A Look Back at DC Universe: Year One

How I Spent the Past Year

A Look Back at DC Universe: Year One

Happy Batman Day! In honor of this occasion, I thought it would be fitting to look back at the first year of the DC Universe streaming service. Below, I have written down the shows, movies, and comics that I experienced through DC Universe. Though I did not quite get everything down, this whole reflection goes to show just how much content there is to explore on the service.

DC Daily celebrating Halloween. (Credit: DC Universe)

Newer Shows

First off, DC Universe has a show called DC Daily, a show about DC news presented by and talked about by Tiffany Smith, John Barrowman, Samm Levine, Harley Quinn Smith, Whitney Moore, Sam Humphries, Hector Navarro, Clarke Wolfe, Brian Tong, Markeia McCarty, and John Korounis. Their news is not just about the streaming service but about all facets of DC, even if it has to do with shows not on the streaming service. They do discussions on episodes of DC Universe's exclusive shows, as certain movies and comic book stories. As a pun enthusiast, I appreciate their pun game.

The first new live-action superhero show to premiere on DC Universe was Titans. People were very skeptical about this show based on the trailer and its visual aesthetics, but it turned out to be better than people expected it to be. To me, it seemed like an odd choice to start with this show first rather than with Young Justice: Outsiders, which was a main draw for lots of people upset about the original show's cancellation. But in hindsight, it was good to start with Titans since what came after upped the ante in terms of quality. For me, the biggest standout episodes from the first season were "Doom Patrol," "Jason Todd," and "Dick Grayson." In "Doom Patrol," we got a bit of an introduction to the characters who would appear on the Doom Patrol TV show (albeit with little differences in portrayals). In "Jason Todd," I loved seeing how enthusiastic Jason was about being Robin. And "Dick Grayson" was pretty gripping even though the events were part of an illusion. With the season 2 premiere, we have seen the events resolved in "Trigon," which made a bold choice with how Trigon was depicted. Within the first year, we also got the next episode, "Rose," which continues to set up Deathstroke's impending encounter with the current Titans. We still have yet to see Superboy and Krypto this season, and I'm very eager to see how they're utilized.

Speaking of Doom Patrol, this became my favorite live-action DC show. I love how it embraces the weirdness of the comics, even depicting such characters as Danny the Street, Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man, and the hilarious yet threatening fourth-wall-breaking Mr. Nobody (Alan Tudkyk). There's a lot to unpack from each of the main characters. It feels like there is something for everyone as the show touches upon such subjects as disabilities, sexuality, and trauma. The show gets deep, but it's not afraid to have fun. Other live-action DC properties could look to Doom Patrol as an example. Needless to say, I'm glad that there's a second season coming.

The next live-action show that we got was the horror mystery series Swamp Thing. It doesn't embrace the weirdness of the comics as much as Doom Patrol does, but it was well-acted and did a great adaptation of "The Anatomy Lesson" from Alan Moore's run. The cliffhanger showed that there was potential for the show to become something more. Its cancellation after just one episode (for reasons that are still unclear, as far as I can tell) is the only real sour spot when it comes to DC Universe's originals. And as good as the show was, it boggles my mind that its cancellation is the reason that some decided to unsubscribe to DC Universe when there's still so much content to take advantage of on the service.

On the topic of cancellations, Young Justice is an animated series that aired on Cartoon Network for two seasons from 2010 to 2013. When the network took it off the air, fans campaigned to bring it back. When people like Greg Weisman suggested streaming repeatedly, fans such as myself kept playing those two seasons on Netflix. And eventually, we got the third season Young Justice: Outsiders on DC Universe. It is a very strong continuation from where the show left up, and it has grown up a bit with its audience. Such characters as Terra, Geo-Force, Forager, Cyborg, and Halo were integrated into the show, and familiar characters like Garfield Logan (played once again by Greg Cipes of Teen Titans) continued to get development. The airing history of this third season changed up. In January, a few episodes were released at a time each week, but from July to August, some of the episodes were released one at a time. I prefer the schedule of the first half. But overall, we got a great third season that leaves threads to be picked up in season 4.

(Credit: DC Universe)

Older Shows

When DC Universe launched on September 15, 2018, it was a few weeks away from Titans premiering. Luckily, it had a catalog of archival releases. Seeing as how that month marked the 25th anniversary of the four-seaon live-action show Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, I figured it was a good place to start. Years earlier, I had watched Smallville and found its ten seasons to be repetitive. But I found all four seasons of Lois & Clark to be well-paced and full of romantic comedy charm that did not feel out of place. I studied Literary Journalism in college, so maybe that's why I was so mesmerized by the Daily Planet aspect of the show. Lois and Clark's relationship feels compelling, and it really does go somewhere.

