DC Weekly: Let's Talk About the DCEU

– by Joseph Medina

Welcome to the DC Weekly, where every week we cover DC news, TV show reactions, and random speculation.

This week, I’m taking a break from news-lets and recaps to discuss the upcoming DC Extended Universe. For those unfamiliar, that's the self-appointed name Warner Bros has given DC's shared universe.

Yes, it’s a universe that hasn’t quite gotten off the ground yet, but after all the news, magazine covers, and stories we’ve had a chance to check out in recent months, we’re starting to get a good feel on what to expect. Sort of.

Zack Snyder has even gone on the record with We Got This Covered to say that “Batman v Superman” would be “more grounded in reality than any of the other ones. It’s a comic book movie, yes, but it’s very, very grounded.”

While that’s a great line for Snyder to feed us, I do question if this is quite the case considering what we’ve seen so far. It’s understandable that Snyder was only talking about “Batman v Superman,” but I imagine they’d be going for a same type of feel for the universe as a whole. 

With “Suicide Squad,” which has a premise that’s decidedly more “grounded” in nature than “Batman v Superman,” it seems that director David Ayer is happy to put a comic book aesthetic front and center. It does make one wonder: just what kind of world are we getting out of the DC Extended Universe?

Because we’re human, we inherently love throwing things into categories, but it’s not always so easy.

The “Dark Knight Trilogy” definitely went for the realistic and dark style of storytelling, and so far, the MCU seems to go for a healthy mix of realistic and comic booky, all brought together with a lighthearted tone. So far, however, the DCEU doesn’t really fit as cleanly as most comic book movies in the past have.

Again, it’s a bit difficult to tell at this point, given that we haven’t really seen any of the upcoming movies, but we can give it our best shot, given what we know so far.

Visual Style

I feel like we’ve never had a visual style like this before. While people may not have liked Zack Snyder removing Superman’s Underoos in “Man of Steel,” the character himself looked like he was pulled straight from a comic book panel.

This trend continues in “Batman v Superman” with the two Batsuits, lifted directly from Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns,” complete with a super fat Bat symbol. Ben Affleck is absolutely ripped, with this mammoth body even dwarfing Superman’s. Everything about the look screams comic book, and the same can be said about the Bat armor.

Batman from 'Batman v Superman' alongside the same character in the 'Dark Knight Returns' adaptation of the Frank Miller comic.

Batman from 'Batman v Superman' alongside the same character in the 'Dark Knight Returns' adaptation of the Frank Miller comic.

Now let’s take a look at the Joker and Harley Quinn from “Suicide Squad.” Make no mistake, these guys do not look like they belong in the real world (unless you’re taking notes from something like Kiss). Take a look at one of the Empire images of the Joker.

A friend of mine, who has always been a die-hard Batman fan, shot me a random text in response to the photo:

“He looks really f**king stupid. Like if one of the zombies from the Walking Dead bit Vanilla Ice.”

An apt comparison, albeit an irrational knee-jerk reaction. But if we compare Leto’s Joker to, say, Ledger’s Joker, it’s clear that it’s night in day, because one is grounded in reality, and one is essentially an amalgamation of the many comic book iterations of the character. Something about it feels “off” to audiences, and it may be because it feels false to have something “cartoony” in a world that’s being labeled as “grounded.” The series “Gotham” seems to have similar issues in finding its tonal and visual identity, though in a different fashion. Their particular problem seems to be that the content is clashing with the over-the-top acting and goofy one-offs, whereas “Suicide Squad” looks to be having more of a visual crisis than a tonal one.

All the same, this trend towards the comic book aesthetic makes a lot of sense. After the travesty that was “Batman and Robin,” it’s natural that the reaction would be a well-grounded “Batman Begins.” However, a decade or so has passed since that film, and in that time, Marvel has had great success, and comic books have become mainstream in their appeal. Nowadays, it’s okay for the characters to look like they jumped off the page. 

But will the unique look of the universe clash with the tone?

Tone and Characters

While the visual style is definitely comic booky, the struggles that the characters go through do, in fact, seem to be relatively grounded. As Snyder said, even though it’s over-the-top, it’s still relatively grounded in real-life circumstance, which is an approach they’re committing to, for better or worse. 

While “Man of Steel” had a lot of crazy action in its third act, we were mostly dealing with the realistic angst of an oppressed god for the majority of the flick. This time around, with “BvS,” I expect we’ll get more of the same—not angst, but dealing with the realistic and believable fallout of finding out that there is indeed a god among us.

The visuals may look like they were ripped out of a comic book, but they’ll be dealing with the very real and relatable emotions of their characters. At this point, it’s debatable if that’s a good approach, as many fans don’t want Superman to be relatable. They want him to be Superman. Will DC be so wrapped up in making the characters relatable that they’ll lose what makes them appealing to an audience? But that's not to say this approach won't work for all characters. Making them relatable will be especially important for "Suicide Squad," a film with a squad of villains and anti-heroes.

Director David Ayer made a recent comment in Empire Magazine about how a movie like "Suicide Squad" will be different from what we usually get in comic book movies.

“You know, all these movies are about defeating the evil alien robot from f***ing Planet X, before it destroys the world with its ticking clock. And who the f*** cares? But you do this story about struggle and isolation and people who have been s*** on that suddenly get thrown this lifeline… that’s not so bad. I like to think of this [Suicide Squad] as the Comic Book Movie 2.0.”

The Result

These two factors result in a shared universe with a visual aesthetic to appeal to fans of the comic book, and a sensibility to fit a more mainstream audience.

So what do fans think so far?

Well, right now it seems to be a mixed bag. Some love how Batman looks, hated how “Man of Steel” played out, love how “Suicide Squad” looks, and hate everything about Jared Leto’s Joker.

I know how much folks love to declare things a hit or miss right off the bat, but in all honesty, I’d reserve judgment until after “Batman v Superman” at the very least, and if you can stomach drawing conclusions for just a bit longer, I’d wait until after “Suicide Squad.” It’s hard to react to a series of pictures out of context. 

Anyone remember those laughable Quicksilver cover shoots we saw for Empire before “X-Men: Days of Future Past” came out? Yeah, don’t we all look like morons in retrospect.

Remember this travesty?

Remember this travesty?

What are your thoughts on what we know about the DCEU so far? Do you agree with what I’ve outlined here, or do you see these films as being different than I described? If so, what do you expect to see? I know what I’ve mentioned here isn’t incredibly comprehensive, but I hope it to be a catalyst for further discussion. 

Let us know all your thoughts down below!

DC Weekly, Column, LRM Exclusives Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Zack Snyder, David Ayer, DCEU, DCCU, Scoops