Storytelling Breakdown Blog Entry 011

Let’s Talk: DC Comics On Film – Elseworlds Part 2 – By Ben Clemmer.

I’ve mentioned before that I have a habit of starting blogs with one topic in mind and then landing on a completely different topic in the posted finished product. Last week’s blog was going to be about how we handle criticism on Storytelling Breakdown. We have a fairly simple starting point here. No one should feel bad about enjoying the things that they enjoy. My observations on the last blog left some DC films more intact than others. The ones I keep in the timeline or leave out reflect my own preferences. Basing a DC Cinematic Universe (DCCU) on the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was the idea that inspired the first part of this Elseworlds blog concept. Now, we’ll focus on part two.

Or maybe we should call it Phase Two.

With how long Phase Three of the MCU was, it’s easy to forget that Phase Two was just six films by comparison. We have Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Ant-Man.

We’ll plug in three existing DC films to cover some of this phase. We’ll lay out three film concepts of our own too. I’ll also give each section a movie title so it’s easier to keep everything straight.

The Dark Knight Rises (2013)

We lead off with our equivalent to Iron Man 3. It’s hard to top the cinematic triumph that is Justice League as we finally see our team of heroes collected together. Even a well put together third film in a trilogy is going to struggle to follow that and show some flaws. Third films in trilogies have a rocky history. The Dark Knight Rises suffers from a few problems that being a part of a greater cinematic universe can solve. In the last blog, I mentioned we’d be casting Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Hal Jordan. That eliminates John Blake and the succession plan, but we don’t need Blake to inspire Bruce to put on the cape and cowl again, if he continues to act as Batman as shown in Justice League. This makes it so both The Dark Knight and its sequel have Batman in them from the beginning.

Superhero films too loaded with plots often collapse under the weight, so taking out one plot serves a story trying to balance plots inspired by comics like Knightfall and No Man’s Land, as well as the return of the League of Shadows. The Dark Knight Rises’ place in our DCCU can parallel Tony Stark’s path in the MCU. While Tony dealt with PTSD after fighting the Chitauri in New York, we’ll see Batman weathering the storm of being wanted by police after the death of Harvey Dent and as well as still not being over the loss of Rachel Dawes. Much of the middle of the film remains, with Catwoman’s role in Bane’s plan and Talia’s deception as Miranda Tate working the same way. Once Bane takes over Gotham, he makes it clear that Gotham will be destroyed if anyone from the outside interferes and that includes other heroes in the DC universe. Batman returns, saves Gotham from the bomb blast, Batman’s identity has been revealed to Bane’s circle, Catwoman, Commissioner Gordon, others. Alfred still sees Bruce at the cafe for the Good Will Hunting moment. This is where we get our last big change. We change who is sitting at the table across from Bruce. Selena Kyle has survived and gone her own way. It’s Diana across from Bruce and we leave the door open for Bruce Wayne to put on the cape and cowl again and stay in contact with the Justice League.

Superman: Solitude (2013)

It’s time for another short treatment. Our equivalent to Superman so far has been Thor and we’ve come to Thor: The Dark World. For our Superman film here, my goal is to tell a compelling Superman narrative that doesn’t involve Lex Luthor or General Zod, who have appeared plenty at this point. Our title is Superman: Solitude. I’ve picked that title for a few reasons, but the biggest one is where we start our story, the Fortress of Solitude in the arctic. A jet lands near the fortress and we hear the pilot’s voice. We’ll pull from DC comics and make it Lady Blackhawk. Her passengers are Diana, who is in costume and it is apparent has been to the fortress before, and Bruce, who is coming there for the first time.

If this sounds like the beginning of a couple versions of For the Man Who Has Everything (both the comic and Justice League: Unlimited episode of the same name), that’s because we are pulling from both. Strangers observe the fortress from an unknown location (more on them later), and Bruce and Diana find an unusual portal opened not far into their cavernous surroundings. Their suspicion that something might be wrong is confirmed when they see Superman, catatonic and wrapped up in a plant called the black mercy.

