Today sees the official release of the seventh DC Universe Animated Original Movie, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths! I attended the world premiere screening last week (review podcast to come on Thursday) and on my way home I found myself in such a good mood (uh oh — is that a hint?) that I wanted more films and I wanted them now!
The original plan for these movies was to create mature, PG-13 animated adaptations of storylines that appeared in the comic books. They have veered off from that original plan with a few of the films, but they have kept pretty focused on the page-to-screen adaptations. In fact, the next film is another adaptation, Batman: Under The Red Hood, which is an adaptation of the storyline that… ugh… brought Jason Todd back from the dead.
Keeping in the original spirit of the films, I present to you, in order, my
Top Ten Most Wanted DC Universe Original Animated Movies
Back in 2006 when these films were originally announced, the first three that were meant to kick things off were Superman: Doomsday, Justice League: The New Frontier, and Teen Titans: The Judas Contract. Superman: Doomsday came out and sold like gangbusters. JLA: The New Frontier came out and… didn't. Suddenly we stopped hearing about The Judas Contract. Are the two events related? It's hard to say. Rumors of Warner Bros. not believing that the Teen Titans have a broad enough appeal have been bandied about. All I know is that ever since the possibility of a mature animated adaptation of "The Judas Contract" was put into my brain, I haven't been able to get it out! I want it! This is the storyline that first brought us Dick Grayson as Nightwing! This is the story where Deathstroke used his sexual relationship with an underage Terra to get her to infiltrate and betray the Titans! This is the Teen Titans storyline! This one stays on the list… probably for a long time.
I love the idea of this one simply because it's so unlike every other story on the list and so unlike most people's idea of a super hero story. Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen go on a road trip across America and fight social injustice along the way? It would never happen, right? No, probably not. But it would be really fun and potentially really interesting if it did. This would be a film that would have to adapt the concept more than the actual story beats. For one, the story is just way too long. "Hard-Traveling Heroes" went on for well over a year and was sprawling and without a clear central narrative. For this one, I just love the concept: Hal and Ollie in a pick-up truck, driving across America, and finding trouble. Take that concept, and weave a tight little action plot around it.
When making this list I wanted to try to hit as many different areas as possible. Here I ticked two boxes with one story. I wanted one of the great modern Geoff Johns Superman stories, and I wanted to get the Legion of Super-Heroes on here. This might have been my favorite arc from Johns' run on Action Comics, which really surprised me because I'm not, in any way, a Legion fan. I think it would be really fun to see some big animated brawls between the evil Justice League of Earth and Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes. Plus, there's a really nice emotional subplot in which Superman reconnects with his Legion roots and remembers that he's got a lot of good friends in the future. One of the big strengths of these films is giant, multi-character action set pieces and strong character development. This story is perfect for Timm and co.
This might be my riskiest selection, but also the one that I would be the most excited to see. There isn't a ton of plot here but that actually works in its favor considering these films only run about 70 minutes. I think that of all the stories on the list this one as one of the best chances to survive an animated adaptation with the most of its beats intact. The only other concern that I had was about the level of (mostly implied) creepy gore, involving Professor Pyg, but now that I think about it there has been quite a bit of implied creepy gore in these Timm productions already. Seriously, how great would the animated interplay between Dick and Damian be? And I would be most interested in seeing how they would handle the new Batman, from the point of view of voice casting. In the book they say Dick imitates Bruce's voice and we just accept and go with it because that's how it works in comics, but when you have to actually figure out how that would sound and then cast an actor, that would be really interesting.
It would be a shame if we got through all of these films without an appearance by Darkseid, one of the best and most compelling villains in Bruce Timm's previous DC cartoons. So how about a big, cosmic epic full of slugfests with giant aliens and buddy cop movie-esque team-ups between heroes and New Gods? It's got action, it's got pathos, it's got a good portion of the major characters in the DCU. This one seems like such a no-brainer to me, that I feel like if it's not already in development it's probably because it came out 22 years ago. These films seem to be focusing on recent storylines, which seems odd because the primary audience for these films are people who have no idea when a story was published, nor do they care. The best thing they could do here would be to animated the story in a dark and shadowy style reminiscent of artist Mike Mignola. Is it unlikely that they'd animate it that way? Yes. But it's potentially awesome.
