Wednesday, 7 October 2015

6 Heroes Which Could Help the DC Cinematic Universe Overcome Marvel's Stranglehold

All too often when it comes to DC Comics, they seem to be playing catch-up against Marvel. Despite having a much more solid foundation in television with far more hits than their rival company, in film they're not quite so successful. It seems that, for every A-Ranked Batman film, we have a series of C's, D's and the odd F with a number of poor adaptations. By comparison, Marvel seems to be aiming for mostly B's with the odd A they build up to - usually the Avengers films. Admittedly it doesn't help that Warner Brothers can't stop making demands and thinking they know how to make a better film (resulting in the likes of Green Lantern) whereas Marvel has all the self-management and control they could wish for.

So, not to drag out this part further, the point here is to examine the heroes which could make the DC universe. We've already covered those who deserve a film, and I still personally stand by that list. As such this is more to ask "Which heroes could help to counter Marvel's own unique angles or, better yet, push into new ones?" The list is, as you'd expect, filled with a large number of secondary and tertiary characters in the universe, avoiding the likes of the Justice League; save for one example who many want to see make a comeback.

Also, i'm not including Stormwatch for once. Why? Because it's been on the last several superhero lists, and that series has been shilled enough for the next several years.

6. Deadman

One oddly overlooked detail of comics is just how many undead heroes walk among their more popular counterparts. Between Cain, Spawn, Simon Dark and others, we have no shortage of such ghouls, though Deadman stands out as a rather unique example. How so? He exists purely as a ghost, with no physical contact with the world. Previously known as Boston Brand, he was a circus performer killed in the middle of an act by a mysterious assailant. Returned from the brink, he was offered new powers and a chance at justice by a Hindu deity Rama Kushna, with the ability to exist as an ethereal being or possess others to interact with the world.

Much like Star Lord, Deadman is one of those characters who has been around for decades largely in the background, only to have an abrupt resurgence. Often only making brief appearances in side comics or the odd event such as Day of Judgement, he really made a true reemergence during the events of Blackest Night, with a substantial popularity boost. Hijacking the bodies of Black Lanterns and fighting them however he could, Deadman was brought to the forefront of the following event Brightest Day, and later on emerged as a member of Justice League Dark. This means he's just about popular enough to have studio execs object less to his existence, but at the same time remains obscure enough to offer a fresh take upon the setting.

Any story involving Deadman would be extremely different to the usual fare of superheroics, and would offer a chance to mess with some varied abilities. We saw just how much of a hit quirky superhero skills could be with audiences in Ant-Man, and this could be DC's answer. Better yet, it has links to the supernatural which could help to sidestep some of the more usual frustrations around the "science" part of science fiction, and push into darker territories. Guillermo Del Toro has supposedly been cited as having an interest in the character, presenting him in a  Crow-esque storyline. This is certainly viable, and plenty of the character's solo outings long before Blackest Night have more than enough material for new stories; some notable plotlines ranging from his killers' identity to a murderous entity similar to himself.

The point of the matter is that, between Deadman's flexible powers and Marvel's slow reluctance to get involved with the supernatural, this could be a chance for DC to get their hit in first. Lord knows their universe could need it.

5. Orion/Big Barda

The New Gods are certainly an odd choice for any storyline or adaptation, yet one which could be done well in the right hands. Effectively blending far future Star Trek-esque technology with mythological drama and conflict, it followed the tenuous peace and then war between New Genesis and Apokolips. The series introduced many of its major staples from the Source Wall to Darkseid, and was often more focused upon blood ties and shifting relations than sheer combat. They were one of Jack Kirby's lasting influences on the universe which was admittedly, an ironic element given his desire to kill them off at the end of his run. Yeah, their continued presence can be a controversial subject in some circles.

Beyond the aforementioned Elite of Apokolips, two of the most famous names are Orion and Big Barda. Paragons among their kind, Orion was the son of Darkseid, given to New Genesis to help with an ongoing peace treaty. Despite being violent, short tempered and belligerent even among his allies, his loyalty, tenacity and skill at arms make him one of the world's best warriors. Barda meanwhile was once one of Apokolips' greatest champions, but over time she was gradually convinced to defect to their old enemy alongside her husband, Scott Free. In their case however, this proved to be a bittersweet victory, Free had been the son of New Genesis handed over to ensure the peace treaty. With their escape, nothing was left to hold back full scale war from erupting once again.