Let me see if I can summarize this scenario in a single sentence. Two heroes at a time have to battle Mongul, an intergalactic menace who has his own reasons for attacking the fortress, while the other hero is trapped in a dreamlike state by the black mercy, which conjures up visions to keep its prey enthralled. In the fortress, Wonder Woman holds off Mongul. She’s the only conscious hero who can go toe to toe with him. Wonder Woman gets Mongul away from Superman and Bruce. Bruce attempts to get through to Superman but can’t penetrate his senses thanks to the black mercy.

We get inside two character’s heads during this first act. Superman, or perhaps more accurately, Kal-El dreams he is on his home planet. He never knew Krypton, so the world he experiences feels like Kansas farm country with technology from his home world. His parents are alive. He is married to a woman who seems very similar to Lois Lane and they have a son. Kal-El has felt isolated since discovering his origins, but he’ll have to sacrifice these idyllic surroundings to escape the black mercy’s hold. The black mercy won’t have the same amount of time to enthrall Wonder Woman, but we see her desire to still be with Steve Trevor (foreshadowing future films) as the black mercy attempts to attach itself to her.

The major moments of the battle play out with Wonder Woman fighting Mongul through the fortress, finding advantages with technology and Krytonian weapons available, but losing badly in close quarters. Unable to get through to Superman, Bruce knows he can’t help Diana without his suit, so he runs back to their jet and gets help from the pilot to send a signal out. It becomes apparent to Wonder Woman that Mongul is trying to take Superman through the portal. She takes Superman deeper into the fortress, but it’s difficult to defend the helpless Superman and battle Mongul at the same time. The Bat, Batman’s flying vehicle from The Dark Knight Rises (we have a new version with a working autopilot), arrives and deploys a canister similar to ones we’ve seen in the Arkham games. Bruce suits up and together, he and Wonder Woman are able to free Superman and trap Mongul in the black mercy, incapacitating him.

The trinity share a short conversation. Superman is grateful that Batman and Wonder Woman have helped him. Wonder Woman suggests Green Lantern could help find a place for Mongul. Identities are shared. Bruce and Diana already know each other and Clark knows Bruce is Batman, but by the end of the conversation, all of their secret identities are known to one another.

This is where this activity gets long. The second and third act of our film follow the events of a Geoff Johns Superman comic called Superman and the Legion of Superheroes. The book is still available and is a great read regardless of how familiar you are with the characters from the Legion of Superheroes. In the future (The Legion is from the 31st century), Superman sees that while Earth may not accept him fully now, eventually they will. In fact, there are those who will one day claim Superman is from Earth and use that fiction to persecute aliens. Superman sees the power he has as a voice for outsiders and no longer feels alone when he returns to the fortress. We’ve deepened our relationship with the trinity, sent Superman on an intergalactic adventure, all without setting a single scene in the present outside the fortress and the surrounding areas. Superman: Solitude was a fun idea to put together.

Wonder Woman 2 (2014)

We’ve come to our replacement for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I’ll be vague here because of how new Wonder Woman 1984 is. Let’s just say that the timeline is the only thing I’m changing. Maxwell Lord and Cheetah both work in a modern setting, as do the themes of the film.

Green Lantern Corps (2014)

This time I am lifting from an animated film from DC’s lineup. Green Lantern: First Flight came out in 2009. It quickly bypassed Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern origin story in the intro, which we can do as well thanks to covering it in our Justice League outline in the last blog. First Flight gives us a compelling objective to pull from as Hal joins other Green Lanterns in pursuing a galactic threat named Kanjar Ro. Hal would spend part of the film pursuing Ro with his friend and mentor, Sinestro. Eventually, Hal and Sinestro are joined by other Green Lanterns and things get complicated as it is revealed Kanjar Ro is secretly reporting to someone else. We can make this feel like a Star Wars and Star Trek epic adventure that also has elements of a buddy cop movie, and of course we’ll pull inspiration for designs and soundtracks from Guardians of the Galaxy.

