What If… DC had done their universe franchise first?

What If… is a self-indulgent look at how things could have been. I take an event or a rumour and let my imagination run wild. It’s rarely based on fact and completely based on guess-work and conjecture.

Guardians of the Galaxy will be opening next week (in the UK at least) and with it, the Marvel movie Universe will expand even further. A plan that started with Iron Man all the way back in 2008 will probably see Marvel secure their crown as heroes of the superhero genre once more.

On the other side of the spectrum is DC. They have nothing like the success or credible superhero movies that Marvel does. Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy proved that DC have one of (or in my opinion THE best) superhero on their roster but other than Batman, they haven’t really taken advantage of their own superhero properties, with Superman failing to inspire people with his own, stand-alone movie, Man of Steel.

What if Batman Begins had the beginning of the Justice League franchise?

What if all that time ago, someone at DC had decided, before 2008 and before Iron Man, that the DC superhero properties would begin to build to something of their own? What if someone saw some fledgling DC movies and linked them, beginning a series of DC superhero films that would eventually lead to a stand-alone Justice League movie, mirroring Marvel’s journey to Avengers? What if DC had done their universe franchise first?

Back in 2005, superheroes would be back on our big screen but not in the way we imagine today. Christopher Nolan would sneak his origin story of Batman into cinemas to critical acclaim, audience success but not exactly ferocious excitement. The movie is strong in itself and a perfect example of Batman’s origin but in the background, maybe on the front cover of some newspapers, is the story “World without a Superman” (or something similar) reflecting that a superhero has been around in this universe but not necessarily today.

Nolan probably wouldn’t go for a link to Superman in his realistic take on Batman but this is before he had the power over the franchise he would eventually get and a couple of nods and hints wouldn’t hurt the movie but may pique interest.

Superman Returns would then bring the two together

The following year, Bryan Singer would deliver his take on the other iconic hero in the DC universe, Superman, in the awfully titled but not dissimilar to Nolan’s, Superman Returns. In fact, Batman Begins and Superman Returns almost sound like natural links to each other in title alone.

The first major change may be that Nolan has some input into this version of Superman. Still Routh as Superman, still Spacey as Luthor but maybe a change in tone, adding less humour and more realism (although nowhere near as dark and gritty as Man of Steel).

I wouldn’t foresee a change in story but maybe some links to something bigger. News channels broadcast footage from Gotham or Lois Lane writes a story on a “new kind of hero.” The bit I would add is the ending, a meeting between Luthor and a certain clown we haven’t quite met yet.

Luthor and Joker could then be your villains for a “World’s Finest” movie

All this is happening before we’ve even seen an Iron Man and already DC link Batman and Superman. Two years after Superman returns, in 2008, we could get our first team-up movie, “World’s Finest – Superman and Batman.”

This is the first major issue with DC going first, it removes Nolan’s Dark Knight because they need to team-up Superman and Batman. This would mean, probably, Nolan stepping down and Singer taking the directors chair, no Ledger as Joker and a new, more light-hearted take on Batman, undoing some of the brilliance of Begins.

This would be the biggest movie event up to that point though and would probably destroy Iron Man at the box office. Dark Knight managed to eclipse what Iron Man achieved that year but a World’s Finest movie would just blow it out of the water. With audiences already seeing Batman and Superman take on the Joker and Luthor, would they be that excited about Nick Fury appearing at the end of the credits in Iron Man?

Would this moment have been as exciting if we’d already seen Batman and Superman in the same movie?

The next step for DC would have to be a sequel to both Batman and Superman movies, with Singer still going strong but I imagine Nolan having departed. They could then add Wonder Woman to their movie roster and begin to build to the event people really want to see, Justice League. This would be a much better situation than today because they will have established Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman all in their own movie and could add the likes of Cyborg, Flash, Green Arrow or Green Lantern as cameos.

Meanwhile, Marvel could go one of two ways; either continue with their franchise, putting out Captain America, Thor etc, or admit defeat at the first hurdle, having been beaten to the punch by DC. The movie industry being what it is, there is no way it would be the second option, so if we predict a sequel to Batman and a Wonder Woman movie in 2009 and then a sequel to Superman (and an origin for another hero) in 2010, that brings us to 2011 and Justice League, one year before Avengers would Assemble, beating Marvel to the punch once again.

If DC get there first, there is no Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy

Is this better though? The answer is a clear no! This theory only works on the fact that Batman Begins is a good, successful movie (which it was) and Superman Returns is a good, successful movie (which it wasn’t). It gives us Bale’s Batman (good) but Routh’s Superman (mediocre). We do get a great Lex Luthor in Kevin Spacey but I don’t see Ledger’s Joker if Nolan isn’t on-board (which I don’t think he would be). This eventually means no Dark Knight trilogy either, ruining the best of the superhero movies so far.

On the Marvel side, it may not change that much but would certainly take the edge and excitement out of any superhero team-ups. Batman and Superman is exciting now but imagine how unbelievable that would seem before The Avengers. It would also give us double the amount of superhero movies already clogging up our cinemas over the summer. If people aren’t feeling superhero movie fatigue now, they certainly would be by 2012 and Marvel’s Avengers.

Overall, if any of what I predicted and assumed would have come true, the superhero movie world would be a sadder place. No Dark Knight trilogy, a mediocre Superman, a Joker that wasn’t Ledger and a feeling of “meh” by the time Avengers finally came to the screen. As bad a job that DC seem to be doing with their rushed take on Justice League, maybe we’ve actually got the better end of the deal.

I would much rather see Ledger’s version of the Joker than a Justice League movie
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