How DC Studios' plans re-position Superman: Legacy as the platonic ideal of a superhero (something we've had very few of)
It may be no coincidence that James Gunn and Peter Safran are calling Superman: Legacy the launch of the new era
One of the most immediately noticeable things about the DC Studios announcement is how purposeful it is in exploring the scope of the DC Universe, and demonstrating just how much larger that universe may be than what audiences have come to expect.
But not for DC Studios CEOs James Gunn and Peter Safran, who witnessed (and participated) in the slow rollout of the MCU - a rollout which maintained a tight, superhero-focus for its first five years between Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy (which was, let’s be honest, a superhero movie but in space). By scheduling both Superman: Legacy and Swamp Thing (and, especially, a “more horrific” take on the latter) within three years of each other, it’s as if the new DC is in a race to establish its diversity of tone, storytelling, and characters… which, to be fair, it might be, given Marvel Studios’ significant head start for the hearts and minds of audiences.
How Superman: Legacy forgoes the legacy of the DCEU to date
If there’s a criticism that can be laid at the feet of the DCEU-as-was, it’s that — the first Aquaman and Gunn’s own The Suicide Squad aside — it was curiously self-limiting compared with its source material; when given the opportunity to go big with cosmic concepts and characters that can do fantastic, unrealistic things, the movies almost unfailingly chose to lean into a heightened realism that undersold the potential of what filmmakers were working with. That’s not to say there weren’t good movies, because there clearly were (I remain an unrepentant fan of Birds of Prey in particular, which is an especially grounded movie in terms of superpowers, if not aesthetic and mindset), but considering how out there and ridiculous so many DC ideas are, it’s telling that the movies appeared to shy away from extremes.
There’s also a sense that Gunn, Safran, and their writers room are using the framework of the first chapter of DC Studios’ current plan to make some particular statement, based on what’s been announced: yes, we get Superman and Batman, as well as Green Lantern, but… that’s really about it when it comes to the obvious selections for characters. Fans don’t even get a new Wonder Woman project, with her mythos instead covered by Paradise Lost, the Game of Thrones-esque historical drama about the past of Themyscrira; instead, it’s Creature Commandos, the Authority, and Booster Gold… as well as Supergirl, in what might be the curious and interesting announcement of all.
Superman: Legacy is the flagship of the new DC era
Let’s, for a second, consider that Superman: Legacy will offer up something close to the platonic ideal of Superman — the endlessly kind, supporting superhero who tries to help and do his best to inspire others to do the same. (Given the influence of Grant Morrison on Gunn, that seems like a reasonable take.) That we’re also getting not only the Authority as a counterpoint to that attitude, we’re also getting a Supergirl inspired by the Woman of Tomorrow series, which showcases a Kara who’s more cynical and arguably more traumatized than her cousin, yet still trying to live up to his example; additionally, we’ll have projects featuring the none-more-cynical Amanda Waller, or the glory-seeking, well-intentioned-but-flawed Booster Gold.
It’s almost as if we’re getting Superman as the opener for the new era to set a moral bar against which everyone else will be measured, for better or worse. (It’s worse; very few people measure up to Superman, let’s be real.) If that’s the case, it’s a smart move: audiences know and understand Superman as a paragon of good, meaning that he can help them define the new world he finds himself in, and the many new characters they’ll meet in the process. And, again purposefully, the other characters audiences are going to meet are… well, more morally dubious on first glance than the Man of Steel — even if that is only based on viewer preconception (Hi, Creature Commandos) — allowing the DCU to see far larger and more diverse than many would have believed ahead of time.
If the new DC is successful in its ambitions, then it will in short order manage to convince fans that it not only has the semblance of continuity and community that the MCU does — that all-important X-Factor that ensures not only a guaranteed audience eager not to miss out on important details of future stories, but also manufactures brand loyalty moving forwards — but that it has a stranger, more broad universe filled with at least as many weird and wonderful characters and concepts as Marvel, if not more so.
It’s undoubtedly a lofty aim, especially considering the status of the DC movieverse across the last decade or so… but if anyone can do it, Gunn and Safran might be the team. We’ll find out starting in 2025, with the curious case of 2024 — a year devoid of DC movies aside from the second Joker film, which has already been announced as an 'Elseworlds' out-of-continuity release — ideally building a hunger for what’s to come.
Read more about the new DCU and the many projects intended to appear.