Monday 18 October 2021

Holy DC FanDome, Batman!

DC FanDome was in response to the ongoing global pandemic and lockdowns, which saw conventions cancelled en masse last year.

Wisely, Warner Bros. has brought it back for a second year and, like many DC Comics fans, I'd be pleased to see DC FanDome become an annual online event to watch on my Apple TV.

Nick Smith, my US-based partner in comic book crime-fighting, has thoughts...

Guest post by Nick Smith

Batman is big business. After eight decades in the public consciousness, the franchise character is estimated to have earned almost $28 billion in retail, box office returns and other media. But it’s not just the Dark Knight who brings in the bucks – Bruce’s just a bonus. DC FanDome’s 2021 line-up shows how much the Bat-family has grown in popularity over recent years.

DC FanDome is a virtual event designed to showcase new or returning projects and celebrate the publishing company’s beloved characters. This year’s ‘ultimate DC fan experience’ included clips and interviews available to watch on YouTube. Many of those clips were based around the Bat.

The FanDome’s sneak peeks, presented by actors, directors and producers, included Batwoman, Batgirl, Titans, Harley Quinn, a Gotham Knights game, Catwoman: Hunted, Batman Unburied, Batman: Wayne Family Adventures, Batman: Caped Crusader and Pennyworth, all birthed in the streets of Gotham.

Even Todd McFarlane got in on the act, discussing the merger with DC Direct and McFarlane Toys, focusing on Batman-related figurines in what felt more like a sales expo pitch than a guest appearance from a well-known comics creator.

DC’s emphasis on its best-known characters – Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman (celebrating her 80th anniversary) – is understandable. They’re a known quantity that casual fans want to see and are more likely to spend money on. But the company has dozens of heroes and villains to promote in the hope that one of them will take off in movie theatres or on TV, so it would be good to see more balance and diversity on a day like this.

There were breaks from the big guns. Members of the general public don’t know Black Adam from… Adam. But they know Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, who hyped up a Black Adam flick last year. With a summer 2022 release date, Johnson was back with a preview showing Adam’s intro.

Other segments had stars to help raise the stature of their projects: Jason Momoa (Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom), John Cena (Peacemaker), Zachary Levi (Shazam! Fury of the Gods). News Flashes were reported by Candice Patton (Iris West-Allen on TV). All these teases and news bites led up to a new trailer for The Batman, the COVID-slowed feature film arriving (we hope) in March 2022.

The major project delays were cheekily acknowledged, especially in a tiny tease for the live-action feature The Flash (adapting Flashpoint) and an animated pastiche plugging an unfinished new season of Harley Quinn. It might have been the music or Ezra Miller’s candid intro but the Flash tease proved less is more… right down to the final non-image of a batmobile. Which model will it be? We’ll have to wait until they film more of the movie to find out.

This brings us back to The Batman, keeping his presence felt throughout the FanDome. The latest take on the caped crusader is appropriately dark and gritty, with a Blade Runner-bricked landscape, an Edward Hopper-style opening image and other trailer tropes we’ve come to expect. Slowed-down rock song? Check. Rapid flashes to black? Check. Vengeful hero? Double-check. The focus this time is on violence (lots of punching, hitting and crashing) leavened by Zoe Kravitz’s caring Catwoman.

Director Matt Reeves has given this film a lot of TLC and attempts to give hoary chestnut images a new spin. Case in point: The Batman walks away from a wall of fire a la RoboCop and countless other movie heroes; this shot is upside down. We also get a good hard look at Batman’s bullet-proof chin; shots bounce of Robert Pattinson’s chiselled jaw.

The more I watch the trailer, the more I like it but the Flash tease gives me more goosebumps per second, even though we’ve seen Flashpoint regurgitated multiple timelines’ worth in comics, animated movies and on TV. Both new films look solid, as well as less famed features like Blue Beetle, starring Xolo MaridueƱa.

DC FanDome is a convention with no queues and no expensive entry fees. Everyone gets a front-row seat. There are downsides though: no Q&A this year, no one-on-one meetings with the stars and, most importantly, no in-person camaraderie among fans.

Presented as a digital storefront, this year’s DC FanDome seems more like lip service to comic book aficionados. We are told, ‘you’re the best fans ever.’ Yes, we are. But the best way to remind and reward us is to provide more collaborative content. It’s time to spend Bruce Wayne’s billions to utilize the internet’s full interactive capabilities.

Did you watch DC FanDome? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.

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