DC Universe: James Gunn, Peter Safran Unveil Grand Chapter 1 Plans

James Gunn promised there would be news about the upcoming slate of movies and shows from the newly formed DC Studios before the end of the month, with that month being January of 2023. Coming down to the wire, the new co-CEO of the DC Comics film division within Warner Bros. Discovery delivered, along with his co-CEO Peter Safran. On Monday, the studio opened its doors for members of the press to attend a presentation of their upcoming slate of titles, which was followed by an onslaught of questions about the franchise's future. While many questions were answered, others remain and new ones arise as Gunn and Safran confidently unveiled titles from Chapter 1, a segment of their story dubbed as "Gods & Monsters."

Chapter 1 is the first of two chapters that will tell a story over 8 to 10 years, per Gunn and Safran's estimations. "A lot of people think it's going to be Marvel 2.0, and definitely I learned a lot of stuff at Marvel. I think that we have a lot of differences," Gunn explained. "We are telling a big, huge, central story that is like Marvel, except for, I think that we're a lot more planned out than Marvel from the beginning because we've gotten a group of writers together to work that story out completely. But we're also creating a universe that is like Star Wars, where there's different times, different places, different things, or Game of Thrones, where characters are a little bit more morally complex." 

Those writers, a group that Gunn refers to individually as "architects," includes a number of respectable names. Tom King, Drew Goddard, Christina Hodson, Christal Henry, and Jeremy Slater are working behind the scenes with Gunn to map out the entirety of this saga. King is working specifically on the Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow movie, a film based on his comic book of the same title. Drew Goddard previously created Marvel's Daredevil series on Netflix. Hodson wrote Birds of Prey, the cancelled Batgirl film, and the upcoming The Flash. Henry penned the acclaimed Watchmen series. Slater recently lent his talent to Marvel's Moon Knight series. It's certainly an impressive resumé between the DC Universe's architects.

DC Universe Chapter 1: Gods & Monsters

For now, Gunn and Safran are ready to share 10 titles this group has planned. Five of these titles are movies; Superman: Legacy, The Authority, The Brave and The Bold, Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow, and Swamp Thing. Five of these titles are series; Creature Commandos, Waller, Booster GoldLanterns, and Paradise Lost. Superman: Legacy is dated for July 11, 2025, serving as the true start to this new DC Universe, though the animated Creature Commandos series and Waller could precede it. Release dates or windows for the other titles were not revealed, though DC Studios is expecting to release two movies and two shows per year, not including Elseworlds titles such as Todd Phillip's Joker movies or the Matt Reeves-masterminded The Batman titles.

Still, it all starts with four movies set for release in 2023. "I think that we've gotten lucky with the next four movies, frankly, because we have [Shazam! Fury of the Gods], which leads into Flash, which resets everything, which then goes into Blue Beetle, which is totally disconnected. He can totally be a part of the DCU, goes into [Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom], which leads into Superman, our first big project," Gunn said. "But the one thing that we can promise is that everything from Superman forward, or from our first project forward, will be canon and will be connected. We're using some actors from the past. We're not using other actors from the past, but everything from that moment forward will be connected and consistent."

Of those actors returning, Henry Cavill is already known not to be one of them and Ben Affleck is also officially out of the picture. A new Batman will be cast for The Brave and the Bold, a film adapting Grant Morrison's work in Batman comics. Gunn noted Affleck is interested in directing a project in the new DC Universe. The former Batman actor, who will conclude his role with appearances in  2023's The Flash and Aquaman movies, has narrowed his directing gig sights down to two DC Universe projects but neither were revealed just yet. This new Batman film which will feature additional members of the Bat-family from comics is completely separate from that of the stories being told by Matt Reeves in titles starring Robert Pattinson. Those will continue, with a sequel to The Batman landing in October of 2025 and pre-production expected to take place this year. 

