In this week’s PopCulteer we’re going to take a quick look at DC Universe, the new streaming service based on DC Comics that was in the news earlier this week.DC Universe is available on Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast and other streaming devices, as well as on the web and as of this week, Xbox.
A couple of days ago a bit of a non-story broke that caused rumors that DC Universe might be on the verge of shutting down, less than a year after its launch. Production on the first season of Swamp Thing, a new horror series based on the classic comic book by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightston, was curtailed, with the season being shortened from 13 to ten episodes, and with the tenth episode being hastily re-written to serve as a season finale. Swamp Thing is going to be the third live-action original series produced for DC Universe, and it debuts at the end of May.
While this made many people speculate that DC Universe might be on the chopping block, it’s actually par for the course. The first DC Universe live-action series, Titans, had at least one episode trimmed from its initial season, which led to a muddled and confusing season finale.
The reason given was “creative differences” between DC Universe and Warner Brothers Television, which is producing the show, but that seems a bit odd since both companies are part of Warner Media. More likely it had to do with bean counters realizing that when they sell the show into syndication overseas, for services like Netflix in Europe, they’ll get the same amount of money for ten episodes that they would for thirteen.
That doesn’t mean that DC Universe is not looking at ending, or at least changing significantly, but it’s just an unrelated story.
The truth is, last week Disney dropped a flaming pile of dog crap on the front porch of every company running, or getting ready to launch, a streaming entertainment service. They announced that Disney+ will cost $6.99 per month, or $69.99 a year.
This undercut the expected $9.99 price point, and is causing a lot of concern with other streaming services. Netflix is currently $12.99 per month, and soon they’ll be losing all their Disney, Marvel and Star Wars content to the new service, which costs just a little more than half as much. Add to that the newly-acquired content from their Fox purchase, and Disney+ looks like a bargain at that price, considering that they now own all the Disney classics, Marvel Comics’ TV and Movie properties, Star Wars, Planet of The Apes, Aliens, The Simpsons, Family Guy, Bob’s Burgers and thousands of other popular properties.
Warner Brothers/AT&T is preparing their own in-house streaming service, and now they have to deal with competing at a much lower price point. Warners owns DC Universe, and DC Universe costs $7.99 or $74.99 a year.
There is a lot of speculation that DC Universe will either be shut down, with all their content folded into the new Warners Streaming Service, or they may be kept alive as an add-on to the new Warners service for an extra dollar a month. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to keep the two services completely separate now that they have to face Disney+ at such a low price.
Reportedly, DC Universe now has around 700,000 subscribers, but there’s no telling how many of those are paid subscriptions. A lot of people received complimentary passes for the first year. If Warners decides to simply make DC Universe part of their new streaming service, then those few hundred thousand subscribers might give them a decent head start.
As for DC Universe, this post now shifts into being a review of that service. I’ve been watching since last December, and I’ve come to like much of it. Some of it, though, doesn’t work for me.
First, we have to look at the original series. So far we’ve had Titans, the animated Young Justice, and Doom Patrol. DC Universe doles these out in weekly doses, rather than dumping them all at once for folks who like to binge. That doesn’t bother me, but some people have been very vocal about how it irritates them.
It’s a smart business move. With a limited number of series in the pipeline, debuting one episode a week (or three, in the case of Young Justice), is a way of having fresh content, more often. Had they just dumped the shows all at once, there would have been gaps of a month or two between new shows, and it’d be easy for people to forget they had the service.
This is a very dark, grim and gritty take on the classic Marv Wolfman/George Perez version of DC’s Teen Titans, with elements of other takes on the characters mixed in. It’s not terribly faithful to the comics, but it is recognizable. It’s a super team comprised partly of sidekicks to the major DC superheroes.
Freed from having “Teen” in the title, the producers took some liberties, having characters who are roughly the same age in the comics be anywhere from 14 to well into their thirties here. This makes for a stronger take on the stories, which are presented in an ultra-violent manner, with so much strong language that, at times, you might think that they have a quota they have to meet, with a minimum amount of gratuitous f-bombs sprinkled throughout the show.
It’s really weird hearing Robin cuss.
I’m not exactly a prude. This is the first time I can recall watching a movie or TV show that struck me as having too many curse words. The problem with f-bombs is, if they’re overused, they lose all their shock value and effectiveness.
