Okay, so I watched the Game of Thrones premiere, and it made me start thinking about how bad the DCEU has been. It’s easy to brush off a Marvel vs. DC comparison as a difference in editorial mindset or comic universe structure or fanboy grievances, but bringing in a nonrival comparison really highlights the problems.
I laughed a lot during tonight’s episode and only rarely was the laughter due to jokes, puns, or broad winks at the audience. There are only a couple of “zany” characters in Game of Thrones (at least relatively zany by the standard of the GoT universe) but their zaniness tends to be reserved and intermittent. Tyrion, Bronn and the Hound are the first three to come to mind. Their zaniness is just a small part of their character structure and only appears in brief moments, just a little more often than most characters. Unlike most zany characters, they have an off switch.
What the GoT writers (and the Marvel writers and the Firefly writers and the Sherlock writers and the Letterkenny writers and the Star Trek writers and the Star Wars writers and the Blossom writers and…) understand is that people as a whole are inherently funny. We don’t need to stand around pondering why chickens are crossing roads or debating Who is on first to be funny. Humans are funny even when they’re not trying to be funny. Think about the times you’ve been talking to someone and they say something completely seriously that is the most hilarious thing you’ve heard. It probably didn’t happen that long ago.
When we see non-joking humor, we start to believe in the characters more. We start to see ourselves in their shoes. We actually start to care about the characters. They start to become real because we instinctively know that real humans are funny and if that character on the screen is funny, they must be a real human like me.
This is why it’s so heartbreaking when one of these character gets killed off. Ned Stark getting the axe was like losing a member of the family. Walder Frey? That was just justice. If Superman died in a DCEU movie, it wouldn’t be that big of a hit. Oh that’s right, he did. But if you’re like me, the only emotion you felt about it was when you saw the reactions of others.
In comparison, think about how rough the ending of Avengers: Infinity War was. We didn’t need to think about how anyone on the screen felt about what was happening because it was happening to us. And it was happening to us because they got rid of some of the most human characters. Let’s face it, Groot is more human than Henry Cavill’s Superman could ever be. Yeah, Supes is an alien too, but looking like us should give him a leg up in the humanization department.
DC heroes have to bank on their history to get us to care. I care about DC characters because I have a long history with the characters before I walk into a theater. It’s easy for a writer to get lazy and rely on the pre-built care. Or even worse, intentionally try to destroy the pre-built care and goodwill just to be edgy.
All of this being said, at least they’ve turned a partial corner with Shazam. Someone around there realized that no matter what universe you’re in, taking a kid and turning them into the most powerful being on the planet (for those who only know the movies, one of Superman’s non-kryptonite weaknesses is magic) is going to result in funny things happening. Whether it’s the humor in the kid trying to figure out what he can do or taking some of what he can do and using it for entirely wrong reasons, you’ve got a lot of material to work with there.
So please, if by some strange twist of fate you’re writing the next big DC franchise tent pole movie and happen to stumble across this, please just watch good TV and movies and learn from them. Once you’ve done that, stand behind what you’ve done and fight anyone who tries to change it. Like literally fight them. Stab a marketing guy. Bludgeon a producer. Crane kick a director. Just be sure to get video if you do, ‘cause it’ll probably be funny.