DC’s attempt at a cinematic universe has more drama behind the scenes than it does on it
Now, with the direction that James Gunn has taken with the franchise, fans can dare to hope, but seemingly at a cost.
James Gunn’s DCU might have space for legacy actors like Henry Cavill and Dwayne Johnson after all, thanks to the Elseworld imprint
DC’s attempt at a cinematic universe has more drama behind the scenes than it does on it. Multiple failed attempts followed by a series of films that were ruined by corporate meddling yielded a fan base that would rally behind the talent and the product, but not the money. Now, with the direction that James Gunn has taken with the franchise, fans can dare to hope, but seemingly at a cost.
After DC’s The Flash, starring Ezra Miller as the titular speedster, it seems that we have seen the last of fan favorites like Henry Cavill’s Superman, Ben Affleck’s Batman, and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s Black Adam. However, should there ever be a need for these actors to play the characters that fans have come to love, Gunn has devised a brilliant strategy to make it possible, by keeping one key thing intact.
All the films under James Gunn will share a universe- at least most will
As James Gunn tries to organize the DC universe into a shared cinematic spectacle, the director has decided to keep two DC properties separate from its mainline universe, terming them as Elseworld stories. Chief among them are prestige live-action dramas like Joker and The Batman, which allow for these universes to expand independently of the main universe. Apart from these, the DCAU, one of DC’s most lucrative verticles also shows no signs of losing momentum.
Given that these universes are distinct from the mainline DC universe, everything that worked for the old DCEU, including actors and storylines, could live on as separate entities in animated form, much like Marvel’s What If…? series on Disney+. Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, The Rock, and Ben Affleck could reprise their roles in this separate continuity. If that somehow becomes impossible, then their version of DC characters could live on in the same way in which Marvel has kept characters like Tony Stark and Steve Rogers alive in their animated universe without Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans.
Elseworlds is getting a hefty second helping
At San Diego Comin Con in 2023, DC let fans know that they were in the process of reviving Elseworlds, where artists and storytellers can explore alternas status quos that have no connection to the main stories the comics are trying to tell. This is the same imprint that produced groundbreaking stories like Superman: Red Son, where the Big Blue Boy Scout finds himself landing in the Soviet Union rather than in Kansas.
This imprint now will play host to paradigm-shifting stories like Dark Knights of Steel, which reimagines the entire DC universe in a high fantasy setting. Among the new releases that will revive the imprint in 2024 will be another medieval reimagining of Batman, called Batman the Barbarian. The imprint is also set to expand on Tom Taylor’s aforementioned high fantasy remaining of the DC Universe with Dark Knights of Steel: Allwinter.
Given how popular Elseworlds stories have been with fans (be it Gotham by Gaslight or Justice League: Kingdom Come), James Gunn keeping this backdoor open even in the live-action and animated space might be the silver bullet that gets it ahead of Marvel, which is using a similar concept, but keeping it in line with the main story it’s trying to tell with the MCU.