Crisis on infinite DCU reboots? The new DC Studios roadmap is here — or at least part of it is — and it leads us to a pretty obvious question: haven’t we heard this song and dance before? Every few years, DC tells us “things are going to be different this time, I swear!” Sometimes the reboot is in the comics, other times it’s in the film and television universe, but two things remain the same: things haven’t been different, and we keep showing up anyway.
Enter James Gunn and Peter Safran, new co-CEOs of DC Studios. New execs, new creators, and a new slate give us a lot of things to be excited about… on paper. But will the studio actually pull it off this time? Jesse Schedeen and Amelia Emberwing — two of IGN’s DC experts across its respective mediums — sat down to hash out whether this is all very exciting or just the same thing we’ve heard before wrapped up in pretty paper with James Gunn’s face on it.
We’ve Heard This Song and Dance Before
Jesse: Even the most diehard DC fans have to be looking at this news with a little bit of skepticism. DC has become notorious over the years for constantly course-correcting and pivoting and changing strategies, only to do it all over again when the strategy doesn’t immediately pay off or one round of Warner Bros. executives is replaced by another.
I still remember when DC’s plan following the failure of Justice League was to pivot away from the DCEU branding and instead emphasize “Worlds of DC.” The idea there was to celebrate the DC multiverse and not worry about maintaining a single cinematic universe. Then Black Adam was supposed to change “the hierarchy of power” in the DC Universe. And maybe it did, but only in the sense that DC followed up another underperforming blockbuster with a massive internal overhaul and another shift in direction.
There are obvious ways in which this latest reset is very different from what’s come before, but it’s just hard to feel very optimistic for a company that’s struggled for so long to get its act together. And even if this new strategy does begin to gain momentum and right the ship over the next few years, what happens if Warners is dragged through yet another destructive merger? What if the rumors about Warner Bros. being prepped for sale to Comcast pan out? Will the new bosses still be as committed to the DCU?
After all these years, it’s hard not to immediately fall into pessimism about DC’s cinematic universe strategies. There have been so many.
After all these years, it’s hard not to immediately fall into pessimism about DC’s cinematic universe strategies. There have been so many.
Amelia: Everything that Jesse just said is true. We have had the rug pulled out from under us so many times and in so many different ways over the years. Tangentially related, we had to watch The CW and HBO nail the essence of so many of our favorite characters while the films cast other actors and wrote other scripts to do worse jobs. DC is a mess, and I have shouted from the rooftops about it more than most in the last decade.
Something feels different this time, though. And maybe that’s just me being naive, or just putting a whole lot of faith in James Gunn. Maybe it’s because I know that they’re going to give television its due and understand how much of an asset longform storytelling can be to their universe thanks to the utilization of Peacemaker. Either way, I am dropping my cranky Bat Family ways and going the way of the Kryptonian on this one.
Does Gunn’s Involvement Make a Difference?
Amelia: I’ve taken a lot of well-earned potshots at Warner Bros. Discovery over the last year, but hiring James Gunn and Peter Safran to head the DCU is the smartest move they could have made. Even before the upcoming film and television slate was announced, the two brought a certain amount of credibility with their partnership on the smash hit Peacemaker and their numerous other projects together.
But let’s talk about Gunn’s involvement specifically, because what he brings to the table here extends well beyond his ability to work with incredible ensembles and take some of our favorite characters from page to screen.
We haven’t just gotten to watch Gunn grow as an artist, from humble beginnings at Troma all the way to the marvels that are the Guardians of the Galaxy films, but also as a person. We see so many creators decide to stop listening, but his curiosity and willingness to learn give him a level of empathy that is necessary to bring a wide, diverse lineup of characters to life. And, while we don’t have any evidence to support it yet, it’s my hope that those qualities will also mean that he steps aside and trusts the other directors he brings in as well. Sameness and cohesion don’t always go hand in hand, and while cohesion is critical for a shared universe, “sameness” is one of the most frequent critiques of Marvel for a reason. It’s OK for different directors to bring their own styles to these films!
Moreover, we have seen this guy’s unconditional love for these stories time and time again. Because of those humble beginnings, and because of Gunn’s love for writing, he shows a certain passion for the stories that we don’t always see from studio execs. A love that extends beyond their own creations and the original comics that got them there.
