Adrift in the DC Universe

All the Heroes Disney Doesn’t Own

Disney doesn’t own all culture, yet. They don’t have control over Harry Potter, they don’t have Game Of Thrones, and they can’t touch The  Jonathan Franzenverse, with all its delightful bird-themed amusement-park rides. Most importantly, they don’t own DC. Superman, like Bugs Bunny, remains the property of the Warner Brothers (and their Warner sister, Dot).

Now, DC has gathered its entire Universe under one app and/or streaming membership, available for something like $79 a year on Roku and Apple TV and your dental fillings or however you stream content. And when I say DC’s “entire” universe, I don’t actually mean its entire universe. Batman, in particular, feels incomplete. Though the Tim Burton Batman movies are there, at the moment you can’t find the Christopher Nolan Batman movies, although they apparently do show up from time to time. Adam West’s Batman series is also AWOL. But there are plenty of great Batman cartoons, including the entire 1990s animated series, plus Batman Beyond, Batman: The Brave and The Bold, and a mixed bag of animated Batman movies, like the scary one where he fights Dracula.

The other cornerstone DC heroes also appear irregularly. Pretty much all of Superman presents, including the George Reeves show from the 1950s and the old Max Fleischer cartoons. But Wonder Woman doesn’t get full play. You can watch Lynda Carter’s entire run, including the skateboard episode, but not the Gal Gadot movie and not the terrific animated movie from a few years ago where Keri Russell does Wonder Woman’s voice.

Still, if you like DC, or you’re D-Curious, or if you need to immerse yourself in another insanely complicated superhero mythology, then it’s hard not to recommend this app. It covers a lot of ground. And it’s never too long before you see someone get thrown through a skyscraper.

Doomed
April Bowlby (Elasti-Woman) and Matt Bomer (Negative Man) play an exciting game of Jenga, in DC’s Doom Patrol.

The DC Universe app lacks a key component of the actual DC Universe: the “Arrowverse” as cooked up by Greg Berlanti. That includes hundreds of hours of Arrow, Supergirl, The Flash, and Legends Of Tomorrow, some of them terrible hours of entertainment but all of them legit superhero operas.  You can still find those shows airing on the CW and streaming on Netflix. So that’s a pretty big hole.

To fill that, DC is making its own shows. A version of Swamp Thing will premiere in a couple of weeks, and it looks pretty scary.

 

 

They’re also promising a live-action Stargirl show soon. That’s not a character I know very well, outside of her brief appearances in Justice League: Unlimited. There’s some sort of magical staff and a star-spangled costume.

But Doom Patrol is the undisputed champion of the DC Universe offerings right now. An obscure superhero team from the 1960s, few people previously beloved the Doom Patrol. But in a world where the Guardians Of The Galaxy are plush-toy successful, fans can write off no superhero property, no matter how obscure.

Doom Patrol spun off from Titans, a live-action Teen Titans DC Universe show. In comparison with the great Teen Titans cartoons we’ve gotten to enjoy over the years, Titans feels a little slow and obscure. Doom Patrol sometimes suffers from the same problem. Its character reveals take forever. We see far too many scenes of people staring off into space while Leonard Cohen songs play. But it more than makes up for it with genuine weirdness.

For instance, in the second episode, the Doom Patrol enters an alternate universe through a donkey’s gullet. I’d say “you have to see it for it to make sense,” but it doesn’t really make sense. The members of the Doom Patrol all come from different historical periods, but they never seem to age, and mostly appear to be somewhere between 30 and 45.

The two main male actors rarely show their faces, except in flashbacks. Matt Bomer plays a handsome closeted gay test pilot who absorbs some extraterrestrial energy being right before his plane crashes, leaving his body covered in hideous burns. He spends the entire show hiding behind Invisible Man-style bandages.

Brendan Fraser plays Robotman, a human brain encased in a robot body that appears to be made entirely of melted-down pennies. The robot wears ironic T-shirts and says “what the fuck?” a lot. In his previous life, Robotman was an arrogant race-car driver.

The show largely rises and falls on three performances. Alan Tudyk, always up for some Sci-Fi, plays the villain, “Mr. Nobody”, transformed into an omniscient Q-like figure by Nazis in Paraguay in 1948. He gets to make a lot of ironic quips like “cue the pretentious credit sequence” or “we’re only halfway through the episode.”

The women of Doom Patrol really make it go. April Bowlby plays Rita Farr, or Elasti-Woman, a 50s B-list who inhales some sort of weird gas while on set in Africa. This turns her into a monstrous blob that she can barely control. Bowlby gets a lot of screen time in some fabulous retro outfits, a mannered accent, and a dry wit.

