unlimited, but his status as a top villain in DC Comics has never been fully realized, for whatever reasons (the reasons actually being that he's always getting beaten down handily, but we won't go there). Putting Darkseid in a different medium would give him a fresh start and may revitalize him in the source material.

Plus, there's also this: Darkseid is the inspiration for Thanos, who is likely going to be the main villain of Avengers 3, and do you, DC fans, really want Thanos on the screen when Darkseid isn't on the screen? Come now.

The main thrust of the Fourth World Saga is the actual New Gods epic. In the wake of the destruction of the old gods (or... Ragnarok), two worlds are created. One, Apokolips, ruled by Darkseid, is all about drudgery, despair, and slavery. And the other, New Genesis, is about hope.

In an effort to achieve peace between the two worlds, Darkseid and Highfather agree to exchange sons. Darkseid's son, Orion, raised in New Genesis, is the perfect protagonist for a Warner Brothers movie. As Man of Steel shows, Warner Brothers thinks that highlighting destruction on an epic scale is the way to go, and Orion is sufficiently conflicted, angry, and violent. He'd be perfect for Zack Snyder's action sequences, and Kalibak is the kind of antagonist that would be good for a first movie.

Ooh, look, a video!

In addition, let's not forget Warner Brothers' obsession with shoehorning "depth" and "allegory" into their movies, even if it makes no sense and is the conversational equivalent of that dude who likes to shoehorn in trivia and facts that have nothing to do with the topic at hand just to show off how much he knows. We're talking about a studio that has Superman assuming Jesus Christ poses, has Superman and Batman at age 33, and throws the word "inspire" around a lot without actually showing Superman inspiring anyone. Yes, in short, I think Warner Brothers is a studio that very much falls short in the "show, don't tell" department, and one of the reasons for that is because they keep trying to shoehorn in these themes instead of just letting the material speak for themselves.

(Someone, somewhere, right now is selectively reading this and complaining that I'm calling depth and allegory bad things. Bank on it.)

Well, if they're going to insist on doing that, then we may as well give them source material where all that stuff is built into, and that's New Gods, right there. There's the whole mythical/religious aspect as it is, and the idea of how technology plays into that, and all the imagery you can use with that.

But even the names of the characters are allusions or metaphors. Darkseid and Orion are self-explanatory, but Highfather's name is Izaya, after the Biblical Isaiah, while Darkseid's other son is named Kalibak, reflecting his beastly nature, after Caliban from Shakespeare's The Tempest. Darkseid' main torturer is Desaad, after the Marquis De Sade. And Highfather's son who was given to Darkseid as part of the peace pact? His name is Scott Free.

Scott Free is the second main character of this epic. Born to Izaya and handed over to Darkseid, Scott was raised in the terrible orphanages of Apokolips and then found his way out, with the help of his future wife Big Barda to become Mister Miracle, the world's greatest escape artist!

Reason # 450 to do New Gods: Big Barda.

Scott would certainly be a unique superhero, and that's important if you want to stand out in the market. Superman has such a generic power set (granted, it was originally his power set) that the producers decided to really showcase his level of power to show how he stands out. Orion's got the same power set, for the most part, so how do we make another movie stand out? Well, we'll make him an escape artist, flanked by a Fourth World Amazon (and sometimes multiple Fourth World Amazons)!

So now you've got two movies with Darkseid as the main thread connecting them, and then there's a third! The Forever People, created to be New God hippies and representatives of counterculture...

...okay, I have no idea what you could do with them that wouldn't look incredibly dated — Grant Morrison tried updating them in Final Crisis to make them not-hippies but more contemporary, but that would date itself quickly — but it's got a dude named Mark Moonrider, a big bearlike dude named Big Bear, and a beautiful dreamer named Beautiful Dreamer. Warner Brothers pays people stuff to figure this out, right?

(Pay me, Warner Brothers. Hire me. I make a mean cup of coffee and can photocopy documents like no one's business.)

Also, if nothing else, the Forever People go to Happyland.

There was an evil amusement park in LucasArts' Monkey Island video games.
Damn it, George Lucas, stop aping the New Gods!

So we've got a sprawling multilayered epic with the ultimate villain, a story that creators love so much that it keeps getting revived in the comics, but is so unwieldy that it never finishes at a level that people find satisfactory. It's got everything in it: Shakespeare, the Bible, mythology, and the kitchen sink. These things are right in the Nolan/Snyder superhero wheelhouse, and the New Gods would provide them with the best situation to tell the stories they want to tell.

And when you take the world by storm with Orion, Mister Miracle, and the rest of the New Gods? That's when you unleash Superman.

See, Superman's tied into the New Gods, mainly because part of the contract when Jack Kirby was hired by DC was that he worked Superman into his epic, but also because Darkseid has been a pretty prominent Superman villain since 1986, and was even his ultimate villain in both his 90s cartoon and in Justice League Unlimited. In those cartoons, Darkseid was the one villain Superman was willing to cross the line for, and remember, we now have a Superman with blood on his hands. So when Darkseid and Superman come face to face, it will be a knockdown, dragout fight that will, hopefully, take place at a location where civilians can be taken to safety instead of having 7-Elevens thrown around them.

I've long thought that including Superman in the New Gods epic diluted the Fourth World, and I still think that in terms of comics, that's true. But in the movies, it would only go to show Darkseid as a true major threat. It would take several movies to build up, but a New Gods movie franchise, eventually featuring Superman, would have the themes that fall right into Nolan and Snyder's collective wheelhouse, and are characters that fit what they want to do, minimizing their need to sledgehammer every single bit of symbolism as much as they can, and it wouldn't be so polarizing. It's not a perfect solution, but like Monta Ellis going to the Dallas Mavericks and saving both his career and their season, it's as good a situation as you're going to get.

So forget the Justice League. Warner Brothers should use the New Gods. There, I've solved eight years of movie planning for what should be the number 2 studio in the superhero genre. I'm a genius. Or completely nuts. Of course, it will never happen. Warner Brothers will continue to make movies about Superman and Batman, and sometimes other people that we'll forget about in a couple of years (hello, Green Lantern), and there won't be much in the way of variety of tone and theme. They'll polarize the audience, who Zack Snyder will blame for every underperformance, and we'll look back on all this in 2028 and wonder how it is that Black Widow eventually eclipsed Superman on the worldwide popularity scale. And I'll be sitting in my living room, looking at this article, thinking "If only they went with the New Gods, like I said!", right before I stand up and go outside and tell kids to get off my lawn.

Is Duy on the mark? Or is he just insane? Or do you actually like DC's movies and think they're good enough that you want to throw a pie at his face? Let us know in the comments. Meanwhile, you can find some New Gods stuff here:

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