James Gunn Explains Which Comics Inspired the DCU
As expected, James Gunn set the nerd entertainment world ablaze with the announcement of the first slate of DC Comics films and TV shows that will appear in the brand new DCU. We were immediately jazzed. And we’ve speculated, and hoped, for what versions of these characters and stories might hit the screens. But merely a couple days later, Gunn himself, as he is wont to do, has given fans a much more concrete idea of which DC Comics arcs will be integral to the upcoming relaunch. And go figure—they’re good.
We're talked a lot about Woman of Tomorrow, but these are more of the comics inspiring #DCStudios and the new #DCU in these early days. That doesn't mean we're adapting all these comics, but that the feel, the look, or the tone of them are touchstones for our team. Check 'em out! pic.twitter.com/34KrVPeEL5
— James Gunn (@JamesGunn) February 2, 2023
As Gunn explains, they aren’t going to directly adapt all of these books, just “the feel, the look, or the tone of them are touchstones for our team.” Even so, it’s very interesting to see these are the tonal basis for the DCU. Notice, not a Frank Miller book in the bunch! For way too long if you ask me, the people making DC films have relied on only the hard-edged work of Miller when adapting comics to the big screen. As though only The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One were the only comics that exist.
At any rate, all of these tomes are worth checking out. To give you a primer, let’s look at each of them and what we might glean for the style and attitude they could bring.
The first of two books from writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely, All-Star Superman might seem an odd choice for the DCU’s first outing with the Man of Steel. It deals with Superman, at the end of his life after too much sun exposure makes him terminally ill. With the limited time he has left, he tries to right as many of Earth’s wrongs as he can. These become “The Twelve Labors of Superman.” Morrison wanted to tell a “timeless” Superman story that wasn’t an origin story .
Though it deals with the end of Superman, it also gets to the heart of what it means to be Superman, and what Superman means to the world. Morrison is one of the writers who really gets the heart of the character, and more importantly, the team gets what humanity thinks of him. It’s not, as some films have focused on, that he’s an unknowable god, to be worshipped and feared. It’s more that he’s the best of Earth, doing the best he can for the most people. It’s a great place for the beacon of hope to be in Superman: Legacy in DCU Chapter 1.
All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely ran for 12 issues from 2005-2008 and is in one volume.
Batman by Grant Morrison Omnibus Vol. 1
Here’s the second Grant Morrison book on this list. Morrison had written the Dark Knight before, most famously in the one-off graphic novel Arkham Asylum in 1989. But in 2006, Morrison took over writing Batman full time, along with artist Andy Kubert. In these issues, Morrison pretty much reestablished and shifted the very lore of Batman. They introduced Damian Wayne, Bruce Wayne’s son with Talia al Ghul. Damian was raised as an assassin in the League of Shadows. After years of training other young people, as surrogate father and mentor, Batman has to contend with his own flesh and blood, who loves killing. It’s dark, but excellent.
Additionally, this first omnibus volume gave us the rebirth of Ra’s al Ghul, which seems reasonable, followed by an arc which “killed” Bruce Wayne seemingly for good. This led to material collected in the second omnibus, which Morrison wrote with artist Frank Quitely, where Dick Grayson had to take over as Batman and work with Damian’s Robin. That further led to Bruce’s rebirth and a franchising of the Batman IP to other big cities worldwide, collected in Morrison omnibus three. The image that Gunn shared along with the The Brave and the Bold announcement is actually from the second omnibus.
All three omnibuses are hefty tomes, best to start with one and go from there, but we imagine all of Grant’s vision for DC Comics will show up in the DCU in some way. Gunn and Morrison are friends and all.
The Authority Omnibus
This is a pretty interesting one, since it didn’t actually start as a DC Comics title. It was part of Jim Lee’s Wildstorm comics imprint at Image Comics. As with a lot of hero teams in the Image Comics days, the Authority were a harder-edged take on DC and Marvel-style heroes. These ones were specifically a Justice League-esque team of super-powered folks who took the law into their own hands. Two of them, Apollo and Midnighter, were in a committed gay relationship and mirrored, powers-wise, Superman and Batman. We wouldn’t have later dark superhero riffs like The Boys without the Authority.
This omnibus collects the whole of the team’s antics prior to DC acquiring Wildstorm and its characters. Writer Warren Ellis and artist Bryan Hitch wrote first appearance of the characters, while others like writers Mark Millar (Swamp Thing) and Tom Peyer (Legion of Super-Heroes) and artists Paul Neary (The Ultimates), Frank Quitely (Batman and Robin), and Dustin Nguyen (Detective Comics) wrote from there.
This contains The Authority #1-29, Planetary/The Authority: Ruling the World, Authority Annual 2000, Jenny Sparks: The Secret History of the Authority #1-5, stories from Wildstorm Summer Special and a story from Wildstorm: A Celebration of 25 Years. Unfortunately it’s no longer in print, but the smaller volumes still are.
The Saga of the Swamp Thing by Alan Moore and Various Artists
Batman and Superman have had hundreds of different interpretations from different writers and artists over the years. Even the Authority have had several different teams of creatives in their most important run. When it comes to Swamp Thing, no offense to other teams, but Alan Moore’s 44-issue tenure in the 1980s is the definitive take on the character. I have love for the original Len Wein/Bernie Wrightson series, but that was 10 issues with the pair together. Alan Moore not only made Swamp Thing his own, he redefined the character’s entire being, introduced a million wild concepts and characters, and made a genuinely moving Gothic romance in the process.
It’s no wonder Gunn and company will look to this run for the big screen Swamp Thing. Despite being beloved to comics fans, only the short-lived 2019 Swamp Thing DC Universe series took the time to approach any of the themes Moore gave the marshy monster man. This run is scary, horny, trippy, sad, and triumphant all at the same time. If anything, we’re mad it’s the last of the projects to come out.
DC has collected this run in several different permutations. The pictured one is volume one of the three volume Absolute hardback edition. It collects The Saga of the Swamp Thing #20-34 and Swamp Thing Annual #2 (Moore’s first 15 issues). Even if you only read this, you’ll get a great sense for the tone and heart the DCU’s Swamp Thing will convey.
And that’s a damn fine mix of comic books right there. Get to reading, people; we only have a couple of years before the DCU properly begins.
Kyle Anderson is the Senior Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Instagram and Letterboxd.