The Cliffs of Insanity: Batwoman and The Lack of Imagination at Warner Bros.

Batwoman_Vol_1-19_Cover-1

Welcome to this week’s adventures in climbing the cliffs of insanity.

I wanted to be positive this week and post some fun alternative ideas for Warner Bros.’ next superhero movie instead of the very obvious Superman vs. Batman, and you’ll find three of those ideas below, each a different genre,  but I have to open with yet another entry into the continuing saga of DC Comics editorial doing something stupid.

I’m referring to J.H. Williams III and W. Haden  Blackman walking off the acclaimed Batwoman series because of last-minute and capricious editorial interference, including a ninth hour decision not to allow Kate Kane and her lover, Gotham Police Detective Maggie Sawyer, to be married. (A story that hit CNN as of this morning.)

From a post on Williams’ website: (Link provided is to the Outhousers website, as Williams’ own site is down, perhaps from too much traffic.)

Unfortunately, in recent months, DC has asked us to alter or completely discard many long-standing storylines in ways that we feel compromise the character and the series. We were told to ditch plans for Killer Croc’s origins; forced to drastically alter the original ending of our current arc, which would have defined Batwoman’s heroic future in bold new ways; and, most crushingly, prohibited from ever showing Kate and Maggie actually getting married. All of these editorial decisions came at the last minute, and always after a year or more of planning and plotting on our end.

This is not the first time I’ve heard from creators of last minute changes to story or artwork by DC editorial or decisions that are absolutely deaf to how these decisions will be perceived. I was immediately reminded of writer Josh Fialkov walking off a Green Lantern title because his first job would be to kill off John Stewart, the African-American Lantern who is well-known from the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited animated series.

Batwoman isn’t just another book. It’s the only book being published by DC headlined by a lesbian character. The series and the character have been nominated for three GLAAD awards.The series arguably also features the best art in DC’s lineup (with only Cliff Chiang on Wonder Woman on the same level). Williams had moved to scripting from art but he set the tone for the look of the book, which is wondrous, and dark, and gothic, and a feast for the eyes.

This is a prestige, elite book that had received acclaim outside the insular comic book industry. It’s a rare success story in introducing a new character. Why DC would want to mess with that success is a question that boggles the mind.

Read more about DC’s PR goofs at The Outhouse.

To be clear, DC editorial (according to tweets by Williams) isn’t opposed to a gay marriage. They’re opposed to marriage on a general level, feeling that marriage limits characters and storytelling. Ain’t nobody allowed to stay happily married in the DC universe. The list of broken couples is nearly endless, starting with Lois and Clark, though I guess Superman and Wonder Woman are all good for sexytimes for a while.

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Still, the end result is the prevention of a lesbian marriage that could have been a positive, progressive step for the comic company and bought it much good press, as Marvel’s gay wedding of X-Men Northstar did last year.

It’s incredibly tone deaf and, naturally, it’s being reported in the mainstream press as DC being opposed to a lesbian marriage with all the blowback inherent in what seems, on the surface, like a bigoted stance. DC should have seen that exact interpretation coming. Still, I can’t regret the coverage too much. Perhaps mainstream press attention, for whatever the reason, is exactly what’s needed for a reevaluation of what seems to be a stifling editorial policy over the last few years that have seen a number of prominent creators part ways with DC, the last before this being Kevin Maguire, who was immediately snapped up to do artwork for Marvel.

Speaking of tone deaf and the lack of imagination…

Hey Warner Bros., Let’s Go Deeper Into the Pool

The big film superhero news last week was Ben Affleck being cast as Batman in the upcoming Superman vs. Batman movie, a sequel to Man of Steel. The internet didn’t quite break in half but suffice to say, a large contingent was unhappy with the choice.

I say wake me when there’s an actual script. And that Affleck should direct. It would be an improvement on the unimaginative building-smashy sequence at the end of Man of Steel.

But even more, all this Superman versus Batman talk strikes me as having a distinct lack of imagination.

When Marvel Studios wanted to build a franchise, they reached down and grabbed Iron Man. Show of hands of how many of you had never heard of Iron Man/Tony Stark or read one of his comics before the movie?

