While DC Comics is in the middle of establishing structure within its feature film universe, the company is excelling on the small screen and within the comic pages. The recent celebratory event DC in D.C. 2018 was a star-studded and socially conscious look at how big and bold the brand has gotten in the recent past. The event's crown jewel may have been the stellar world premiere of The CW's Black Lightning, but it wasn't just the Freeland vigilante that CinemaBlend learned about during the event.
Here are six awesome factoids and reveals that we found out about during DC in D.C. 2018, from potential TV returns to big comic storylines to the darker animated side of the Dark Knight. Speaking of, let's kick things off with the most Bat-tastic news of all.
How DC Decides Which Animated Movies Are Rated R
Gotham By Gaslight is the 30th of DC and Warner Bros' animated superhero films, and it's the first Elseworlds title to come to life this way. The film offers a loose and more expansive take on the original story, but among other mature story elements, it maintains Jack the Ripper's haunting viciousness, and thus dutifully earns its R rating. Executive producer Bruce Timm, who first became an industry legend with Batman: The Animated Series, spoke with CinemaBlend and other press outlets ahead of the Gotham By Gaslight screening and shed some light on how R-rated animated projects are being handled by the companies.
Once we established that we were able to do an R-rated animated Batman movie, we had to have a big sit-down meeting with everybody and say, 'Now, going forward, we're not just going to make these movies however we want and see how they get rated.' Because DC especially is very, very sensitive to their characters, and they feel like ultimately it would hurt the brand if we just straight-up-and-down from now on [said] all the movies could be rated R. So, going forward, we basically said, 'Okay, this movie may get an R rating. Would you guys be okay with that?' Looking at the subject matter of Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, they said, 'Yes, that one, if it gets an R rating, we'll be okay with that.' The new Suicide Squad movie that's been announced that we're doing, again, it kinda lends itself to being R. But most of the movies won't. So I think it's gonna be on a case-by-case basis for the most part. Most Batman stories, I don't think need to be R-rated. This one obviously did. The Killing Joke, obviously, it needed to be R-rated. But like I said, I don't know if anyone needs to see an R-rated Superman movie or an R-rated Wonder Woman movie, so we'll see.
No one within DC or Warner Bros. wants to just crank out a bunch of bloody and sex-traipsed comic book stories willy nilly, running the risk of alienating more wholesome sectors of the fanbase. So the overall gameplan remains one in which traditional superhero vs. supervillain stories will be the bulk of DC's animated library. But whenever Bruce Timm and others are inspired to bring darker and more extreme Batman stories (and others) to fans via animation, we can be optimistic it'll happen.
Brandon Routh's Advice For Black Lightning's Cress Williams
As the one Arrow-verse star who can say he played one of DC's Holy Trinity on the big screen, Brandon Routh knows a thing or two about getting decked out for comic book fans. On Legends of Tomorrow, it's less about spandex and more about a large and slightly awkward suit composed of technical-looking parts. The CW's new show Black Lightning also features a main character who dons a brightly lit and somewhat robust costume, and Routh told CinemaBlend and other outlets at DC in D.C. 2018 that in the few chats he had with Black Lightning star Cress Williams, he mostly talked about learning to be patient with oversized costumes.
We've only met just a couple of times. And we were talking a little bit about comparing suits and how our suits fit or feel. We have to finish our conversation, and when we do...I think he already knows this -- he seems like a patient person already -- but a lot of what goes into wearing something like that is having patience and getting to an accepting space that this is what you're doing, and that there may be some discomfort for a while, but that it's for a purpose and that it's gonna be okay. Because it's very taxing to be in that, and to have to be called to act and emote and fight when your body's stressed and you can't breathe. And for me, I can't see very well sometimes [when] lights are on in my mask. So it's just kind of being okay with all that, knowing what you're up against and going, 'Wait, wait, I got this.' And not being overwhelmed by everything that's covering you.
For many comic book fans, a superhero's costume is as important to the character as anything else, so seeing TV shows bring those outfits to life is always fun. Unfortunately, sometimes the suits themselves are way more complicated and cumbersome in real life than one might have expected, and the process isn't always a blast from beginning to end. To that end, Brandon Routh's advice should be heard and understood by anyone who takes on a project that involves uncomfortable outfits or costumes. It's worth some temporary discomfort when the final product will be enjoyed for so much longer.
