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When philosopher William James first coined the term “multiverse” in 1895, he didn’t actually mean “multiple universes.” He was trying to describe how confusing the universe we actually live in felt. But the more DC and Marvel press on into the parallel universes of their respective projects, the more this original definition feels accurate.
Take DC’s latest upcoming series, Peacemaker, premiering on HBO Max on Jan. 13. The show’s newest trailer look at the show’s action, tone, and John Cena’s general enthusiasm in being a guy who very much wants to be the guy.
There’s one reference to Wonder Woman early on, when Peacemaker describes how she “eye-effed” him across the room during a party. But while the exchange clarifies that Wonder Woman does indeed exist in this universe, the nature of the conversation makes it seem that Peacemaker is, at the very best, exaggerating the truth. Wonder Woman probably doesn’t know a “Peacemaker.”
Peacemaker is but one of DC’s offerings this year, and many of them not only take place in different universes — rather than the last few years, where every DC cinematic story was set in the Snyderverse/DC Extended Universe — but completely different styles. Peacemaker seems to resemble Eastbound and Down more than even the Suicide Squad movies spun off from Batman v Superman and Justice League. Because of pre-existing deals, The CW’s “Arrowverse” side of DC storytelling will also expand in 2022, first with the January premiere of Naomi, from Ava DuVernay. The filmmaker is also behind the HBO Max adaptation DMZ, due later this year. Oh, and HBO max is getting a new Batman series from the creator of Batman: The Animated Series, which as mentioned at the 2021 FanDome, won’t be set in any familiar continuity.
Then there are the movies, which come back in full force in 2022. In March, there’s The Batman, which started off as directly embedded within the DCEU with Ben Affleck but now seems unrelated. And then there’s the May release of DC League of Super Pets, which gives Dwayne Johnson the chance to voice Krypto the dog, and for DC to tell stories in an entirely different mode. (And in direct-to-video land, the DC Animation pipeline is still flowing, with the anime-inspired Catwoman: Hunted arriving in February.)
Of course, there’s still a “main” DCEU, one where Johnson will be playing Black Adam and Affleck will make his seemingly last appearance as Batman in the Flashpoint-adapting, Michael Keaton-co-starring November blockbuster, The Flash. Jason Momoa will also return at the end of the year in December’s Aquaman and the Last Kingdom.
But perhaps partially because of planning, and partially because of the unexpected, the state of the DCEU is much more fluid than Marvel’s famed Cinematic Universe, which now encompasses both films and Disney Plus TV series. When Suicide Squad came out in 2016, and Justice League the year after, it was unlikely that Warner Bros. imagined they would be releasing films with very similar names to each within five years.
Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, from which Peacemaker was spawned, was given the “standalone sequel” branding, meaning that while yes, there was some character crossover, watching the first movie was essentially irrelevant to the action here. And while Joss Whedon and Zack Snyder’s Justice League both share the same characters, the differences between them are night and day.
As turbulent as the DCEU has been with its reboot and recuts, the experience seems to have given executives a valuable lesson: trust the mood and tone of a specific character rather than the intricacies of a greater universe. Spider-Man: No Way Home and Hawkeye are both filled with references to their shared universe, including a musical homage to Captain America. While The Suicide Squad has references to it’s comic origins, the detail-oriented world-building of the MCU doesn’t seem to fit into what DC is ultimately building. Which in the case of 2022, seems to boil down to “everything.”
It’s a difference that very well could be for the best. Back in the 20th century, when comics were primarily where shared superhero universes were built, audiences weren’t drawn to the “Big Two,” as they were called, because they were the same thing just with different costumes. There were clear differences to the style and substance of DC and Marvel, and those differences appear to be emerging all over again.