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Welcome back to The Hollywood Reporter‘s weekly Comics Watch, a dive into how the latest books from Marvel, DC and beyond could provide fodder for the big (and small) screen.
What is magic? That’s the question at the heart of today’s Justice League Dark No. 19, the penultimate issue of James Tynion IV’s run on the title. Tynion, teamed with artist Alvaro Martinez Bueno, has brought a new perspective to the world of horror and fantasy that exists on the fringes of the DC Universe, largely out of the purview of heroes like Superman, Batman, The Flash and Green Lantern . A year and a half ago, we dove into the first issue of Tynion and Martinez Bueno’s Justice League Dark, and its cinematic potential in relation to Warner Bros’ long-gestating Justice League Dark film, formerly Dark Universe under filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, which preceded Universal’s failed monster cinematic universe of the same name. A relatively recent addition to the DC mythos, Justice League Dark was created by Peter Milligan in 2011 as part of DC’s New 52 lineup. Tynion’s 2018 relaunch brought an increased sense of horror to the property, but also a sense of wonder. That wonder could be the very ingredient that gives Justice League Dark momentum at Warner Bros.
Last week, Deadline broke the news that J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot is in the early stages of exclusively developing film and television projects based around Justice League Dark and its members, which have included John Constantine, Deadman, Zatanna, Shade, Detective Chimp, Doctor Fate and Swamp Thing, among others. Warners, through TV and animated films, has had several projects based around Justice League Dark members, including the NBC’s Constantine, and DC Universe’s Swamp Thing, which introduced characters and concepts like Doctor Fate, Papa Midnite, Madame Xanadu and Blue Devil, before their cancellation. WB Animation saw success with the direct to video film Justice League Dark (2017), which got a boost in marketability thanks to the presence of Batman. An animated sequel to that film is set to hit shelves later this year. But live-action has been a struggle for these characters, excepting Constantine’s (Matt Ryan) presence on The CW’s Legends of Tomorrow. And similarly, the cinematic potential of Justice League as a film brand is somewhat tarnished by the reputation and box office disappointment of Justice League (2017). So beyond Abrams’ name, what makes Justice League Dark and its members a viable concept to the non-comic reading general audience?
The answer is found in Tynion’s run. Since the beginning of the series, one of the biggest attractions to this book was the inclusion of Wonder Woman. Although Diana still holds her responsibilities as a member of the central Justice League, her connection to magic and efforts to explore that part of her has been the driving force of Justice League Dark, in which she is not simply a member, but the leader. Today’s issue sees the conclusion of a long-brewing storyline, The Witching War, which was proceeded by The Witching Hour. These stories saw Wonder Woman, along with Zatanna, Detective Chimp, Swamp Thing, Constantine, Doctor Fate and Man-Bat confront Hecate, the Goddess of Magic whose powers encompass the whole multiverse. Wonder Woman found herself possessed by an aspect of Hecate, bringing about the ruin of Olympus. Purged of this presence, Wonder Woman saw this dark power transferred into her longtime adversary Circe, leading to today’s epic showdown between two forces of magic.
Given the popularity of Wonder Woman, something set to only increase with the release of Wonder Woman 1984, I can’t help but think Bad Robot sees the potential in the character and will draw inspiration from the most recent and popular iteration of Justice League Dark. Warner Bros’ current plan with its DC films is less concerned with inter-connected continuity and more with giving filmmakers the freedom to explore these characters on their own terms. This approach to the DC cinematic universe may be best exemplified by the upcoming Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), which is said to take the events of Suicide Squad (2016) into account, while not worrying about the presence of Batman or the actor behind the cowl, or where it fits exactly in terms of continuity, or whether James Gunn’s upcoming The Suicide Squad has any relevance on this film’s events. With Wonder Woman’s upcoming adventure set in the past, there’s plenty of room for her in the present, separate from filmmaker Patty Jenkins’ plans for the character.
Assuming that we do get a third Wonder Woman feature, it’s likely a ways off. It wouldn’t come as a surprise to see Jenkins pursue another project before a third film, considering she will have done two Wonder Woman films back to back. But the popularity of Gal Gadot’s take on the character could still be utilized, especially since there are currently no plans for a Justice League sequel. Similar to Harley Quinn being used to bolster characters less known to general audiences, Huntress, Black Canary, Orphan, and Rene Montoya in Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman could serve a similar role in Justice League Dark. And who doesn’t want to see Diana interact with a talking chimp who dresses like Sherlock Holmes? But aside from getting more eyes on these characters, there’s also the fact that Wonder Woman’s presence on the team and in a world of horror has been one of the best things to happen to the character in her long and storied history. Taking popular characters out of their familiar settings and using them to explore new territory and introduce audiences to obscure characters isn’t just a cinematic potential, it’s the magic of comics.
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