Regardless of critic reviews or a fandom tearing itself apart over Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice’s many artistic choices, we’ll soon be getting a full-fledged Justice League movie. Two of them, in fact. Short of a meteor hitting DC headquarters, there’s no stopping it at this stage; we’ve seen artwork, been introduced to each of the members, and denying us the chance to see Jason Mamoa’s Aquaman at this stage would be criminal. He looks like a beast.
And yet, groundwork is arguably being laid for another Justice League, in DC’s alternate-universe world of TV. Shows like The Flash, Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow might have smaller budgets, but they’ve been mostly well-received by fans and they’ve made far greater strides in establishing a shared universe than their super-friends over in movie world (not to be confused with Movie World, the Australian theme park). Better still, hints continue to be dropped as to the future of the TV universe. In a few years’ time, is it possible that we’ll be getting two Justice Leagues, on both the big and small screens?
A Tale of Two Leagues
The aforementioned Justice League two-parter is pretty much set in stone, even if its tone may change to suit what audiences seem to be after. The groundwork has been laid, including cameos; we’ve seen every one of the current six founding members on-screen. Bruce Wayne now knows (thanks to a nightmare vision of the future and a visit from the Flash) that he has to gather a group of super-powered types for a vague upcoming threat. Plus, the movie was subtitled Dawn of Justice, and featured the DC trinity standing together for the first time in live-action.
The TV universe has taken a different path due to the medium. It started with Oliver Queen/Green Arrow, though the series was relatively grounded at first with Oliver not even using his iconic name until much later. More fantastical elements began to creep in, until The Flash spinoff kicked off and became massively popular, and we started to meet more major players: Black Canary, The Atom, Mr Terrific, Hawkgirl and Hawkman, Vixen, Firestorm, Black Canary again, White Canary (that's the first Black Canary, post-resurrection) and many, many more. Metahumans became big news, and we’ve even delved into alternate universes and magical artifacts.
None of these point to a Justice League by themselves, but switched-on fans will notice a few small, yet crucial bits of information. A future newspaper confirms the existence of Wayne Enterprises. Barry mentions off-hand that a test pilot from Ferris Aircraft has gone missing, Rip Hunter makes note of "Dark Knights" and "Men of Steel", and Jay Garrick confirms the existence of both Atlantis and Aquaman on his Earth. Given that Earth-2 has all of the same characters who live only slightly divergent lives, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that Atlantis exists on Earth-1 - it’s just still beneath the waves.
Perhaps most telling was when Barry and co. met Gideon, Eobard Thawne’s interactive future Siri. Possessing knowledge of the future, Gideon named Barry Allen/The Flash as the founding member of… something, before she was cut off. No prizes for guessing what that was supposed to be. We also know that Thawne messed with the timeline, causing Barry to become The Flash several years earlier than he would’ve been originally. This would explain how he could be operating as a fully-fledged and experienced superhero for years, before any news starts trickling in from Gotham about a bat-themed vigilante, or the world becomes enamored with a certain heroic Kryptonian. With the timeline we’ve been given by the TV show, this could all just be waiting to happen around the corner.
Hints have been dropped, some groundwork has been laid and there’s at least the potential for a TV version of the Justice League. And yet there are no certainties; all of these could just be easter eggs for the loyal fans and nothing more. Besides, the logistics of mashing together a bunch of standalone series into a massive crossover are proportionally massive.
If it happened, would we get a full Batman series complete with crossovers and its own spinoffs? How about an entire Superman show? The character is already making a current appearance on CBS’s Supergirl, which is confirmed to be set in an alternate reality to the ‘Arrowverse’. Given the abundance of doppelgangers across different universes, it's possible that the Arrowverse could get its own version of Superman - one who could actually show his face and not just communicate exclusively through IM.
Other networks aside, the Legends of Tomorrow route seems more likely if we’re ever going to see the Justice League on the small screen. Some major players will get their own shows, while others will appear as important supporting characters. Picture a Superman series that has him mentored by Martian Manhunter or frequently teaming up with Green Lantern, or possibly a Wonder Woman show with her travelling to Gotham for one season and helping a mopey billionaire to lighten up a little. Not everyone needs their own show, and some might even need as little as a featured episode. Given that we’ve already got duplicate characters in the TV and movie worlds (the Flash, for example), this shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
One important logistic is the potential for archive lockout, with Arrow, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow nearing the ends of their fourth, second and first seasons respectively. This isn’t the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where you can skip a movie and all you’ll miss is an ambiguous post-credits scene or occasional plot point. A season of Arrow is 22 episodes long, and there are four of them. That’s over sixty hours of television, just for one ongoing series. Remember Tommy Merlyn? Just about? How about Isobel Rochev? There are no doubt some fanatics who have memorized her entire wiki page, but the same can’t be said for the poor sap who starts watching a Justice League series and is lost in a sea of references and confusing cameos. The series would need to be streamlined and fresh, and if that means jettisoning a lot of history (or just not bringing it up all that often), then that’s what needs to happen.
So, with the two leagues potentially co-existing at some point in the future on screens both big and small, how will they avoid treading on each other’s toes?
This one is simpler, because the format means that they’ll have to be different. The DCEU Justice League is looking to be inspired purely from the comics - a coming-together of all the most iconic members who’ll most likely be tangling with big-name villains in the way we’ve come to expect from superhero movies. One big plot, followed by a one big CGI fight scene.
Meanwhile, TV can takes things slower. By nature the series would be episodic, even if it all culminates in a larger story arc, meaning that there’s plenty of screen-time to develop a universe. The Flash would almost certainly be part of both teams, but otherwise the membership could fluctuate as it does in the comics; the line-up could change over time, be entirely different from the get-go, or just not even develop into an official ‘Justice League’ at all, instead bearing a different name or just being a loose series of team-ups.
So, are we ever getting a Justice League TV series? No one can say for sure, but with the success of Arrow and The Flash and the universe they’ve spent years building (even if you don’t love every element), it’s not something to be written off as a pipe dream. We’ve seen things in recent times that have never before been attempted: spin-offs of spin-offs, massive TV universes and animated web series whose characters have made the leap into live-action. Barry Allen recently jumped into not just an alternate universe, but a completely different network, with the door left open for Supergirl to reverse the feat.
At this point, a straight-up Justice League TV series seems almost simple.