The DCU could and should have more than one Batman

Robert Pattinson or Ben Affleck? Why you choose? We can have them.

All Batman fans have been very confused lately. In the weeks since it was officially revealed that James Gunn and Peter Safran were named co-chairmen and CEOs of DC Studios, the full shape of what we once knew about the DCEU remains unknown. Recent reports that Gunn and Safran have apparently canceled the controversial Batman Beyond movie came as a blow to fans who were excited and ready for Michael Keaton to return to don the hood more. After the unexpected cancellation of the Batwoman feature, these developments left many Bat fans scratching their heads.

In an era when cinematic universes are both profitable (MCU) and abortive (Dark Universe, anyone?), DC(E)U has a notoriously rocky run. With the original continuity established by Zack Snyder's Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice now upended, Batman will play in the 10-year plan that Gunn and Safran now manage. The role of the character remains ambiguous at best. Matt Reeves' Batman was a huge success, while Robert Pattinson's incarnation of the Dark Knight has been well-received by fans and critics alike. Reeves' long-term DC project appears safe Todd Phillips' hit Joker continuity, but we still don't know which Batman will be considered the "main" Batman of the new DCU.

Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav telegraphed the upcoming changes to the DCU, saying, "There won't be four Batmen." It's understandable that Zaslav, Gunn, and Safran want to focus on the universe they've created, and the Bats Xia's success made its continuity the logical choice. Still, if one of Warner/DC's goals is to differentiate this budding cinematic universe from the MCU, then this decision counts as a missed opportunity.

Why Can't We Have Four Batmen?

There have always been multiple versions of Batman and other characters in comic books. As I write this, ongoing comic book series featuring the character universe include Batman: Urban Legend, I Am Batman, Batgirl, Tim Drake: Robin, and Batman Unite. Some of the standout multiverse spins on Batman these days are The Batman Who Laughs, centered on a dark(er) alternate reality version of Bruce Wayne who merges with the Joker to become the insane titular supervillain, and Batman: The White Knight, which follows a seemingly "cured" Joker who becomes a politician and sets out to save the city from Batman.

In the intended context of a role, Why can't we have four Batmen? There's a valid argument that this approach could dilute the Batman IP and weaken its commercial prospects, but I think the opposite is true. Fans are probably more used to seeing a new actor don a cape and cowl every few years than Batman, perhaps more than any other major superhero character. Committing to more than one cinematic Batverse would stay true to the spirit of the character's origin.

After all, we've had three full-fledged Batmen in recent collective memory: Robert Pattinson, Ben Affleck's underrated character in the now-defunct Snyder universe, and Michael Keaton. With shrewd, savvy marketing and ample space between release dates, a rumored Keaton solo movie, a Batman sequel, and even a possible directorial effort by Affleck (who probably won't feature him as Batman...  But it should) can co- exist and be successful.

Beyond multiple possible continuities - and by extension, multiple Bat-series - embracing the multiverse would set the DCU apart from its biggest competitors.

What Is Marvel NOT Doing?

In an alternate dimension not far from us, 2005's Batman Begins and 2006's Superman Returns kicked off the DC Cinematic Universe beyond Marvel Studios several years. Of course, that didn't happen, and in 2012, the MCU's Phase One ended with the massive success of The Avengers, while DC and Warner Bros. faced the end of Christopher Nolan's Bat-trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises. All of this is also arguably a missed opportunity. Bat fans don't regret that Nolan's films exist, but making Christian Bale's Batman the only superhero in that universe puts DC firmly in favor of eight-ball.

2023 marks the fifteenth anniversary of the MCU, a largely consistent narrative universe spanning film, television, and streaming content. Generally speaking, the overall bright, punchy tone of Marvel movies evokes the spirit of Marvel Comics and contrasts with the sombre tone of much of the DCEU (Shazam and Aquaman's colorful, upbeat tone is the big exception here) . However, one aspect of the comics that the MCU hasn't emulated until recently is the multiverse slant to it all. Loki, What If...?, the final two installments of the MCU's Spider-Man trilogy, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness find Marvel finally wading into the ocean of parallel realities.

Still, by the end of each of these titles, the possibility that a permanent opening of these realities might still be feasible has been curtailed. We can safely assume, for example, that John Krasinski playing Reed Richards aka Mister Fantastic in the Multiverse of Madness was a wink, self-aware one-off. Also, given Daredevil's red and gold costume in She-Hulk, it's likely that the character's darker, more violent Netflix adventures are part of an alternate universe as well. Marvel doesn't seem willing to really let loose like it should. Fans hoping to see Tom Cruise as a Dove Tony Stark shouldn't hold their breath.

Working on multiple Bat properties at once - teasing more potential crossovers at the same time - would stake out territory Marvel doesn't seem to be exploring right now. The studio could even tap into other Elseworlds-style continuities, including Nolan's universe or the TV show's Batwoman. After all, as we've established, there are many different Bat stories running at the same time.

Who is... Batman?

This is Jim Carrey's Riddler in Batman Forever, not me. To every screen face big and small who has played the role - Adam West, Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Bale, Affleck, Pattinson - We got a slightly different version of a very familiar tune. Every actor in every entry brings a new dimension to The Dark Knight, from the hilarious Caped Crusader (from 60s camp-esque TV shows) to Pattinson's hyper-brooding, Kurt Cobain-inspired avatar. Some are obviously more memorable than others, but fans can always expect something different.

What if we had a Batman Beyond series with an aging Bruce Wayne training newbies to put on the hood? Meanwhile, we follow Affleck's middle-aged Dark Knight through a modified version of the Snyder universe. Meanwhile, Penguin on HBO Max has spawned other limited series, fleshing out Matt Reeves' riveting, sprawling Gotham City between feature films. These are just known possible bats we can speculate on; who knows what Gunn and Safran plan to launch?

Batman's multiverse implies a range of storytelling possibilities. It's all little more than fantasy fan casting, but that doesn't change the unique opportunity DC and Warner Bros. have at hand. We can watch many different versions of Batman at the same time, constantly showing different aspects of the character. Can they all intersect? Joaquin Phoenix's Joker Cross paths with Barry Keoghan's Clown The Price of Crime? Can Lady Gaga's upcoming Harley Quinn match up with Margot Robbie's fan-favorite clown lover? Of course, they can -- that's the wonder and magic of comic books, after all. What if, just once, fans got the hero they wanted and deserved?

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