DC Studios' Slate Is Showcasing the Importance of Superhero Comics
On Monday, DC Studios CEOs James Gunn and Peter Safran announced the first wave of titles that will make up their new DC Universe, the most concerted effort yet to connect movies, television shows, and video games inspired by the publisher's characters. The initiative of storytelling, which is being dubbed "Chapter One: Gods and Monsters", will consist of five films: Superman: Legacy, the Batman-centric The Brave and The Bold, Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow, Swamp Thing, and The Authority; and five HBO Max-exclusive television shows: Creature Commandos, Waller, Lanterns, the Wonder Woman prequel Paradise Lost, and Booster Gold. While Gunn and Safran's studio is far from the first or last to unveil their "slate" of storytelling, and we're at least a year away from beginning to see the fruits of their labor, something about this announcement felt unique. It wasn't just the months of anticipation from diehard fans, or the years of ill-fated attempts to create a cohesive universe before it — it was what happened after the announcement.
Outside of art for the animated Creature Commandos, Gunn's video announcement had no official looks at characters, concept art of costumes, or confirmations of cast members. Instead, it showcased the best hint yet at what's to come: art from DC's comics. Sure, this was the most logical option for how to announce the slate, as almost all of the characters in these projects have yet to be cast in the new canon, and previous regimes running DC have repeatedly made the mistake of revealing fancy logos for projects way too early, only to disappoint fans when they don't exactly come to fruition. But putting the iconography of the comics front and center not only showed DC Studios' reverential approach to its source material, it gave fans a concrete jumping-on point for what kind of stories to expect — and, surprisingly, it motivated them to check out these stories for themselves.
At the time of this writing, just days after the announcement was first made, the trade paperback or omnibus collections of Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow, All-Star Superman, Batman by Grant Morrison, Booster Gold: The Big Fall, and The Authority Book One have sold out or topped the bestseller charts on multiple online retail platforms, with retailers at individual comic book stores reporting that they have sold out of their existing copies as well. Gunn himself had to take to Twitter on Friday night to confirm that DC is rushing out new printings of many of the books to keep up with the demand. While there have occasionally been instances of superhero adaptations driving sales of their source material — namely, Disney+ WandaVision leading to months-long delays on new printings of Marvel's Scarlet Witch and Vision-related books — the demand of the books indirectly tied to DC Studios' slate feels unprecedented. It just might, in the process, also illustrate the cultural and emotional resonance that superhero comics can still have.
A lot of arguments can be made as to why the books inspiring DC Studios' slate were suddenly met with high demand — they cover a wide variety of genres and characters, ranging from A-listers like Batman and Superman to cult favorites like The Authority and Booster Gold, increasing the chance that someone who heard the announcement might want to explore the source material. They also represent a wider breadth of DC's storytelling than previous live-action efforts, encompassing books that were published in the 1980s, the 1990s, the 2000s, and even as recently as last year. Sure, it was safe to assume that, outside of Woman of Tomorrow, the DCU won't directly and perfectly adapt the narrative of these aforementioned books — Gunn essentially confirmed as much later in the week, tweeting that "the feel, the look, or the tone" of these various books are serving as "touchstones" for the franchise's team of screenwriters. (A team that just so happens to include an actual comic writer — Woman of Tomorrow scribe Tom King.) But fans were still eager to get ahead of the curve and experience these stories for themselves, diving into a source material filled with breathtaking art, lovable characters, and the near-infinite possibilities that await in other comics.
Compare that to the inspiration for the majority of DC's main-universe movies from the past decade, many of which fell back on the gritty perennials of Alan Moore and Frank Miller, or the definitive (for better or worse) rebooted books of the New 52 — books that, by and large, have remained in print and easy for new readers to obtain. Marvel Studios, meanwhile, turns nearly all of its movie or TV characters into household names, but prioritizes its own overarching story first and foremost, even going so far as not wanting diehard comic fans to write their projects. When Marvel Studios has incentivized fans to read the source material, it has been through literally gamifying the entire experience, sneaking QR codes for free digital comics into blink-and-you'll-miss-it moments of its Disney+ shows. Both of these approaches are built on an even uneasier history of superhero adaptations' relationship with superhero comics, including X-Men director Bryan Singer banning comics from the films' set.
For as long as there have been mainstream comics, there have been naysayers undermining them as a "lesser" type of storytelling — even Stan Lee, Marvel's Publisher Emeritus and the co-creator of multiple household-name superheroes, argued in 1971 that comics were just "an apprenticeship to enter a better field" of movies and television. The superhero boom has only made that argument even more frustrating, with superhero films grossing billions of dollars while superhero comics are bought and enjoyed by a small fraction of that ticket-buying audience. All the while, superhero comics (especially those published by DC) have consistently offered an ambitious, hopeful, and creative world unlike any other, if a reader only knows how to find it. It's incredibly exciting that stories like Creature Commandos and Grant Morrison's Batman are going to inspire some weird and wonderful movies and television shows in the next few years. But honestly, the fact that this new chapter of storytelling is driving people directly to the majesty of DC's comics is truly thrilling.
The DCU's "Chapter One: Gods and Monsters" will begin with Superman: Legacy, which is currently scheduled to be released in theaters on July 11, 2025.