Make It So: The DC Cinematic Multiverse by Jerry Whitworth
With the announcement of Batman ’89 and Superman ’78 from DC Comics following in the footsteps of series such as Batman ’66, Wonder Woman ’77, Smallville: Season 11, and assorted Arrowverse comics, the stage is set to tell a comic book story in the DC cinematic multiverse. A lot of the groundwork for this kind of series has already been established in the Arrowverse thanks in no small part to its Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event. Therein, the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline was adapted in a toned down version featuring characters from the 1990 Flash television series, Smallville, and the DC Extended Universe, to name a few, as several Earths were merged into one and cutoff from the rest of the greater multiverse. Lets take a look at what a DC cinematic multiverse comic book series could entail.
Captain Marvel and Spy Smasher of Fawcett Comics found their way to film serials in the early 1940s very soon after their very creation setting the stage for the likes of Batman, Superman, and more from National Allied (better known today as DC Comics) and Blackhawk from Quality Comics to follow suit. Subsequently, DC Comics snapped up Fawcett and Quality retroactively making those characters part of their brand. The original Superman Kirk Alyn made way for George Reeves to assume the character in 1951 setting the stage for a cultural phenomenon. Sadly, a full on adaptation of the stories of the Adventures of Superman maybe a decade or two too late but that’s not to say those characters can’t emerge in some manner (as Reeves’ Clark Kent and the Daily Planet staff from Adventures made cameo appearances in Batman ’66). Instead, they maybe best viewed as a Golden Age, Justice Society of America group of heroes relegated to an Earth-Two role. The focus of such a multiverse comic series would likely center on a more Silver Age/Earth-One Justice League of America meeting a Bronze Age/Earth-686 Justice League.
While Adventures of Superman was a cultural phenomenon of the 1950s, Batman was that for the 1960s. By the late ’70s, Superman and Wonder Woman became prominent fixtures of pop culture again across the big and small screens, respectively. The Batman and Robin of the ’60s in Adam West and Burt Ward returned as well to decidedly less fanfare for the TV specials Legends of the Superheroes which offered a live action adaptation of Challenge of the Super Friends. The Flash, Green Lantern, Atom, Hawkman, Black Canary, and Scarlet Cyclone (a thinly-veiled analog for Red Tornado) made the transition to live action. Yvonne Craig wouldn’t return as Batgirl so the Huntress was introduced to replace her. Captain Marvel, brought to television by Filmation for Shazam! and Secrets of Isis, was recast and added to the Justice League for the event. It should be mentioned, during the ’70s, a version of the Blue Beetle (portrayed by Jim Boyd) emerged in the PBS educational series The Electric Company and in 1984, Ruby-Spears’ Plastic Man cartoon was re-packaged for syndication with a live action Plastic Man host played by Taylor Marks. The late 1970s also saw the emergence of the Aquaman-inspired TV series Man from Atlantis starring Patrick Duffy as the titular character. By 2015, the Batman ’66 comic started crossing over with everyone from the Green Hornet (a sequel from their previous live action encounter) to the Man from U.N.C.L.E. to Britain’s Avengers to Archie but it wouldn’t be until 2017 that TV’s Batman met TV’s Wonder Woman (who had crossed over with the Bionic Woman in another series). Superman fizzled out at the box office by 1987 making way for a darker interpretation of what a hero can be.
Heavily inspired by Frank Miller’s interpretation of the Dark Knight, Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989 was drenched in darkness. A black suited Batman operating under the shadow of night fought psychopathic killers without a particular interest in their personal safety. The motion picture was a massive success and gave rise to the likes of Zorro, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dick Tracy, Darkman, Guyver, Rocketeer, Forever Knight, Dr. Mordrid, Meteor Man, Crow, Shadow, Blankman, M.A.N.T.I.S., Tank Girl, Judge Dredd, Black Scorpion, Barb Wire, Phantom, Vampirella, Spawn, and Night Man across the big and small screens. DC Comics tried to capitalize as well with Swamp Thing, Flash, and Human Target on television to less success. Tim Burton was again summoned to offer his take on the superhero, this time the biggest of them all in Superman. Filming was set to begin with Nicolas Cage as the Man of Steel in 1998 only to be pulled two weeks before initial photography. Arguably, Superman Lives would have been an opportunity for Warner Bros to insulate itself against the hits Marvel started to enjoy at box office with Blade (1998), X-Men (2000), and Spider-Man (2002). It should be mentioned, Superman returned to television in 1993 for Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and there was a pilot for a Justice League of America series in 1997 featuring Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern, Flash, Atom, Fire, and Ice that aired overseas but these efforts were decidedly lighter in tone which undoubtedly wouldn’t align with the aforementioned adaptations in the ’90s. From this data, we can speculate what a crossover between a ’70s and a ’90s Justice League could entail.
As noted, between film, television, and comic adaptations, a ’70s Justice League could entail Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Atom, Hawkman, Black Canary, Red Tornado, Captain Marvel, Supergirl, Nightwing, Batwoman, Wonder Girl, Nubia, and Huntress with some creative wiggle room for Isis, Blue Beetle, Plastic Man, and Aquaman if desired. The 1990s offers Batman, Robin, Swamp Thing, Flash, Nightshade, Kid Flash, Human Target, and Superman. Decidedly slimmer pickings, the Batman ’66 route can be taken fan casting roles to round out the group. In much the same way the Arrowverse borrowed elements from Crisis on Infinite Earths for its adaptation, the “Crisis on Multiple Earths” stories could be mined for content. The formation of the Crime Champions, an alliance of foes from Earths-One and Two, began the annual team-ups between the Justice League and Justice Society (among assorted other worlds’ and times’ teams). Made up of Fiddler, Icicle, Wizard, Chronos, Dr. Alchemy, and Felix Faust, the Crime Champions could instead give way to the Legion of Doom. Noted, Legends had its own version that included Mordru, Riddler, Giganta, Weather Wizard, Sinestro, Dr. Sivana, and Solomon Grundy. Interestingly enough, the Jokers of both worlds died during their struggles with their Batmen. Perhaps an event of this caliber could entail a dual resurrection.