We are now into the eleventh year of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the precedent they set for an interconnected film universe has influenced many other studios. On the whole, those who have attempted to follow suit have not been nearly as successful. Specifically, DC/Warner Bros. came late to the game in 2013, with Man of Steel kicking off the DC Cinematic Universe. The studio has since been ridiculed for trying to establish their universe prematurely and in a much shorter timespan than Marvel, which many attribute to early disinterest in the franchise. This is not to say, however, that DC’s films have been unsuccessful because they most certainly have been. Especially with more recent entries like Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Shazam!, fans have (mostly) been brought back on board. These three films have all been more character-focused stories with few references to others in the universe, and this is potentially where all of DC’s success lies.
With the likes of Joker, The Batman, The Suicide Squad and Black Adam on the horizon, it seems like DC is finding their footing in individual, standalone movies because the buzz surrounding these upcoming films is tremendous. These movies have the breathing room to be much more focused and, as a result, room to be more experimental. This is a restriction that entries of the MCU face – because the Infinity Saga has been the underlying plot of twenty-two movies, each one (to some extent) feels the pressure of having to integrate its existence into the larger universe. With DC heading in the direction of more stand-alones, they have the ability to open fans to Elseworlds.
Elseworlds stories are those published by DC Comics which do not take place in their main continuity. As such, storytellers have free reign to do pretty much whatever they can think of with whichever characters they can think of (within reason, of course), without fear of consequences to said continuity. DC and Warner Bros. could embrace this for their characters on-screen and bring to life some of fans’ favorite comics.
Superman: Red Son is a prime example of this. Being among the most popular Elseworlds tales, in which Kal-El still crash lands on earth, but in Soviet Russia. Essentially he is raised to be the right-hand man of Joseph Stalin until Lex Luthor becomes president of the United States. Still bent on destroying Superman, Luthor attempts to lure him into invading the United States with plans that include characters like Batman, Wonder Woman, and Hal Jordan. However, like Superman, these are different versions of the characters compared to how most fans know them. That is what is so appealing about these stories in comic book form; the freshness. They utilize characters that are mostly household names by now but twist them in ways that most people wouldn’t even consider. We are in the Golden Age of comic book films right now, but many critics often discuss if/when “superhero fatigue” will set in. Telling these off-kilter stories on the big screen could keep moviegoers interested in the genre virtually infinitely because there is no limit to what can be told. Not to mention, with the recent release of Brightburn, which is almost an Elseworld story in itself (and has made over 4x its budget), audiences have proven that they are interested in twists on “the norm” for this genre.
Another such thread to pull could be Injustice. The acclaimed video game and comic book series offer not only a look at distinctly different versions DC heroes and villains but alternate versions of the same characters within the same story. Marvel has dipped their toe into this water with Avengers: Endgame (most epically in the Cap vs. Cap fight sequence) but DC could jump all the way in. In Injustice, Superman is tricked by the Joker into killing Lois Lane and their unborn child, which triggers Superman to then murder the Joker out of blind rage and guilt. Consumed by his emotions, Kal-El recruits heroes and villains to serve on his global police force and acts as the dictator of the planet. Batman and other Justice League members who oppose him form a rebellion and found a universe where this did not happen while recruiting heroes from their earth to join the fight. An epic such as this can get convoluted fairly quickly, but without worrying about its implications on future movies, why not go for it?
It seems that the likelihood of any Elseworlds stories being told is largely contingent on the success of Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix, set to debut this October. It is the closest on-screen companion to an Elseworlds tale only in that it has no ramifications on existing DC films (although the jury is still out on The Batman), and seems like it will take some liberties with the titular character and his backstory. Aside from adapting comic book stories, Elseworlds offer creators the chance to present tales they normally wouldn’t be able to with the shackles of continuity. If all goes well with Joker, fans could quite possibly be seeing more alternate realities down the line!
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