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DC Extended Universe

Entry updated 2 October 2023. Tagged: Film.

Initially known by viewers and critics as the DC Cinematic Universe, in order to point out obvious similarities between the competing DC and Marvel Shared World imperiums, the DC Extended Universe provides a simpler narrative of origins and story-bibles than does the much larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, which was first promulgated in 2008. But Marvel Comics and its various owners/franchises had been quarrelling conspicuously for some time, and Marvel as an über-brand had come close to meltdown. This was not the case with DC Comics, more or less safely owned by Warner Bros since 1968.

DC's problems were more internal. For non-aficionado readers and viewers, what seemed to have been an unending series of universe-reboots had had a dislodging effect, perhaps on older fans in particular, whose memories of DC Superheroes like Batman and Superman seem to have been treated with undue casualness. In 2011, finally (for the moment), DC announced what it calle the "New 52" reboot, so named because fifty-two individual comics titles survived into the new universe; with a satisfactory degree of consistency the "New 52" has since governed both Comics and Cinema satrapies. One happy outcome has been a strengthening of the narrative connections joining various characters into one loose overall universe: an interactive syntax almost certainly necessary in the twenty-first century if a complex multifaceted story-engine like DC hoped to imprint itself upon an increasingly multi-tracking media world. Film creators and show runners and directors might now have a firm base from which to take off; and actors might have some hope that their roles would be retained from film to film. All this, after four instalments, seems to be happening.

The first Extended Universe film release was Man of Steel (2013) directed by Zack Snyder, which ambitiously knits Superman into the larger world, giving room for Batman and Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) also directed by Snyder to join DC's two main Superheroes into one world, though its relatively rough treatment by critics and inadequate box office gave DC clear warning that some of the more simplistic (and to many viewers narcissistically patriarchal) plot lines might no longer wash; and that a tendency to shrug off collateral damage both to civilians and entire Cities, as massively armoured self-concerned guys "expressed" themselves by battering each other with great tools, might also be wearing thin. The third instalment, Suicide Squad (2016) directed by David Ayer, was a sidebar in which a secret government agency recruits the eponymous Dirty Dozen Villains to perform perilous feats against other villains, in return for amnesty; it was also received with some reserve [for Dirty Dozen see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below].

But expectations that the DC Extended Universe would implode may have successfully been countered by Wonder Woman (2017) directed by Patty Jenkins, followed by Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) again directed by Jenkins (for both films see Wonder Woman Film/TV). The portrayal of Wonder Woman herself has pretty well shed all aspects of DC's earlier uneasy handling of its woman Superhero; the film itself, though technically exceedingly accomplished, avoids (until its recidivist "climax") most of the CGI traps its predecessors had continued to fall into. Wonder Woman, as the only female superhero protagonist in the mega-universes that now dominate the Media Landscape, may herself satisfactorily distinguish the DC Extended Universe from its competitors. [JC]

see also: My Adventures with Superman.


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