Aside from that quibble, and the season finale, which was a mess, Titans is a decent action show with superheroes. The characters are nothing like their comic book counterparts, and there are a couple of highly-questionable wardrobe choices, but if you forget that you ever read the comic books, then it’s a good, adult, superhero melodrama.
This is the real gem on DC Universe–the reason many people signed up for the service. Young Justice: Outsiders is season three of the spectacular animated series, Young Justice, which ran on Cartoon Network for two seasons from 2010-2012.
Young Justice was basically a new take on The Teen Titans, this time presented as a junior version of The Justice League. Under the creative direction of Greg Weisman, the series was just an excellent rendition of the struggles of younger superheroes as they mature and step out from behind the protection of their mentors.
On DC Universe, the show is able to shed some of the restrictions of being a children’s program, but they do it in a tasteful way, without the overkill of Titans. The new series puts a bit of a spin on the adventures, as they retell a bit of the storyline that, in the comics of the 1980s, set up Batman and The Outsiders as a team of superheroes who work outside of the Justice League’s political constraints.
Along the way there’s a healthy mix of Jack Kirby’s concepts, too.
This is easily the best thing on DC Universe, and it’ll be great when it returns with new episodes in June.
I have mixed feelings about this show. I love the original Doom Patrol comics. I also really enjoyed later versions of the team, as written by Paul Kupperberg and Grant Morrison.
I would have liked to see a straight adaptation of the original concept before they introduced all the later developments. Having said that, I think the producers are making it work, for the most part. The show is consistantly entertaining and certainly isn’t hamstrung by being faithful to the comics. They largely ignored most of the original comics of the 1960s, and jumped right into things with the super-bizarre reboot that Grant Morrison wrote in the 1990s.
It’s still a great show. I have a few quibbles. There’s a huge continuity error in the first episode, where one character is shown to have been living in “Doom Manor” for over twenty years, but when another character suddenly returns after having been gone a short time, he doesn’t recognize her, while all the other characters do.
I also have a serious dislike for the way they completely changed Negative Man’s characterization from their pilot appearance in an episode of Titans. In that episode he’s shown as a happy eccentric, cooking gourmet meals while jamming to AC/DC. In the Doom Patrol series, he’s a self-loathing once-closeted gay man who carried on an affair with his boyfriend behind his wife’s back. He’s moody and mopey and depressing. If he does cook, he probably does it while he listens to the Smiths.
As with Titans, there are also a lot of unnecesary f-bombs, like they had a quota. At least here, they’re funny.
The cast includes some big names. Matt Bomer provides the voice for Negative Man, and I can’t help but wonder if they just gayed up the character because the actor is openly gay. Brandon Fraser provides the voice for Robotman. Both actors appear as their characters in flashbacks to before their disfiguring accidents. We didn’t really need to see Brandon Fraser’s butt in that sex scene.
Timothy Dalton was cast as “The Chief,” Niles Caulder, for the series, which was a major upgrade from the guy who portrayed Caulder in the pilot (which. again, was an episode of Titans).
The performances are great, and the writers are clearly having loads of fun trying to translate Morrison’s Dadaistic concepts into film. Despite my misgivings, this one’s a winner.
The Rest of DC Universe
Any service that has Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League/Justice League Unlimited is off to a fantastic start. When you add classic TV like Wonder Woman, Shazam, The Adventures of Superman and the original Flash TV show to the mix, you have a pretty damned good selling point. With Swamp Thing coming soon, DC fans have a lot to enjoy in terms of television.
DC Universe also offers some movies, but they have a bad habit of rotating content off the channel. They have had all the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, but those are off at the moment. They also have tons of the animated DC movies that have been coming out for years, but they seem to come and go in a pretty haphazard manner.
There’s no real excuse for this. It’s not like AT&T can’t afford the server space to keep these shows online. They want to compete with Netflix, but they don’t want to maintain a catalong of more than a couple hundred movies and TV shows. It doesn’t make any sense.
There are a couple of notable omissions in their library, too. They don’t have, and may never be able to show, the 1960s Batman TV Show. I can only imagine how much more complicated the streaming rights to that show became when Disney bought Fox, who hold some piece of it. They also don’t have Smallville, which was an excellent program. They may have had it at one time, but it’s not there now.
They did just recently add the first season of Krypton, just in time to catch up before the second season starts on SyFy. And they remastered the Shazam series from the 1970s, so it looks better than it did on the DVD release that came out a few years back. It’s just a shame that they aren’t leaving all their movies and TV shows up for at least a year.