Jesse: There’s not going to be any disagreement here. I not only agree with Amelia’s assertion that hiring Gunn and Safran was the smartest move WBD could have made, I wrote that article already. Frankly, Gunn’s involvement is my biggest source of optimism in this whole DCU experiment. He’s established himself as one of the best directors in the superhero game right now because he knows how to navigate the complexities of big-budget filmmaking while keeping his quirky indie voice fully in play. The Guardians movies are some of the best of the MCU because he’s so great at combining oddball characters and wacky action with deeply emotional drama.
Amelia’s right. Gunn shows a clear passion in his work. And it says something that he could have followed the Russo Bros. in pivoting to smaller projects after his MCU tenure ended instead of diving right into another superhero universe. Trying to right the DC ship has to be one of the most thankless jobs in Hollywood right now. But Gunn and Safran not only have the chops to do the job, they seem to actively want it and love these characters every bit as much as the fans.
Can Flashpoint for the DCU Have the Impact It Did in the Comics and on The CW?
Jesse: Flashpoint is sort of a weird story in that it’s never been very good about setting the stage for a rebooted DC Universe. That’s not really a criticism of the story itself. The original 2011 comic is a solid crossover set in one of the more memorable alternate DC timelines we’ve ever seen. It’s an even better Batman story than it is a Flash story, which is probably why Flashpoint’s Thomas Wayne has taken on a life of his own in the years since. And there’s also the 2013 animated movie, which distills everything down into its best and most streamlined form.
But again, what’s come after Flashpoint has never really lived up to its promise. Flashpoint was the catalyst for 2011’s New 52 reboot in the comics, where DC relaunched its entire comic book line with a streamlined continuity and a more contemporary approach. The New 52 line was pointlessly dark and edgy, and the compressed five-year timeline never remotely made sense with characters like Batman. Worst of all, pretty much every great book from that era could just as easily have existed without the reboot. DC finally gave up on the experiment after a few years, with 2016’s DC Universe: Rebirth starting the slow process of bringing back everything the New 52 removed from the playing field.
The animated movie line fell into the exact same problem. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox set up a rebooted universe heavily modeled after the New 52, and the quality was never there. It got so bad that DC finally had to kill off the universe in Justice League Dark: Apokolips War by sending Barry Allen back in time to rewrite history yet again.
The Arrowverse’s Flashpoint is interesting in that it took a much smaller-scale approach to the story. The whole story was confined to one episode of The Flash, without any of the gun-toting Batman and Pirate Admiral Deathstroke zaniness of the comic. And because of that, it didn’t wind up having a major impact on the universe as a whole. Flashpoint was just that season’s MacGuffin for introducing metahuman villains.
None of those versions of Flashpoint really make a strong case for this story being the right tool to rewrite a superhero universe. In the case of the comics and the animated movies, the resulting new universe was so messy and frustratingly inconsistent in quality that the powers that be wound up nuking the whole thing. And with the Arrowverse, it didn’t change much at all. So the Flash movie has a lot to prove if they expect this to be the version of the story where things actually change – both for the better and permanently.
Amelia: Hear me out: what if we see Joker Martha and Batman Thomas in an honest-to-god live-action Elseworlds story? Because I do agree that Flashpoint is a more interesting Batman story than it is a Flash one. Serves me just fine if that ends up being the case in the upcoming DCU not just because I think Ezra Miller’s Flash has never been a solid addition to the franchise and their crimes only make me all the more ready to see them out the door, but because I think a Flashpoint that basically blips the Barry Allen portion out of the story after he shatters time is the best kind of story it can be for the future of this upcoming franchise. That’s not to say Barry can’t exist in the new canon, but let us not forget: he is far from the only Speedster in town.
I guess that means that my answer is that I think the events of Flashpoint — not The Flash movie itself, I’ve gotten to the point that I refuse to believe it even exists until I am in a theater watching the dang thing — can have an even greater effect on the wider DCU because I don’t think we have to be beholden to past rules. And, honestly, I don’t care if the answer is we just shrug and say “Flashpoint!” every time something new is introduced that wouldn’t have made sense in the past stories because I just want to be done with them already. It can be a running joke that they make fun of themselves with, so long as we just move on.