Diane Guerrero scores the real prize as Crazy Jane, who has 64 personalities, each with a different superpower. Guerrero has to switch from angry teen to cute-pie babydoll to wizened madwoman on a dime, all while manifesting her character’s tortured inner struggle. It’s a real acting trick, and she pulls it off perfectly.

Doom Patrol can be a little pretentious. It veers from overlong character study to exceedingly gory action. And back when I was reading DC Comics, at the dawn of time, we didn’t have to deal with Cyborg. But now he’s in everything, including, apparently, the Doom Patrol. But it’s a legit show, often very funny, hiding in plain sight on the DC app.

Who The Hell Are These Characters?

Um, BugBoy, Superboy, someone who I think was Green Arrow’s niece but now is called Tigress, and an ambiguously ethnic girl in a hood star in Young Justice: Outsiders on the DC Universe. 

The DC Universe has changed a lot since I last tuned in, when my son was in Kindergarten and we watched Justice League: Unlimited, one of my favorite TV shows of all time.

That show is on the app. It totally retains the title of best superhero cartoon of all time. But it also featured a cast of characters that you could mostly recognize from old Super Friends episodes. The vast array of animated offerings on the DC Universe app requires an updated glossary.

I watched a “movie,” which was essentially an extended episode of Justice League: Unlimited, called Justice League Versus The Fatal Five. It features Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman, but also “Miss Martian,” the niece of the Martian Manhunter, as well as The Legion Of Superheroes, the 31st-century teen crimefighting team that I remembered well from my comic-soaked boyhood.

But also, apparently, we now have Jessica Cruz, a Latinx twenty-something who survived a brutal mugging and became “Limelight,” the most powerful Green Lantern in the universe.

OK, fine, that seems like a very 21-Century superhero. She’s a pretty appealing character, and I’m guessing she’ll return.

The DC Universe app also features Young Justice: Outsiders, only the third season of the Young Justice show in the last decade. The original Young Justice introduced us to Miss Martian, so I don’t know why I put her in quotes above. In this show, Miss Martian now has a blue face and is in charge of the entire Young Justice team.

In Outsiders, as in all DC cartoons, people are always quitting the Justice League and starting their own Justice League and fighting Justice Leagues from alternate dimensions. This time, bad guys develop some mutant genome in a made-up Eastern European country, there’s an ambiguous interstellar war, Aquaman is black, and Lex Luthor is in charge of the United Nations.

I don’t understand most of it. But I don’t really have to. A multiethnic, multi-planetary squad of super Millennials fight villians who have swords and melty faces. Every 10 minutes or so, one of our many protagonists throws a bad guy into a skyscraper. This is, after all, an entertainment universe devoted to superheroes. For all the special features and soap-opera melodrama, it’s still mostly about stuff exploding and people flying around really fast. The more things change in the DC Universe, the more they stay the same.

Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of ten semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. He's written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

7 thoughts on “Adrift in the DC Universe

  • May 17, 2019 at 12:39 pm
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    you may need to go back and watch episode 2 of Doom Patrol again—nobody enters a parallel universe through a donkey’s asshole-wtf.

    Reply
  • May 18, 2019 at 8:22 pm
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    You saw wrong. It was down the donkeys throat.

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  • May 21, 2019 at 3:48 pm
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    I believe the film selection is pretty fair animated wise. The end of the Netflix deal may mean an abundant drop of content to the site.

    But in the mean time Doom Patrol, Titans and Krypton are excellent for a good binge.

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    • July 14, 2019 at 10:48 pm
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      Isn’t the Doom Patrol the group the X-Men are based on. And while you may not be familiar with many of these characters, they have been around for decades and have been beloved characters with tragic backstories and historic legacies.

      If you think characters are obscure because “YOU”, haven’t heard of them, that’s only because they haven’t been explored in media other than the comics they are based upon. Oh, the hoodie wearing hero is Halo who was introduced in Batman and the outsiders in 1983. 3 years after the introduction of Cyborg in the New Teen Titans. People thought Iron-Man was obscure, and Doctor Strange, the Guardians of the Galaxy… These characters have been mainstays and supported for up to 60 years. But it seems as though unless it’s Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman, people like yourself have never heard of them and somehow assume noone else has either…. aside from the millions and billions that have been reading their stories all their lives.

      Reply
  • May 27, 2019 at 7:30 pm
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    They are doing a great job with what they got . And they did it Before marvel/Disney did. (Nice ) Dc does tv and animated movies comics toys better

    Reply

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