superman multiverse dc comics

The Hollywood Reporter put out a piece that showed a glimpse behind the curtain of Warner Bros’ plans for their upcoming shared universe based on the characters of DC Comics. It’s not a flattering read. Showcasing how WB has no clear vision when it comes to creating a unified world (the head honchos had screenwriters submit competing screenplays, which naturally resulted in radically different versions across the board), many are beginning to see how Marvel’s Distinguished Competition is emulating the House of Ideas in all the wrong ways. Instead of organically growing outward, WB is using the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to install a wide swath of characters in one fell swoop. This also means that these characters will be beholden to the tone and visual idiosyncrasies of WB’s unofficial (probably official before too long) godfather, Zack Snyder. This is doubly disheartening when you keep hearing that WB wants the DC movieverse to be “filmmaker-driven.” That’s going to be extremely difficult when you have to color within the lines of someone as distinct a visualist as Zack Snyder.

There is a way that WB could salvage this experiment. It’s one I’ve been an advocate of ever since Thanos’ ugly mugged grinned at the audience during that mid-credits tease in The Avengers. DC can handwave this whole fiasco away (and trust me, this experiment will end up being a fiasco) by introducing the Multiverse.

For those of you who haven’t delved into the abysmal depths of comic book science fiction silliness (or subjected yourself to episodes of Cosmos), a brief explanation: the Multiverse (as far as DC Comics is concerned) is the name given to the idea that there are an infinite number of universes, each one with different iterations of the DC characters. Marvel even has its own version of this, coyly named the Omniverse. It’s what allows comic books to perform their traditional retcons and even let “What If?” scenarios become part of the official canon.

I still believe that Marvel’s big plan with Thanos and his Infinity Gauntlet is to open up the idea of the Multiverse… sorry, Omniverse, and allow the MCU to become less tethered to one aesthetic going forward. They’ll still have the main MCU (in the comics, the primary universe is known as Earth-616), but alternate dimensions will open up the kinds of films they can make and the types of filmmakers they can attract. The recent announcement of a Lord/Miller animated Spider-Man film that isn’t connected to the MCU might even be an indicator of this idea.

So, what could this mean for DC/WB? There’s a decent possibility that they might already be considering such a tactic. Their success on the small screen has had many fans wondering how two versions of The Flash will exist at the same time, with one on the big screen and one on the small. How do you bolster support of one without maligning the fanbase of the other? It wouldn’t be impossible if the cinematic films (or the TV shows. Whichever wants to roll the dice first) introduced the concept of the Multiverse and acknowledged the existence of their counterpart media. In fact, this could be a new way for DC to goose some fun out of the admittedly dour foundation they’ve laid so far while differentiating themselves from the kind of audience treats Marvel dishes out. Imagine getting to see two versions of The Flash playfully bickering on who is the faster speedster. Or Supergirl meeting Superman, allowing them both a moment of kinship that neither would experience in their own world. Even crazier would be the chance for Elseworlds (DC’s name for their “What If?” stories) cinematic adaptations such as Gotham by GaslightSuperman: Red Son, or Kingdom Come. The possibilities for crossovers and craziness is unlimited.

Do I think WB will do this? Probably not, but putting the idea out there into the universe can’t hurt. If their shared universe experiment does crash and burn (we won’t know until we can gauge the reception of the three or four films that follow Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which will make mad bank just because of the two lead characters coming together for the first time in a theatrical feature), they’ll have to figure out a way to save some face. Sure, they could go the easy route and hard reboot everything, but that will be tantamount to admitting defeat to Marvel, and I don’t foresee that happening. WB will drive this road until death sets them free.

Comic books have endured multiple shakeups to their established canon, and the fanbase has weathered them time and time again (the number of Crisis events DC has gone through would be hilarious if it wasn’t so depressing). If film audiences are determined to have their blockbuster output dominated by superhero stories, then they will eventually have to adapt to the storytelling conventions that have plagued the source material for decades.