Once I finished that show, I decided to go a little bit further back in time. For its 30th anniversary, I started watching the live-action show Superboy on October 8, 1988. This four-season show (which, like Lois & Clark, was cancelled without a proper conclusion) was super weird. The first season is full of electric guitar cheesiness and goofy moments as Clark Kent attends college. It's so weird seeing Lex Luthor as a spoiled rich brat with not much personality until he loses his temper at the end of the season. The change of Clark Kent actors wasn't jarring, but for season 2, Lex Luthor gets surgery to make himself look like a certain middle-aged man in charge of a corporation. And then for season 3, the college premise goes away in favor of Clark Kent and Lana Lang (who is pretty consistent throughout the show) working at the Bureau for Extra-Normal Matters. The show does improve with each season (Bizarro being a highlight), but it's still very goofy and weird in some places. I definitely prefer Lois & Clark, and even Smallville.

For its 10th anniversary, I started watching Batman: The Brave and the Bold on November 14, 2018. This is an animated series that I did not get into when it was airing. It came out a few months after The Dark Knight, and it was a time when I thought that Batman could only ever be serious. Clearly, I have changed over the years, because I really enjoyed this love letter to the Silver Age of Comics. I'd even say that this show is second to Batman: The Animated Series because it's not trying to achieve what that show tries to achieve, but rather embracing campiness while still keeping Batman himself serious. And despite campiness, the show still had poignant moments. The flashback to Thomas and Martha Wayne's deaths in the Christmas episode had me tearing up even though we only hear the gunshots and Bruce's reaction after they enter the alley. And I was surprised by how emotionally moved I was by the last scene of this series, which really gets into the heart of what Batman means to people. So this show gets a high recommendation from me.

After that, there were other older shows I considered trying out for the first time, or even rewatching. I watched holiday episodes that were featured on the site on Christmas Day. I did manage to rewatch the first two seasons of Young Justice to prepare for the new season, and I loved the episodes as always. It was fun experiencing them this time around with the tie-in comics in between. It was sometimes hard to dive into another show because other stuff got in the way. But on February 7, 2019, I did manage to dive into the Aquaman TV pilot from 2007. Honestly, I don't think the world missed anything by not having this become a TV show. It is very cheesy and dated.

I didn't really delve into another full show until about early April, when I marathoned the 1974 Shazam! live-action TV series. I appreciate the work that went into remastering this show, but it can be tough to get into. It's a very cliche moral of the day type of show, though every once in a while there are deep themes that it touches upon. This show might only be mildly interesting to those who want to examine it from a historical perspective. For me, it was an eye-opener seeing how bland the portrayal of Captain Marvel was in the years before he was reinvented in such a way where his kid personality still remains intact in his adult form. Here, Billy Batson and Captain Marvel are treated as two different people in a sort of benevolent Jekyll and Hyde fashion as he and his guardian Mentor travel on the road. (I actually think The Incredible Hulk was the better made show in this vein of this era.) So perhaps one could check it out for historical context, but don't expect to be amazed.

(Credit: DC Universe)

Older Movies

DC Universe has made it convenient for me to catch up on all of the animated movies I had missed over the years. With the DC Universe launch date being Batman Day, I decided to watch Batman: Gotham by Gaslight. Elseworlds' stories can be hit and miss for me. And this is one where the concept of Victorian period Gotham was interesting, but the reveal of Jack the Ripper's identity didn't work for me. Batman Ninja, which I watched in November, was another dud. The idea of an anime-style Batman story involving ninjitsu sounds intriguing, but the execution felt like ridiculously bad fanfiction. (Bear in mind that there actually is good fanfiction, but this was not that.) It seemed way too convenient for the Batman, his allies, and his enemies to all be sent back in time to feudal Japan. And there's even a mech moment that feels so deus ex machina. If there's ever another anime style Batman project, I just hope that it's actually good.

October 21 was Day of Wonder, so I watched the 2009 animated film Wonder Woman. People who loved the 2017 film will probably enjoy this one as well. The plot is pretty similar and functions as an origin story, but it takes place in modern times. It does double down on sexist attitudes, which I know might be off-putting to some. But it really got me in the feels hearing a little girl in the movie say, "Look, it's Wonder Woman!" and just knowing how much it means to her to see a heroic female role model. So I would consider this a must-watch, and we really do need more animated Wonder Woman films.

On the Superman front, I watched Superman: Doomsday in October, but I'll get to that later. In December, I celebrated the 40th anniversary of the 1978 Superman film starring Christopher Reeves by rewatching all four films that featured him. I enjoy the first three, but Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is so bad. Even worse than the Supergirl movie, which I watched for the first time during that period.

