What's Next for DC Animated Universe After Justice League: Apokolips War?

Following Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, DC's animated universe, as seen in numerous films since Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox in 2013, came to an end. With the end of Apokolips War, the next iteration of DC's animated universe has begun, and the movies coming out of the next year or so have already started to reflect a change in look, tone, and talent. This is hardly the first time it has happened; when the DC Universe animated films debuted, they were billed as being truer to the comics than the "DC Animated Universe" of Batman: The Animated Series through Justice League Unlimited.

The initial run of DC Universe movies did that, with titles like Superman: Doomsday, which loosely adapted "The Death and Return of Superman" from the comics, and Justice League: The New Frontier, which adapted Darwyn Cooke's award-winning DC: The New Frontier miniseries. As the series dragged on, they started telling more original stories and diverging from the comics more often, even as they held pretty close to the tone of the source material.

After Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (which, like the Flashpoint miniseries it was based on, rebooted the universe), the DC Universe movies got into a more familiar rhythm. They had a similar tone from movie to movie, recurring actors, and a shared continuity -- none of which had been priorities with the pre-Flashpoint DC Universe movies.

The connected continuity made for some interesting stories, especially since the tendency was to adapt some of DC's best-loved comic arcs, so you ended up with New 52-inspired takes on The Death of Superman and Teen Titans: The Judas Contract.

So -- what's next?

The immediate first film to follow-up Justice League Dark: Apokolips War is Superman: The Man of Tomorrow. The film features an all-new voice cast, new character models, and a diverse cast of space-based characters, as Superman, J'Onn J'onzz, and Lobo square off with White Maritans. While the DC Universe as we saw it from Flashpoint until Apokolips War was largely earthbound, with Darkseid and Apokolips serving as the sole antagonists from space, it seems like the new series may go the Justice League Action route and spend some time offworld, and some time visiting with characters who might not otherwise get a lot of screen time.

At the same time, White Martians and Lobo are creepy and violent visuals. It's possible part of the new universe will be leaning even harder into the hard PG-13 or R-rated movies that dominated much of the last few years (with Superman: Red Son and Justice League Dark: Apokolips War being released this year alone). That might be something Warner's animation department is doing more generally, considering how hardcore the most recent Mortal Kombat movie was -- and it's something that Sony Pictures Animation has talked about doing, with animation being so much easier to produce than live-action work during the pandemic. The Simpsons and Adult Swim have helped prepare mainstream audiences for cartoons that are a little more edgy, so American audiences may just now be catching up to where many nations have been for years.

That idea could be supported by Batman: The Long Halloween, which centers on the search for a serial killer, and Batman: A Death in the Family, which sees Robin brutally murdered by The Joker. Those stories are already confirmed to be on their way from Warners Home Entertainment.

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If that is the direction the DC movies go -- and that's a pretty big "if," considering that we're going on vague evidence from movies nobody has seen yet -- it of course doesn't mean that there won't be any family-friendly DC animated content. Between Teen Titans Go!, DC Super Hero Girls, and Justice League Action, that kind of content has been omnipresent in the market for the last few years, and it seems unlikely that will change anytime soon. There is also reportedly a DC Super-Pets project in the works, which we assume won't be too hardcore.

It's likely a statement that Superman: The Man of Tomorrow appears to be the first reboot of the DC animated feature films where the series starts with an original screenplay that is not based on a comic. While A Death in the Family and The Long Halloween are based on comics, it's likely the DC Super Pets movie will be a completely original film, making the mix of 2021's planned animated movies 50/50.

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