The DC Universe Animated Original Movies line has been an important, yet underrated part of the superhero film landscape for close to fifteen years. In that time, it has adapted a handful of popular DC titles like The Dark Knight Returns, The Judas Contract, The Killing Joke, All-Star Superman, and Flashpoint.
However, there are a lot of memorable storylines from the comics that deserve to be adapted to film. With the live-action films picking and choosing their favorite parts of the characters, there isn’t much room leftover for faithful adaptations. That’s where the DC animated movies have always thrived, offering fans an almost page-to-screen recreation. So, Sailor and I have gone ahead and each picked five of our favorite comic runs or limited series from the DC archives.
Here are Ten DC Storylines That Should Receive Animated Adaptations.
10. Jeff Lemire‘s Animal Man (2011–2014)
One of, if not the, most well-remembered run from the New 52 (essentially DC’s massive continuity reboot), Jeff Lemire’s take on Animal Man was something special. Actually, special doesn’t cut it. This run is a miracle. Not only did it reinvent the character with a new and interesting take, it somehow equaled Grant Morrison’s run and Grant Morrison’s run is legendary. He used Animal Man as a conduit through which to explore the very nature of comic books. He had characters break the fourth wall constantly and even added himself in as the de facto God. If Animal Man is a comic book creation, wouldn’t the ultimate villain be the comic book artists themselves? He explored the boundaries of the comic book medium while also dealing with the real-world reality of the premise.
Why would a superhero who has a family he loves, fight crime every day? To break the fourth wall even further, the comic would then explore why Morrison would add that in the first place. Like most of Morrison’s work, it’s operating on its own wavelength and if you’re tuned to it, you’ll most likely consider it a masterpiece. Lemire pumps the breaks on all that and instead goes full throttle into Cronenberg territory. This is a family drama mixed with body horror with a splash of what-the-fuck psychedelia. Since I’m losing faith in DC’s animation department by the second, I don’t trust them to do this justice (I’d prefer a show like Invincible or even a live-action limited series), but since those seem unlikely, I’ll take what I can get.
9. Batman: The Three Jokers (2020)
The DC Black label has given readers a lot of great series since it was launched in 2018. Reminiscent of the Elseworlds label (which was recently announced to be coming back), DC Black series are non-can tales featuring some of the company’s most iconic characters. One of the first DC Black stories to pique my interest was The Three Jokers, a three issue limited series implying that there have actually been three Jokers making Batman’s life miserable since the very beginning.
The Golden Age Joker, dubbed “The Criminal,” was the first Joker to torment Batman. Then there was “The Clown,” the Silver Age Joker responsible for killing Jason Todd/Robin in A Death in the Family. Finally, there is the Bronze/Modern Age Joker, “The Comedian,” who famously shot and paralyzed Barbara Gordon/Batgirl in The Killing Joke.
So, as you can see, each Joker has a very personal relationship with a specific member of the Bat-Family, meaning that The Three Jokers follows Batman, Red Hood (Jason Todd), and Batgirl as they learn that the Joker has been three separate individuals this whole time. I personally had a blast reading this story, especially since you don’t see Batman, Batgirl, and Red Hood team-up very often. I’d love to see an R-rated animated film tackle this concept. I think it would turn out great.
8. Jack Kirby’s New Gods (1971–1972)
Since he made all the things everyone loves and because he is undeniably lovable, comic book fandom loves Stan Lee like he was all four of their grandparents rolled up into a single person. Since he was an ever-present figure in all of our lives, I understand the need to want to defend him or even actively ignore any blemishes on his legacy. I loved his MCU cameos, too. I get it but Stan Lee was a thief. He took credit for other artists’ work, period. One of those artists was Jack Kirby aka the real creator of the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Thor, the Hulk, Iron Man, and Black Panther. I know this isn’t the smoking gun to conclusively prove Lee’s thievery but all I’m saying is, once Kirby left Marvel for DC, Lee stopped creating characters, while Kirby was busy creating the New Gods. Taking all of his unused ideas for Thor and tweaking them slightly, Kirby created not just a new roster of characters, but an entire mythology. A mythology that includes Darkseid, the third-act baddie added to Zack Snyder’s Justice League. So to capitalize off of that film’s annoyingly diehard fanbase, DC should market this as a side story or prequel. You could inform that character, thus improving it for anyone who actually enjoys rewatching that, while also providing a deep Game of Thrones-level character drama that also has that series level of epic action.
7. Batman: White Knight (2017–2018)
The MurphyVerse, as it is unofficially known among the DC fandom, began with Batman: White Knight, an amazing eight-issue limited series written and illustrated by Sean Murphy. White Knight is set in a version of Gotham City where the Joker, having been “cured” thanks to an unknown medication, sets out to fix Gotham under his real name Jack Napier. Batman, however, is having none of this and believes the Joker is up to his old tricks.
There are some major departures from Batman lore throughout White Knight, most notable among the changes are Jason Todd being the first Robin instead of Dick Grayson and Victor Fries’ father being a Nazi. With two sequels — Curse of the White Knight and Beyond the White Knight — already released and at least one more on the way, the MurphyVerse is ripe for an animated adaptation (or two).
6. Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing (1984–1987)
Before he changed the comic industry forever with his seminal masterwork Watchmen, Alan Moore made a name for himself within the industry with the revitalization of the horror comic book The Swamp Thing. His deconstruction of the classic monster stretched the creative boundaries of the medium and became one of the most spectacular series in comic book history. He took a forgettable rip-off character and used him to tackle modern-day problems with stories about environmental, political, and social issues that also wasn’t afraid to get weird. If the timely themes were the medicine, the bizarre characters, environments, and situations were the sugar to help it go down. Moore wasn’t afraid to mix heady concepts with typical comic book villains of the week. In the same issue, Swamp Thing can wrestle with and ultimately accept the fact that he is not human and never was, while also contending with space aliens, underwater vampires, werewolves, madmen, demons and/or whatever Constantine or Batman are fighting this week. If DC didn’t have such an obsession with wringing every last cent out of the big three they put in every single movie, this should’ve been adapted at least twenty years ago.
5. Nightwing: The New Order (2017–2018)
For those who don’t know, Nightwing and Green Arrow are my favorite DC characters. While I’ve had plenty of Green Arrow content in recent years thanks to the Arrowverse television series, Arrow, DC has really been giving us nothing in terms of Nightwing. And by that, I mean that there haven’t been many standalone adventures for the character that I can pick up and not have to worry about the wider DC Universe implications.
Then came Nightwing: The New Order, a fantastic limited series set in an alternate reality where 90% of the world’s superpowers were taken away by Dick Grayson in 2028. Years later, super-powered individuals are now outlaws and Grayson is the face of the Crusaders, hunting down the remaining supers. It’s a very interesting development for the former Boy Wonder and one that I was absolutely thrilled to read. Oh, also, if you’re not already interested, The New Order includes the now-adult Teen Titans, who arguably have the most badass entrance of the whole comic. Seriously, this would make an excellent animated adaptation. If we’re not going to get Nightwing in a live-action film for another few years (at least), I got to see my favorite character headlining an animated film. Gunn, can you help me out?
4. Gail Simone’s Secret Six (2006–2011)
The Secret Six is the name of three different fictional comic book teams within the DC Universe that are all thinly veiled Suicide Squad knock-offs but the first one to stand apart from that other comic was its five-year run in the mid ’00s. Gail Simone took a ragtag group of assassins and domestic terrorists and turned them into a group of assassins and domestic terrorists – but this time, with character arcs and personalities! She replaced mercenaries with psychos with a death wish and by doing so, she made the book about a billion times more interesting. There’s something far more alluring about amoral or even straight-up evil supervillains teaming up to do some evil shit, than reading yet another story about mercs on a mission. While that change does tilt it closer to a Suicide Squad clone, it does enough things differently to separate it from that and every other book around that time. Even if you disagree and think it treads similar water, you have to agree that it wouldn’t once it became an animated DTV movie. Since most of them are about Batman, there’s a market open for one led by the villains.
3. Identity Crisis (2004)
DC has had two shared animated film universes — the DC Animated Movie Universe (DCAMU) and the Tomorrowverse — and neither one tackled Identity Crisis. And honestly, that is a shame because it’s a great story that really pulls back the curtain on how far the Justice League will go sometimes to keep themselves, and their loved ones, safe.
Released in 2004, the seven-issue limited series features the, at the time, current roster of the Justice League, which honestly was a great lineup, who have apparently been mind-wiping villains to forget their secret identities. There’s also a little murder mystery angle involving the murder of Sue Dibny. Identity Crisis would make a great addition to the DC animated film slate.
Or even better, with Gunn announcing that the DC Universe will encompass live-action and animation, why not adapt Identity Crisis into an animated (or live-action) film. With Superman: Legacy‘s casting confirming that the DCU will be a world where superheroes already exist, why not use Identity Crisis as the first film to feature these supes (Guy Gardner, Hawkgirl, Mister Terrific, etc.). The ball is in your court, Gunn.
2. Blue & Gold (2021–2022)
I’m not at all familiar with this series. It could be great or bad enough to be considered a war crime. It doesn’t matter. I’m not really picking it or any specific run of the characters. This was a randomly selected representative of the characters, not the comic book. Blue Beetle is a tech-savvy uber genius that fights crime with the help of the gadgets he’s invented and Booster Gold is a fame-hungry crime fighter from the future who’s traveled back in time to his past/our present to use his knowledge of future events and advanced doo dads to become a celebrity. Picture an ego-driven vigilante from our real-life reality, the kind you see in YouTube videos that look like fucking fools, going back in time to the 70s to try and convince that timeline that he’s a big deal in the future. He doesn’t try and make the world a better place or even attempt to prevent any major disasters with what he knows. He just wants to be famous enough to hang out with Robert Redford. He wants to be famous enough to slap a man on live TV and get away with it. That’s all he wants. Team him with Batman Jr (this time, he smiles!), create scenarios in which he has to choose to become an actual hero over risking his potential celebrity, and cast Nathan Dillion and Alan Tudyk in the roles and you got a movie I want to see yesterday.
1. Kingdom Come (1996)
Quite possibly the most iconic story to come out of DC’s Elseworlds imprint. Kingdom Come, written by Mark Waid and Alex Ross (who was also the artist on the series), is set in the near future, featuring an older Justice League and a newer, more reckless generation of heroes. It’s truly a battle of the ages.
It’s somewhat surprising that Kingdom Come has never been adapted, especially in animation, given its popularity. The closest we’ve come to seeing it on the screen is in the Arrowverse when it brought back former Man of Steel actor Brandon Routh to play a Kingdom Come-esque Superman.
Gunn has stated that he wants most DC media to be set in the DCU moving forward, meaning that the DC Universe Original Animated Movies banner may get shuttered after its projects currently in development are completed. If that is the case, and no just speculation on my part, I see no better way to end the DCUOAM line than with an adaptation of Kingdome Come. Let’s end on a high note!
What are some of your favorite DC storylines from throughout the years? Which ones would you like to see get adapted as a part of the DC Universe Original Animated Movie banner?