The success of Shazam! is proof that Warner Bros. needs to trust in the essential essence of DC Comics' characters and not turn everything into a "grim and gritty" revision like Titans. While the DC Universe series has proven the most popular of the streaming service's original shows so far, it would be foolish to credit the show's success purely to its mature themes and dark storyline.
The question of how deeply DC Comics' adaptations into live-action films and television should delve into darkness has been a matter of debate since the success of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy and the subsequent production of Man of Steel with Zack Snyder. While Snyder is a popular director with a rabid fan base, many comics fans and general audiences were unimpressed with his Dark Knight Returns influenced take on Superman and Batman. As a result, the DC Extended Universe is now diversifying its tone with movies like Shazam!, with directors tackling those projects they are passionate about rather than being beholden to a single aesthetic or strict continuity.
The same issues dominated the Arrowverse - the shared universe made up of various DC Comics inspired series on the CW network. Many Arrowverse storylines were sidelined due to Warner Bros. efforts to prevent brand dilution, such as allowing two versions of the Suicide Squad to exist simultaneously. Warner Bros. also originally encouraged the series to maintain the same serious tone with little sense of individuality. Thankfully, it seems that Warner Bros. has learned from their mistakes and now the new series on DC Universe are being allowed to be their own thing, even deviating from their source material, as in the case of Titans.
- This Page: Shazam! Lightened-U The DCEU
- Page 2: How Levity Saved The Arrowverse
Shazam! Lightened-Up The DCEU
While Wonder Woman and Aquaman both took a lighter approach than Snyder's vision, Shazam! shows the true tonal flexibility of DC Comics movies. Ignoring the strong visual metaphor of a hero whose chest emblem literally glows, Shazam has been considered an even more incorruptible champion of goodness and decency than Superman in the comic books and cartoons for decades.
While it isn't impossible to do a "grim-and-gritty" take on Shazam (Alan Moore did a wonderful deconstruction of the concept with his revival of Miracleman, for instance), the character does not lend itself well to traditional reimaginings of how "modern" superheroes should act. Take for instance, the classic superhero ethic against killing an enemy and the argument this is unrealistic. While it is believable an Amazon warrior might kill or that Arthur Curry would use lethal force in defense of his kingdom, most audiences could never accept Shazam casually killing someone. Ignoring the distastefulness of a child killing, it just grinds too far against the grain of the established orthodoxy of the character from the comics. The Wisdom of Solomon can always find a better way.
The creative team behind Shazam! understood this and stayed true to the character's original concept as a children's power fantasy - the twin dreams of being an adult and having superpowers. The child's view of the world and the sheer joy of that wish coming true infuses every frame of Shazam's run time. Attempting to ground that narrative in reality would only serve to kill the core concept of the character.
Page 2 of 2: How Levity Saved The Arrowverse
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