Justice League: Age of Krypton (2015)

Yeah, the title of this film is there to serve as a reminder of what we’re matching this film up to in the Marvel timeline. Avengers: Age of Ultron has many elements we can use, but we’ll make some changes so this film introduces a DC villain long overdue to arrive on the big screen, Brainiac. Look up how many Superman projects have nearly included Brainiac but were never made.

We could open with the Justice League fighting the Royal Flush gang. In this case, that’s Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow, and Black Canary fighting against Ace through Ten. Batman is in semi-retirement due to his identity still being public. After turning the Royal Flush Gang over to the police, we get our equivalent to the party scene in Age of Ultron, as we see a rare moment of rest. The Justice League has been able to do a lot of good in a short amount of time and Diana, Oliver, and Dinah are eager to boost morale. Clark is overcoming his isolation as he sees the league as family and he and J’onn understand how lucky they have been of late. Clark asks Diana if Bruce is coming. Clark wants to thank him for a generous donation from the Wayne Foundation that can help keep The Daily Planet afloat. Hal is a little more tense after his last mission with Sinestro. We’ll say Diana is hosting and after everyone else has left, Bruce arrives. He was invited to join everyone else, but he feels uncomfortable surrounded by aliens and superhumans, especially after encountering Mongul. Diana doesn’t see things the same way and is hurt by this. The tense conversation is a rough ending to an otherwise good evening. Ollie and Dinah go home together. J’onn suggests he and Clark take Hal out for a drink to talk through some things. The two help Hal process his time as a Green Lantern.

We’ve now split the team into two groups. Clark, J’onn, and Hal have stayed up late. Clark notices that air traffic has stopped. Hal’s ring sends a warning and there’s a ship attacking Metropolis. It deploys large drones and droids that attack with lasers and brute force. A strange forcefield comes down over the city and Superman, Martian Manhunter, and Green Lantern fly up to the ship and find a way to get on board.

On the ground, Dinah and Oliver suit up, Elsewhere we see Wonder Woman’s building is attacked and she helps evacuate innocent civilians caught in a collapsing highrise. Diana rushes back and forth between the building and safety, pulling people out as fast as possible. She sees a car nearby that she recognizes and frantically scans the crowd for the driver before she realizes that Bruce has gone in to help people as well. Diana rescues Bruce who has been seriously hurt saving a family from falling debris. Once the building is clear, she rushes Bruce to a hospital and tells Oliver and Dinah to meet her there. Both have minor injuries, but can keep fighting. Dinah points out they’re outclassed by threats like the Manhunters and now these drones. Oliver agrees that the others are more equipped to deal with these scenarios, and now that Bruce is out of commission and they’ve lost contact with Superman, Martian Manhunter, and Green Lantern, they need backup. For a moment, Bruce regains consciousness, but needs to be rushed to surgery. He passes a card to Oliver that gives him the name and address for one Barry Allen.

On Brainiac’s ship, all three of the leaguers run into trouble. Lights bathe the halls with red sunlight. Hal takes out as many of them as he can find, but they’re depowering Superman. Another trap is similar to a Manhunter’s head and it sucks much of the charge from Hal’s ring. Martian Manhunter realizes what they’re dealing with and experiences traumatic memories, recalling the destruction of his own race and family. Eventually, they find a chamber filled with bottled cities. They encounter a prisoner who they aren’t sure they can trust, who they realize might be Kryptonian (yes, it’s Kara Zor-El). They also realize the threat is called Brainiac (Superman is familiar with his descendent, Brainiac V, who is part of the Legion of Superheroes). The four of them discover that Metropolis isn’t the only point of attack for Brainiac’s drones. Some have been sent to major cities the world over, but a small army of them are heading to a blank spot on the map Superman recognizes, Themyscira.

