When filmmaker James Gunn and producer Peter Safran were announced as the cochairs and co-CEOs of the newly formed DC Studios in October, it marked the end of a strange, chaotic era for DC Entertainment. The Snyderverse is over, as much as some fans still want to see it restored, and once this year’s slate of upcoming films is released—including The Flash and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom—the DC Universe will begin anew. And now we have our first insights into what that new era will look like.
On Monday, Gunn and Safran met with the press on the Warner Bros. studio lot for an hourlong presentation about their plans to relaunch the DCU. They unveiled the first 10 projects that will appear as a part of what they’re calling Chapter 1: Gods and Monsters, which Gunn outlined in detail in a video released on his Twitter account on Tuesday. These projects range from marquee DC characters like Superman to lesser-known properties like the Authority, and the plan is to release roughly two movies and two series on HBO Max per year. But even more than the first slate of stories, Gunn and Safran also provided tremendous insight into their philosophies for rebuilding the DCU, and why fans should expect a more unified cinematic universe this time around at DC Studios.
Here are just a few of our plans. Up, up, and away! #DCStudios #DCU @DCComics pic.twitter.com/8XNDNLUEPq— James Gunn (@JamesGunn) January 31, 2023
“DC Studios is unprecedented,” Safran said at the presentation. “It is a standalone production entity and studio. It is the first time ever that everything DC-related—film, television, live action, animation, gaming—is all centralized under one creative vision, that of James and myself.”
There’s a lot to unpack from the announcements, so let’s break down everything we learned this week about Gunn and Safran’s vision for the all-new DC Universe.
The “Elseworlds” Approach
Early into the presentation, Gunn acknowledged the lack of an organized strategy at DC in recent years: “As everyone here probably knows, the history of DC is pretty messed up. There is the Arrowverse. There was the DCEU, which then split, became the Joss Whedon Justice League at one point, became the Snyderverse at the other point. There was Superman and Lois, there’s the Reeves-verse. There’s all these different things.
“No one was minding the mint,” Gunn continued. “They were just giving away IP like they were party favors to any creators that smiled at them.”
The result was a big picture that was “pretty messed up” indeed, especially in the years following Whedon’s Justice League in 2017. At any given point, there could be multiple actors playing different versions of the same character across various media, or even the same actor playing the same character—like Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn—in multiple projects that shared no connective narrative tissue.
Gunn and Safran are looking to change that, as they aim to establish a connected DC Universe that has a greater consistency in performers and storytelling across film, television, animation, and even gaming. At the same time, they’re also embracing a multiverse approach that will now be known as DC Elseworlds, following a model already established at DC Comics.
“The DCU’s a multiverse, but we’re going to be focusing on one universe from that multiverse,” Safran explained. “And if something isn’t DCU, we’re going to make that very clear. So, strictly adult fare like Todd Phillips’s Joker, or kids animation like Teen Titans Go!, we’re going to make it very clear that those are DC Elseworlds, just the same way that they do it in the comic books.”
As Safran stated, some projects and universes existing outside the main DCU will continue during this new era at DC Studios, with Matt Reeves’s Bat-verse, Phillips’s Joker franchise, and Teen Titans Go! living on even as popular HBO Max series Doom Patrol and Titans approach their ends. It’ll also pave the way for new stories to be told without having to worry about conflicting with characters or story lines in the main DCU, such as the previously announced Superman project produced by J.J. Abrams and written by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Given that former DC Films head Walter Hamada had also previously envisioned a multiverse approach, this isn’t exactly a novel concept. But what’s promising here is that there will now be an effort to make that approach clearer to viewers from the start, along with a focus on establishing a main, interconnected universe instead of having a bunch of universes existing on their own. As Safran explained, “the bar is going to be very high for projects outside of the DCU.”
Among the first DC Elseworlds projects, Phillips’s Joker: Folie à Deux, with Joaquin Phoenix and Lady Gaga, is set for release on October 4, 2024, and Reeves’s The Batman Part II just received a theatrical release date for October 3, 2025. As for Abrams and Coates’s untitled Superman movie, Gunn and Safran were light on details as they still await a draft of Coates’s screenplay. But the fact that the project is still in development is good enough news for me.
The biggest wild card is that The Flash is still moving forward despite all the controversies surrounding its star Ezra Miller and the nature of the film basically being a holdover from the Snyderverse era. (On the latter point, Gunn and Safran are open to the possibilities of Miller, Gal Gadot, Jason Mamoa, and Zachary Levi continuing to play their respective DC heroes in the new DCU.) Gunn went as far as describing The Flash as “probably one of the greatest superhero movies ever made,” and confirmed previous reports that it “resets the entire DC Universe.” If it’s even half as good as Gunn is promoting it to be, it could be the perfect piece to help relaunch the new interconnected narrative that Gunn and Co. have envisioned.
