3 things we'd love to see from James Gunn's DC plans, including better villains

Since director James Gunn and producer Peter Safran took over DC Films as co-chairs last year, rumors have swirled about what their vision for the future of Warner Bros. superhero movies will look like. Henry Cavill was back in as Superman, then he was out again. Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot may or may not continue their Wonder Woman movies.

This week, we'll finally learn some concrete details about what Gunn and Safran have planned. While we wait, here are three things we'd like to see.

52, Vol. 4 by Geoff Johns Grant Morrison Greg Rucka Mark Waid Keith Giffen
52, Vol. 4 by Geoff Johns Grant Morrison Greg Rucka Mark Waid Keith Giffen

DC comics The DC series '52' told the story of a year without Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman.

Highlight colorful characters

The previous approach to an interconnected DC superhero film universe revolved entirely around the Justice League, and it didn't really work. So why not focus on different characters? Obviously, any DC superhero universe will have to involve Superman (whom Gunn is already working on a reboot for) and Batman (who is humming along as steadily as ever under director Matt Reeves). But there's no reason to restrict the universe to a seven-member Justice League, as Warner Bros. has done up until now. DC has a huge well of colorful characters going back decades across a variety of backgrounds, powers, and specialties.

The classic animated series Justice League Unlimited knew the power of drawing from this well, and Gunn should too. He helped make the Guardians of the Galaxy as integral to the MCU as the Avengers, and in his first years at DC, he's already made Peacemaker a household name. Let's go further: Bring on the comedic camaraderie of the Justice League International, reach diverse audiences with the Milestone pantheon, dip into the mystical realms with the likes of Swamp Thing and Zatanna… there are so many possibilities! One of the coolest comics in DC history, 52, told the story of the DC Universe without Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman. While no one would expect DC Films to go that far, it's a testament to how deep the bench is in this fictional universe.

Superman: Brainiac HC Hardcover – March 10, 2009 by Geoff Johns
Superman: Brainiac HC Hardcover – March 10, 2009 by Geoff Johns

DC Comics Superman's foe Brainiac (drawn here by Gary Frank) is just one of many interesting DC villains who haven't made it to the big screen.

Deploy interesting villains

Fans have spent the past five years debating what exactly went wrong with the Justice League movie. But neither Joss Whedon's last-minute changes, nor original director Zack Snyder's full four-hour version of the film on HBO Max, could overcome the fundamental error of casting Steppenwolf as the villain of this momentous franchise-starter. Steppenwolf! A character who belongs not just on the D-list of general DC villains but also the bottom tier of the smaller sub-category of "Darkseid's minions." Yes, Steppenwolf was created by legendary comic artist Jack Kirby — but only for a two-page flashback story that ends in him getting easily killed off-panel. How are your heroes supposed to prove themselves when pitted against such a bland character devoid of basically any personality or history?

Snyder eventually planned to bring in Darkseid, and gave his most devoted fans a small taste of the Lord of Apokolips in the extended Justice League cut, but never got the chance to tell that story since Steppenwolf flopped so hard. At this point, it would folly to pin too much on Darkseid anyway, since most viewers would see him as a pale Thanos rip-off (even though the truth is that Thanos was originally inspired by Dark— sorry, that's another conversation). This Darkseid debacle provides an important lesson: Don't save your best villains for later movies because you might never get there. Bring in the good stuff as soon as you can!

Some of DC's marquee villains, like Lex Luthor and the Joker, are way oversaturated at this point. Instead, the new DC Films team should try some of the many DC foes who have never made it to the big screen before. Gunn had the right idea deploying the alien starfish Starro the Conqueror in The Suicide Squad, and he should build on that thinking. For instance, the alien supercomputer Brainiac, long ignored by Superman movies, would make a resonant antagonist in this age of ascendant AI. The human scientists of Cadmus Labs made a compelling enemy in Justice League Unlimited and could now stand as representatives of an anti-superhero backlash. DC has scheming demons, multiple alien empires, talking gorillas, and all kinds of foes who could bring a breath of fresh air to this franchise reboot.

Doom Patrol; Titans
Doom Patrol; Titans

HBO Max (2) 'Doom Patrol' and 'Titans' will both end with their fourth seasons.

Don't forget about TV

News broke just last week that the HBO Max shows Titans and  Doom Patrol would be ending with their ongoing fourth seasons, following in the footsteps of the CW's sunsetting Arrowverse. Those decisions predate Gunn and make sense in the context of their specific shows. But if anyone is trying to rival the MCU as it exists in 2023, integrating film and TV is a must.

And while some of Marvel's Disney+ shows have felt too much like six-hour movies, DC's characters are well-suited to weekly storytelling. Just look at Harley Quinn, which has built a compelling central romance over three seasons while also plumbing new depths of Joker and Batman (and even featured a self-effacing cameo from Gunn himself), or Superman & Lois, which has shown the Man of Steel to be a perfect fit for a family drama.

In a changing landscape, all of these elements would help showcase the unique strengths of DC.

Sign up for Entertainment Weekly's free daily newsletter to get breaking TV news, exclusive first looks, recaps, reviews, interviews with your favorite stars, and more.

Related content: