Why DC's Multiverse Approach Works Better Than The MCU
As DC Entertainment’s ‘Arrowverse’ really starts to lean in on building towards its third series, Legends of Tomorrow, I can’t help but hear a little voice in the back of my head. Even as a massive fan of Arrow and The Flash, it still runs it’s mouth constantly.
“Why isn’t DC doing one big universe like Marvel? WHY ARE THEY SO DUMB AND NOT MARVEL?,” it demands, like a nasal singularity that feeds on Code Red Mountain Dew and Pull N Peel Twizzlers.
After all, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD is currently building its own spin off, and the Netflix corner of the MCU recently launched a beautifully haunting preview for Jessica Jones.
Seriously. That trailer is better than Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant Man.
When The Dark Knight Rises ended with no indication of building towards a larger universe, I made a weird face. When a season of Arrow ended without Felicity yelling “Oliver turn on the news!” and everyone staring in horror at the destruction of Metropolis in Man of Steel, I was all like ‘whaaaaat why aren’t they making it a single universe yyyyyyet?’
But by the time casting was announced for characters in DC films that already had successful small screen counterparts and really hammered home that the DC film universe was its own thing, I was pretty chill. Why? Because I’ve started to realize that not only is DC angling the best approach for their properties, but I think it can work even better than Marvel’s single universe approach.
Now before everyone starts pooping their pants, this isn’t about what shows suuuuuuuck and which ones are the beeeeeeeeeest. I like all of these shows. Settle down.
The DC/Warner Bros marriage is an oddly perfect one, as Warner’s approach in creating content is distributing across networks rather than having all of their eggs in one network basket. Meanwhile DC has always has a fascination with multiple Earths and realities. It’s a bizarrely perfect blend of corporate and creative.
“Hey, I heard you don’t like the new Lex Luthor. It’s cool- you’ve got options.”
So how do these play as strengths on the small and silver screens? DC is able to go to war on multiple fronts, without being hindered by a single continuity. That means that when Fox wanted a pre-Batman cop show about Jim Gordon, no one had to worry about how Gotham would connect to Arrow. CBS’s Supergirl is in no way beholden to the events of Man of Steel. Also, if you haven’t watched the pilot yet, it’s pretty great. The plot of CW’s The Flash will not depend on the plot of the big screen The Flash. Thanks to the Warner model, DC has embraced an approach that is enormously faithful to their comic book roots: a multiverse. Gotham’s Penguin and Arrow’s Sarah Lance and Supergirl’s Jimmy Olsen all exist on various infinite Earths.
DC Creative Chief Geoff Johns has even said as much, and the current season of The Flash is even exploring the concept of Earth 1 and Earth 2. So, will there be crossovers? Who knows. I sort of doubt it. The good news is that they don’t need crossovers, and therein lies a strength for DC that Marvel is lacking: Their shows stand alone.
Marvel having all of their films and shows under a single continuity presents a dangerous glass ceiling, which they’ve jammed into with varying levels of success. There is a measuring stick that determines how much their shows and characters matter: Will they end up in the movies? It’s the first question that gets asked every time a new project gets announced. Will Daredevil show up in Cap 3? Will Iron Fist make an appearance in Avengers: Infinity War?
The answer is probably no. Because while Marvel keeps up the pretense of having a creative shared universe, this is not the case behind the scenes. The rift between Marvel Studios and Marvel television is well documented, and now that Disney brass has agreed to separate Kevin Feige from Marvel CEO Isaac Perlmutter it could easily get worse. After all, the Agents of SHIELD that came to the rescue in Avengers: Age of Ultron were certainly not the Agents of SHIELD in Agents of SHIELD.
Daisy Johnson: A fantastic character with exactly as much potential as we’ll allow her to have.
The relevance of Agents, now waist deep in building the Inhumans lore for the MCU in preparation for a movie, took another hit when Inhumans was removed from the Marvel release calendar completely. So does what they’re doing even matter now?
The Netflix Defenders minis are in much better shape, and I think that’s largely in part to them staying as far from the films as possible. A small reference to the Battle of New York here or there, sure, but otherwise the Hell’s Kitchen corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is keeping to it’s own neighborhood, and it’s stronger for it.
The interesting thing is that comics often have this problem. How many times have you read some world killing plot in a D Lister’s comic and been like ‘hahahahahaha nope.’
Yes we’re talking about you King Shark. You will never crisis a single Earth, let alone infinite ones.
Meanwhile, DC’s projects are able to succeed or fail on their own merit. Creatively, the stakes of their stories aren’t tied to a larger universe — Oliver Queen isn’t a second rate Batman with a goatee in Arrow, because in this show he’s the dude. Arrow and Flash get to be the World’s Finest in the Arrowverse. Consequences and actions aren’t measured against other projects in order to matter. What matters in Gotham only matters to Gotham. Literally. What a dumb show. But that’s OK — it’s dumb because it’s terrible, not because it’s splashing around ignored in the shallow end of someone else’s swimming pool.
Don’t give us that look. You know what you did.
So while Marvel’s Most Wanted wastes Mockingbird fighting a version of Hydra that’s only available because Feige is done with it, I’ll be much more excited about all of the cool supporting characters in Flash and Arrow becoming their universe’s Avengers.
Yeah, I know. Wrong team for the wrong company. But come on, who really wants to start a League?
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