I really cannot adequately describe to you how badly I want a kick ass Justice Society of America animated film. The problem? Most people don't know who the hell the Justice Society of America are. Perhaps the sizable-for-The-CW audience who watched the Smallville TV movie that featured the Justice Society might give them a bit more cache at Warner Bros. But even with a slightly increased awareness, these characters are still relative unknowns to the general population. So what better story to adapt than Geoff Johns' reintroduction of the current team in "The Next Age"? This film would also go a long way to making up for the travesty that was the Justice Society of America's non-appearance in Bruce Timm's Justice League because of the veto thrown down by former DC Comics Publisher Paul Levitz. Man, I'm still bitter about that. Anyway, this story is one of those classic gathering the team together stories that would work really well in this format.
A bit of a wild card, this one is. I wanted another Batman story on the list but I wanted it to be a little different, especially considering that the next animated film to hit this year is a Batman one. In the end it came down to this and Batgirl: Year One. It was a really tough decision, but I went with The Boy Wonder. I chose this story over Batgirl's for a few reasons. One, it would give Dick Grayson a starring vehicle and he's my #1A favorite character. Two, I think that from a commercial point of view Robin is probably more of a draw than Batgirl. Three, I think this would just be a really interesting story that hasn't really been explored enough. What's it like to become Batman's sidekick? How tough and how good do you really have to be to fight alongside The Dark Knight while wearing that outfit? This wouldn't just be a fun action movie, but a great coming of age character piece as well.
Back when he was featured on one of our Talksplode episodes, writer Joe Kelly let it slip that this wonderful one-shot issue might be up for consideration for this film series. That's fantastic if it's true. Many years before Geoff Johns came around to remind everyone that Superman is in fact superawesome, Joe Kelly brought us this great issue that did the exact same thing. The story pit Superman up against an "edgy" team of super heroes very reminiscent of The Authority, and the kind of team that was very popular and influential in comics at the time. You might remember the iFanboy Mini that Josh did on this issue. Superman battling a bunch of younger, hipper, and "cooler" super heroes who think he's an anachronism, and in the end proving just why he's the best hero around? This one is tailor made for these films and the Bruce Timm ethos.
Need a Flash story. Gotta have a Flash story. This one might be a few years premature because to the general population The Flash is still just a side character. Things might change if that live action film that Geoff Johns is shepherding ever comes to pass. But let's put real world marketing concerns aside for the moment and focus on why this would make a great animated film. I had originally put The Flash: Rebirth on my list, but I had my mind changed by Mr. Chris Neseman. He said that this was the best Flash story to adapt and he's totally right. This one has everything! A war between the Flash's original Rogues and the new upstart Rogues that ends up involving Reverse Flash, Jay Garrick, Kid Flash, and, briefly back from the dead, Barry Allen! If you talk about one story that encapsulates everything that is great about The Flash — the Rogues, the legacy, the family — its hard to top this one.
On my way home from the screening this was the first story that I wrote down in my little notebook. If there's one thing that the Timm films seem to do really well it's the Justice League. And for my money, the opening arc to Grant Morrison's JLA is classic-through-a-modern-lens Justice League of America action at its finest. Plus, it's the Big Seven, and we really need a Big Seven Justice League film. I will not rest until Aquaman gets his due in one of these films. It's not always easy to find an adversary that can believably take on the entire Justice League, especially the Big Seven version. But a group of evil White Martians? That's like having to fight a whole bunch of J'onn J'onzzes, and he's one of the most powerful and formidable members of the team. There's almost nothing in here that wouldn't translate great into animated form. Every member of the team gets at least one big moment, and there's even a morally ambiguous ending, which they love.
So there you have it. I had a bunch of really strong candidates from the Elseworlds imprint: Books like Superman: Red Son, Batman: Gotham By Gaslight and JLA: The Nail. But for the purposes of this list I wanted to stick with films that would require as little extra explanation and set up as possible for the general audience. There were also the obvious choices that I would love to see animated like The Dark Knight Returns, Crisis on Infinite Earths, and Kingdom Come that I think are just too complex to tell in 70 minutes without gutting the whole story.