In January, I watched more animated Superman-related movies I hadn't seen. All-Star Superman was good, but not great. I haven't read the comics it's based on, but it felt like there was a sequence that felt sudden and too quick within the context of the movie. Superman/Batman: Public Enemies had witty banter between the title characters that cracked me up. The sequel, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, was actually more of a Supergirl movie. She gets a good arc, but the other heroes of the Justice League don't get utilized well enough. When it comes to Superman vs. The Elite, I wasn't very satisfied by the deus ex machina ending. Before watching Superman Unbound, I did read the "Brainiac" arc it's based on. While I enjoyed the film, I missed how Terminator-esque Brainiac's robots looked in the comics. In the film, they look too squeaky-clean. And the absence of Jonathan Kent is another change I didn't like.

I also checked out DC Showcase, a collection of animated shorts that each highlight a different hero or two. On DC Universe, these were packed under the title Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam, making it a bit confusing. This short in particular depicted the optimism of Billy Batson very well and showed a great team up between him and Superman. Then there was a noir piece, the 1970s-set "The Spectre." I loved the commitment to the genre, right down to the inclusion of white lines in picture as if it was a film being projected. Then there's Green Arrow, which is very action-packed. And the western Jonah Hex subverted my expectations regarding the villain in a way that worked. I think it'd be great to have more anthology releases like this to showcase the various settings and genres of DC.

In June, I rewatched Tim Burton's Batman and its three sequels for its 30th anniversary. I found myself appreciating the 1989 film more this time around, though Batman Returns is still my favorite of these four. Batman Forever and Batman & Robin still feel like they had very questionable choices. But what more can one say about them?

Newer Movies

Whenever a new DC animated film comes out, it does not make its way to DC Universe on the digital release date as one might expect. One would have to wait a couple of weeks for the release date of the physical copy. I'm not sure why that is, but it's not too long of a wait. When DC Universe launched, The Death of Superman was available pretty much right away. However, I wanted to wait until I was able to watch it back to back with Reign of the Supermen in January. In the meantime, I watched Superman: Doomsday. It was a more truncated adaptation of the comic book storyline, but it was still emotional. So I had some time to live with that in my mind before I was blown away by the DC Animated Movie Universe's take on the story. As surprising as it may be to hear, The Death of Superman and Reign of the Supermen are my favorite Superman movies hands down. They handled the title character, his successors, and the Justice League very well. People working on the live-action movies should take notes while watching these.

The next DC animated film, Justice League vs. the Fatal Five, was one that is not in the DCAMU. It may, howver, be set in the DC Animated Universe that began with Batman: The Animated Series and continued up to Justice League: Unlimited (in release order). There's actually a "Maybe it is, maybe it isn't" approach when it comes to whether or not it's set in that universe, and it really annoys me that there is no concrete answer. If it were a return to that universe, it's a bit of an underwhelming one. I like that the film touches upon mental health, but the movie felt average to me. More like a long episode than something that warranted a movie.

Batman: Hush, however, is set in the DCAMU, after the aforementioned Superman movies. Released in July and then available on DC Universe in August, this is a rather divisive movie. Some fans did not like the liberties taken with how Hush is depicted. Speaking as someone who saw Hush as somewhat of a discount Two-Face and felt that the ending of the comic book storyline was a bit convoluted, I actually appreciated the surprise and how the ending was streamlined. For me, this film was excellent and transcends the source material.

And as far as specials go, DC Universe released DC Spotlight: Aquaman and DC Spotlight: Shazam! Both of these were released to capitalize on the success of the two most recent DCEU films, and they provide comprehensive histories of the characters as they changed over time in comics and various media. I really appreciate documentaries like these.

Comics

I wasn't quite sure where to begin when it came to reading the comics that were available on DC Universe. My reading habits ended up being somewhat guided by what new shows were coming out. In preparation for Titans, I read the first 22 issues of the 1960s Teen Titans comic series, which were very lackluster to me for the most part. But when I got to Marv Wolfman's The New Teen Titans, I found my jam. Cyborg ended up becoming my favorite character of that comic series because I got to see how he struggled. As of now, I have read every Marv Wolfman issue pertaining to the Titans up to The New Titans #80. So within a year, I went through 12 years of Marv Wolfman's run, and I intend to finish. I've also checked out the first nine issues of the 1999 series The Titans, as well as Young Justice up to #14 (reaching the Day of Judgment issues of both). I might come back to these at some point, but they feel lighter in tone than Marv Wolfman's stuff.

The Doom Patrol TV show made me want to check out the comics. I alternated between the 1960s stuff originated by Arnold Drake and the 1980s stuff. I ended up finishing the 1960s series. And as far as the 1987 series, I got to Doom Patrol #79 and have eight more issues to read in order to finish this series. The Grant Morrison run was phenomenal, but what came after felt like it was trying too hard to be weird. Something was missing. But I do intend to finish this series, as well as check out subsequent Doom Patrol comics.

