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The (somewhat surprising) revelation that Guillermo del Toro really is working on a movie that teams DC Comics’ supernatural characters like Zatanna, John Constantine, Deadman and Swamp Thing isn’t just a tease for what would likely end up being a good movie, it’s a sign of a way that DC could avoid looking like they’re attempting to follow in Marvel’s footsteps a little too closely.
With all the talk of DC’s Justice League movie – currently scheduled for a 2015 release – there’s the unanswered question “So, how is it going to differentiate itself from Marvel’s Avengers franchise?” After all, while comic book fans could easily list reasons why the two teams are different, to the average moviegoer, it’s the same trick done twice: Lots of super-heroes in a gang, fighting a bad guy and saving the world. Worse yet, Avengers was pretty great, and a demonstration of how handily Marvel seems to have cornered the superhero space when it comes to blockbuster summer movies. In response, DC had Christopher Nolan’s Batman series (Now finished), a flop Green Lantern and a lot of hope for this summer’s Man of Steel.
Del Toro’s Dark Universe, however, has come out of left field and offers something that Marvel hasn’t attempted yet: A superhero movie that’s really a horror movie. The characters del Toro has named for the project don’t wear costumes as such (Deadman, perhaps, could be described as costumed, but it’s more a carnival costume than a superhero one), and very purposefully fall outside of the superhero paradigm as Marvel has come to define it in moviegoers’ minds. More importantly, while they can play with superhero tropes – There’s almost no doubt that there will be some world-saving happening in del Toro’s movie, let’s face it – the characters and movie are more likely to fall into a familiar horror or action/adventure genre in the end.
Marvel has conquered superhero movies, but it has also firmly stayed inside that genre to date (And will, it seems, continue to do that with its next wave of releases). If Warners and DC Entertainment wanted to make the most out of their intellectual property and avoid comparisons to Marvel, the obvious solution, surely, is to do more of what del Toro is offering and work outside of the superhero genre. DC Comics is more than 75 years old, after all, and has characters that exist in all manner of other genres, from fantasy (Amethyst), war (Sgt. Rock), space opera (The Omega Men – Yes, you heard me) through kid-friendly fare like Sugar and Spike. Why not try and turn Angel and The Ape into a comedy, or Nathanial Dusk into a thriller? Hell, you even have the potential for a great western just sitting there with Jonah He – Actually, maybe not.
Nonetheless, it’d be nice to think that del Toro could lead the way to a DC Entertainment movieverse that offers something purposefully different from what Marvel’s “cinematic universe” already does. We already have those needs met quite well, thank you very much. Let’s see what else is out there.