Regarded by some as one of the best Justice League story arcs ever written (while loathed by just as many for its sensationalistic elements), Identity Crisis is full of soul-crushingly bleak moments. It’s a story that forces the Justice League to examine the proper use of their incredible powers, as well as understand the true depths of evil. The story arc begins when Sue Dibny, the human wife of Elongated Man and longtime friend of the Justice League, is found murdered and burnt in her home. As the story develops, it’s revealed that the events of the arc were precipitated by Sue Dibny’s earlier sexual assault at the hands of supervillain Dr. Light.
While DC’s cinematic universe is a pretty dark place so far, that world is not ready for the violation and murder of an innocent bystander. An R-rating can be the cinematic kiss of death, especially for subject matter that depends on selling action figures. Identity Crisis is an amazing, depressing story, but the world will never be ready to see it acted out on a huge screen, or for Toys ‘R’ Us to start carrying toys depicting sexual offenders.
BATMAN: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY
In this notoriously sad storyline, Robin finds himself in Ethiopia searching for his biological mother, who turns out to be a total creep who embezzles money from charities. The Joker captures Robin with the aid of Robin’s own mother, and he beats Robin with a crowbar until he’s nearly dead. Later, a wounded Robin throws himself on top of a bomb set by the Joker in an attempt to save his worthless mom, but they both die anyhow.
Murdering kids seems like it might be in line with The Dark Knight’s Joker, but not in such a brutal and graphic manner. Blowing up a boat full of families isn’t the same thing as torturing an individual child, at least as far as the MPAA is concerned.
In many ways, Lobo is DC Comics’ equivalent of Marvel’s Punisher, and he’s evolved into a character so super-violent that he’s actually become a gross parody of comic book violence itself. Lobo is so profane and aggressive that DC has never allowed action figures of Lobo to be sold in toy stores, relegating them exclusively to online and specialty comic shops, lest a child accidentally get their hands on the character and attempt to learn more… even though a softened version of Lobo appeared on Superman: The Animated Series.
There are moments when Lobo, who is nigh-immortal, is torn in half, and others where he beats the hell out of Santa after slaughtering his elves. Other times, he just decapitates people with a single punch while running around naked. There’s no way to effectively bring the full effect of Lobo to the big screen without totally neutering the character, even though the idea of an unfraggable, amoral bounty hunter played by Ron Perlman is extremely appealing.
Emperor Joker is a confusing story that focuses on Superman trying to figure out why his world has gone insane. At the core of the craziness is the Joker, who has stolen the power of reality-altering imp Mr. Mxyzptlk, and has decided to truly mess up reality, Joker-style. Part of Joker’s ideal reality involves torturing and killing Batman repeatedly, but never leaving him truly dead. Joker’s psychological need for a living Batman is his greatest weakness.
Not only would this kind of limitless power be a game-breaker in any cinematic comic universe, but horror-movie style Batman torture scenes would be a miserable experience for an audience. Not even Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan could support something that bleak, and those guys thrive on making nerds cry themselves to sleep.
GRANT MORRISON’S ANIMAL MAN
It’s unlikely that any of Grant Morrison’s smart, but impossibly convoluted, storylines will ever make it to Hollywood. Most of Morrison’s work relies on a deep knowledge of the DC Universe’s more obscure corners, esoteric mystical concepts, and a huge suspension of disbelief. In the case of his Animal Man run, the titular hero becomes aware that he’s in a comic book and seeks answers for his dilemmas as a self-aware comic book character, rather than a superhero.
While the idea of a movie hero stepping off-set to speak to the director about changing the plot as the cameras continue to roll is novel, it’s also almost definitely too cheesy to survive a transition to live-action. Morrison’s weird surrealism will keep Animal Man confined to the comic page, for the good of the entire DC Cinematic Universe.
BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE
As comics’ greatest dark hero, Batman’s had more than a few terribly dark stories to match. When your main character is known for invoking pants-wetting fear in his adversaries, those adversaries have to get pretty vile in order to seem even more threatening than the hero. In The Killing Joke, the Joker abducts Gotham City Police Commissioner Jim Gordon and his daughter Barbara, who is secretly Batgirl. The Joker shoots and paralyzes Barbara, and forces a chained and naked Jim to look at pictures of his undressed daughter in agony. Very dark stuff.
While DC is adapting this story to a direct-to-DVD feature with a potential R-rating, the all-nude, carnival-themed torture-fest represents a level of insanity and personal violence that would derail the DC Universe too severely into horror film territory. The Killing Joke is a whole different level of psychological terror.
GREEN LANTERN‘S INTRODUCTION OF KYLE RAYNER
When Kyle Rayner is given a Green Lantern power ring, it’s because he just happened to be available. While he isn’t initially comfortable with the role, Rayner eventually grows into being a hero with the help of his girlfriend, Alexandra DeWitt. However, supervillain Major Force soon murders DeWitt and shoves her in a fridge for Rayner to find. It’s an unreasonably dark and violent moment in DC Comics’ history—one which has resonated with readers for all of the wrong reasons.
Many comic fans saw this moment as emblematic of a problem with how women are treated in comics, but that didn’t stop DC from allowing Major Force to kill yet another woman in the same manner, and feign decapitating Rayner’s mother. Because future Green Lantern movies don’t really need to feel like Saw with superheroes, it would be best to leave this disgusting origin story out.
ALL-STAR BATMAN & ROBIN, THE BOY WONDER
Frank Miller’s superpower is that he’s allowed to continue writing comic books even though he’s a hateful human being and, let’s face it, a mediocre author. Miller’s various versions of Batman are always a little tone-deaf and consciously disregard the character’s rich history, but none are so aggressively misguided asAll-Star Batman. It’s a story in which Batman is actively sadistic, finds an erotic thrill in violence, and breaks his one usual rule by murdering criminals…and then doin’ it next to their burning corpses. He forces Robin to catch and eat rats in the Batcave, and the whole book is full of needless profanity.
Batman is certainly a multi-faceted character that changes with each successive author, but Miller’s All-Star version is too profane, off-brand, and ugly to even be considered for a serious cinematic treatment. Besides, they already made a few Jackass movies which probably have better plots and similar content.
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