“How do we bring the female characters to light more?”
Those were the words of DC Entertainment president Diane Nelson at a Time Warner shareholders meeting last week, responding to a question that described the portrayal of women at the company as “embarrassing.” Nelson stated that heightening the presence of both female creators and female characters was a frequent point of discussion at DC, extending from comics to TV and film. Nelson further advised the shareholder, “I think if we talk again in a couple of years, you’ll be pleased with the results.”
Rather than waiting until then, speculation immediately turned to the question of, other than Wonder Woman — appearing in 2016’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and a likely candidate for a subsequent solo film — what female DC Comics characters might get the spotlight in upcoming films? DC has a veritable pantheon of heroes to choose from, but not every character — regardless of gender — can anchor a big-budget franchise.
Here are a few picks on DC characters particularly well-suited to bring Nelson’s forecast into reality.
Carrying the legacy of two DC heroes, the original Star-Spangled Kid and the Golden Age Starman, Courtney Whitmore was the heart of the Justice Society of America, and one of the most well-received DC creations in years. DC Comics has a long and proud history of legacy heroes carrying on the mantles of their idols and that formula could yield big screen success for DC and Warner Bros. The often cantankerous relationship between Courtney and her stepdad, the Golden Age hero and former partner of the Star Spangled Kid, Stripsey — now donning the S.T.R.I.P.E. armor — is the stuff big screen legends are made of. Stargirl could be viewed as DC’s Buffy, a precocious young girl who borders on bratty but possesses the heart of a hero. Her story could be filled with wide-eyed wonder, a stark contrast to the darkness of “Man of Steel” that also opens the door to a younger generation of DC heroes who might one day carry on the mantles of DC’s heavy hitters.
Eagle-eyed “Man of Steel” viewers will remember that when Kal-El found the Kryptonian vessel on Earth , one of the stasis chambers was noticeably empty. Thanks to that Easter egg, the door is already wide open to introduce Supergirl into DC’s cinematic universe. The story of a young girl trying to follow in the footsteps of her cousin, the world’s first super hero, could make for a fantastic film. Given the destruction caused in “Man of Steel” and possible fallout from its sequel and “Justice League,” a Supergirl film could focus on the residual fear and distrust of super heroes with Kara trying to find a way to win over the public and escape Superman’s shadow. With Superman as the center of the on-screen DCU, adding another Kryptonian whose journey follows a different path while enriching the legacy of Krypton can only lead to a more formidable DCU.
On the surface, Shazam/Captain Marvel appears very similar to DC Comics’ premier hero Superman. Avid readers understand their many differences, but it would be easy for film execs to balk at the idea of doing a movie focused on what they perceive as a Superman clone. One way around this is to make Mary Marvel the central character of a “Shazam” film, with brother Billy serving a supporting role. Mary has been around almost as long as the good Captain, appearing in multiple Golden Age features and following her brother into the modern era. Her purity and sweetness lend themselves to a refreshing take on the increasingly dark world of super heroes, and Mary could even bring those qualities into the “Justice League” feature film. While Mary followed Billy in the comics, perhaps Warner Bros. could reverse course and make a progressive move with Billy becoming the spin-off character from Mary.
WWII Liberty Belle
With the advent of the New 52 and DC’s current film and TV slate, one noticeable omission is the company’s Golden Age heroes. With Marvel going back to the past in “Agent Carter,” the time may be ripe to explore DC’s own history in live-action. Liberty Belle was DC’s second costumed female, a patriotic figure that fought the Axis forces and appealed to the patriotism of the World War II era. Writers including Roy Thomas and Geoff Johns have done some amazing things with Liberty Belle, and while she may not be well known as some of the other heroes on this list, the era she fought in could fuel DC stories that bridge the past and the present.
Whether it’s Helena Wayne, Batman’s alternate earth daughter, or the more grounded, vengeance-driven Helena Bertinelli, Warner Bros. can look to the Huntress to open the doors to many different kinds of stories in their burgeoning film universe. A version of Bertinelli has appeared on the CW’s “Arrow,” to the delight of audiences, while the use of Wayne could provide a link to a relaunched Batman franchise, the introduction of the Multiverse or even just a “World’s Finest” pairing with Power Girl. Both iterations of the Huntress have resonance and emotional depth, a character that could easily carry her own film thanks to the groundwork laid by writers like Paul Levitz, Gail Simone and Greg Rucka.
