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Will Warner Bros. Confuse Fans With Two Joker Stories — and Its New DC Banner?

Fans of DC Comics aren’t in a laughing mood about Warner Bros.’ plans to develop two new films based on the Joker.

Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the executive producers of NBC hit “This Is Us,” are in advanced talks to produce an untitled “Suicide Squad” spinoff based on Batman supervillains the Joker and Harley Quinn, played by Jared Leto and Margot Robbie. Then there’s a solo movie in development, possibly directed by “The Hangover’s” Todd Phillips, that dives into the Joker’s backstory, except Leto won’t play him here.

Potentially even more confusing: These Jokers won’t have anything to do with each other. That means two actors will be putting their own spins on Batman’s archnemesis. Educating audiences could prove tricky.

After all, the approach is radically different from how Marvel has comprehensively planned its cinematic universe under studio president Kevin Feige. Marvel films feature a consistent “house style,” making it difficult for directors to leave their unique imprint on a movie. Director Edgar Wright dropped out of helming Marvel’s “Ant-Man” over creative differences.

Phillips’ planned Joker film would be the first under a new, untitled DC banner that won’t be constrained by the continuity that holds together DC’s extended universe, featuring Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash and other characters. The banner is intended to give the studio the chance to expand the canon with unusual story angles, according to those with knowledge. A spokesman for Warner’s declined to comment for this story.

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DC’s approach appears to be more in line with Warner’s reputation as an auteur-driven studio that has spawned distinctive superhero adaptations like Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight.” As the studio has labored to distinguish itself from Marvel, it has been actively entertaining pitches from directors around town. The likes of James Wan and Robert Zemeckis have made the trek to Burbank to sell the studio on their vision for the spandex set. Or take the case of Joss Whedon. The “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” creator is now developing a “Batgirl” movie for DC; it’s one that the studio hadn’t planned on doing until Whedon confessed to his love of Barbara Gordon and her masked alter ego.

Whedon’s film, however, isn’t part of the new DC banner, which is expected to create one-off films set outside the larger-budget tentpoles of DC’s current cinematic universe.

Some DC fans are intrigued, but the new banner has also inspired some negative reactions, in part because DC’s critical and commercial film hits have been uneven. “Wonder Woman” became a cultural milestone this summer, topping $800 million worldwide and bringing the studio a much-needed smash that critics and audiences alike embraced. Meanwhile “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad” grossed $873 million and $746 million, respectively, but suffered from scathing reviews. DC will try to build on the success of “Wonder Woman” with next fall’s “Justice League.”

“‘Wonder Woman’ catapulted the brand,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with comScore. “Why not change the rules a little bit in an effort not only to create their own identity but to have even greater success in the marketplace?”

While Marvel has arguably set the gold standard, there’s a case to be made in going your own way rather than imitating the competition. By granting directors more control, DC is signaling that it’s less focused on creating an all-encompassing universe where films have to fit together like puzzle pieces and more concerned with keeping the genre fresh for audiences.

“‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Guardians’ all really confirm that it’s not just about putting something out,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “It’s more about taking a fresh approach.”

Directors may find themselves on a tighter leash if DC’s bets don’t play off. As Slashfilm.com’s Peter Sciretta notes, pleasing die-hard fans is great, but blockbusters are built by reaching the broadest possible audience. “Great performances, complicated writing — that’s what audiences want,” he said. “It’s maybe not what fanboys want, but I think that when we see more auteurs doing genre films at that level, we’re going to see bigger box office numbers.”

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