Earlier this week Warner Bros. gave away its Joseph Gordon-Levitt-helmed The Sandman to its subsidiary, New Line. They have their hands full taking care of their shiny superheroes and can’t be bothered with Neil Gaiman’s morose wanderer. The Sandman will also join the as-yet untitled Shazam movie under New Line.
They’ve totally goofed.
New Line is a Warner Bros. subsidiary, so it’s not as drastic as what Marvel did years ago when they first came to Hollywood. Marvel gleefully gave away its characters to other studios before realizing they could strike hotter than anyone on their own. What followed has been a headache of lawyers, contracts, and expensive reboots… and, this, whatever this is…
…that prevented fans from seeing “proper” versions of beloved characters. It took five whole movies before they finally realized Spider-Man could be much more profitable swinging with The Avengers.
DC and Warner Bros. hope to replicate Marvel’s success with its own superheroes. Justice League — Part One, actually, of a two-part blockbuster super team-up — will be out in 2017. So why are they limiting themselves?
The Sandman — published under DC’s Vertigo imprint that’s aimed for adults — is a dark property. They can’t sell Sandman lunch boxes. Dream (also known as Morpheus) is not Superman. And due to its macabre nature, Sandman could very well bomb. With New Line shepherding, they would take the blame and not Warner Bros. who would have a hard time telling their investors comics are still worth it.
But for hardcore fans who want everything to line-up nicely, it’s a missed opportunity. The Sandman is tied with the DC Universe, however loosely. It’s not crucial for Dream to stare down Superman on the screen - and he rarely mingled with any of the Justice League - but it would be awesome and having New Line involved is a big barrier.
More confusing is Warner Bros. giving up Shazam. Unlike Morpheus, Shazam and his mythology are in the DC Universe. He’s a part of it as much as Wonder Woman is; he can’t and shouldn’t be removed.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, New Line president Toby Emmerich believes Shazam “will have a tone unto itself,” saying “[i]t’s a DC comic, but it’s not a Justice League character, and it’s not a Marvel comic. The tone and the feeling of the movie will be different from the other range of comic book movies.”
That doesn’t make sense. Shazam has been a Justice League character. His stories are just as capable of matching the tone of Superman and The Flash. Losing Sandman is more than OK, but Shazam?
Are they concerned Shazam is just too old school and weird, even for superheroes? A kid named Billy Batson, a gee-golly city orphan who only needs to yell “SHAZAM!” to become a red spandex-clad beefcake with basically the same powers as Superman… is that too Greatest Generation for millennials?
Confusingly, Warner Bros. and DC have retained the rights to produce a film featuring a roster of dark, macabre anti-heroes known as Justice League Dark. The chain-smoking John Constantine, the zombie Deadman, the magician Zatanna Zatara, and more make up a team that deal with paranormal threats Superman and Batman are ill-equipped to fight.
While the Justice League Dark books aren’t as nightmare-inducing as Sandman, the project was being prepped by Guillermo del Toro (until recently), who would have turned Dark — then titled Dark Universe — into a horror-filled rollercoaster. But what’s damning is that the characters in Dark, like John Constantine, have dealt with Morpheus several times.
Perhaps Sandman is going to remain its own thing, and that’s great. Gaiman’s sweeping epic doesn’t need anyone else, but it would have been nice to know the space to see these characters rub elbows would be there. But with Shazam out and Justice League Dark in, it’s just befuddling what Warner Bros., DC, and New Line are all doing.