Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Joker was supposed to launch its own cinematic universe of downer comic book origin stories

Photo: Niko Tavernise (Warner Bros.)

The desire to have a neatly labeled cinematic universe is one that’s both perfectly understandable, and ultimately fraught with peril. For every successful MCU, after all, there are any number of aborted Dark Universes, or whatever we ended up calling the largely discarded husk of continuity that Warner Bros.’ Justice League listlessly emerged from. (DCU? DCEU? In any case, it’s been functionally chopped up into its component parts.) So it’s not wholly surprising to hear that, when The Hangover’s Todd Phillips approached Warner Bros. some time back with the concept of his very own “DC Black” line of downbeat, low-key comic book origin stories—spearheaded by, of all things, a grounded take on a supervillain best known for murdering people with joy buzzers and painting smiles on fish—the studio was reticent to go all-in.

And while Phillips has now been mostly vindicated—what with Joker making a billion dollars at the box office, and rumors of a potential sequel swirling—it’s still not hard to see why the studio didn’t bite on making the wider DC Black universe a thing. It’s just such a needlessly called shot, as Phillips himself admitted when asked about the plans recently by IGN; get it right, and, sure, everything’s great. Fuck it up, and you’ve got a million promotional photos of Russell Crowe’s Mr. Hyde hanging around that no one will ever possibly put to use.

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Still, though, the director does sound a bit nostalgic about his idea, which went far enough into the planning stages that he had other directors and characters picked out as possible Joker follow-ups. “It wasn’t freeform,” Phillips noted when asked.I pitched it as three movies, Joker being the first with me, and then these two other movies, with two other directors. But,” he adds, having presumably realized what potent chum he’d just dropped in the pop culture waters, “I don’t really want to name them, because then it’ll become a thing and I’m pulling these directors into it when I’ve never even told them about it. It was just me telling Warner Bros. about it.” 

And while we would, of course, be extremely excited to see Martin Scorsese tackle a character like Ambush Bug or Calendar Man or our old pal Matter-Eater Lad, we can’t help but admire Phillips’ discretion. That being said, here’s Phillips still holding out a little bit of hope that the idea might someday see the light (dark?) of day:

I still think it’s a great idea. But I’ll be honest with you, their argument—well, it wasn’t an argument—their thing is, there’s no reason to create its own label, there’s no reason to go to all that trouble. Just when we want to one of these kind of movies, we’ll do it, just like Joker is. I get that, but I also thought it was just kind of cool if it became a thing.

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