Why DC Veered Away From Campy Movies
In his book The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture, writer Glen Weldon talks of the camp eras of the character with gleeful exuberance, but also highlights how this tone and approach were virulently rejected by fans and creators alike:
"Twice before in his seventy-seven-year history, the Dark Knight has given way to the Camp Crusader, and twice before a small subset of his most ardent fans have risen up in protest to demand that Batman return to his grittier roots. These hard-core enthusiasts accept only the darkest, grimmest, most hypermasculine version of the character imaginable and view and alternate Bat-iteration as somehow suspect, inauthentic, debased, and sorta gay."
Weldon later goes into detail the homophobic insinuations to much of the rejection of camp takes on Batman. Many are rooted in the idea that Bruce Wayne, in his tights and flashy logo emblazoned over his super-muscled chest, is somehow made toxic or unwatchable for the assumed straight male audience. Anything associated with that camp aesthetic - over-saturated color, puns and one-liner gags, obvious theatrics, and Batman dancing - were to be wiped from the slate. In order to re-establish Batman "properly," they would go in the opposite direction: Go darker, go bleaker, make Batman less heroic, and more violent. What has always been a part of the Batman mythos was removed from the narrative because it was seen as “ruining” the character. We saw this happen after the Adam West show, and we saw it once Joel Schumacher finished Batman and Robin. For many, there’s no room for light and silliness in Batman and the wider DCEU. Even Superman has to kill someone to be taken “seriously”.
The Future of DC Will Better Serve Fans of Camp
The future could be brighter for DC. The animated comedy Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is set for a theatrical release this Summer, and the upcoming Shazam hints at a more comedic tone that would feel very welcome for the franchise. It's obvious that DC and Warner Bros. are aware of the need to shake things up, particularly following the commercial disappointment of Justice League. Moving forward, not having a singular fixed tone across several films seems like the best option for the franchise to have. In that case, bringing DC back to camp should be on the table.
Marvel took a risk on Thor: Ragnarok, allowing it to be a frenzy of colors and jokes, and it paid off handsomely. Amid the darkness, there's something to be said for letting our heroes embrace their inherent silliness. Seriousness has its place in the genre, and there are multiple examples of brilliant stories being told through this approach, but it’s time for greater variety, and a chance to embrace the creative possibilities of camp.
- Aquaman (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018
- Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020
- Shazam! (2019) release date: Apr 05, 2019