Holy unified cinematic universe, Batman!
Three months after James Gunn and Peter Safran officially started running the newly created DC Studios within Warner Bros. Discovery, the co-chiefs have announced the first 10 film and TV titles within the rebooted DC Universe.
On Monday, Gunn and Safran met with press on the Warner Bros. studio lot to present what they said was the first part of Chapter 1 of the DCU, which they are calling “Gods and Monsters.”
The projects run the gamut. There are titles based on marquee DC heroes — including the previously announced Superman feature written by Gunn, now officially titled “Superman: Legacy,” a Batman and Robin movie, a Wonder Woman prequel series and a Green Lantern mystery series — as well as titles featuring lesser known characters, including Booster Gold and Swamp Thing. The DCU exists as a multiverse, Safran said, but the titles will exist in one singular universe. Overall, the slate represents the most robust vision for DC’s future in scripted entertainment since Warner Bros.’ first attempt in 2014 to build a universe to rival that of Marvel Studios.
“DC Studios is unprecedented,” Safran said. “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.” (Gunn and Safran also answered questions on the writer-centric philosophy behind their approach and provided updates on DC projects that fall outside the core DCU, including Matt Reeves’ “The Batman Part II” and Todd Phillips’ “Joker: Folie à Deux.”)
Given that the DCU is still very much in its earliest stages, the execs were light on some specifics: No directors have been attached to any projects (although they said they’re “very close” on signing at least a couple), and no actors are attached, either. The exception is Viola Davis, who will star in the HBO Max series “Waller” as the amoral, self-imposed superintendent of the DC universe, Amanda Waller. She originated the role in 2016’s “Suicide Squad.” Similarly, Safran and Gunn left the door open for Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller and Zachary Levi to continue playing their respective DC superheroes of Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Flash and Shazam, but Gunn reiterated that Henry Cavill will not continue as Superman. Otherwise, the execs said, they will be casting new actors in the roles.
To build the overarching story for the DCU, Gunn brought together a writers room of Drew Goddard (“The Martian”), Jeremy Slater (“Moon Knight”), Christina Hobson (“The Flash,” “Batgirl”), Christal Henry (“Watchmen”) and comics writer Tom King (“Batman,” “Mister Miracle”). Gunn indicated that at least some of these writers would continue working on DCU projects, including Henry, who is co-showrunning “Waller.”
“We sat down in a room for a few days and we started to bash out what the basic overall plan could be,” Gunn said. “Not so much that it ties your wrists, but enough that we know what the basic story is, where we’re going. And it’s something that we’ll continue to do.”
The plan, Safran and Gunn said, was to release roughly two films and two TV series per year into the DCU. That output will not, however, sacrifice quality to meet deadlines. Gunn and Safran were adamant that films and series will not go into production until scripts are finished, which is not the norm for pricey tentpoles that need to create awareness by planting flags on the calendar. All in, the slate that the co-leads announced on Monday will run through 2027. Only “Superman: Legacy” and “The Batman Part II” have set release dates.
Here is a breakdown of details about the projects.
Set to open on July 11, 2025, “Superman: Legacy” will mark “the start of the DCU,” as Safran put it, but it will not be an origin story of the proverbial Man of Steel.
“It focuses on Superman balancing his Kryptonian heritage with his human upbringing,” Safran said. “He is the embodiment of truth, justice and the American way. He is kindness in a world that thinks of kindness as old-fashioned.”
Gunn is writing the project, and Safran said he hopes Gunn “can be persuaded, perhaps, to direct it as well.” (Gunn, sitting right next to Safran, remained uncharacteristically poker faced in response.)
Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav made no secret that rebooting Superman was a top priority for the company as he spent much of 2022 searching for the right leaders for DC Studios. So it’s little surprise Gunn and Safran are turning to the most recognizable superhero in the world to lead the charge for the DCU.
“‘Superman’ is for everyone,” Gunn said. “That’s a four quadrant film that should speak to everyone in the world.”
(A separate Superman movie produced by J.J. Abrams through Bad Robot, and written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, remains in development and would exist outside the DCU.)
From global fame to relative obscurity, “Superman: Legacy” will lead directly into “The Authority,” an ensemble movie about superhumans who have a less-than-idealistic approach to saving the world.
Gunn spoke at some length about “The Authority,” a project he said he’s “really excited” to bring to life. The characters come from Wildstorm, which was launched in 1992 as an independent entity under current DC Comics chief Jim Lee and ultimately made an imprint of DC. The Wildstorm characters were later folded into the main DC comics universe when the company rebooted its continuity with the New 52 initiative in 2011. Gunn said he and Safran intend to do the same with Wildstorm characters in the DCU.
As a comic, “The Authority” was created by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch as an ends-justify-the-means superhero team, an approach that appealed to Gunn and Safran’s desire to diversify the storytelling within the DCU.
“It isn’t just a story of heroes and villains, and not every movie and TV show is going to be about good guy versus bad guy,” Gunn said. “There are people that are very questionable, like the Authority, who basically believe that you can’t fix the world in an easy manner, and they take things into their own hands.”
Added Safran, “They’re kind of like Jack Nicholson in ‘A Few Good Men.’ They know that you want them on the wall, or at least they believe that.”
Gunn said the film “is being written now,” but he declined to say who was the screenwriter.
