We’ve been wondering for some time what WB and DC’s plans were for their animated division, beyond continuing to develop programming marketed for kids (and their comic book-loving parents). The full-length animated features continue to be must-see content for comic book fans, but how the studio’s success in animated storytelling would be translated to live-action, if ever, remained unclear.
The first sign that Marvel’s success at adapting their characters to film was being noticed by DC came with the launch of their ‘New 52’ company-wide reboot. The decision to start almost all of their heroes over from scratch (save for Batman and Green Lantern) was made for several reasons, but the updating and modernization of both origin stories and the costumes was clear. As were the ways it helped reflect past, and future live-action adaptations.
Superman’s suit became less like the one fans had known, and more an alien suit of armor, losing Kal-El’s signature red briefs in favor of a simple belt. In other words (as noted by Henry Cavill and co.), more in keeping with the version of the character that fans will get to know in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013).
A skeptic might say these changes in the comic books are intended to make dated heroes relevant for today’s audiences, not simply more suitable for big screen adaptation: we’d argue the two desires are one and the same. Although the overhauling and adjusting of beloved origin stories varies from character to character, there’s no mistaking that DC Comics is shifting their universe to be more in keeping with a movie-goer’s sensibilities, not just those of a comic book fan.
The strategy makes sense on its face: A movie fan enjoys the on screen portrayal of Superman or Batman (or Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, etc.), motivating them to make a trip to their neighborhood comic store, and the books with that character’s name bear a stronger similarity to the one they expect to see. Warner Bros. and DC Comics executives pat one another on the back, and the dollars roll in.
(Unfortunately, attempts to do this over at Marvel have seen little in the way of increased comic book sales. In fact, as Marvel’s superhero movies make more and more money, the publishing side of things sees less and less – though that’s likely a symptom of the ailing comic book industry as a whole.)
Without a live-action roster of superhero films or Justice League team-up like WB had originally planned, the potential for this cross-media marketing has yet to be truly demonstrated, but even if the two companies have their comic book and film road map in order, that still leaves the potentially biggest and most devoted market unaddressed: children watching television.
We’re not claiming that younger audiences aren’t already inundated with DC heroes of all ages, animation styles and quality, but anyone will tell you that DC animation just doesn’t get any better than Bruce Timm’s original Superman and Batman: The Animated Series. Whether in art style, plot structure, or even voice actors, most animated DC content the average TV audience takes in is still following on the heels of Timm in some way.