James Gunn mentioned that the Justice League animated series is an inspiration for his DC Universe (via Twitter), and there are many ways the DCAU can inspire the upcoming franchise. A significant reboot that will very much start a new DC Universe from scratch, DC Studios’ Chapter 1: Gods and Monsters will see new iterations of iconic heroes like Batman, Superman, and the Green Lanterns as well as live-action debuts of characters like Damian Wayne and The Authority. With the promise of an interconnected universe across film, television, animation, and gaming, DC Studios’ new DC Universe is shaping up to be very exciting.
While the full Chapter 1: Gods and Monsters slate has yet to be revealed, the projects that were already revealed by Gunn confirm that this new DC Universe will be a lot different from the previous DCEU. For example, the DCU’s first Batman movie, The Brave and the Bold,will see Batman and Robin working together on the big screen for the first time since Batman & Robin; Superman: Legacy will reboot the Man of Steel with a Superman in his early years as a superhero, and The Authority will incorporate the WildStorm characters into DC’s mainstream movie canon. Here’s how the DC Animated Universe can inform those upcoming projects.
5 The DCAU Gave Batman & Superman Solo Stories Before Any Crossovers
Despite its level of interconnectivity, the DCAU gave both Batman and Superman solo stories before any crossovers. In fact, it was only after Batman: The Animated Series’ original run that the DC Animated Universe was born with Superman: The Animated Series and later Batman Beyond. Viewers spent several episodes following the solo adventures of Batman, Superman, and their associated characters before seeing them working together. By the time Superman: The Animated Series‘ “World’s Finest” arc premiered, some of the best Batman and Superman stories had already been told. This is something that the new DC Universe should replicate.
As exciting as crossovers and interconnectivity are, they only work when there is a solid foundation. The MCU’s Avengers team, for example, was only formed four years after Iron Man. Given that no DCU Justice League project has been announced yet, this new franchise has the chance to take its time with Batman, Superman, and other Justice League heroes before an eventual crossover event. James Gunn confirmed that the DCU will have an overarching story, but this should not overshadow the individual stories. The DC Animated Universe proved that by establishing the individual characters first, the payoff of a crossover project like Justice League is much better.
4 The DCAU Skipped Its Justice League Heroes’ Origin Stories
The DC Animated Universe skipped the origin stories of Batman and its main Justice League heroes. The only exception was Superman, although Clark had already put on the cape by the end of Superman: The Animated Series’ first episode. Despite featuring dozens of DC characters – from the most popular Justice League superheroes to names that had ever appeared on screen before, like Booster Gold – the DCAU never bothered to tell a long, multiple-episode origin story for the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited superheroes. Instead, the DC Animated Universe invited audiences to a world where most superheroes already existed, which led to bigger, more exciting stories right away.
That seems to be what DC Studios’ DC Universe is doing – at least for Batman, Superman, and the Green Lanterns. The Brave and the Bold will feature Damian Wayne, Batman’s son who becomes Robin, meaning that this universe’s Bruce Wayne is at a later point in his Batman career. Superman: Legacy will feature a younger Clark Kent, yet it will not be an origin story. Lastly, Lanterns will see Hal Jordan and John Stewart investigating a mystery on Earth, strongly suggesting that it will not be a Green Lantern origin story. Such an approach should be used for other iconic DC characters that will appear in the DCU.
3 The DCAU Had Several Crossovers (Before & After Justice League)
The DCAU focused on solo stories first, but it also made the most of its interconnectivity. For example, Batman would sometimes run into other DC characters like Zatanna and Etrigan, both of whom would later be revisited in Justice League Unlimited. The same applies to Superman, who teamed up with heroes like Wally West Flash, Supergirl, Steel, Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, and Doctor Fate years before forming the Justice League. That is not to mention the two Batman and Superman crossovers, “World’s Finest” and “Knight Time.” After Justice League, which by itself was a crossover, these team-ups continued through other shows like Static Shock and The Zeta Project.
One of the biggest problems with the DCU was how, after the Justice League (2017) failure, crossovers became rare. For example, Shazam! had the infamous headless Superman cameo; Birds of Prey only showed the Joker from behind and established that Batman was missing; and Peacemaker’s Justice League cameo was limited to Aquaman and Flash only. To make the most of the DC lore, the new DC Universe must highlight that these heroes exist in the same universe and can team up at any time. More than a cameo gimmick, interconnectivity helps translate the DC Universe from the comic book pages to the screen like the DCAU masterfully did.
2 The DCAU Didn’t Have Just One Tone
Superhero films being similar in terms of tone is a criticism that has followed the comic book movie genre for a while. However, there was never such a thing as a single tone across all shows in the DC Animated Universe. Despite a recurring creative team in all projects, Batman: The Animated Series was completely different from Superman: The Animated Series. Likewise, the larger-than-life Justice League adventures were quite different from the small-scale, more intimate Static Shock stories. Essentially, the DC animated shows felt like they were part of the same universe while also having distinct tones, something that the DC Universe should try to replicate.
1 The DCAU’s Justice League Was A Culmination Of Its Solo Shows
Both Justice League and Justice League Unlimited felt like a continuation of the solo DCAU shows, not just because they were reuniting characters like Batman and Superman but also because they were thematically continuing the stories of Batman: TAS and Superman: TAS. For example, Darkseid, the final Justice League Unlimited villain, was introduced in Superman: The Animated Series season 2. Likewise, the CADMUS storyline was set up in Superman: TAS, which featured Supergirl’s first DCAU appearance. Even Lex Luthor’s plans in Justice League and Justice League Unlimited felt like a continuation of his story in Superman: TAS. From small cameos to major arcs, Justice League was a culmination of the DCAU.
A Justice League movie was not part of the DC Studios’ initial Chapter 1: Gods and Monsters slate. That said, it is difficult to imagine a DC Universe with an overarching story that does not lead into a Justice League story. Whenever that happens, be it with a Justice League movie or a multiple-project arc, the DCU’s Justice League must feel like a culmination of this entire universe. That is something Justice League (2017) could not achieve as it was only the fifth entry in the franchise and was released only a year after Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman had met in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.