The Brave and The Bold is "the story of Damian Wayne, who is Batman's actual son who we didn't know existed for the first eight to 10 years of his life," per Gunn. "He was raised as a little murderer and assassin. He's a little son of a bitch. He's my favorite Robin. It's based on the Grant Morrison comic book's run, which is one of my favorite Batman runs, and we are putting that all together right now."

(Photo: DC Studios)

Which Cast Members are in the DC Universe Now?

The recasting of DC's two biggest characters includes a mystery of who the next Superman will be. "Superman, I really love the idea of Superman. He's a big old galoot," Gunn said when asked what he will be looking for when casting the role. "He is a farm boy from Kansas who is very idealistic. His greatest weakness is that he'll never kill anybody, doesn't want to hurt a living soul. And I like that sort of innate goodness about Superman as his defining characteristic. It's not All-Star Superman, but again, I'm a huge fan of All-Star Superman, and is very inspired by All-Star Superman."

Rounding out DC's trinity is Wonder Woman, a character who doesn't seem to have a role in the Chapter 1 titles announced (though the duo admits there are more titles they have planned that were not revealed in this presentation). Paradise Lost will tell a tale in Themyscira prior to the birth of the Diana Prince character. Safran likens the themes and complexity of Paradise Lost to HBO's Game of Thrones. "It's an origin story, a way of, 'How did this society of women come about? What does it mean? What are their politics like? What are their rules? Who's in charge? What are all the games that they play with each other to get to the top?'" Gunn explained of the series.

The future for Gal Gadot, however, is not as clear as the past for Themyscira seems to be for the duo. "We've talked to Gal," Gunn said. "She's up for doing stuff. We're not sure what we're going to do with that." The only actors who seem to be guaranteed so far are John Cena as Peacemaker and Viola Davis as Amanda Waller. 

Meanwhile, speculation has swirled about Jason Momoa's future, as the Aquaman star has been teasing something so exciting it seems hard to imagine he could simply be talking about the same role. When prompted by ComicBook.com about whether or not he's going to become Lobo, Momoa was caught off guard and seemed to be teasing as much to be the case. "Jason always thought Aquaman was a trilogy, in his own mind," Safran said when prompted with questions about Momoa's future. "But listen, he loves Lobo. He's been very clear about that, too. He's never going to play two characters, but no decisions have been made." Despite Momoa's sentiments online seeming to indicate otherwise, Gunn declared this would be figured out after Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.

Then there's Ezra Miller, who has been in legal battles and controversies left and right. Safran and Gunn are quick to share how excellent The Flash movie turned out to be but slower to the draw when it comes to decisions regarding Miller's future as Barry Allen. "Ezra is fully committed to the recovery right now," Safran said. "And we talk to them. We're in constant contact. But when the time is right, we'll have the conversation with them and decide what's best for them personally and also for us."

As connectivity is a major focus for the DC Universe going forward, joining the franchise requires major commitments from actors. Not only is acting work going to require long-term deals to finish out roles throughout both chapters, but "they will also have to go back and forth between film and television because there's no demarcation for us," Gunn said. "If you're John Cena playing Peacemaker in the movie, you're playing him on the TV series as well. So that's a very important part of what we're doing so there's no audience confusion. There aren't multiple people playing the same role. This is the story."

The connectivity will be exemplified with Creature Commandos, a seven-episode title already written by Gunn. The animated series seems to be first in line for release and will be casting the likes of Rick Flag Sr., Nina Mazursky, Doctor Phosphorus, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and G.I. Robot, with The Suicide Squad's Weasel also returning. Actors cast for roles in the animated series will reprise their gigs when the characters cross over into live-action titles, a move to be proven quickly as one of the characters from Creature Commandos will appear in the live-action Waller series. Waller will follow up the events of Peacemaker's first season, serving as a bridge before the second. Watchmen's Christal Henry and Doom Patrol's Jeremy Carver are working on the Waller series, providing Gunn with more time to develop the DC Universe as a whole before having the time required to write Season 2 of Peacemaker. 

