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Character Cults

Updated: Nov 13, 2018

Originally Published on July 20, 2018

So, about halfway through the Titans trailer, the show for which you will be charged annually $79.99 USD to watch, something occurred to me. Not only does no one at Warner Brothers actually like comic books or Superheroes, they actively do not understand why anyone would. Because I don’t have much enthusiasm for a show that doesn’t look like the show-runners put $79.99 USD of effort into.

See, I get the feeling that Warner Brothers, as an institution, really likes the ‘idea’ of inter-connected, self-referential films built off of existing creative properties. But they don’t seem to like going through with the trouble of making inter-connected films that have any kind of narrative direction whatsoever. They seem to be under the impression that it’s as easy as tossing out movies with some names of superheroes attached.

These executives appear to be under the impression Fans will go see these movies just because it has their beloved characters in them. So all they need to do is make these characters as palatable to a mass-audience as possible. The solution to this is to let focus groups make decisions, and casting movie stars who make demands about how their character is represented. Failing that, they just spit-ball as much as possible and build the future of the franchise off of what sticks.

Point in case, Margot Robbie’s Harleen Quinzel.

By all means, Robbie is a fantastic actress, and her talent felt a bit out of place in Suicide Squad. But out of the clown car of glorified extras that we encountered in Suicide Squad, she received the most significant amount of fanfare, so she was attached to a girl-power movie, then believed to be Gotham City Sirens. Through the Warner Brothers machine though, somehow, Gotham City Sirens went through changes, and has since become a Birds of Prey movie. With Harley Quinn instead of Batgirl.

Harley Quinn has only tangentially been part of the Birds of Prey franchise. Batgirl, on the other hand, was a founding member and one of the most prominent heroes on the team. There is no reason to have Harley Quinn on that team. And if you need to have Harley in A femme fatale, there’s no reason to make it a Birds of Prey film. There isn’t even any financial reasoning because Catwoman and Poison Ivy are much more well-known characters than anyone from Birds of Prey.

I imagine that after Justice League, the remaining executives at Warner Brothers got together and decided they were terrible at making decisions. Therefore, going forward, they would develop movies by picking properties they owned out of a hat.

All jokes aside, to me, it seems Warner Brothers doesn’t trust these properties, or creators who care about these properties, so we see them using ‘selling tricks’ to turn heads.

Unfortunately, making good films does not seem to be a popular selling trick at Warner Brothers. And believe me, Warner Brothers has no right to take credit for Wonder Woman after they washed their hands of it. The selling trick we see Warner Brothers favouring is taking an existing property and figuring out how to make this property seem like something else that’s popular.

Example: ‘Let’s take Super Man and make him dark and gritty, because that worked for Batman.’

Example 2: ‘Let’s take the Teen Titans and do… that…’

Now, I could be referring to either Teen Titans Go or the upcoming Titans on DC’s streaming service.

I don’t actually hate Teen Titans Go — I’ve actually laughed out loud at the trailer for the upcoming movie — though I do feel it is a little derivative. Cartoon Network moulded what was beloved about the five-season run of Teen Titans and adapted it to fit the same sensibilities of Adventure Time, The Regular Show, Stephen Universe, and other popular formats that have kept Cartoon Network afloat.

As for the DC Universe’s Titans… it seems Emo is having a comeback. The first problem is that it seems like the trailer goes out of its way to let you know how ridiculous edgy it is. As a personal rule, any time someone in a trailer drops an F-Bomb, I start to feel like the show runners are trying really hard to sell this show to people who think that dropping an F-Bomb is a passible definition of ‘grit’. And yet, this Robin who says ‘Fuck Batman’ is, in fact, Dick Grayson.

Alluding to my point regarding Warner Brothers’ rather liberal use of Harley Quinn, there is no reason that you need to have those words coming out of Dick Grayson’s mouth. Grayson has a bit of a reputation for being ‘safe’ to the point of being goofy. Especially when that’s something you could much easier see said by Jason Todd (also a Robin). Or maybe even Damien Wayne (also a Robin), depending on what kind of mood swing he’s on.

There is literally a Robin for every occasion. Smart Robin, Sexy Robin, Angry Robin, Other Angry Robin, Milk-toast Robin, Martial-Arts Robin, Tragic Robin, other Tragic Robin, other Tragic Robin, Comes-From-a-Good-Family Robin, Girl Robin, Psycho Robin, Gay Robin, and even Debatably Gay Robin. (The only Robin you can’t have is a Robin who doesn’t have severe daddy issues.) You don’t have to adapt anything! You just need to invent a reason for YOUR Robin to appear in the Teen Titans.

And the violations don’t begin or end there, especially regarding Raven, her powers, and the way she is portrayed and acted. Starfire’s powers, Beastboy’s powers. And… those costumes. But I could write a whole review on how there’s nothing ‘right’ about the trailer except Robin’s costume, which seems to be where about 60% of the budget went towards.

But outfits shouldn’t matter — even powers don’t matter too much! Because Disney’s Scarlet Witch definitely does not have her comic book powers or her costume. (Not yet!) But she’s still ‘The Scarlet Witch’ by means of her background, motivations, and portrayal.

And that’s the real difference. Kevin Feige took Marvel’s C-List heroes and made them almost more identifiable and recognizable than Superman. And he did it without compromising the characters he was adapting. Captain America from the movies is pretty much Captain America from the comics. If it walks and talks like Captain America… it’s still Captain America no matter what he’s wearing.

Superheroes are more than their costumes — and that’s what Warner Brothers seems to be getting wrong. They, themselves, don’t understand why people enjoy comic book Superheroes. So they spend whole movies on trying to adapt these properties into things that they are not, but with striking similarity to what producers are told is popular.

What these executives don’t seem to be understanding is that they are working with properties that were popular before they were born, and will likely have mythological relevance long after everyone’s done talking about Starfire’s hair on Titans.


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