You know what DC’s problem is? No one, least of all Warner Bros., seems to be able to decide whether its superhero movies are supposed to be fun or not. To be fair, I can’t say for sure if the new one, Justice League, suffers from this problem, because I haven’t seen it. But I will see it at some point over the weekend, and I’ve heard word on the interwebs that Justice League is exceptional. Exceptional in its turgidity. Exceptional in its disarrangement. Exceptional if for no other reason than the fact it’s not as bad as last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, though not by much.
“A bad movie,” my colleague K. Austin Collins said of Justice League after sitting through its 119-minute runtime, before calling it a “misshapen, graceless franchise fuckfest” and several other things that will not deter me from spending $17 to see it. I am grown, so to speak, and this sum of money and time and goodwill for a cinematic universe that can’t settle on its color palette or comedic timing are mine to waste carelessly, thank you very much.
But we don’t need to spend any further words on Justice League, which you and I are ready to be disappointed by. I’d instead like to imagine future CGI-fests of hero-on-hero violence that might be better, or at least disappointing in more interesting ways. So here are some suggestions for story arcs these franchises could adapt to film once we move out of the scheduled phase we’re currently in. For these suggestions, we return to the source material. The comics, I mean.
‘Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle’
This is probably the most obvious one. Assuming Robert Downey Jr. grows tired of pairing sneakers with suits and eventually begins to hate money, we’ll need some sort of grand send-off. Or at least the illusion of one, like James Mangold and Logan did for Hugh Jackman. Demon in a Bottle is a nine-part series that was originally published in 1979, when Nick Fury was still white and not Samuel L. Jackson. Over the course of the series, Iron Man decides that he will henceforth only be Iron Man, and never again Tony Stark, whose life, by this time, had become too unfulfilled and lonely and torturous to exist alongside his alter ego. Naturally, Stark drinks a lot, because he feels he has to. He drinks on a hotel bed; slumped against a wall; in his Iron Man suit; while aghast at the sight of himself in a mirror; and on a plane, to name a few of many instances. This is from the very second page of the first issue.
This is the logical next step for Stark’s MCU character, if you take stock of all his mishaps over the past few films. In Captain America: Civil War, he watched his parents’ snuff film before learning that his best friend knew about their killer the whole time—a revelation that, along with questions of oversight, split the Avengers down the middle—and his other best friend was paralyzed from the waist down. Also, his fiancée left him. He nearly died flying into a black hole in Avengers and it’s informed his thinking about everything else for three movies; Iron Man 3, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Civil War. These are all elements of tragedy from which rampant, self-destructive alcohol dependency, like in Demon in a Bottle, might result. RDJ hasn’t taken any weak turns as Tony Stark, but this performance could be his very strongest one, considering the real-life experiences he could call on. Shane Black and Drew Pearce originally wanted to explore Stark’s alcoholism with Iron Man 3, so why not let it happen with Avengers 4: Iron Man 4: Iron Man 3, Part 2: Interventionocalypse: Friends, How Many of Us Have Them?
‘Justice League: Tower of Babel’
There’s actually an animated DC movie vaguely based on this three-issue run in 2000, called Justice League: Doom. The plot of the movie is simple, but it’s also complicated: A caveman named Vandal Savage was irradiated by a meteorite and suddenly grasped the meaning of Nietzsche's The Will to Power. Since then—prehistoric times, that is—Savage has been preoccupied with bringing all of humanity to heel. He teams up with a guy named Mirror Master, and together they hack the Batcomputer to steal all of Batman’s files on his Justice League teammates. These files contain fail-safes that could neutralize everyone from Superman to the Martian Manhunter, should the need ever arise. You could guess that Vandal then uses these to try to kill everyone, and you would be right. To note, in Tower of Babel, the part of the villain was played by Ra’s al Ghul, not Vandal Savage.
The post–Christian Bale years of the Batman franchise might benefit, greatly, from leaving the rest of the Justice League at home, but I’m willing to try again if you are. However: Batman needs to be less bone-tired and more extremely, awesomely caustic—so Ben Affleck can’t write or star in it, sorry.
Batman forever and ever and ever and ever and ever, amen pic.twitter.com/Y3tTXsDNua— Micah Peters (@micahpeters_) January 9, 2017
‘Superman: Red Son’
Can we be honest with ourselves and each other? There have been no good Superman movies, and this is because Superman is boring. He is sickeningly handsome, annoyingly perfect, and literally powered by the sun. He once took a nuclear explosion to the face, then got struck by lightning, plummeted back to earth from the exosphere, and slept it all off. There have never been any stakes. I also have no good ideas for any that might feel real. Or for any direction in which to take this current iteration of the Metropolis Marvel.
But how about abandoning continuity? Let’s turn the table over completely. Shift the world around Superman, and his origin story altogether. That’s what Mark Millar did with Red Son in 2003, and apparently, a Red Son film project has been pitched to him before. Imagine a political thriller wherein Kal-El crash-lands somewhere in Ukraine instead of the American breadbasket, which leads to an arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States, but with superhumans instead of warheads. Yes, Superman would be a socialist. Think of the thinkpieces. Get me Kevin MacDonald.
(By the way, there was another animated DC film that tried a similar trick, Justice League: Gods and Monsters. It takes place in an alternate reality where Superman is Hispanic, and General Zod is his biological father. He has no compunction about killing people he feels are deserving, and doesn’t hold the highest opinion of humanity in general. ...
… Also Batman is an actual vampire.)
‘Hawkeye: Private Eye’
Marvel’s most adorable family man, Clint Barton, also has a successor. Her name is Kate Bishop, and last year, she landed a solo comic penned by Kelly Thompson, whose elevator pitch for Hawkeye: Private Eye was “Veronica Mars with superheroes.”
If that alone isn’t enough to sell you, then here’s the story, an offshoot of Matt Fraction’s illustrious Hawkeye run: young woman moves out west (to Venice Beach), finds a job (private investigator), figures out who she is without the burdensome expectations of everyone who knows her (this is what you pay to learn along with her). So, instead of actual new Veronica Mars, why not make Veronica Mars with explosive arrows and more of Jeremy Renner getting his ass whooped? I would also like it soundtracked entirely by Slotface.
‘New Avengers: Everything Dies’
The issue here is that Marvel doesn’t have the rights to the characters needed to make a Secret Wars movie (Reed Richards, Doctor Doom, a few others). People have been talking about this since at least 2014, a year after the first New Avengers went to print. Also, there are so many characters, Infinity War will probably deplete our collective patience for Big, Cosmic Threats (this is an arc about collisions in the multiverse). And translating Jonathan Hickman’s writing to a movie script would be difficult to say the least. BUT. I need literally any version of the nematic relationship between Black Panther and Namor—Namor the Sub-Mariner, that is, King of Atlantis—on a silver screen. Namor once flooded Wakanda, and T’Challa has never gotten over it, and will never get over it. It’s fuck Namor forever, basically.
Give me more Black Panther, duh. But crucially: Give. Me. Namor. If you were to ask me who should play the Sub-Mariner, I might pause briefly, considering Luke Evans, a.k.a. Owen “Tatsumaki senpuu kyaku” Shaw. But then I’d think about how Asgard is situated on the Isle of Man, somehow, and that every fictitious non-American is automatically British. Plus there’s Brian Tee, who played Shredder in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, and threw his hat in the ring a year ago.
But why not go even weirder? Let the Red Viper avenge his unceremonious, totally vomitous skull-smushing in an alternate universe. Marvel, you’ve acquired the rights, now bang Pedro Pascal’s line.