I’m guessing at least half. Marvel went to the well again with Thor. A mythological god. And Captain America and set him in World War II. They’re doing the same thing with Guardians of the Galaxy. Heck, that’s a property I never would have guessed would make a major motion picture but one of the biggest buzzes from Comic Con International in San Diego this summer was Karen Gillan taking off a wig to reveal the head she’d shaved bald for her role in Guardians.

This is a movie with a talking raccoon firing a machine gun.

That’s imagination and faith in storytelling ability.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. seems so worried about the reception of their next movie that they reached down to reboot Batman in no time flat to prop up the next Superman movie. Sure, feel free to make a second Superman movie, Warner Bros. But let’s get real and admit you’re playing it ultra-safe and boring. What you need is to give your incredibly rich universe a chance to shine.

darwyn cooke martian manhunter
The Martian Manhunter learns about Earth, from DC: The New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke, copyright DC Comics

How about taking a Marvel’s cue and do something different with characters that are relatively obscure. Surprise me. Wow me. Show me something more than a superhero rumble.

My humble suggestions:

1. A film noir set in the 1950s starring Detective John Jones.

As comic fans know, John Jones is the secret identity of the Oreo-loving shape-changing Martian Manhunter. Manhunter was first pulled to Earth by a scientist attempting to study the red planet but instead created a device that transported a lone Martian to Earth. The scientist died from the shock, leaving the lost Martian with no way home.

In DC: The New Frontier, the Martian assumes the identity of police detective John Jones in the Gotham of the 1950s. It’s a perfect idea. At heart, John Jones is a misunderstood monster posing as a human in a paranoid era of American history. Amazing story telling could be done with Jones desperately trying to solve a highly charged political murder that then becomes something more complicated, as perhaps the Soviets are creating their own supermen.

You could combine a monster movie with a detective film noir and fill it with suspense. Such a film would  be grounded in reality and require only a small amount of CGI and special effects, so it wouldn’t be a huge financial risk. Use this movie to introduce pieces that might later become important to the modern-day movies, such as the formation of S.T.A.R. labs and CheckMate, the DC spy agency.

Perhaps someone with experience directing gritty detective movies might direct. Like, say, Affleck?

2. Supergirl

A suggestion on the opposite side of the spectrum. Sure, this one would require a big budget and it would star that supposedly toxic creature in Hollywood: a girl. But Hunger Games has proven that a female action movie could make a ton of money, if based on a popular idea and Supergirl is absolutely iconic. Put her in high school or have her be doing an internship at S.T.A.R labs and have her fight some monsters or Lex Luthor tech. Add in Jimmy Olsen as a sidekick, and this could be the foundation for a Daily Planet/Metropolis movie.

Wait, nevermind. A coming of age story featuring a blonde teenager coming to grips with her super powers. Nah, never work. (Sorry, Buffy.)

3. Use Arrow as a launch point.

DC actually does have a hit property featuring a second-tier hero right now, that’s Oliver Queen on CW’s Arrow, and there are plans to add an impressive list of DC characters to the show this season.

Great.

Marvel spun off S.H.I.E.L.D. to its own television series from The Avengers. Warner Bros. could do the opposite, use Arrow as a launching board for an eventual Justice League movie. Arrow is already serving as a platform to launch a new Flash series this year. But they could do much more. For instance, the show already has Black Canary (well, at least one) and Helena Bertinelli (Huntress) has already appeared. Add in Felicity, and, presto, a television version of DC’s popular Birds of Prey.

Then there’s the island where Oliver was trapped for five years.

In DC history, the Island That Time Forgot was a time nexus that contained denizens throughout history, including dinosaurs. I’m not suggesting using dinosaurs but it seems that at least two DC characters could be introduced when they investigate this island that seems to be of such interest to the powers that be in the Arrow-universe.

Surely, Aquaman is wondering what the surface dwellers are doing to make such a mess of the area around the island.

And perhaps the island is near another mysterious isle, Paradise Island? Perhaps the long-lost Amazons should send someone over to investigate and then follow the trail of murderous men to the rest of the world.

Just a few thoughts. I’m sure there are many other ideas hidden in the DC universe beyond Superman and Batman fighting. But, hey, Warner Bros., go with superheroes punching each other instead.

I guess there’s a sure market for that.

Writer, Mom, Geek and Superhero. though usually not all four on the same day. Author of the award-winning Phoenix Institute Superhero series and the steampunk novel, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract.