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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Filmland - Will the DCEU adapt Under the Red Hood?

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As we enter Phase 2 of the DCEU, it’s becoming increasingly clear that WB plans to back away from the broader scope of the DC Universe and zero in on 1 particular brand: Batman.  I’m aware that there are non-Batman films on DC’s docket, certainly, like Wonder Woman, Justice League, and Aquaman but those are outliers.  Looking ahead through the end of the 2010s it’s pretty clear which subsection of the DCEU is getting a legitimate push from executives. 

To put it bluntly- currently speaking The Batman, Nightwing, and Gotham Sirens all have directors attached, The Flash and Shazam do not.  What’s more, a fairly clear narrative is starting to form through the DCEU Batman properties, a connective story told in small parts across multiple films in the vein of Marvel’s first plotline during phase 1. 

This kind of thing has been thoroughly absent from the DCEU so far, there are tidbits of it here and there but stuff like Batman showing up in Suicide Squad to get information he already has doesn’t really stack up to the shared universe building between Thor and Captain America: First Avenger to establish the tesseract.  As for the building Batman story, it’s pretty clear that DC/WB is maneuvering its pieces to set-up for a, frankly, pretty obvious story- Under The Red Hood.

For the unaware, Under the Red Hood was a 2010 animated adaptation of a slew of Batman comics revolving around the character of the Red Hood.  Running from February 2005 to April 2006, the storyline, entitled ‘Under the Hood,’ is basically the pinnacle of early 2000s Batman stories. 

It’s the final piece in a trilogy of stories that served to set the tone for early 2000s Batman and separate this era from the “lone man against the elements” type stories that defined ‘90s Batman.  However, to understand where all of this starts we need to go back to 1988 and one of the biggest Batman stories ever- Death in the Family.

Death in the Family was part of its own defining trilogy of Bat-stories that cemented who the dark knight was in the wake of DC’s 1986 reboot.  The crux of the story was that Batman’s kid sidekick Jason Todd, the second Robin after Dick Grayson, was brutally beaten to death by the Joker and then blown up. 

There was actually a call-in phone poll at the time where readers could vote on whether or not Jason would die, which they did because comic book fans are cruel and unforgiving.  In any event, Jason’s death has always loomed large in the Batman mythos even if it’s just through the visual metaphor of the original Robin costume preserved in a memorial in the Batcave.  That’s what the Robin statue in Batman v. Superman was alluding to- this is part of what I mean about DC moving the pieces together.

In any event, Jason stayed dead for about 15 years, mainly because he was never a fan favorite in life, so no one was clamoring for a return.  However, in the Jeph Loeb story Hush, it was hinted that Jason might actually still be alive.  Hush is part of the trilogy of 2000s comics that defined Batman in that era I mentioned earlier, with the middle part of the trilogy being Wargames. 

This was a story where the villain Black Mask managed to take over all of Gotham’s criminal underworld.  That was the stage Red Hood came onto- Jason’s return quasi-teased in Hush, the Gotham underworld completely under Black Mask’s thumb, and most of the Bat big villains MIA. 

Red Hood came into the DCU like a god damned tornado.  He was a violent anti-villain, someone with incredible skills and a deadly streak powerful enough to go head-to-head with Black Mask.  He was basically a one-man army taking over a big chunk of Gotham’s criminal underworld.  Seriously, if there’s a reason this guy endures it goes right back to this story because he’s awesome. 

Another big part of his allure was the mystery.  Remember, at the time there wasn’t even a hint of Jason Todd in the Bat-verse so it’s not like we could guess who Red Hood was.  When the reveal finally came, it was a big deal and a pretty satisfying reveal at that.  This was closer to Infinite Crisis, a mid-2000s DC reboot series that brought this era of Batman to a hard end. 

Jason persisted after the reboot but never truly found the footing he enjoyed during his original run as a villain.  A lot of that was that editorial kept trying to make him an anti-hero, which really didn’t hold up.  However, the character enjoyed more popularity than ever, thanks in large part to the 2010 animated adaptation of his initial storyline, only with the bigger universe elements excised.  He’s basically become the Venom of the Batman universe- a more extreme/hardcore version of the hero with a much looser moral code that, in theory, makes him more fun and thus more merchandisable to the angsty and disaffected. 

So how does all this tie into the current shape of the DCEU- let me lay this out.  In Batman v. Superman, it was established this Batman had A Robin for a time, but he met a tragic end, as evidenced by the statue in the Batcave.  While there was some initial mystery on which Robin that was, we can pretty much assume now it was Jason as Dick Grayson’s been confirmed to get his own movie under the Nightwing title.  

Combine with the Joker/Harley/Batman stuff brought up in Suicide Squad and you can see how DC is straining to solve the “Robin Problem” to get this ready.  Looking ahead, Gotham Sirens has announced their big villain will be Black Mask, Red Hood’s main antagonist in the ‘Under the Hood’ story.  I would not be at all surprised if Black Mask were introduced as the “boss of bosses” in Gotham Sirens, to set him up as a secondary antagonist for when DC finally pulls the Red Hood trigger. 

As for The Batman, I suspect we’ll be seeing some reworked background showing up there.  In the comics, Jason’s resurrection basically boils down to a Lazarus pit (there’s a bit more to it, but the details are unrewarding), and it’s been established he spent a long time under the care of Talia Al Ghul.  I’m not sure the DCEU wants to add Ras Al Ghul to their universe already but if they did, having him as the bigger villain Deathstroke was working for in The Batman would make a lot of sense.  I especially could buy that Deathstroke is the one who trained a grown up Jason Todd to become a super murderer.  They might even use Deathstroke to explain Hood’s costume and identity, with him acting as Deathstroke’s Robin but going with Hood as a name (get it? Robin Hood?) 

As far as how I think this will all play out, I’d expect Red Hood to show up as the villain of The Batman 2, assuming WB can keep Affleck under contract for a second film.  The set-up can run through The Batman, Gotham Sirens, Nightwing, and maybe even Suicide Squad 2, with DC’s other superheroes probably slipping to the background as we close in on 2020.  

That’s when I’d suspect this to hit, giving WB a big, shiny story to build more movies off as they go into the new decade.  Letting the non-Batman parts of the DCEU wither away as vestigial limbs while building off of Under the Red Hood probably sounds a bit mercenary, but it’s honestly a more comprehensive plan than anything WB has had before. 

It’s admittedly a soulless marketing cash grab, similar to the structure of the later X-Men trilogy or the Amazing Spider-Man films but it’s at least aware and invested enough to provide a structure.  Additionally, there are worse things to be than a Batman-centric shared universe.  Batman himself might be overexposed at this point but given his broader mythos includes characters like the afro-futurist Batwing, the urban horror-fantasy Spectre, and the bizarre and colorful superhero team the Outsiders I’d be fine with them getting a spin-off one day. 

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