There is also another selling point for DC Universe, which is a big deal for folks who, unlike me, enjoy reading their comic books online. DC Universe is in the process of adding their entire library of individual issues of comics books to the service. These are all the books that were previously available through Comixology. Annoyingly, DC Universe mixes their comics in with their video content, as you can see above. It makes for a less-than-enjoyable scrolling experience when you’re only in the mood for one or the other.
I don’t read comics online. I work in front of a computer all day, and I read comics to get away from that. I also don’t own a tablet. Up until I started getting treatment for Myasthenia Gravis about three years ago, I couldn’t operate a touch screen, so there was never any pressing need for a tablet in my house. The comics available through DC Universe have made me consider getting a tablet, but until that happens, it’s an entire area of the service that I don’t use.
If you are into digital comics, be advised that they won’t add comics until a year after they’ve been published, and there are huge gaps in their Golden, Silver and Bronze Age libraries, with most of the comics that they offer being from the past twenty years, which for me, is a pretty depressing prospect, since that’s when I quit buying most DC Comics because they lost my interest.
Keep in mind here, that I’m hardly in the key demographic for DC Universe, so don’t let my grumpy old man attitude turn you off the idea of subscribing.
There are other informational videos you can watch on DC Universe. So far, I haven’t found one that has anything in it that I didn’t already know, but then, I’ve been reading comics for fifty years. The DC Universe website offers sweepstakes, news articles and a webstore, as an adjunct to the service, too. While fun, none of those are deal-makers or breakers.
There is one other feature on DC Universe that I need to address: DC Daily. This is a five-day-a-week series that provides daily video content for the service, and it’s basically an informercial for all things DC.
Originally it started out with one anchor, shouting news items excitedly at the camera like they were a “YouTube Influencer” on crack. That segment would be posted to YouTube, but on the DC Universe service after that, they would go to a panel discussion, on a fancy set with four-to-eight people sitting on couch, arguing about what they love best about DC Comics, movies or TV shows.This show is largely hype for whatever movies, TV Show or comics are just coming out, or long pointless reviews of things that can be seen elsewhere on DC Universe.
The couch panelists are irritating hyper-hype-bots who lavish praise on whatever they discuss. They actually run a disclaimer at the beginning of the panel saying that “The opinions expressed are the views of the panelists, and not that of DC Universe.” This is hilarious because the opinions tend to range from “I think this new issue of Batman is the best thing in the world” to “I think this new issue of Superman cured my psoraisis.” At least the set looks cool (as seen below).
The news segments sometimes included some useful information, and then, when the panel started, you could just bail and spare yourself the aggravation. It seems like, for the past few weeks anyway, they have eliminated the news segments, and just go straight to the panel.
I think that indicates that DC Daily may not be long for this world. It would be a bean-counter-induced mercy killing. Again, this may be me bitching from outside the key demographic, but I don’t really need to hear people who weren’t born yet when I was a comic book editor yammering endessly about how absolutely wonderful a comic book I chose not to order is better than the ones that I still I cherish in my collection.
I’ve called the show “an infomerical,” but that isn’t really fair to infomercials. At least I can watch those for more than a minute or two. (Longer if it’s the one with the Super Air Fryer Oven)
I can’t imagine DC Universe keeping that many people on the payroll to staff a daily show that I would imagine most subscribers watch for less than a minute, if at all. They maybe need to revamp the show, get rid of the panel discussions, get rid of the panelists, and find one or two credible anchors who can talk about comics without sounding like blithering idiots. They need a comic book version of Kurt Loder.
Lately, DC Daily has disappeared from the home page of DC Universe on my Roku. It’s still there, with new episodes, but you have to search for it.Not a good sign for its logenvity.
In the end, is DC Universe worth it?
It all depends. If you absolutely love DC Comics and have for your entire life, absolutely. It’s a bargain to have all the animated series in one place, and if you read comics on a tablet, you should be in hog heaven.
If you’re a casual fan, probably not. When you’re weighing your options later this year, eight bucks a month for DC Universe vs. seven bucks a month for Disney Plus, which includes Star Wars, Marvel and Fox properties, might seem like a no-brainer to go with the less expensive service that has five or six animated Marvel series in the pipeline already.
For me…I’ll probably re-up, but I’d like see them make some changes.
That’s this week’s PopCulteer. Check back for our regular features.