DC Comics has gone through many changes over the past two decades when it comes to the films and series it has produced. From the dark and the grizzly Black Knight empowerment trilogy Wonder woman movies, the company offered fans new experiences and watched their favorite characters. That being said, there is a big divide between DC movies and TV shows.
Where the DCEU makes its films follow typical stories of good guys facing and ultimately conquering evil, its TV series have come from left field to praise critics and fans alike. TV shows like Harley Quinn, Doom Patrol, and even short-lived Swamp thing have been wild, inventive, and bring a much needed weirdness to comic book media. So what makes these shows so great, and why haven’t the DC movies had the same chance to tell ambitious stories?
Despite where they ended up, most modern DC character shows – in addition to the CW’s Arrowverse shows like Flash and Super girl – were originally posted on DC’s streaming service, DC Universe. While it only ran for less than three years, DC Universe was able to offer fans a surprising array of content. The DC Universe shows focused on the heroes and comic book characters who rarely spend their screen time in the DCEU.
The hilarious and much acclaimed Fate Patrol follows the team of superheroes of the same name as they navigate life with the powers they have gained through tragedy and battle wacky villains like Mr. Nobody (played to perfection by Alan Tudyk. Fate Patrol features some of DC’s strangest characters, such as NASCAR driver-turned-cyborg Cliff Steele (Brendan Fraser), former Hollywood starlet Elasti-Girl (April Bowlby) and radioactive Negative Man (Matt Bomer.) Fate Patrol doesn’t just lean into the weirdness of the comics, he wears it like a badge on his chest, going absurd while remaining sincere. The disgruntled group of superhumans become a dysfunctional, entertaining family that viewers want to return to time and time again.
Harley quinn explores an iconic comic book woman as more than just the Joker’s casual girlfriend. The series begins after Harley Quinn (Kaley Cuoco) breaks up with the Joker and focuses on his rise as a villain, with savage appearances from characters like King Shark (Ron Funches) and Doctor Psycho (Tony Hale.) Besides his beautiful animation. , incredible voice and first-rate dark writing, the heart of Harley quinn lies in the dynamic between Quinn and her best friend, Poison Ivy (Lake Bell), which also hasn’t been explored onscreen since the comics featured them.
While Harley quinn and Fate Patrol show how DC characters can make good comedy when they get weird, Swamp thing is a perfect example of weird ambition in a place DC media is keeping away from – horror. Receiving only one season, Swamp thing has followed the creature of the same name through the wetlands of Louisiana as he tries to uncover the city’s mysterious disease with the help of Doctor Abby Arcane (Crystal Reed.) with beautiful shots and a healthy dose of Southern Gothic from her side, Swamp thing ranges from creepy to downright terrifying in single episodes and is arguably the DC show to delve the deepest into the land of the maddening.
But there’s a big reason DC shows can be a little more ambitious than their cinematic counterparts. TV shows work differently from movies on several levels. A big budget prestige film – like Justice League Where Steel man – relies on huge box office profits, and bigger holdings are more likely when a movie doesn’t polarize audiences with something they deem “too out” or “too scary”. On TV, shows are able to build a niche audience that is loyal enough (hopefully) to carry them out for a few seasons. Show as Harley quinn and Fate Patrol also have their platform to build on. Both series started on a streaming service and continued on HBO Max, another streaming service, where writers and creators can work without so many censors getting in the way of their viewing – whether it’s more gory or adding a another curse word to the script.
It’s probably safe to say that DC films will immediately plunge into the absurd, there are a few signs that the stories audiences see on the big screen might have more room for ambition. While this is still a story we’ve seen before, that of James Gunn The suicide squad had some ambitious and weird moments sprinkled throughout his run, and even the 2020s Birds of prey brought women to the forefront of the story in a new way. Hopefully, we have more chances to tell crazier stories as the DCEU grows.
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