Brainiac On Banjo #013: This Joke’s On Us

Perhaps the most often-asked question by superhero movie fans is “Why do most of the DC movies suck?”

The “most” part is about the one truly great DCU movie made during the past decade, Wonder Woman. Thus, every time I reference the DCU movies I’m excluding Wonder Woman. Oh, and the Lego Batman Movie, which, in my opinion, is the best Batman movie ever.

These movies have been very disappointing for DC fans. After all, Marvel Studios keeps on knocking them out and knocking them out of the park. My enthusiasm for their upcoming Captain Marvel movie is quite strong. My enthusiasm for DC’s upcoming Aquaman movie is hidden behind a humongous growth in my cynicism gland.

Don’t get me wrong. Every time Warner Bros. is about to release a new DC movie (and, for the record, I am not referring to their direct-to-home video features) I hope for the best. And, with a few significant exceptions I am almost always disappointed. For example (WARNING: NAME-DROPPING ALERT!), at the World Premiere of Suicide Squad I sat between John Ostrander and Jim Lee. John created the version of the Squad that was seen on the screen, is a Pop Culture Squad columnist, and remains my oldest living friend. Jim is among the very best artists around. He was elevated to the position of DC’s co-publisher and chief operating officer. I’m a big fan of his – at one point much earlier in his career, DC’s e-i-c Dick Giordano and I (at the time, First Comics’ e-i-c) were discussing the idea of a Batman / Jon Sable crossover written by Mike Grell and drawn by Jim Lee. That project remains very, very high on my lengthy “I’m still pissed that these projects never happened” list.

At the end of the Squad flick, Jim asked me what I thought. My response: “I liked it a lot, compared with Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice.” Talk about damning with faint praise. I mentioned several scenes I really liked – and still do. I enjoyed about half of the movie, maybe a bit more. But, jeez louise, I’d still put nearly all of the Marvel Studios movies ahead of it, were I destined to be washed-up on that fabled desert island that somehow has electricity. 

Marvel Studios is owned by Marvel, which in turn is owned by Disney, the octopus that dresses like a mouse. DC Comics is owned by Warner Bros, which in turn is owned by AT&T. At least it is this week. Both companies have had excellent liaisons who “interface” with both the comics makers and the movie makers, true A-listers such as Geoff Johns at DC and Jeph Loeb III at Marvel. Here’s the difference:

Right now Marvel is a separate company within Disney, and therefore so is Marvel Studios. The studio treats its properties with dignity and respect, carefully sticking to their remarkably successful game plan. DC Entertainment is part of something called “Warner Bros. Global Brands and Experiences,” which sounds to me like the folks who dictate the toothbrush specs. Looking at their movie output, I’m giving them the benefit of considerable doubt.

They act like they don’t have a clue what they’re doing. The movie division is so far off-base you’d think they never spent any time thinking about those elements that have kept DC Comics in the great American imagination for 83 years. They produce many excellent, fun and successful television shows. They employ some of these same characters (The Flash, Supergirl, Black Canary, Cyborg), but in completely different versions with different backstories and, worse, different actors.

Sure, such folderol as alternate Earths is prime fodder for comic book and science fiction stories. But if just the entire comic book audience went to see a DC movie, it’s box office would be as noticeable as a fart in a blizzard. Constantly explaining how all that works brings the story to a halt. So, instead, we have the majority of the audience looking at Justice League on the big screen and wondering who the hell is that child in the overwrought Flash costume and whether or not DC realizes they still have a bunch of highly successful weekly network television series. Maybe they’ll hand out copies of Elseworlds to the audience.

Warner Bros, check this out. Marvel Studio’s Kevin Feige has a game plan that is completely based upon knowledge and respect for what has made Marvel Comics work. It’s not a secret; indeed, it is so blatant that Stevie Wonder could see it while still wearing his gloves.

Now we have a new DC project rolling. It’s called The Joker, and it appears to be completely different from all of the movie and television Jokers we’ve seen in the past. He’s confusing (not to mention overworked) enough in the comics. A Batman-less Joker movie is troubling enough. Ret-conning something from these movies that has had little to no continuity in the first place is a mistake.

The Joker movie has little to do with the 2008 movie featuring Health Ledger, the 2016 Suicide Squad movie with Jared Leto, or whomever else plays that role in the forthcoming Gotham City Sirens, Suicide Squad 2, and the Harley Quinn solo movies. The 2019 Joker movie stars Joaquin Phoenix. Take a look at Joaquin dressed up as The Joker dressed up as Pagliacci (above) and you’ll get an idea about where they’re going.

If I wanted to see a ret-conned Joker origin, I’d watch Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs. That was one truly great movie, and it served as the inspiration of The Joker’s creation in the first place. Sadly, Conrad died in 1943, when The Joker was merely a three-year-old.

As for all these forthcoming DC movies, I’ll likely wait until I hear some word-of-mouth before I mortgage the house to pay for two IMAX 3-D tickets and a 55-gallon drum of popcorn (“it’s only a nickel more – Louis Anderson). My microwave works just fine, thank you.

Worst case scenario, The Joker will soon show up on DC Universe.

One thought on “Brainiac On Banjo #013: This Joke’s On Us

  1. I think you were far too kind in your assessment of Suicide Squad. The movie was a mess. And why is Harley Quinn in the squad? She is normal human of questionable sanity whose skill is hitting people with a baseball bat. The team already has a superior marksman and a physical powerhouse in Deadshot and Killer Croc. Her presence makes no sense. In fact, I think the character should never have been brought into the traditional DC Universe. She should have stayed in the animated version where her kind of absurdity is more fitting.

    I agree that a Batman-less Joker movie is problematic. I feel the same way about a Spider-Man-less Venom movie.

    Regarding your comparison of the DC and Marvel movie universes, I was reminded of this comment from Richard Meyer:

    “Marvel Studios has Kevin Feige. Kevin Feige plans things out like Norman Schwarzkopf. They have plans five,,, six years out. And then there’s Warner Brothers, who jumps out of an airplane and then gets on their phone and orders a parachute from Amazon.”