Exactly two decades ago, the Justice League of America made its live-action debut on TV.
Fortunately, it was only a single episode, as the 1997 CBS TV pilot was so horrible that it drew the ire of legendary JLA scribe Mark Waid, who commented, “80 minutes of my life I’ll never get back”.
Like Waid, yours truly also felt, er, violated after watching that episode, and any hopes I had for a truly worthy Justice League movie were crushed… until now.
Fast forward to today, I am now looking ahead to the upcoming Justice League movie (opening this Thursday).
I’m still apprehensive about the movie though. DC’s track-record on super-team movies isn’t exactly great (remember The Losers, Watchmen and Suicide Squad?), and I’ve not been entirely convinced by the trailers either.
While they definitely helped exorcise my “League of 97” demons (which isn’t hard to do), getting from good to great requires more than just cramming Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman into a single film.
Hence, I feel that the success of the Justice League movie will be decided by five Cs – namely Characterisation, Chemistry, Connectivity, Comic Relief and Costumes. I didn’t just lift these from a Mother Box, but rather, they are proven ingredients from the comics, and also from other successful comic book movies.
Let’s deep dive into these five criteria and examine why they are absolutely crucial from a comic-purist’s perspective.
The beauty of the Justice League is its ability to take various individualistic characters and get them to work together on a single world-saving mission.
Throughout the last six decades of the Justice League’s history, its revolving door membership policy has helped germinate a host of aspiring and obscure characters.
Its list of former members include the likes of Black Canary, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, Oberon, and Maxwell Lord. These characters have benefited from their initial supporting roles and moved on to bigger roles in the DC universe.
While the above names belong to characters with minimal background at the onset, even established names like Wally West (The Flash), Kyle Rayner (Green Lantern) and Connor Hawke (Green Arrow) had their best character-building moments with the League. Their respective stints has helped them gain a new lease of experience, while fulfilling succession plans in the heroes fraternity.
From the upcoming movie, Cyborg is one character who would require this focus on characterisation. Initially, a core member of the Teen Titans, Cyborg was “promoted” into the big League in the New 52 relaunch in 2011, and has been a part of the team since.
It should be interesting to see how a relatively unknown character like him assimilates into a team filled with much bigger names.
While Batman and Superman are DC Comics’ and arguably the entire comics industry’s most popular icons, their chemistry doesn’t quite have enough charm to leave a lasting impression.
Thankfully, past and present Justice League teams have had pairings with wonderful chemistry, including Booster Gold and Blue Beetle, Green Arrow and Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), and Flash and Green Lantern (Jordan again).
With these three pairings absent in the upcoming movie, the likeliest comedic duo may come from the teenage pair of Flash and Cyborg or the “odd couple” of Batman and Aquaman!
Though the roll call is almost similar to the Geoff Johns and Jim Lee New 52 League in 2011, Green Lantern’s exclusion may deprive the movie of those comic book bro-mance moments between him and the Flash. Fingers crossed, there will be more interaction between the team members as well.
The beauty of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is its ability and flexibility to link various characters while making their respective individualistic traits and realities make sense.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about DC’s cinematic universe, as past efforts have been very individualistic (such as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, and all the past Superman movies).
Since 2015’s Man Of Steel, however, DC has tried to link all their films together, with Batman V Superman: The Dawn Of Justice, Suicide Squad, and Wonder Woman all featuring Ben Affleck’s Batman in some way.
What I would really like to see is whether this film will contain any spin-off possibilities and show us that there is a larger DC universe out there. Sure, The Flash, Aquaman, and Batman will be getting their own solo films after this, but here’s hoping we’ll get some cameos or Easter eggs that will give us hope of films about the Teen Titans, Outsiders, or even the Legion of Super Heroes!
Judging by the trailers, Batman seems to have a dark (and uncharacteristic) sense of humour, Aquaman has a violent one, and Wonder Woman has none at all. What I’m getting at is that DC movies are known for being a lot darker, and not very family-oriented.
Surely the success of the Guardians Of The Galaxy films as well as Ant Man and Thor Ragnarok should have at least convinced SOME folks in DC that heroes can be funny, fun-loving people as well, right?
In fact, they don’t even need not look far for some comedic inspiration, as they already have a proven recipe in Keith Giffen, J.M. De Matteis and Kevin Maguire’s Justice League in 1986.
This version of the League was like “Friends, but with super powers”. It set the benchmark for comic relief, not just for the League but also comic books in general.
It helped create an infectious storytelling mode described simply as “Bwa Ha Ha”, and interestingly ditched the “America” focus in the League in favour of going global.
From Guy Gardner’s repulsive nature to the Booster Gold-Blue Beetle buddy antics, this League may not have had Superman, but it actually made a lot of sense.
Poor costume designs can spell instant failures for superheroes. Just look at the aforementioned JLA episode by CBS, or Ryan Reynolds’ CGI suit in Green Lantern.
Comparing all the League’s incarnations since the 60s, the 2011 series by Johns and Lee gets two thumbs up for having the best superhero wardrobe, from Superman ditching the red underwear on the outside in favour of a futuristic armoured suit, to the less tacky-looking colours on Wonder Woman’s costume.
Of course this is credited to Lee’s (and inker – Scott Williams) penchant for fashion details and their superior confidence that their characters were dressed to thrill without having to fear a wardrobe malfunction.
This is one criterion that I feel the Justice League will have no problems in meeting, judging by the trailers and the costumes adopted by Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.
Well, here’s hoping that Justice League will be able to meet all these five C’s, and herald the start of a, er, marvellous era for DC Comics movies!