How dumb do you think DC Entertainment thinks you are? On a scale of one to ten. A two maybe? How about a three? No? Not a ten. No. Few people are a ten. You would score a one on this scale if you had accidentally choked on a pretzel once, causing concern among your friends and loved ones for your well being. You’d get a ten if … Well, I won’t tell you what that entails. You could use your imagination. For our purposes, I’d say most people are a two or a three on the patented Mendelson Scale of Idiots, but sometimes they can reach those higher levels. Not because they’re dumb, but because something has happened emotionally to cause them to do so.
So if we can infer that most people are smart (Book agents and publishers tell their authors to pretend that they’re writing for a “Very intelligent dog”), I think DC Entertainment would disagree. DC would argue that you’re all a bunch of sevens.
Here’s why: For as long as I can recall, DC has actively pulled characters from their television properties because they had planned for them “elsewhere”. You saw this with the (excellent) Justice League animated series, which became Justice League Unlimited for this exact reason: Certain characters were only allowed limited appearances on the show after Justice League’s second season because there were plans for them “elsewhere”. DC did not want to “confuse the audience” by having the character appear in multiple properties.
If you are a fan of DC’s CW shows, (I refuse to call it the “Arrowverse”), you saw a similar Justice League Unlimited situation play out on Arrow this year when Amanda Waller died. Why was she killed? Because someone at DC thought that having Cynthia Addai-Robinson play Amanda Waller on Arrow, while Viola Davis was playing Amanda Waller in the upcoming Suicide Squad film would confuse the audience. (Katana also appeared on Arrow this season, but this time was explicitly not referred to as Katana, despite previously appearing on the show in an earlier season.)
For what it’s worth, Angela Bassett also played Amanda Waller in the awful Green Lantern film from 2011. No, I don’t think DC is intentionally being racist by assuming you can’t tell three black women apart who are playing different versions of the same character, but … The thought did cross my mind. Maybe it crossed yours too.
Willa Holland, who plays Speedy on Arrow, confirmed that the studio arm of DC Comics forced the producers of the television show to kill off the Suicide Squad characters. Again, because DC Entertainment had “plans” for them elsewhere. And this is where that argument completely falls apart, at least for me.
Let’s say you watch Gotham. No, wait. Let’s say you enjoy watching Gotham. Bruce Wayne appears on that show because whoever pitched the show said, “Let’s do Muppet Babies, but with Batman.” Being a smart and reasonable person, remember, you’re not a seven, you clearly know that this Bruce Wayne and this Gotham City is not the same as the (weirdly located) Gotham that’s found across the Bay from Metropolis in Batman v. Superman. So then, because Bruce Wayne is portrayed by two different actors in two different properties, if Batman were to show up on Gotham in a later season, stop laughing, that show can easily outlive us all, you would know not to anticipate Ben Affleck or his version of Batman in the show.
Pulled Pork Sandwiches
Put another way, let’s say you like pulled pork sandwiches. Citi Field, home of the Mets and their criminally cheap team owners, the Wilpons, has GREAT pulled pork sandwiches. Now let’s say you go to the San Francisco airport and order a pulled pork sandwich. You know you’re not going to get the same thing as you did at Citi Field, regardless of the fact that you’re ordering a pulled pork sandwich. Two different restaurants, maybe there’s different ingredients. Or the water is different. Whatever the change in variables may be, the point is, the odds are good you’re going to enjoy your sandwich just the same, but you understand fundamentally that this is not the exact same pulled pork sandwich you’re going to get if you had ordered it at Citi Field. If you and I are smart enough to figure that out, and again I think we are all smart enough to figure that out, then there’s no reason why we can’t differentiate between Batmen, Supermen, and Wonder Women appearing across different properties and media outlets. Especially when it’s made clear that those worlds that they appear in on those different outlets are not the same.
