Can Grimdark DC Change Its Colors?

Although comic books have always been known for their four-color glory, appealing to the child in all of us, comics also have a history of dabbling on the edge as they sometimes tell darker, more adult tales in the line-drawing-and-speech-bubble format. When adapted for movies and television, the lighthearted, bright visual nature of the medium was depicted in the Adam West Batman series, the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman show, and the Dick Tracy movie directed by Warren Beatty. The recent Marvel movie renaissance has, for the most part, stayed true to the source material, but the DC alternative has been skewing darker. The word "grimdark" (a dystopian, violent, sometimes amoral tone) has been an appropriate description of the DC universe for a while now, causing some fans and critics to beg them to lighten up.

It certainly worked for Tim Burton's 1989 Batman with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson, although the Batman Returns sequel received some initial backlash, leading to the Joel Schumacher fiascos, only to be redeemed by Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. However, not everything works with a grim palette. Superman and Wonder Woman always were examples of hope in their primary colored costumes, which became muted in Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. While Henry Cavill and Gal Gadot are fine performers, the chromatic choice of their outfits is only a part of the grimdark ouevre that engulfs them on screen. The Last Son of Krypton is portrayed as brooding and morally inconsistent. The Amazonian warrior princess is seen too briefly, surrounded by the shadows. The sparkling gold of her lasso is only slightly more obvious than the subtle shimmer of her tiara, eagle-winged breastplate, and bullet-deflecting wrist gauntlets.

The gritty cinematography may have worked for some of director/producer Zach Snyder's other comic book films, such as 300 or The Watchmen, but it feels jarring and out of sync with Superman and some of the other DC superheroes. Does Aquaman need to share that grim aesthetic? The television versions of Supergirl and The Flash have a much more accessible attitude. Arrow started out with that grimdark feel and has steadily embraced his greener roots, all for the better.

DC seems to have heard the complaints. Geoff Johns and John Berg are the co-heads of DC's Extended Universe and already the trailers for the next two big DC movies, Wonder Woman and Justice League, look brighter in tone and color.  We shall see if the writing holds up.

Marvel of course is no stranger to grimdark moviemaking, but usually it fits the characters, like Blade the vampire hunter (Marvel's first real cinematic success) and Hell's Kitchen's Daredevil (a hit on Netflix). The Fox studio blew it by making the most recent Fantastic Four reboot a gloomy mess.

Embracing the fun of comics doesn't mean sinking into campiness. Hopefully DC will find the right balance.



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