As someone who has been a fan of DC comics for the past two decades, the bizarre trajectory of DC’s film division from 2013 onward has been an experience akin to watching someone repeatedly throw themselves down flights of stairs. We’ve seen the DCEU go in almost as many directions as there were movies, along with multiple studio heads and two major scandals. So, when DC announced this week that James Gunn and Peter Safran would be taking over as co-heads of the newly formed DC Studios, I was delighted.
With the current state of Warner Brothers in general following the merger with Discovery, it’s very easy to write this off as throwing a life preserver to a sinking ship, but I’m incredibly hopeful. DC’s biggest problem thus far has been that they simply don’t understand the characters that they’re using, instead going, “Ah! Superman makes money!” and throwing him at the big screen as quickly as possible in a bid to catch up to Marvel Studios. From Superman committing murder in Man of Steel to pretty much the entirety of the Birds of Prey movie, it’s shockingly apparent to any comics fan that the people in charge of these movies are not fellow fans, or if they’ve even read any comics at all. Now, you could argue that it doesn’t matter, that they can take these characters and change them for the movies and still make a grand extended universe and oodles of cash. Theoretically, that’s true, but in practice, that simply has not worked.
It’s for this reason that I’m excited for James Gunn to come on board. First, with his work at Marvel with Guardians of the Galaxy and then through his reboot of The Suicide Squad and the Peacemaker spin-off, it’s very clear that he, and the writers he works with, know these characters. Of course, there are still changes, as there are going to be with any adaptation, but you can read a few issues of the Guardians of the Galaxy run that the movies are based on and immediately go, “Yeah, I see; I still like these characters, they have the same core as their movie counterparts.” Go pick up a Justice League or Birds of Prey comic and see how long before you’re just looking at the panels in utter confusion.
While the characters are at the core of the issues that DC has been having with their movies, there is absolutely more to it than that. Sure, there’s the writing and directing and all of the particulars that go into any production, and it’s always a team effort — which Gunn also has experience with from the MCU. But there’s also, as cliché as it sounds, a need to actually love the characters and stories that they tell and to see them as something more than just a way to print money for the company. Obviously, films need to make money. The problem is that, as DC has demonstrated, when you focus on profitability to the exclusion of all else, you basically end up shooting yourself in the foot, Catch-22 style.
When watching Peacemaker — particularly the goofy and entirely unnecessary intro dance sequence — the love of these characters and the process shines through. That intro was completely unnecessary. It could have easily been replaced with more standard action-style credits. It could have been cut entirely and just had the names scroll by on the bottom of the screen while the first scene plays. Instead, Gunn has gone on record saying that he wrote it in because it was fun and he wanted people to actually watch the credits and see the names of the people who brought the show to life, which reveals a tremendous amount about his thought process.
One of those people who brought Peacemaker to life is Executive Producer Peter Safran, who was also Gunn’s collaborator on The Suicide Squad. A producer with over two decades of credits to his name, Safran is just as integral to making the new DC Studios thrive as Gunn is, and it’s clear why he was chosen. He has experience working as a producer for a connected multiverse already with The Conjuring film series and its associated spin-offs, and has worked on three of the four best DCEU movies released — Aquaman, Shazam! and The Suicide Squad. Given that he and Gunn already have a solid history working together and that splitting up the job between creative and business aspects just makes sense, Safran is a perfect fit.
I realize that DC Studios still has many hurdles to overcome before it’s successful — not least of which is its parent company — but as a comics fan, Gunn and Safran have given me real hope for the first time in years that maybe, just maybe, I’ll finally get to see all the characters I love on the big screen in a way that I actually recognize.