“The Brave and the Bold”
Along with introducing the DCU’s version of Batman — who will exist separately from the version played by Robert Pattinson in “The Batman” movies — “The Brave and the Bold” will introduce “the Bat family,” Gunn said. First among them is Robin, who is returning fully to live-action movies for the first time since 1997’s ill-fated feature “Batman and Robin.”
This version of Robin is Damian Wayne; Gunn described him as “our favorite Robin,” “a little son of a bitch,” an “assassin” and a “murderer.”
Damian is Bruce Wayne’s biological son, a fact unknown to Wayne for the first eight to 10 years of Damian’s life. “It’s a very strange sort of father-son story about the two of them,” Gunn said.
The project is based on the run of Batman comics authored by Grant Morrison, who Gunn said was “exceptionally influential” on the DCU. The other comics writer Gunn mentioned by name was Tom King — who participated in the DCU writers room and leads right into the next feature project.
“Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow”
Based on King’s comics run of the same title from 2021 and 2022, “Woman of Tomorrow” features Superman’s cousin, Kara Zor-El, who, as Gunn explained, “is a very different type of Supergirl.”
“We see the difference between Superman, who was sent to Earth and raised by loving parents from the time he’s an infant, versus Supergirl, who was raised on a rock chip off of Krypton, and watched everyone around her die and be killed in terrible ways for the first 14 years of her life.”
Gunn called this Supergirl “much more hardcore” — though King’s series also involves Krypto, the superdog.
Easily the most extreme example of Gunn and Safran’s conviction to diversify the DCU, “Swamp Thing” will “investigate the dark origins of Swamp Thing,” Safran said, through the prism of horror.
By way of explaining further, Gunn referenced the initial reactions to the Guardians of the Galaxy joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe and initial questions about how Rocket Raccoon would work standing next to Thor. “That mashup quality” wound up being one of the highlights of “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame,” Gunn argued.
Gunn said they’re “one-upping” that approach with “Swamp Thing.”
“This is a much more horrific film, but we’ll still have Swamp Thing interact with the other characters,” he added.
This animated series for HBO Max is the very first project greenlit by Safran and Gunn, who has written every episode. The show is already in production.
The Creature Commando characters were first launched in 1980. The premise features Frankenstein’s monster teaming up with a werewolf, a vampire and a gorgon to fight Nazis in World War II. It doesn’t appear that Gunn’s version takes quite the same approach — Weasel, one of the characters from Gunn’s 2021 film “The Suicide Squad,” is one of the Commandos, along with Rick Flag’s father, Rick Flag Sr.
Animation, Gunn said, allows their creative collaborators to “tell stories that are gigantic, but without spending, you now, $50 million an episode.”
Crucially, Gunn said that the actors cast to voice the characters on the show will also play the roles in live action later on in the DCU.
With Gunn focused on “Superman: Legacy” for the foreseeable future, Season 2 of “Peacemaker” has been put on hold. Instead, “team ‘Peacemaker'” will appear alongside Davis as a “continuation” of that show, Gunn said — which (spoiler alert for Season 1 of “Peacemaker”) ended with Waller’s daughter Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks) outing Task Force X (a.k.a. the Suicide Squad) and Waller’s role running it to the world.
Along with Christal Henry, who was part of the DCU writers room, “Waller” will be executive produced by Jeremy Carver, who created the beloved DC series “Doom Patrol,” which was recently canceled by HBO Max.
“They are crushing it,” Safran said of Henry and Carver’s work on “Waller.”
“It’s just the greatest show ever,” Gunn added.
Both “Creature Commandos” and “Waller” are expected to debut before “Superman: Legacy”; Safran called them the “aperitif” for the DCU.
Of all the TV series, Safran and Gunn seemed most excited for “Lanterns,” which Safran described as “a huge HBO-quality event” that is “very much in the vein of ‘True Detective.'”
The show will focus on two of the best known members of the Green Lantern corps.: Hal Jordan (the test pilot first played on screen by Ryan Reynolds in 2011’s “Green Lantern”) and John Stewart (an ex-marine and one of DC’s first Black superheroes), who investigate a mystery that Safran said “plays a really big role leading us into the main story that we’re telling across our film and television.”
“So this is a very important show for us,” Safran continued.
This project is separate from a Green Lantern series that was being developed by Greg Berlanti for HBO Max, which is now no longer moving forward.
“Greg’s vision was more of a space opera,” Safran said. “Our vision is much more ‘True Detective,’ terrestrial-based investigation story.”
This “‘Game of Thrones’-ish story,” Safran said, is set on the island of Themyscira before the birth of Diana (a.k.a. Wonder Woman).
“It’s really about the political intrigue behind a society of all women,” Safran said.
Added Gunn, “How did that come about? What’s the origin of an island of all women? What are the beautiful truths and the ugly truths behind all of that? And what’s the scheming like between the different power players in that society?”
The provocative title recalls the “Paradise Island Lost” comics series authored by Phil Jimenez and George Pérez, which followed a civil war on Themyscira; however, that run directly involved Wonder Woman.
Finally, there’s “Booster Gold,” which allows the DCU to fully stretch into outright comedy. While he may not be familiar to casual fans of DC, the character, also known as Mike Carter, is a fan favorite among devoted readers. Safran called Booster “a loser from the future who uses basic future technology to come back to today and pretend to be a superhero.”
In the 25th century, Mike is a disgraced former football star who uses a time machine on display in the Metropolis Space Museum.
Added Gunn, “Basically, ‘Booster Gold’ is imposter syndrome as a superhero.”