A Renewed Focus on Storytelling
Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav made a rather unprecedented move when he hired a top director in Gunn to take on the titles of cochair and co-CEO at DC Studios. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise, then, that a creative-minded executive like Gunn has been preaching the importance of storytelling early and often as he helps guide the DCU into its new era.
“People have become beholden to dates, to holding dates, to getting movies made no matter what,” Gunn explained. “At the end of the day, I’m a writer at my heart, and we’re not going to be making movies before the screenplay is finished. … We’re not going to be making movies and putting hundreds of millions of dollars in a film where a screenplay is only two-thirds of the way done and we have to finish it while we’re making the movie. I’ve seen it happen again and again, and it’s a mess.”
As Gunn tells it, this lack of emphasis on the screenwriting process is something that has been plaguing modern films in recent years, especially superhero movies. The filmmaker had plenty to say on this particular matter on Monday, including how superhero fatigue was real in large part because so many of these movies are being made without having their third acts written in advance, leaving viewers to watch “a bunch of people punch each other” with “no flow even to the action.” If that sounds like Gunn was taking some shots at his old friends at Marvel Studios, well, he didn’t stop there.
“You can’t be telling the same ‘good guy, bad guy, giant thing in the sky, good guys win’ story again,” Gunn continued. “You need to tell stories that are more morally complex. You need to tell stories that don’t just pretend to be different genres, but actually are different genres.”
Although Gunn is taking the charge on the creative side of DC Studios, the Suicide Squad director also wants to use this new leadership role as a way to empower other creatives to tell unique stories of their own and continue to find new ways to explore and expand the superhero genre. One of the many issues that arose in the Snyderverse era was that projects that Zack Snyder didn’t write or direct often shared a similar, dark tone and visual style with his films, instilling something of a unified approach in everything but the narratives themselves. Even though Gunn is another director with a distinct style and brand of filmmaking, he says he has no interest in designing the new DC Universe in his image.
“It’s not the Gunn-verse,” he said. “What makes it so fun is to see stories that are completely different from the individual expression of the writers and the director that are making those projects … and not about me superimposing something on top of that.”
To help map out their master plan of interconnected stories over the next eight to 10 years, DC Studios assembled a writers’ room that included Drew Goddard (The Martian), Jeremy Slater (Moon Knight), Christina Hodson (Birds of Prey), Christal Henry (Watchmen), and the award-winning comics writer Tom King (Batman, The Vision). And to ensure consistency with these plans, many of these writers are remaining attached to projects in development.
Speaking of which, it’s about time we got into the 10 projects that Gunn and Safran announced earlier this week.
Chapter 1: TV
DC Entertainment has a long, rich history in network television, and ever since the days of Smallville, most live-action DC series have found a home on the CW. A number of shows, including Doom Patrol and Titans, premiered on DC’s short-lived streaming service before moving over to HBO Max, but even those shared ties to the CW’s long-running Arrowverse franchise—a multiverse in its own right that is slowly drawing to a close after more than a decade of interconnected storytelling across six live-action shows and two animated series.
It wasn’t until Gunn’s Peacemaker last year that the DCEU extended its reach beyond film into television, with the previous DC Films regime starting to establish ties among its films and TV series—just as Marvel Studios did at the start of Phase 4 with WandaVision. Those plans to keep expanding into TV are staying in place at DC Studios, as previously announced projects like Reeves’s Batman spinoff, The Penguin, are still moving forward alongside the first five DCU TV shows on the slate: Creature Commandos, Waller, Booster Gold, Paradise Lost, and Lanterns.
Gunn provided a lot of information on each and every one of the upcoming TV series and films, and the wide range of concepts on the TV side in particular speaks to DC Studios’ desire to diversify its storytelling. Here are some details on the first five TV series in DC’s Chapter 1: Gods and Monsters:
- Creature Commandos is an animated series composed of seven episodes, written by Gunn himself, which focuses on a motley crew of military superhumans that includes the likes of Frankenstein’s monster and Weasel from Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, in all his disturbing glory. Gunn added that “animation will lead into live action and back into animation,” and that the medium affords “a way to tell stories that are gigantic and huge without spending $50 million an episode.”
- Waller also shares ties to Gunn’s Suicide Squad franchise, serving as a spinoff to Peacemaker that will further explore Viola Davis’s Amanda Waller and feature several characters from Peacemaker. This will also replace Peacemaker for the time being; the second season will be put on hold while Gunn focuses on writing his upcoming Superman feature. In the meantime, Gunn has handed the keys to this project to Christal Henry (Watchmen) and Jeremy Carver (Doom Patrol).
- Booster Gold sounds like a comedy fit for Gunn, as it centers on a lesser-known yet beloved comics character whom Safran describes as “a loser from the future who uses his basic future technology to come back to today to pretend to be a superhero.” Gunn added that the HBO series is “basically the story of a superhero’s impostor syndrome.” Booster Gold had his comics debut in the ’80s, and the character even made some live-action appearances in Smallville and Legends of Tomorrow.
