I realized two things watching the CW’s special presentation of Vixen Wednesday night. The first is that DC (and by extension Warner Bros.) should probably scale back on its cinematic universe for the time being and focus on television and animation.
The second is that Green Arrow (no matter how broody) makes a rotten Batman substitute.
While it was supposed to generate fan interest and keep DC properties buzzing at the top of everyone’s minds, Warner Bros. recent flurry of press releases (and the announcement of a new and related-but-somehow-separate-film banner?) came across as a smoke screen for the fact that DC has no idea what its doing with its cinematic universe. Despite the fact that Wonder Woman was one of this summer’s few bright spots (the box office busting critical darling is currently one of my favourite movies of 2017), the only DC films Warner currently has on the docket are this November’s Justice League (currently undergoing 25 million dollars worth of reshoots) and 2018’s Aquaman (seriously, Aquaman?).
At some point, Warner and DC are going to have to deliver on all the headline-grabbing promises they’ve made. Meanwhile, something that’s flown under a lot of people’s radar is that amidst all these flashy new promises, some previous announcements that had garnered some decent buzz were cancelled (the Harley Quinn centric Gotham City Sirens for instance).
Look, whether you like it or not, Marvel is owning the comic book cinematic space right now. Regardless of how well Wonder Woman did (against all odds, mind you) and how well Justice League might do (and make no mistake, box office success is no guarantee despite Wonder Woman’s recent success), nobody will be talking about either when the orgasm of super hero spectacle that is Avengers 3 hits theatres next May. Hell, no one may be taking about either after Black Panther drops next February. And Marvel has the next two years planned out with enough room for some flexibility if they need it and plenty of space for sequels (including Spider-Man).
My point is, regardless of your feeling towards either cinematic universe (and there are few things as polarizing among movie fans today), Marvel is kicking DC’s ass at the multiplex right now. And trying to course correct that on the current landscape will probably wind up just embarrassing DC and Warner Bros.
But TV and animation? Now that’s a different story.
Marvel’s batting record on the home market (TV and streaming) has been a bit hit and miss. It hasn’t been without its successes (Daredevil), but it isn’t without its warts either (looking at you Iron Fist). But DC on the other hand seems to have mastered the format.
Wednesday’s presentation of Vixen (which collected two season’s worth of animated shorts streamed on The CW Seed along with 15 minutes of new footage) was essentially a delivery system for details on the CW’s returning superhero shows. Arrow, Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow will be returning in early October with all new episodes while Black Lightning will debut in early 2018. But DC has plenty to brag about other than its family of successful CW shows.
Gotham and Lucifer have been hits on Fox while Krypton (taking place on Superman’s doomed home planet two generations before its destruction) will debut next year on Syfy. And DC has practically owned the direct to home market with its animated releases (often based on popular storylines from their comics).
With shows like Vixen, DC has proven it can take a secondary, borderline obscure character and flesh it out enough to give it an identity and a voice it never had before. It’s something Marvel has successfully been doing on the big screen, turning properties few people outside of the comics game knew anything about (Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, Dr. Strange) and turning them into blockbusters. And while DC hasn’t been able to pull that trick off on the big screen, they have hit plenty of home runs on the small one.
And having an animated universe void of Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman allows the other players to stretch their legs and get some quality at bats. While Marvel may (or may not) be able to continue parlaying supporting and secondary characters into box office gold, DC has proven it take its own supporting cast and turn it into TV ratings and fan successes.
If Vixen proved anything, it’s that DC has plenty left in its cartoon tank. Freedom Fighters: The Ray will join Vixen on The CW Seed this fall while and there are plans to bring everyone’s favourite warlock John Constantine to animated life. There will be no shortage of big name voice talent on either project (Supergirl actor Mellissa Benoist will voice Ray villain Overgirl-a Nazi version of Supergirl-while Matt Reeves returns to voice Constantine) and DC appears to be building a symbiotic relationship between its growing animated universe and it’s lineup of live action shows. And let’s not forget that Young Justice will be getting a very welcome resurrection next year.
It’s pretty safe to say that DC is the current heavyweight champ on the small screen. And there’s no shame in that.
At the end of the day, DC will eventually be forced to cede the cinematic universe ground to Marvel. It’s only a matter of time since Marvel and Disney are playing the long game for keeps. DC will hit a home run now and then (i.e. Wonder Woman) but Marvel is going to win the World Series. But there’s no reason DC can’t win the battle on the small and streaming screen. And as Vixen revealed, they have plenty of firepower to fight that battle.
Now if they could only find a way to make Green Arrow interesting.