When the Shazam! movie came out, I felt the need to read the character. Superman/Shazam!: First Thunder has one of the best moments between the two heroes. Shazam!: The New Beginning is a good origin story, and The Power of Shazam #1-35 brought me deeper into the mythology of the character. And in regards to Superman stories, the oldest comics I've read on DC Universe (and probably in general) are Action Comics #1-10, which I found to be a little underwhelming. I believe DC Universe is also where I read Action Comics #1000.

I ended up loving much of the art for the Swamp Thing comics I read. I got through the 1972 series, which included great elements of fantasy and sci-fi. Some of the later issues of this series were lacking color, and I wish that DC Universe had access to the original colored versions. But I'm glad that I got so used to this series so that I could get surprised by the twist in "The Anatomy Lesson" of Grant Morrison's run. As far as the 1982 comic series goes, I've gotten up to Swamp Thing #116. So I still have around 50 issues to read in order to finish, but I love all the supernatural places that the series has gone.

With the Harley Quinn TV show coming up, I expect that I may end up reading more of her. So far, I've read up to Harley Quinn #6 in her New 52 series. But when it came to exploring New 52, I started with Batman Eternal around the time that DC Universe launched. Later, as more became available, I went back and read Snyder and Capullo's New 52 Batman series from the beginning. The last issue I read was #40, the end of the "Endgame" arc. I've consistently loved the art of this series, but the stories themselves have had their ups and downs. The Owls storyline was epic, and "Zero Year" was a great reworking of Batman's early career. But stories involving the Joker like "Death of the Family" and "Endgame" have so much build-up with so little payoff. These stories tried to reveal more about the Joker, but were unsuccessful in my eyes.

Other New 52 titles I read include Aquaman #1-4 and Justice League #1-12. Both were pretty cool modernized origins, and I'm not quite sure what all the complaints have been for so far. I also checked out other Bat Family-related titles within New 52. Having gained a newfound appreciation for Dick Grayson, I read Nightwing #1-15 because that was all that was available of that series on DC Universe at the time. In addition, I read Batman & Robin #1-14. I didn't really like Damian Wayne at first, but he became a better character and grew on me. I jumped over to Batman Incorporated, but it was tough for me to get into because of the art and the implied date rape that Talia tried on Bruce. So I only ended up reading issues 1, 2, 8, and 9. For Batgirl, I've gotten up to #40 so far. I've loved much of this series, but the Burnside arc had more "kiddie" art and made so many social media references in an attempt to appeal to younger people. I will say, though, that the ending was brilliant despite what led up to it. And I saw a bit more of Batgirl in the first nine issues of New 52's Birds of Prey. I also saw her as Oracle in a few miniseries from the 1990s by Chuck Dixon. They're all good, but don't capture my interest as much as other titles.

My appreciation for Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson as characters led me to other neat places. Nightwing Annual #2 from 2007 was an emotional look at their relationship. I also really enjoyed seeing modern interpretations of their beginnings in Batgirl: Year One and Robin: Year One. The latter turned out to be good for reading after Batman: The Long Halloween sequel Batman: Dark Victory, which I ended up loving almost as much as its predecessor.

And, of course, with Batman being my favorite superhero, I read some of his classic storylines for the first time. I read several issues of Batman that introduced and included Jason Todd prior to his fate in "A Death in the Family," the political angle of which I found to be weird. I also read the introduction of Tim Drake. The saga consisting of "Knightfall," KnightQuest," and "KnightsEnd" was a big moment in the history of Batman, but it ultimately felt gimmicky to me. I didn't really like that Bruce Wayne would choose a stranger like Jean-Paul Valley to be his successor. And "No Man's Land," while epic on paper, felt to me like it dragged on for a while. But it did end with a bang (quite literally).

I've read other issues here and there from different series, but I think you get the overall idea of my DC Universe journey. The library is expansive and has grown over the past year. I remember when the service started, people here and there were complaining about there not being any good comics. For someone like me who hadn't read the majority of what was on there, I had a lot to discover, and I feel like I got more hits than misses. So with the library being so big now, I wouldn't quite understand such criticisms.

Looking Forward to Year Two

There is so much content on DC Universe that I thought I'd get to within the first year. As long as this service is here to stay, I am excited to go through more archival stuff. And, of course, I am excited for the upcoming new releases. DC Universe has done a great job showing the breadth and scope of DC, as it should.

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Steven Shinder

Author of fantasy horror comedy novel Lemons Loom Like Rain, which is available on Amazon. You can also read excerpts at stevenshinder.com and check out facebook.com/StevenShinderStorytelling as I share writing-related topics of discussion.

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