(Photo: DC Comics)

What Do We Know About The Superman Movie?

"These first two series [Creature Commandos and Waller] are kind of an amuse-bouche for what is coming up with Superman: Legacy," Safran explained. "So, James is currently writing it. We certainly hope and are hoping that he will direct it. It's not an origin story. It focuses on Superman balancing his Kryptonian heritage with his human upbringing. Superman represents truth, justice, and the American way. He has kindness in a world that thinks of kindness as old fashioned."

Gunn, who has proved his ability to develop lesser-known characters into beloved stars through his rosters in Guardians of the Galaxy and The Suicide Squad, is focusing heavily on one of the best-known characters for a change. "I only have seven days in the week, all of which are used in the service of DC storytelling. I'm working all the time and I can only do what I can do. We're going to have to make a decision at some point," Gunn explained. "I've worked a lot on the outline for The Authority myself. What best serves DC, what best serves the fans? Is it me really focusing on Superman and making sure we have a great opening? Or is it me giving a little bit to that, a little bit to this, a little bit to that, a little bit to this? And it's not an easy answer and I'm figuring it out as I go along. It's the number one unknown thing about this. I don't have all the answers. I'm just trying to learn as best as I can how we can keep the quality up, because that's what matters."

As for the character of Superman, Gunn and Safran seem dialed into the idea of representing his impeccable morality while challenging just that for all characters throughout the DC Universe. "I think our stories, in general, are, we want to take it away from good guy versus bad guy and all... There's really, really, almost saintly people. Superman is among them. There's really terrible villains like Gorilla Grodd or Joker. And then there's everybody in between. And so there's all these shades of gray of these different types of character, which allows us to tell more complex storytelling."

(Photo: DC Studios / Creature Commandos)

What is Different for DC This Time?

Fans of DC Comics have been here before in various ways. San Diego Comic-Con has flashed dozens of logos across the Hall H screens for exciting titles which never came to fruition. DC FanDome has boasted about upcoming slates. The ArrowVerse launched a DC universe on The CW which fractured into a multiverse. Cavill returned as Superman in Black Adam where Dwayne Johnson and his team seemed to have been given the keys to the kingdom when there was a lack of centralized leadership in the DC franchise, only to have the rug pulled out on the Superman return as expected sequels shutdown. An entire DC Universe streaming service launched at one point.

So, how are Gunn and Safran's plans going to be different? First of all, Gunn is not shy about acknowledging DC's past mistakes. "We all know it's been a f-cked-up road for many of [the DC characters] for the past few years, and things haven't been together," Gunn declared. "The history has been sh-t. It's been a real f-cked-up journey for DC. I think that there was basically no one minding the mint, and they were giving out IP to any creatives that smiled at whoever was in charge. There was never any real power given to the people in charge. And so somebody could always go over their head and do whatever they wanted. And we had the DCEU, which then became the Joss Whedon Justice League, but it also became the Snyderverse, which became this... And we have Wonder Woman, then we have Wonder Woman 2, which doesn't even match what happened in Wonder Woman one. And then we have the ArrowVerse, and even us coming in with Suicide Squad and Peacemaker, and what is it exactly? And then all of a sudden Bat-Mite's a real guy. So, how can we take these things together and make them make sense and have them unified and have it one real universe, one real world?"

Gunn has posed just that question he asked himself. How will this time be different from the promises made to fans in the past regarding slates of movies and shows based on DC Comics characters? "My biggest difference is I've done it before," Gunn declared. "So, I started [Guardians of the Galaxy] with a story of what that trilogy was, where it started and where it ended. And it's in that. That story is just the smaller version of doing this. I've been inside a company that did it very well. It's very different than us. Marvel didn't have everything completely worked out ahead of time, but they did a lot of things really well, one of which is not giving up. And I really love that about [Marvel Studios president] Kevin [Feige] and Lou [D'Esposito] and the whole gang, that I've seen them turn bad movies into okay movies, okay movies into good movies, and good movies into great movies. And it's because they do not f-cking stop. They give it whatever it needs to make it as good as it can possibly be until the 11th hour and they'll be editing the day before it premieres, a lot, too much."