And that’s how I think smart people would view similar characters played by different actors in various media. Like a pulled pork sandwich ordered from some place different than from where you usually would get it. You know what you’re getting is still good, but you also expect it to be slightly different because it’s from a different place. TV isn’t film, no matter what those “Golden Age of Television” people want to tell you, and the film isn’t TV because it can’t be. (Although, you can make a compelling argument that the Marvel movies are all basically one television show, and we’re all just coming to the theater to watch the next episode. I concede that point where those films are concerned.)
The beautiful thing about DC Comics is that there’s a perfect, built in reason to have someone like Tom Welling appear on Supergirl as Superman, despite not being the movie version of Superman: It’s a different Earth. Although Marvel discovered multiple dimensions later, DC by storytelling necessity had to come up with the various Earths in order to house all the characters the company continued to buy throughout its history. And so having multiple Earths with different versions of their characters is a concept for them almost as old as the company itself. (Remember: Marvel, aside from Bucky, The Human Torch, Captain America, and Namor, has one shared universe because it was created in one decade by a small group of people in the ’60s. DC as we know it today is an amalgamation of a bunch of different companies going back to the late 1930s.)
So the Flash, Arrow, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow (now with the JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) can have Batman and Superman. There’s no logical reason to prevent these, and other characters like Alan Scott (the original Green Lantern and Justice Society member) from appearing, other than an assumption on DC’s part that their audience is dumb and can’t tell the difference between properties. Despite the fact that we differentiate between very similar products every day in other functions of our lives, including the sandwiches that we eat.
Could it be confusing? Sure, if presented poorly. Is there a fear of overexposure of the characters? In that, if you see Batman on TV, you won’t go and pay to see him in theaters? No. People’s Television viewing habits are different from their movie viewing habits. If anything, seeing Batman on Gotham would serve as a great advertisement (and reminder) that the solo Ben Affleck Batman film is on its way. Not to mention, it takes years to produce movies. So there’s no guarantee that the show and that version of the character will even be on the air by the time the film is released, so why handicap the writers and producers of the show in such a weird way? Especially, in the case of Batman and Gotham, when the movie won’t be in theaters until at least 2018?
I’m not advocating DC suddenly have a shared universe. Although it might be fun to see the Flash pop in on Gotham, even if it’s just as an easter egg with him streaking by as he crosses dimensions, maybe planting seeds in a young Bruce Wayne’s mind that the world is a lot larger than his obsession with finding his parent’s killer. A shared universe could be disastrous. For example, Lucifer and Preacher are both DC properties (under the Vertigo label), and those shows would fall apart if they interacted with each other because they’re self-contained worlds that NEED the audience to view Lucifer in a specific way (on both shows) for them to work. But can you tell me what the harm is in having Superman appear on Supergirl in a way beyond just flying by or texting with her? Or having both of them appear on the Flash? I mean beyond, “the audience would be confused?” The answer is no. Legends of Tomorrow and the Flash this year went to great lengths to explain there are multiple dimensions and timelines. So to those audiences who watch those shows, there would be no problem introducing those characters. And that’s a critical component that should not get lost here. If you watch those CW shows, you’ve already been conditioned to accept multiple versions of the same character. See: The real Jay Garrick that was revealed in the season finale of the Flash.
One final point, about “the lay person”, because you know someone is going to say that the “average person” won’t understand. That’s a bad argument on a number of levels. If you’re worried about the lay person, let me tell you, quite confidently, that there is no such thing. You have individuals who watch your show, and those who don’t. That’s it! The “average person” is an invention by the media to make you think they’re appealing to everyone, including you, in their coverage, while instead serving as a propaganda and advertising tool for whoever is paying their bills. (I can say stuff like that, having written for numerous national outlets.)
If a viewer is not watching the show, they’re not going to care who is on it. And if dropping in Batman on Legends of Tomorrow gets them to care, how on Earth is that a bad thing? Especially if that viewer goes back and catches up on the show, learning that those characters interact with varying timelines and dimensions, explaining the difference between the (awful) Snyder films and their TV counterpart? Spoiler alert: They’re going to be just fine, because they’re smart.