Supergirl Will Explore Martian Manhunter Being Black
While Black Lightning and Black Panther are bringing black superheroes to the limelight in a huge way, don't let that downplay the Arrow-verse making Iris West a black female (along with other West family members), or how successful Supergirl's David Harewood has been as J'onn "Martian Manhunter" J'onzz. Speaking with CinemaBlend and others at DC in D.C., Harewood claimed that Supergirl Season 3 will dive a little deeper into why Martian Manhunter chooses to be a black man in his human form.
I think we're certainly confronting social issues with J'onn, and trying to get to the bottom of why he chooses to be black. There's a great line coming up where I say, 'I chose this face, and I'd rather change the world rather than change my color.' And I think that's a really lovely idea that even the fact that people could be disparaging towards people with this skin tone, J'onn feels very comfortable in his black skin. Because he could be anybody, but he chooses this, and I think, again, that maybe we'll explore that a little bit more in the upcoming season.
Unlike other black characters within television's superhero offerings, J'onn J'onzz had agency in choosing his appearance, and knowing what he did about the human race, he still chose to live as a black man. And when combined with the character's more focused approach to heroism -- in which he wants to help people, if not necessarily in a global sense -- it'll be interesting to see how that inspiring story gets hit upon as Supergirl Season 3 continues.
Milestone Media's Revival Isn't Just About Comics
Fans rejoiced when DC finally made official its plan to bring Milestone Media back to the limelight, and during DC in D.C. 2018, Milestone co-founder Denys Cowan and author Alice Randall spoke with CinemaBlend and others about bringing the line back. Having been a fan of the 2000s animated series Static Shock, centered on the electricity-fueled Milestone hero, I asked Cowan if they were talking about adapting the new stories as TV shows or features.
There's talk about doing some things. We're all gathered here in this magical gathering, so it'll be interesting to see what can come out of that, also.
His words alone may not seem quite so positive, but Denys Cowan's tone and wry smile made it seem like those talks were going quite well. To the point where, when I asked if they were thinking about doing live-action or animated for the new Milestone series, he said "Both." No sign of whether the adaptation would be for Static again, or if we'd see several of the characters showing up under the overarching Earth M title. According to Alice Holland, this new line will be focused on the underlying concept of crime and the different areas of life that it affects.
My vision relates to looking at what is a crime, and looking at new areas particularly from a black and feminist lens at what crime might be. For example, one of the plots that we're working with involves looking at Big Pharma, and looking at trafficking from a different perspective. Everybody's looking at sex trafficking. What about domestic workers in sweat shops? The other side that I'm really interested in is actually looking at food injustice and areas of crime around that. So part of it is, 'What is a crime?'
Audiences would likely get down with a TV show that works as a crime drama first and a superhero show second. It's like The Wire, if Bunk Moreland was Hardware. I can't wait to see what comes out of Milestone Media's resurgence, no matter what form it shows up in. (But seriously, let's get a live-action Static show on TV, yeah?)
John Ridley's The Other History Has A Specific Time Period
Acclaimed writer and director John Ridley, who wrote 12 Years a Slave and created the anthology drama American Crime, was a writer for DC's animated Static Shock series, and he later teamed with DC for a Warblade arc and the racially charged magnificence of The American Way. He returned to The American Way after ten years for its follow-up arc, and when DC asked Ridley about any other ideas he had, he pitched the now-upcoming The Other History of the DC Universe, which will essentially put readers into the minds of non-white characters like John Stewart, Renee Montoya and Katana. Speaking with CinemaBlend and others at DC in D.C., Ridley revealed the specific time period when The Other History will likely be taking place.
I will tell you, and don't hold me to it, but it will start in 1972 and probably run through the mid-to-late-'90s. Maybe a little bit further, but I'd like to cut it off before 2000. That was really the time when I was reading, and that was really the time when you go back and look at the history and the introductions of a lot of these characters. Look, at this point, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, they've got to reinvent. They've been around for closing in on...80 years or so. So for these characters that I'm very familiar with, they really arrived at demarcations in my life and would be of a certain age at this point. And so it excites me to look at these characters; you can look at their mortality, you can look at their arcs, you can look at what it was like for them to exist, and also what was really happening in the world. And really ask these questions, why did they not get involved in this? Why did they not -- and not just because they didn't really exist -- but politically what did it mean for these things to not happen? To do or to not do, or how they dealt with the AIDS crisis. Those kinds of things, I really want to deal with that. I really want it to exist in DC"s universe, but live in the real world.