Gunn and Safran are committed to selling their confidence in a fully fleshed-out plan, one which they are deciding on before ever rolling a camera on a title officially in their newly re-launched franchise. "I've been around making studio movies now for over 20 years, and the thing that I've seen the biggest change between the past and today is that, and the reason why I think movies, in general, are not as good as they used to be is because too many movies get set into a date and then they're made no matter what," Gunn said. "And then you have movies where they don't have a third act, and they're already shooting, hoping that somehow they're going to work it out even though they didn't get it worked out through three years of script. So we want to really elevate writers again, make writers as important as they are, and become architects of this story."

One big change is DC Studios in itself. "It's a standalone studio and production entity," Safran explained. "And it's unprecedented because it's the first time ever that all film, all television, live-action, animation, gaming is all centralized under one creative vision. So that was a big deal for [David] Zaslav, was the idea of creating a standalone entity where a creative vision, there could be a unified creative vision. And everything's centralized under James and myself."

This means producers such as Charles Roven, whose name is attached to titles prior to this DC Universe relaunch such as Man of Steel and The Suicide Squad, won't be participating in future projects. "One of the things I really liked about when I went to Marvel was that there were not outside producers," Gunn explained. "What I've always found is problematic on films and hurts the quality of films, is the triangulation that happens between studio producer and director. And that people start creating little waves going behind each other's backs and everything just becomes more messed up in this vying for power. But when you have two strong forces, a producer and a director, which is what we'll be with the directors we're working with, I found that it's more clear-cut and it makes things easier. For the most part, we're going to be working as in-house producers ourselves and then having the directors do their thing."


Why Are James Gunn and Peter Safran Running DC Studios?

Ultimately, the revealed slate offers titles that are quite diverse in tone and expectation. Lanterns follows Hal Jordan and John Stewart as True Detective-like space cops on Earth. Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow is a "harsh" version of the character (with the title character role seemingly up for grabs). Superman: Legacy is a hopeful take on the man of steel. Swamp Thing will be a "dark origins" movie about a member of the Justice League Dark comics group. Booster Gold follows "a loser from the future who uses his basic future technology to come back to today and pretend to be a superhero," per Safran. The Authority, one of Gunn's "passion projects," will be "a very different kind of superhero story," as it follows well-intentioned heroes making morally gray decisions to accomplish goals. 

Safran has proved himself to be a valuable producer, working on the DCEU's most successful film from a box-office perspective with the first Aquaman. Gunn has put together a resumé of building up characters that mainstream audiences are quite unfamiliar with. The biggest names at DC, Batman and Superman, are due for DC Universe movies while newcomers to these mediums like the Creature Commandos and Booster Gold will be given a chance to shine.

"Why did I take this job? I knew that there was going to be a lot of hitches, a lot of problems, but as many of you know, comic books are in my blood," Gunn explained. "These characters are in my blood. I was sort of an oddball child who didn't really have many friends and loved comic books. Loved DC comic books, loved Marvel comic books. I didn't interact well with my peers and my parents sent me to a psychiatrist when I was 11 years old to try to figure out what was wrong with me because I never went to school. I just stayed home, read comic books, wrote and drew comic books." Gunn fondly remembered his father following an instruction to take interest in his comic book obsession, resulting in the best weekend of his life, where they attended a comic convention together in Missouri. 

"I really thought it is a challenge, but I think it's a possibility to create something really wonderful with these characters," Gunn said. "I can't go into politics, I can't do anything with science. So, the only thing I can do for this planet is to create stories about love. And that's what I think that we can do over the next eight to 10 years."