The heroes on the ship work with Kara to disable the ship, take control of it, and get a message to the ground about the attack on Themyscira. Hal’s ring is nearly out of a charge and Superman and Martian Manhunter fly off to help repel the drones in cities around the world. As soon as she’s exposed to yellow sunlight, Kara is able to fly and offers to carry Hal to Ferris Air so he can recharge his ring from the power battery he keeps hidden in his locker there.

At a rundown apartment in Central City, Barry wants to know how Green Arrow and Black Canary found him. Oliver doesn’t give a direct answer, but says either way, they need help from someone the drones can’t hit or at least can’t target. Flash is reluctant, but has a fanboy moment and agrees when he realizes Wonder Woman and Superman will be on the mission too. 

The amazons are outgunned, but are doing everything they can to hold off the drones. One gets shot down by the amazons and as it drops into the sea, it is broken apart by an enormous octopus. Help has arrived as Wonder Woman and Aquaman reach the shores. The drones attacking are still working despite Brainiac’s ship going down. Superman, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and Kara help turn the tide as Superman uses his telescopic vision to examine a drone and realizes they’re using nanotech. He remembers there’s an expert in nanotechnology in Metropolis. Flash says his name before Superman can recall it. They need to find Dr. Ray Palmer. Flash leaves and is greeting the receptionist at Palmer’s building a second later.

We combine a couple episodes of Justice League: Unlimited to wrap up this conflict. One is Dark Heart, which features a battle against out of control nanotechnology. We can give Green Arrow a Batman moment from that episode where he falls off of cliff fighting enemies and calls for backup, “I need air support… since I can’t fly… at all… now would be good.” Ray Palmer, the Atom, is called upon to disable the drone army from within. The Justice League discovers the brain controlling the drones is still on Brainiac’s ship and Palmer goes in to shut it down. The drones stop, but Brainiac’s incursion isn’t over. One drone is still flying through Metropolis, cloaked from view until it arrives at LexCorp. A hologram of Brainiac offers Lex Luthor a path to unlimited knowledge in exchange for a biological host. Luthor is insulted that Brainiac didn’t come to him sooner and agrees.

Our final battle plays out similarly to the finale of Justice League: Unlimited season two in an episode called Divided We Fall. Luthor and Brainiac pull out several traps and obstacles that almost kill the league, now consisting of Superman, his cousin who will become Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Aquaman, and Flash. Earlier in the movie, Green Arrow gives Flash his version of Hawkeye’s, “you are an Avenger” speech. We have to get the line, “I’m a guy with a bow and arrow. None of this makes sense,” in there somewhere. It is Flash who saves the day by finally separating Luthor from Brainiac. It seems Brainiac has been destroyed, but Kara knows he’ll be back. Luthor is arrested. Bruce wakes up in the hospital and sees the news about Brainaic’s attack. This sets up Bruce for making plans to stop members of the Justice League in case they go rogue, a plotline we’ll use later in our replacement for Captain America: Civil War.

In space, we see another Brainiac ship. This one actually carries a green alien watching the events on Earth from a great distance. He’s collected necessary data. His next attack will be the final one.

Aquaman (2015)

That last one went longer than I expected. Ant-Man was the final film of Phase Two for the MCU, but seeing as we already have an Aquaman movie to work with, let’s plug that in here. We’ll get to the Atom later. The Aquaman film was a followup to the character’s appearances in other DC films. We’ll do the same thing with our DCCU. Arthur Curry is something of a renegade when we meet him in Age of Krypton, but by the end of his own solo film, we’ve seen him grow up and become King of Atlantis.

And then we’re on to Phase Three. This exercise has been a lot of fun.

Stephen suggested I should include casting decisions so it’s easier to visualize heroes. I’ll list major ones even if we aren’t changing them.

Superman – Henry Cavill

Batman – Christian Bale

Wonder Woman – Gal Gadot

Green Lantern – Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Martian Manhunter – Mahershala Ali

Green Arrow – Stephen Amell

Black Canary – Jurnee Smollett

Aquaman – Jason Mamoa

Flash – Ezra Miller

Supergirl – Brie Larson

Until next time, 

Ben and the Storytelling Breakdown team

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