So, what makes this one so tempting? Honestly, because of its parallels with Thor in many regards. Just as that series did, you have galactic scale conflicts, a child born of another world raised upon another, some very classic broken family elements, but with the bonus of a greater emphasis upon the fantastical ideas of the universe. It retains many of Thor's strengths but, overall, it has far more freedom for writers to work with. With less direct ties to Earth or stories set there, DC would have the freedom to really explore its galaxy or focus upon a godly conflict in a way Marvel never did. Plus, Orion and Barda themselves, alongside being well established characters, have shades of Loki to them, and could offer what many have wanted in focusing more upon protagonists with some of his elements.

Even if the Thor angles didn't fully work though, also consider that this could easily serve as a fusion with Guardians of the Galaxy in its own way. After all, you have the semi-obscure characters, wacky science and aliens if need be and the opportunity to start introducing Darkseid in the same way Marvel has begun to reveal Thanos to audiences. Combine that with the potential to tie into the Green Lantern mythos, and introduce the Source Wall, and you could have a strong pillar to start building a full universe as well as a great story on its own.

4. The Demon Knights

This was originally just going to be Jason Blood, but it seemed only right to have at least one team on this list. Plus you can't get much more original and niche than the Demon Knights. How so? They're not a modern team in the slightest, instead operating over a thousand years into the past, fighting in a world of knights, dragons, demons and ogres. Many share traits their future selves lack, from a only mildly sociopathic barbaric Vandal Savage to a feminine Shining Knight, and a distinctly different Jason Blood/Etrigan than the beings they would slowly shift into. As such, even to readers familiar with the comics, this could build added interest from long standing comics fans who might have overlooked this series. Much of the early arcs focused upon Arthurian legend and threats from hell itself, but with a healthy dose of side stories or adventures to shake things up.

The real attraction of this one is simple - You have superheroes combined with the best elements of traditional high fantasy stories. Think, if you're familiar with your nerd television, Arrow meeting Hercules with an added shade of Once Upon A Time in there. Certainly sounds like a promising option doesn't it, and in all honesty you could just adapt the first trade of the series and you'd have a damn fine film on your hands. Being of a different genre, it can easily tap into tropes and ideas which Marvel cannot touch as of yet, with few comics to really adapt to keep up with this. 

The actual team on hand here is also closer to Guardians of the Galaxy in some regards, as these are most certainly not the straight laced heroes you'd expect. Some are haunted by their own ghosts, some are greedy, backstabbing psychopaths, and some are even afflicted by old curses. It's seeing how these people overcome those elements, even live with them as much as one another, while still accomplishing acts of true heroism. With the Justice League being quickly formed and put together, consisting supposedly of the right heroes, it could be very fun to see just what the wrong heroes can end up accomplishing under the right circumstances.

I'd add more but most of it comes down to, well, imagine seeing awesomely hilarious moments like this translated to the big screen:

3. Jonah Hex

Okay, some are going to object to this thanks to a terrible film. In fairness though, that wasn't a Jonah Hex film. Oh it might have had the perfect actor in the role, it might have even involved the weird science the series is best known for, but that's about it. The story lifted from Wild Wild West, the sudden superpowers Hex gained, the prostitute supporting character - all purely the film's creation. So, what would an actual Hex film look like? A combination of Hellboy, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and Indiana Jones.

Gritty, bitter but with more than a little weirdness of the fantasy and steampunk variety, this is a Mike Mignola comic in all but name. It's the sort of ultra-flexible series where you can have Hex doing everything from hunting bounties in the style of a traditional Western to fighting giant Tesla robots. This alone makes it absolutely perfect in many regards for experimenting with new ideas or showing a completely different shade of the DCCU. After all, you have a guy here who can effectively pull off the Wild West version of Dredd in a superhero setting and people would accept it without batting an eye. 

Even without that all important narrative flexibility and - sorry to keep emphasising this so much upon each with each choice - his setting, what makes Hex so perfect for this? Well, in all honesty, he could be used to explore the history and background of the setting in a way Marvel cannot match. While Marvel is focusing upon the 40s and 60s to establish its past, that's mostly focusing upon S.H.I.E.L.D. and little else. Here though, we have the opportunity to take that much, much further. The very start of certain cities, the links to old families, and even better explore the secret societies rife within the universe.