While John Ridley was cagey about what other characters might appear in The Other History beyond the ones in the initial announcement, he certainly sparked interest when pinpointing where the project's timeline will start and possibly end. As the stories will coincide with Ridley's coming of age, fans can expect the storytelling to be deeply personal, as well as eye-opening for the sociological and political set dressing.
DC Will Tackle PTSD With A New Initiative Called Sanctuary
Former CIA counter-terrorism officer Tom King first dipped his toes into superhero storytelling with the 2012 novel A Once Crowded Sky, and he soon tackled a handful of DC titles such as The Omega Man, Grayson, The Sheriff of Babylon and more. At DC in D.C. 2018, King revealed he is working on a somewhat mysterious and overarching initiative being dubbed "Sanctuary" that explores the physical and psychological trauma that superheroes face. While release details are scarce, King talked to CinemaBlend and other outlets about the overall approach and motivations behind "Sanctuary."
We have a bunch of superheroes, all they do is fight all the time; every day, all the time. And that must have a psychological effect on them, right? You can't live a life of violence and not feel the violence deep in your heart and your soul. And we also have a group of superheroes, the Trinity -- Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman -- who care about these superheroes and sort of feel like father figures, and sort of the foundation that stands beneath them, and they care about these heroes. And they care about them for two reasons. Number one, they're good people. And number two, if superheroes feel trauma and it drives them a little mad, that's a danger, right? So as both a practical and compassionate matter, they've set up something called Sanctuary, which is a place that you can go, modeled onto veterans' crisis centers, which is an interesting name for them, where you can go and talk about this trauma and you can admit this has had an effect on you, and you can admit that being a superhero and seeing a life of violence and seeing people get shot around you, that that has some sort of impact on you. And Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman can help you and can help themselves through Sanctuary.
Tom King called his "Sanctuary" pitch "the most obvious idea" he's ever had, and compared it hypothetically to Geoff Johns introducing different colored Lantern rings. Saying he thought that "Sanctuary" will be a universe addition that'll be introduced across every DC superhero series, with a big inciting event being used to unveil its presence. I can't wait to see how our favorite comic book heroes cope with the issues that plague real soldiers and other war-minded citizens. Though everyone's mileage varies, The Punisher made an effort to explore what re-acclimating to civilian life is like for ex-military, and DC is making a smart choice in bringing that dark side of the story to light on its comic pages. (And possibly elsewhere.)
The Ray's Russell Tovey Was Surprised By Crossover Reactions
When Russell Tovey was cast as The Ray, the DC TV-verse's first openly gay superhero, he was pumped to bring the light-bursting character to fans both in the Freedom Fighters animated series and in live-action during the "Crisis on Earth-X" crossover. Though his screentime was limited, Tovey took part in one of superhero TV's most lovely scenes, in which when Ray and Citizen Cold shared a kiss before saying farewell. When Tovey spoke with CinemaBlend and others at DC in D.C. 2018, he said he didn't realize how big that moment would be with fans.
That I get given that moment with Wentworth, and we both, before we started doing the scene, we both talked about the importance of it, and he felt like he wanted to get it right, and how important it was, that moment. I didn't really realize how important it was, and how many times it would be screen-grabbed, and fan-art would come back at me. But it's been amazing. It's been a total privilege, and I'm incredibly proud to be The Ray.
The Arrow-verse has been getting better about developing more same-sex relationships with its characters, and the writers and producers managed to spin that great moment with two characters that audiences technically hadn't met before. We know that Wentworth Miller will be done with his roles within the DC shows soon, which means there's not much time left to get Citizen Cold and The Ray's Earth-crossing reunion. Unfortunately, Russell Tovey didn't appear to be sure whether or not Ray Terrill will return to live-action in the near future, but we're hoping Marc Guggenheim & Co. will find a way.
DC in D.C. 2018 was a huge success as far as I could tell, with fans showing up for the event in a big way. Everybody loves seeing so many superheroes finally breaking new ground on TV and in the comics, and fans can see what's on the way to the small screen by bookmarking our 2018 Superhero TV schedule, and then hit up our midseason premiere schedule to see everything else popping up in the coming months.