DC: Basically Just Laziness
Honestly, this one should have been an easy lay-up. DC has practically perfected the multiverse as a story tool over the decades. They have the most clearly defined multiverse in the medium of comics: the heroes we know and love are on Earth-1 (sometimes Earth-0); Earth-2 is the Golden Age heroes, the JSA and All-Star Squadron and all the versions who lived through WWII; Earth-3 is the one where heroes are villains and vice versa featuring the Crime Syndicate of America; Earth-4 is the characters who inspired Watchmen; Earth-8 is a Marvel parody; Earth-X is the one ruled by Nazis; Earth-Prime is the one on the verge of being ruled by Nazis and the only person with power is an internet troll who feels pop culture doesn’t cater to his whims enough. Which is to say, our world. There’s also the Dark Multiverse but unpacking that would be a whole other post.
So with that in mind… why is DC Entertainment screwing this up so badly.
Marvel Studios was built on the idea of “It’s all connected.” Not just a studio mission statement but a powerful marketing tool; you had to watch all of their first five movies, because they all built up to Avengers. That established, what could you miss? Agents of SHIELD might be important. Iron Fist was setting up The Defenders, which might meet the Avengers at some point. Even Inhumans might be important, one of them might turn up in a Doctor Strange sequel or something. But DC Entertainment seems determined to put every single live action property in its own silo.
Here is a quick list of every separate universe in live action DC properties (animated would be a whole other list, who knows what’s connected there): the DCEU, including all films since Man of Steel save two, plus Peacemaker and any other shows James Gunn makes; the Reeves-verse, including The Batman and the minimum two HBO Max series spinning off from it; Joker and its impending sequel (which, if it is a musical, I am no longer mad about); the Arrowverse, including Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, Black Lightning (eventually), and Batwoman, but not, it turns out, Superman and Lois; and the various shows in their own self-contained worlds: Stargirl, Titans, Pennyworth, Sandman, Doom Patrol (despite having a backdoor pilot in Titans), Superman and Lois (despite being a spinoff of Supergirl), and the sadly impending Gotham Knights. And that’s not including cancelled shows in their own universe, like the Trinity of Prequel Shows Named After Places (Smallville, Krypton, and Gotham), Birds of Prey (not to be confused with the movie of the same name), Swamp Thing, and most recently Naomi.
Why no at no point did I say “The Synderverse.” The “Snyderverse” isn’t a real thing, it’s something Snyderbros made up because they’re mad at Warner Bros for not catering to their whims. Man of Steel shares a continuity with Peacemaker, deal with it, Snyder Cult.
I shall now use two examples, one to explain why this isn’t working, and one to show why it seems to be happening.
Why it isn’t working: Gotham Knights
The basic pitch of Gotham Knights is that after Bruce Wayne/Batman is killed, his adopted son must unite a group of supervillains’ kids to become heroes and solve the murder to clear their own names. Also featuring Carrie Kelley as Bruce’s sidekick and a Harvey Dent who’s never been Two-Face.
Okay put a pin in the “dead Batman” part because we’re coming back to that. Let’s look at the rest. “Adopted son of Batman forms team of supervillain kids” isn’t a terrible concept in other contexts. I’d be into it. It’s a natural fit for two Robins; it best fits Damian Wayne, Bruce’s actual biological son with the darkest upbringing. It’s also a gimme for Jason Todd, the Red Hood, a prodigal son who since his resurrection has been custom-built for redemption arcs. Hell, I could even see Tim Drake taking on this kind of mission. So of the five canonical Robins, which did they use? Who is Bruce Wayne’s adopted son?
Turner Hayes. A completely original character with no comic book origins.
So… none of them. Four surrogate or biological sons and one girl Robin to choose from and they made one up.
Like… Stephanie Brown, the most underrated Robin AND Batgirl, is also present, but to all appearances has been neither Robin nor Batgirl nor even her main alias, Spoiler, in the show. Carrie Kelley from Return of the Dark Knight is also here, as what may be this Batman’s only sidekick (but not enough of one to have a costume), but Carrie Kelley a) isn’t canonical, Return of the Dark Knight is an Elseworlds; and b) in the sequels decided to be more Catwoman than Robin so she does not count.
So the question must be asked… WHY? Why do this? Why make up an adopted son of Bruce Wayne when there are so many options with a pre-existing fanbase? Well, the answer seems to be that Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, and at least a version of Tim Drake* are all on Titans. So Gotham Knights can’t use them.
(*I don’t care that they race-bent him. I care that his origins have few traces of actual Tim Drake. Tim Drake does not need re-imagining.)
And that, that, is what’s wrong with how DC is using the multiverse. What is the point of setting a show in its own separate universe if they can’t use any character on another show? What is gained by creating an alternate Earth if they can’t also create their own take on Jason Todd? Moon Knight can’t just use Spider-Man willy-nilly but at least we know why.
The other answer to “But why,” of course, is that to tell this specific story they needed a dead Batman, but that’s just another part of the problem. We are coming up on our sixth live action series based in Gotham City and the only one with an active Batman in it starred Adam West. What I really want is a DC movie where an in-his-prime Batman is in a Justice League doing full-on comic booky superhero stuff, fighting powered villains using Bat-gadgets with zero concern for being gritty and realistic, and yes I hear you Snyder fans, that’s what you think Zack Snyder’s Justice League was, but Batfleck was still middle aged, nearing retirement, and Snyder was going to kill him in film number five. So the only, only movie to give me this Batman was the one where he’s made of Lego.
I would happily have Robert Pattinson doing grounded, gritty Batman movies while a different actor (or Pattinson again! He can do both!) does Justice League stuff and Winston Duke does more Batman Unburied. Batman’s been around a long-ass time, there are many ways to do Batman, and I think audiences could handle seeing more than one at once, and we know WB knows this because Joaquin Phoenix and Barry Keoghan are both playing the Joker. But that’s not what WB’s doing. Matt Reeves gets Batman, and every other Gotham-based show needs to make Bruce Wayne old, dead, or vanished. Every new show gets isolated in a silo, forbidden to touch any toys the other shows are using.
Instead of the multiverse opening endless possibilities, it’s making them increasingly and painfully limited.
Why it’s happening: Superman and Lois
As to why, Superman and Lois showrunner Todd Helbing said this about Arrowverse connections in an interview about his show’s decision to pull a Doom Patrol and divorce itself from the show it spun off of: “All of that stuff got slowly pulled out, and the more we did that, the more it became a can of worms to even mention it. DC and I had a conversation during Season 1, and the decision [to keep Superman & Lois separate] was made then,” he says.
So… they cut themselves off from any other DC characters because it was too hard to write the story in a world where they exist? Weak, man, weak. This is your entire job, be creative and write stuff. If the Luke Cage writers can deal with people (meaning, yes, me) constantly asking where the hell Daredevil or Jessica Jones are, you can acknowledge the existence of the freaking Flash now and then.
But that’s what it seems to be. Building an interconnected world is too hard. The creators can’t figure out how to tell a grounded Batman story in a world where Superman exists, or how to tell a Superman story where other heroes exist, or how to deal with Flash fans constantly whinging about “Why doesn’t he just ask Supergirl for help.” That’s part of the job, sunshine, and if Marvel can make Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, and Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness all one shared universe, you should be able to do this too. And until you do, you’ll always fall short.
At least James Gunn gets it, listen to that guy more.
Or given how it’s going, maybe David Zaslav will shut the whole thing down save for The Batman and Joker sequels, and just strip one of the oldest movie studios for parts to make more 90 Day Fiancé spinoffs, who knows.
Next page: When “nothing is impossible” goes wrong