The other obvious detail above all else is that while he can be used to explore the past, fight in the west and combat old foes, Hex doesn't need to be purely tied to this. The guy has gone through more than a few infamous time travel stories and even battled alongside the Justice League more than once. It would be an easy thing to have him move about for crossovers or join up with events, and in many respects he'd fit in with these far better than the Punisher ever would with the Avengers. 

2. Enemy Ace

The thing which made the original Captain America so distinguished is its setting more than anything else. Whereas prior depictions or adaptations tended to rush through his origin, or leave World War II as a footnote, The First Avenger embraced it. It gave the series some real flavour, and worked with more than a few historical concepts. So, how do you combat that with you're DC? You choose a hero equal yet opposite to Cap in many regards, namely Enemy Ace. Sadly a largely unknown comicbook character today,  Hans von Hammer was an elite fighter pilot during the First World War. While fighting for Germany, he was renowned for his loyalty, iron discipline, and code of honour in war, one tested time and time again by the horrors he faced. 

Despite being on the opposite side of the "heroes" of traditional stories, he was presented as morally upstanding, and in many cases the ideal soldier. He fought his foes to the bitter end, but showed them mercy as needed and favoured almost a chivalrous code which many considered archaic. More often than not he was left questioning this as the war turned ever bloodier, yet always refused to join in this savagery. It's ultimately these elements which would help him stand out more than anything else in a production; both as the rare example of a heroic figure on what's traditionally the villainous side of both World Wars, and in a story where war is far from glorified, and ideals are tested. While Captain America might have been a fantastic film, there was never that moment of realisation where he realises that propaganda glorified the war in many ways. It would be a twist to really address that flaw.

The other interesting aspect is, of course, that this is effectively the worthy opponent character trope given its own series. Hell, the "Enemy" part of his series' name emphasised that fact, and many of his foes were treated in an equal, respectable light. Well, most of them. As the series went on certain ones went off the deep end, and it introduced a few more superhero-esque foes, but that was more a case of the direction the industry was moving in.

Overall, along with the unique setting and odd relationship Enemy Ace has with superheroics, it would also be returning to a Marvel idea they didn't quite manage. Which one? Specifically X-Men Origins: Magneto, as you have quite a few of the same war-like themes, same semi-villainous hero and themes of how living though such a horrific age can shape a man. Given how much of that was passed up to develop First Class, this would be an intelligent area to try and pursue.

1. Batman (Terry McGinnis)

Every example brought up thus far has focused upon the present or past, and that's been the same with Marvel. However, until they decide they need to resurrect the 2099 universe in full force, DC has one setting they can easily exploit over their competition: The far future. Better yet, they have a very popular and successful hero to build it around: Batman.

Best known for his role in Batman Beyond, Terry was Bruce Wayne's successor several decades into the future. After the retirement of both Robin and Nightwing, and Batgirl replacing Commissioner Gordon, Terry eventually donned the cowl as the new Batman. While lacking Bruce's analytical mind and showing a little more inexperience than his mentor, he was quick, driven and retained a creative drive which quickly gave him an edge over many villains.

Along with once again the setting, the big advantage here is that this would both be targeting an already enthusiastic audience of fans. Many have wanted to see Terry return for some time, though efforts in comics have been lackluster. Making him a part of a bigger universe would bring them back in droves, and atop that this is one of the few successors which have been well received. All too often, when a hero is replaced by another it's either done as a shortlived marketing gimmick to boost sales or is horribly mishandled - See Superior Spider-Man and Thor for examples of this going horribly wrong. With Terry though, not only did it feel right but it was well received. Bruce was still around, still a part of the story, and Terry had earned the cowl rather than being handed it by some writer. It felt right, and as a result it was well liked and supported by fans.

Alongside the fact that this is a well established hero already, you also have story opportunities the cartoon missed. While well received, old criticisms have loomed over the series. The inability to make full use of a returning supervillain from an older age, and the lack of real impact by his Rogue's Gallery were chief among these. Having a film to mine these old ideas would be easy, and adapting them in the same manner Marvel has with its famous comic storylines would hardly be a crime.

Really, short of getting the right actor and translating the cyberpunk city to the big screen, there's little here to truly go wrong.

So those are six heroes which would certainly help the DCCU stand out on its own. Are they the only ones? Definitely not, and there's plenty more who could be introduced to help flesh out the setting. However, with the Flash and Arrow doing such a stellar job of covering so many B list characters, these are the ones who seemed to fit the bill the best. If you have your own suggestions, please feel free to offer them in the comments. It would certainly be interesting to see who people would put forwards as their choices.

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