- Paradise Lost is characterized as a Game of Thrones–style story that takes place on Themyscira before Wonder Woman is born, and it will explore the origin story of how this isolated society of female warriors came to be. Given that some of the best parts of both Wonder Woman films take place in early scenes on Themyscira, this could be a fun one.
- Lanterns is perhaps the most exciting TV announcement of them all. The HBO Max series centers on Green Lantern favorites John Stewart and Hal Jordan. Safran describes it as a True Detective–type mystery—to keep in line with the HBO comps, I suppose—that will play a major role in setting up the overall story being told in DC’s Chapter 1.
Chapter 1: Film
At first glance, the above list of TV shows looks like a random selection of projects to kick off a new cinematic universe with, but that’s only a symptom of Gunn and Safran’s multimedia approach. The plan is to use well-known properties—the “diamond characters,” as Gunn described them—to lead into lesser-known properties, a strategy used often at Marvel Studios as well. Just as he helped flip a deep-cut, cosmic team of misfits into one of the most popular MCU franchises to date with The Guardians of the Galaxy, Gunn is hoping to make full use of DC’s extensive roster of characters in the years to come.
With that said, Gunn and Safran seem to be well aware that they’ll have to start off strong after the messy Snyderverse era, and so this opening slate of five films features two diamond characters in Superman and Batman. Here’s some background information on each of the upcoming movies:
- Superman: Legacy is the “true beginning of the DCU,” as Gunn describes it, and the film will focus on a younger version of Superman who is “balancing his Kryptonian heritage with his human upbringing,” though it won’t be an origin story. The film was first announced in December, following the news that Henry Cavill wouldn’t be reprising the role after all. Gunn is in the process of writing the script, and it sounds like Safran is hoping he’ll direct it as well. Unlike most of the other announced projects, Superman: Legacy has a release date already set: July 11, 2025.
- The Authority will be directly tied with Superman: Legacy, but it’ll focus on a very different group of superheroes who, unlike the Man of Steel, are “morally gray characters.” They believe that they can save the world, and that the ends justify the means. The superhero team was created by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch in the late ’90s as a part of WildStorm comics, an imprint that became a part of DC Comics in 1999 and was founded by current DC Comics CCO Jim Lee.
- Brave and the Bold is a Batman film that will focus on the Caped Crusader and his son, Damian Wayne, who was raised by his mother, Talia al Ghul, and trained by the League of Assassins. The film draws inspiration from Grant Morrison’s iconic comics run and will mark the beginning of the Bat Family in the DCU. Given that Reeves’s brooding Batman will continue to exist in his own universe, this seems like a clever way to create a much different version of the character that will also open the door to introducing other members of the Bat Family in the future. For what it’s worth, it’s also the first time we’ll get to see Batman and Robin together in live-action form on the big screen since George Clooney was rocking the nipple Batsuit in 1997’s Batman and Robin.
- Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow is based on Tom King and Bilquis Evely’s recent comics run on Supergirl, which features a much more hardened version of the character than the one you might’ve seen on the CW. Unlike her cousin, Kara Zor-El didn’t grow up in a loving home on Earth, but rather on a drifting piece of the destroyed planet of Krypton, watching everyone around her die. Pretty bleak stuff!
- Swamp Thing is going to investigate the “dark origins” of the Swamp Thing as a part of Gunn and Safran’s strategy to explore various genres, with this film being marked with elements of horror. This will be the first big-screen attempt at the character since the ’80s, though he was just recently the focus of the short-lived Swamp Thing series developed by the CW in 2019.
Between the 10 announced projects and the storytelling philosophies behind them, Gunn and Safran have put together an exciting plan that could finally propel the DCU to the MCU’s level if executed properly, especially as Marvel Studios continues to try to regain its footing after the conclusion of the Infinity Saga. But that’s a big “if,” and the vast majority of these projects are still very early in their development processes, with most of them not even having any talent attached to them yet. The whole transition of power at DC has been an awkward one, but if Gunn and Safran can make it through the first few years of this ambitious eight- to 10-year plan, the opportunities ahead of them and DC Studios are tremendous.
“We took a brand that was somewhat in chaos, and it’s an opportunity to build an extraordinary stand-alone studio with the best IP and stories in the world,” Safran said on Monday. “The opportunity to do that functionally from scratch and without limitations—the stakes are enormous.”
We’ll see how long that lack of limitations lasts once box office and streaming numbers get involved, or if any further developments at the volatile Warner Bros. Discovery spawns ripples in Gunn and Safran’s plans. It’s too early to tell how this will all play out, but for the first time in a very long time, the future of the DC Universe looks promising.