A character so versatile we’ve already dream-cast her in both the “Justice League” movie and Guillermo del Toro’s long-rumored “Justice League Dark,” it’s obvious we believe Zatanna needs to find her way into Warner Bros.’ live-action plans one way or another. The Maid of Magic could open the DCU up to more than aliens and vengeful billionaires, allowing magic to become a major element for its heroes and villains. Zatanna can be the gateway by which Doctor Fate, Deadman, the Phantom Stranger, the Demon, Felix Faust and more magic-based characters reach a wider audience — not to mention Zatanna’s connection to her father Zatara, which could add another legacy element to the cinematic DCU. Marvel may have “Doctor Strange” just around the corner, but DC has a very different type of magician Warner Bros. can use to navigate new territory on film. Adding a classic character ready to maintain her own franchise who also has deep connections to the Justice League could yield big dividends in the long run.
Thanks to Dinah Lance playing a key role on the CW’s “Arrow,” more fans than ever are familiar with Black Canary. Dinah’s comic book roots extend far beyond the shadow of Oliver Queen, however, dating back to her earliest vigilante days during the Golden Age. Whether a film version followed a modern day Dinah as she inherits the Black Canary mantle from her mother (Dinah Drake Lance) or positioned her as a special ops expert like her New 52 iteration, Black Canary would allow WB to deliver a grounded and potentially gritty action movie — depending on whether the filmmakers opt to give Dinah her super sonic “Canary Cry.” If Warner Bros. moves quickly, it may even beat Marvel to the female-driven espionage movie punch if it can assemble a “Black Canary” film before Marvel finally greenlights a “Black Widow” movie.
Fire and Ice
One super hero trope filmgoers haven’t experienced yet is the buddy movie. While most would expect Batman & Robin or Booster Gold & Blue Beetle to get the nod, DC has another pair of heroes who could support their own movie. Fire and Ice are strong, rich female characters who would provide the DC Cinematic U with a pair of multi-ethnic heroes — Fire is Brazilian, Ice is from a hidden race of magical Norwegian frost beings — and they both enjoy a long history with the Justice League. The buddy film lends itself to contrast, and Fire’s quick-witted thrill-seeker plays nicely against Ice’s courageous and wide-eyed innocent. While they’ve never headlined their own comic series, their chemistry is palpable and apparent, and WB would be wise to consider a pairing that could appeal to fans of Disney’s “Frozen,” or, if you want to go a more adult route, “The Heat.”
The DCU’s magic corner doesn’t begin or end with Zatanna, and Teen Titans member Raven — after starring in two different “Teen Titans” cartoons — is arguably better known than her spell-casting counterpart. (The CW even began to develop a “Raven” TV series that never saw the light of day) The character, created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, could be a breakout success, possibly tapping into the “Twilight” and “Insurgent” YA demographic with her tragic backstory as the scion of a demon father and a mortal mother. And if DC isn’t thinking about how to launch a Teen Titans film franchise, Raven would allow them to test the waters with a character who stands on her own at DC and in the larger pantheon of comics.
Batgirl (Barbara Gordon)
If there’s one thing Warner Bros. understands, it’s that Batman is a bona fide box office champion. With Ben Affleck’s Batman busy taking on Superman and establishing the Justice League, Gotham City is going to need another protector, and who better than the daughter of police commissioner Jim Gordon. While Alicia Silverstone portrayed the character in “Batman and Robin,” Batgirl has yet to receive the film treatment her fans know she deserves, and with the great work writers like Chuck Dixon and Gail Simone have done with Barbara over the years, there’s no shortage of stories to adapt. “Batgirl” could also allow WB to expand the larger Batman family as well as pave the way for a “Birds of Prey” movie.
While it might seem like a no-brainer, given her stature as DC’s premier female hero and the success of the TV series starring Lynda Carter, Wonder Woman deserves the feature film treatment and will retain a spot on this list until it actually happens. Though several film versions have been attempted — including one written by “Avengers” writer/director Joss Whedon — until Gal Gadot was cast in “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice,” many fans were convinced that a “Wonder Woman” movie would never become reality. If Marvel can launch a new franchise featuring a raccoon with a ray gun, DC should be able to launch a third successful film franchise with one of its top characters. A “Wonder Woman” solo movie was listed on Warner Bros.’ rumored film slate, but it’s high time “Wonder Woman” becomes more than just a rumor. With the actor already in place, DC and WB need only find the right director and story, and there are literally decades of brilliant Wonder Woman stories that manage to balance super heroism with mythology and action. From creator William Moulton Martson’s earliest tales to George Perez’ post-“Crisis on Infinite Earth” reinvention or Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s New 52 take, there are many different eras that lend themselves to a cinematic treatment. Gal Gadot has the part; now WB needs to use its magic lasso to rein in the possibilities and finally bring a “Wonder Woman” movie to scores of very patient fans.