Oh, and justice for New 52’s Aquaman run, which ruled!
Does a “Soft” Reboot Actually Matter?
Jesse: The strategy for the DCU is oddly reminiscent of the way DC has handled its comic book reboots over the years. The idea of rebooting some parts – but not all – of their shared universe is sort of DC’s thing. That’s what happened both in the aftermath of 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths (and the Arrowverse adaptation) and then much later in the New 52.
With Crisis, the idea was that DC’s multiverse had grown extremely convoluted over the decades. DC wanted to do away with the multiverse entirely and just have one world where all their heroes coexist.
The problem right out of the gate is that DC didn’t change everything all at once, but rather made a haphazard attempt at establishing this new post-Crisis DCU over the course of several years. Some franchises were clearly affected by the fallout of Crisis and others just kept trucking along like usual. That quickly started to create continuity problems and storytelling confusion of its own, to the point where DC had to resort to 1994’s Zero Hour crossover as a sort of Band-Aid.
The New 52 had essentially the same problem. Even though it was one big reset that happened immediately and across all franchises, some characters were far more heavily affected than others. Readers could no longer tell what stories still took place in this new timeline and which had been eliminated. Judging from the well-publicized editorial struggles during that era, it’s clear the writers and artists at DC didn’t know much more than the readers.
All of this is to say that DC has a long history with this kind of pseudo-reboot approach, and none of it is especially encouraging. DC never wants to fully commit to the idea of rebooting. They make some big changes but leave the top-performing characters and franchises alone. There’s always an element of playing it safe – altering certain things but being too afraid to rock the boat where it might hurt them. That in turn leads to confusing questions about continuity and how everything fits together.
This is definitely a case of apples and oranges in comparing comic book reboots and film reboots. But there’s still the question of whether we can put our faith in a reboot that isn’t willing to fully commit to being a reboot. The announcement of the Waller series proves that Gunn’s Suicide Squad/Peacemaker characters are still around, and it looks as though the same is true for Jason Momoa’s Aquaman. Yet The Brave and the Bold’s Batman and Superman: Legacy’s Clark Kent will be completely new incarnations. And Wonder Woman and The Flash will be complete question marks, possibly for years, until Gunn touches on the characters in future projects. It’s hard not to wonder if a complete and total reboot would have been easier here.
Amelia: The biggest thing I want to highlight from Jesse’s point is that things made little sense in the comics’ partial reboots because the changes occurred over time rather than all at once. We are in agreement that a move like that would undoubtedly hobble the new DCU before it even has a chance to start, but I am very pro this partial reboot from the film and television sense.
DC leadership was a mess. Such a mess that James Gunn felt confident saying so out loud at a press event about the future of their franchise. Sometimes, the only way to push a franchise forward is to nuke it, which very much felt like what happened behind the scenes. However, there are parts of the current DC canon that work. Ones that I don’t want to lose just because some executives can’t get their business in order!
I’ll defend the (sometimes messy) DCTV universe until my dying breath, and I think Momoa’s Aquaman, Gadot’s Wonder Woman (though her future is in question), the Peacemaker crew, and a whole host of other DC performances are wonderful and worth keeping. They’ll also help offer a familiarity for viewers who aren’t quite as sold on what Gunn and Safran are selling just yet. But, when these changes happen, they have to be all at once. It seems like that’s the plan, with Gunn making it clear that the reset is post-Flashpoint and that Superman: Legacy is where the real DCU begins. So long as they’ve sorted out Aquaman in that weird in-between period — something easily solved by a time jump — I think a partial reboot is the perfect way to move forward with this new universe.
What Does DC Need to Do to Stand Out?
Amelia: There are a lot of superhero movies out there. And, while I believe “superhero fatigue” is a joke that we should have stopped taking seriously years ago, I’m not looking for another Marvel. We have a Marvel! I love it, and I’m not interested in a new one.
