from the great-idea,-sadly-not-gonna-happen dept
Let me start by saying it's obvious that this isn't going to happen. Nevertheless, let's consider the idea: should DC put its flagship superheroes in the public domain? Alex Schmidt over at Cracked (the comedy site that has caught our attention with its understanding of these kinds of topics before) makes the compelling case that they should in a new video that's worth watching:
The crux of the argument is that these iconic characters currently appear to be in a bit of a death spiral. Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman met with a mixed-at-best response from fans and critics, and while both made good money in the big picture, they also showed some worrying signs — like failing to catch up to Marvel's superhero movies (which was the whole point) and breaking records of audience drop-off between the much-hyped opening night and the following week (when word begins to get around that the movie sucks). Schmidt is not the first to attribute this to the creators' disdain for the characters: Zack Snyder has openly expressed his lack of real interest in Batman and Superman, and made it clear that he doesn't really understand their appeal. Writer David Goyer has made similar comments. And the same people are already hard at work on the follow-up Justice League films, which seem unlikely to break the pattern of mediocrity.
So, the proposal goes, DC needs to do something drastic to revive the franchise, and the most drastic and positive thing they could do would be to put the characters into the public domain (where they were supposed to be as of a few years ago, were it not for the infamous Mickey Mouse copyright extension). Opening up the characters to other creators would result in a huge variety of new work involving them, and still wouldn't stop DC from working their own massive film franchise, especially by making use of all the later storylines and details about the characters that would still be under copyright.
Of course, there are a few problems with Schmidt's argument. He points to other big public domain characters like Robin Hood, Dracula and Sherlock Holmes, and cites Holmes especially as an example of a character who has been revived to massive popularity through adaptations by other creators. But that example is flawed, because Holmes only recently entered the public domain (mostly), and both the Robert Downey Jr. movies and the insanely popular BBC series actually did license Holmes from the Doyle estate. DC has even felt some of this pain itself — the video points to the League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics as a prime example of new creators using public domain characters, but those comics actually did face various release issues due to the questionable copyright status of Victorian-era characters including Holmes. Robin Hood and Dracula are both excellent examples though, and they chart a course for the direction Holmes is likely to go now that the estate's control has been eroded.
Now, as I said at the outset, this obviously isn't going to happen — it flies directly in the face of the copyright orthodoxy that rules Hollywood and so much of our culture. We can instead settle in for several more years of middling cash-grab films that irritate existing fans of the characters and fail to create new ones. But it's great to see a site like Cracked — a pillar of the fandom communities that fawn over these beloved superheroes and lend a serious critical eye to every execution of them — recognize that loosening the reins would be a much, much better idea.