A bad guy lies beaten on the ground. Above him towers a shadowy figure, the moonlight highlighting only his horned head and billowing cape. “Who are you?” pleads the defeated crook. With a growl, the figure answers, “I’m Batman.”
That description probably put a familiar image in your head, one that you’ve seen on screen time again and again. But for you, which Batman is saying “I’m Batman?” Do you hear Adam West’s droll delivery? Michael Keaton’s whisper? The late, great Kevin Conroy’s baritone?
Batman has proven to be one of the more malleable superheroes of all time, which has allowed Warner Bros. to tell a wide range of stories about the character. But that’s also meant a lack of focus for the franchise. Right this second, “WB’s live-action Batman” can mean Ben Affleck or Michael Keaton returning in the upcoming The Flash movie, Robert Pattinson’s emo take in The Batman, or Iain Glen’s distant Bruce Wayne in Titans. While this might be great for storytellers who want to tell many different kinds of tales with the Dark Knight, the new regime at WB seems to be aware that audiences may find that confusing, unclear about which Batman is the “real” Batman on screen.
That’s one of the issues that WB CEO David Zaslav wants the newly-installed heads of DC Studios to address. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Zaslav said in a discussion with RBC Capital’s Kutgun Maral that James Gunn and Peter Safran have nearly completed a DC bible, which lays out the Studio’s plans for its characters, including the Caped Crusader: “I think over the next few years, you’re going to see a lot of growth and opportunity around DC,” Zaslav explained. “[T]here’s not going to be four Batmans.”
This suggests WB could establish one Batman incumbent as their big-screen Dark Knight, untangling the multiversal mess currently surrounding the character. But is this even possible with Matt Reeves’ The Batman universe already solidifying that it’s separate from the DCEU’s Gotham? Perhaps that’s something the multiverse-shattering The Flash movie will address.
What is clear is that Zaslav wants to usher in an age of interconnected and linear storytelling on screen told across a decade of films and TV series. To that end, Zaslav has taken steps to shore up DC adaptations, infamously cancelling the nearly-completed movie Batgirl, which would have also been Keaton’s second outing as the new (old?) Batman of the DCEU after The Flash. The WBD boss seemingly hopes Gunn and Safran will do a bit more housecleaning and set up DC Studios to emulate the success enjoyed by Marvel under Kevin Feige.
“The opportunity to make DC as great as it can be and as it should be — that is the reason why I’m doing this job because I know that Peter and I can do that,” Gunn recently teased a virtual WB Discovery town hall (via THR). “We spent the past couple days with a group of some of the best thinkers in the industry, the best writers in the industry starting to map out that eight- to 10-year plan of what it’s going to look like in theater, in TV, in animation, across the board for these characters.”
Of course, this raises even more questions about some of DC’s most popular entries. Even as it comes to a close, the Arrowverse on CW has created fans of heretofore obscure characters such as Commander Steel and Vixen. Young Justice and Harley Quinn remain beloved animated series, and HBO Max shows such as Doom Patrol have a strong following. More importantly, Joker and The Batman have been two of WB’s biggest hits, neither of which connect to the DCEU, which itself seems to be continuing with Black Adam, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, and Shazam! Fury of the Gods. How will Gunn and Safran rein in all these disparate parts of the DC Universe?
Despite these questions, Zaslav remains confident. “Part of our strategy is, drive the hell out of DC, which James and Peter are going to do,” he told Maral. “I think they’ve thrilled the fans. I think they’re going to thrill you over a period of time.” That may be true, but will the thrill be enough to make fans unite around a single, definitive Batman?