What I need from Gunn, Safran, and the new DCU is for it to be different. And not just from Marvel, but from itself as well. The co-CEOs have proven track records across genres, and I want to see them flex those muscles here. Superhero horror, superhero westerns, superhero dramas and comedies, prestige TV heroes, sad heroes, joyful heroes, complex, complicated, messy heroes that aren’t just a parody of themselves (and maybe some that are)… I want it all. Not at first, of course. These things take time! But for this to not just succeed but flourish, I need the future of the DCU to be colorful and weird and diverse. There are comics for all kinds of kinds, and I think Gunn means to make them!
What I need from Gunn, Safran, and the new DCU is for it to be different. And not just from Marvel, but from itself as well.
A strong shared universe — something they’ve already stressed is a huge part of their plan — is also extremely appealing to me. Marvel was “all connected” until their TV shows stopped being convenient for them, and then suddenly Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter were “kinda sorta but not really” canon. (Of course, we’re back at it with the Disney+ series) No. I want to see DCTV be all in (with the exception of Elseworlds, of course). Let’s bring all the conversations looking down on television to an end and show how much value long form storytelling can bring to your films. (Something Gunn has already done in spades with Peacemaker.)
Jesse: There definitely does need to be more interconnectivity than we’ve been seeing in the post-Justice League DCEU. Every movie has been so divorced from the rest and there’s been no overarching narrative forming. The Flash is probably going to be the first DC movie to push the universe forward, and it’ll be hitting theaters almost six years after Justice League.
But that being said, DC doesn’t need to try to beat Marvel at the tightly interwoven cinematic universe game. My concern when things become too interconnected is that the smaller projects start languishing in the shadows of the bigger movies that dictate the flow of the universe. Amelia pointed out how poorly Agents of SHIELD intermingled with the wider MCU. That show had the worst of both worlds in that it always felt like the writers were desperate for any MCU breadcrumbs they could sprinkle into the series, yet the movies never bothered to acknowledge the show. None of the advantages of having a shared continuity were present. It just became a show that tried to tell the best and most ambitious story it could with a limited toybox.
I don’t want shows like Creature Commandos and Booster Gold to feel like they’re being limited in the stories they can tell and the characters they can include because the Superman: Legacys and The Brave and the Bolds of the DCU are calling the shots. Hopefully, the fact that Gunn and Safran seem to envision a smaller and more focused line of two movies and two shows per year will allow each project to carve a clear place for itself and fit neatly into the larger tapestry.
What Are Our Biggest Hopes for the Future?
Amelia: Where are my girls at? In all things, I want to see more of my ladies in front of and behind the camera and penning scripts. Bring Nicole Maines’ Dreamer into the new DCU canon and let Leslie Grace have her dang time to shine as Batgirl. Let J’onn J’onnz eat oreos and the superpets live! Bring me stories that understand the core fundamentals of their characters and that let them thrive and argue and love and hate in all of their differences. Build up a lovable, earnest and kind goof of Kal-El so we can once again scream with righteous glee when Superman gets mad enough to go rage mode rather than him just basically living there, and a cold, reserved, and yet deeply empathetic Bruce Wayne who reminds people why he’s called a hero. Oh, and bring the Legends of Tomorrow back.
DC is made up of some of my favorite characters in the world. Give them a stable home again. That’s my biggest hope for the DCU.
Jesse: I mostly just want stability. It’s not that DC wasn’t already capable of competing with Marvel in terms of quality. The Batman was a better superhero movie than anything the MCU gave us last year. DC’s problem has always been the lack of a clear, consistent vision. Either there doesn’t appear to be a plan, or the plan keeps changing every time there’s another leadership shakeup.
Gunn and Safran’s grand plan for the DCU, at least based on what we know so far, seems pretty sound. They’re clearly looking to do right by Superman for a change, and it’s great to see some lesser-known characters get major spotlights rather than the Bat-family hogging all the attention. But again, there have been plans in the past. I just want to watch this one play out and see what DC can accomplish when everyone is pushing the boat in the same direction for a change.
Also, my kingdom for a good TV adaptation of The Question.
What are your thoughts as the dust of this huge announcement begins to settle? Which side of the reboot debate do you fall on? Let us know in the comments.
Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.
Amelia is the entertainment Streaming Editor here at IGN. She’s also a film and television critic who spends too much time talking about dinosaurs, superheroes, and folk horror. You can usually find her with her dog, Rogers. There may be cheeseburgers involved. Follow her across social @ThatWitchMia