HEAT VISION

How DC's 'Gotham City Monsters' Could Translate to the Big Screen

The new comic might be an easier horror genre sell than Warner Bros.' long-gestating 'Justice League Dark.'
'Gotham City Monsters' No. 1   |   Philip Tan/DC Comics
The new comic might be an easier horror genre sell than Warner Bros.' long-gestating 'Justice League Dark.'

DC Comics’ monsters are coming together. Wednesday sees the release of the first issue of Gotham City Monsters, a new six-issue miniseries written by Steve Orlando and Amancay Nahuelpan. Spinning out of Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s current Event Leviathan, the series finds former S.H.A.D.E. (Superhman Advanced Defense Executive) agent, Frankenstein, on the hunt for his former mentor turned adversary Melmoth, Ringmaster of the Circus of Maggots. To track him down and prevent the destruction of the multiverse, he enlists the help of some of Gotham City’s most notorious and monstrous criminals, Killer Croc, Lady Clayface, Orca and the vampire Andrew Bennett, who are each looking to shed their villainous reputations. Gotham City Monsters, or GCM, is one of the more out-there ideas from DC’s current brain trust, one that blends the popularity of superheroes with the pulp horror magazines of the proto comic era. As DC finds new ways to incorporate their stable of horror characters within their line, it’s hard not to wonder if Warner Bros. and New Line could eventually do the same within the DC film universe.

While it may be seem a bit weird that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is in the DC Universe, teaming up with noted superhero and villain types, weird is his preferred order of business. The character, who does go by Frankenstein and not Frankenstein’s Monster, has been around in DC Comics since 1948 where he appeared in Detective Comics No. 135. Created by Edmond Hamilton and Bob Kane, after Shelley, the monster received a modern makeover in Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory (2005), which revamped a number of little-used C-list characters. It’s this version of Frankenstein that leads Gotham City Monsters, and he’s not quite the lumbering brute Boris Karloff popularized. He’s a sword- and pistol-wielding Byronic hero who hunts down creatures born of horror and science fiction while confronting his own self-loathing. He’s very much comparable to Dark Horse’s Hellboy, except he has the benefit of being able to crossover with the likes of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.

Like many classic horror characters in the public domain, Hollywood studios has tried to find ways to revamp these characters for modern audiences. From I, Frankenstein (2014), Dracula Untold (2014) and The Mummy (2017), Hollywood is hell-bent on finding a way to turn these characters into superhero archetypes, despite how damning the efforts tend to be. It can be difficult to make characters exposed by so many decades of literature and movies frightening. And it can be even harder to cast them as action heroes, superheroes in a climate that would much prefer the real deal than imitation. But Marvel Studios and Warner Bros. have a luxury that other studios, like Universal, don’t. They have a comic book mythos of these characters from which to draw directly. Frankenstein doesn’t have to be twisted into a superhero well-received enough to battle competing comic franchises for the box office when he already exists as a superhero whose films could feature appearances from Batman.

In the midst of restricting its approach to their DC assets, Warner Bros. has found that horror directors make for strong candidates to helm its DC movies. Within the past year, we’ve seen James Wan and David F. Sandberg shift gears from the supernatural and find success with Aquaman (2018) and Shazam (2019), respectively. House of Wax (2005) and Orphan (2009) director Jaume Collet-Serra is gearing up to direct Dwayne Johnson in Black Adam. And most recently, It (2017) and IT: Chapter 2 director Andy Muschietti has signed on to do The Flash. It seems only logical that Warner Bros. and New Line employ some of their stable of talent to explore the horror side of the DC Universe. James Wan is already leading the way as producer on Aquaman spinoff, The Trench. But would there be an audience for Gotham City Monsters?

There is an appetite for big-budget studio horror, proven by The Conjuring Universe and both installments of It. And there also seems to be a desire to see more of the supernatural side of comic book adaptations, at least in regards to Marvel and DC. Marvel Studios has the horror-centric Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness and Blade in development. And while Warners has struggled to get Justice League Dark into production, the DC Universe streaming series Swamp Thing received enough critical acclaim and backlash from its early cancelation to suggest that there is an audience for superhero horror. While Justice League Dark is the more enticing title to adapt to film, it also has the baggage of the Justice League brand and more well-known characters. Gotham City Monsters, on the other hand, takes a band of relative unknowns alongside a heaping dose of bloodshed, cosmic weirdness and classic monsters, and places them in the most well-known fictional city in all of comics. Suicide Squad (2016) could serve as a jumping off point, especially since Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and The Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) appear to be missing out on the sequel action.

If Todd Phillips’ crucially-praised Joker marks a learning point for the company, then it seems that Warners is open to taking more risks and perhaps approaching its movies in a way similar to DC Comics: releasing content under different labels. The studio could use the immense collection of horror talent they’ve already assembled in studio and at New Line to deliver a different kind of superhero universe, a label that focuses on all the horror DC Comics has to offer.

 
  • Richard Newby
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