Today Greg Berlanti’s DC journey has come full circle. The big announcement about HBOMax, Warner Bros’ entry into the overcrowded world of streaming services, included news about another Berlanti DC Comics show – he will be creating a Green Lantern series. That particular property is significant because it’s the one where Berlanti entered the DC Extended Universe… and it was a major failure.
Berlanti co-wrote and co-produced the Ryan Reynolds Green Lantern, a bad movie that was a box office disappointment. Released in 2011, Green Lantern represented the sorry state of DC movies, with the iconic characters left adrift as Marvel began its monumental rev up towards The Avengers. As Christopher Nolan’s trilogy prepared to finish, fans hoped that Green Lantern would start a new shared universe that would bring together their favorite DC characters; those hopes would be dashed terribly.
But Berlanti pivoted quickly and created Arrow for the CW; the show was initially embarrassed of its own superheroics, but over the course of a few years it not only embraced the wildness of comic book storytelling and costumes, it spun off a host of shows. A whole DC Universe was spawned on TV.
Meanwhile all hopes for DC on the big screen came to rest with Zack Sndyer, who had been handed the keys to the kingdom by Warner Bros. The contrast between the two men couldn’t be more stark – Berlanti is bespectacled and gay, while Snyder is a buff dude with a hypermasculine aura. Berlanti got his start in TV soaps, while Snyder was known for his ultraviolent, often fascistic movies. Greg Berlanti helped bring the first kiss between two gay men to network TV while Zack Snyder made one of the most accidentally gay movies with 300.
It seemed, back in 2011/2012 when Arrow and Man of Steel debuted, that Snyder would be the alpha male for DC adaptations. Warner Bros kept certain characters off limits for the Arrowverse, holding them for the movies. But over time those walls fell away. What’s more, over time the Arrowverse developed into a small phenomenon, while the Snyderverse became a parody of itself.
Nobody could have seen this coming. In 2012 it seemed as if Man of Steel could be the harbinger of a whole new era of DC films being competitive with Marvel. In 2014 then-WB president Kevin Tsujihara announced a six year slate of movies, a power move that ended up being more of a slip on a banana peel. Some of the movies announced never got made (The Flash, Justice League Part 2) and at least one looks like it will never happen (Cyborg).
Meanwhile the little TV shows that could just chugged along; the second season of Arrow introduced Barry Allen, who got his own show The Flash. Then came Supergirl, the first series to test the church and state separation of the DC characters as Superman needed to be acknowledged. Eventually he would fully appear in the show… and now Superman and Lois is in development at the CW, truly destroying that wall.
But before that the Arrowverse continued to grow, adding Legends of Tomorrow and Black Lightning. In contrast the Snyderverse contracted; Aquaman was barely connected to the Justice League world, while Shazam! featured a generic Superman. That’s especially telling because Superman originally appeared only as a blur or a silhouette on Supergirl, but the movies and the shows traded spots, with Superman becoming fully present on TV while he faded away in the films.
Snyder would leave the DCEU amidst a terrible personal tragedy, but by the time he left it was pretty clear his direction was simply untenable. After his departure the movie version of the DCEU Balkanized, with the movies being part of a shared universe in concept if not in immediate practice.
Meanwhile the Arrowverse shows crossed over with annual regularity, adding dozens of superheroes, all building towards a storyline that is astonishing: the year the CW shows will do Crisis on Infinite Earths, the mother of all comic book crossover stories. To put it in perspective, this is like if Agents of SHIELD did The Infinity Gauntlet storyline instead of The Avengers doing it. If nothing else this proves the ultimate supremacy of the Arrowverse, making it the true home of DC Comics storytelling in live action media.
But today… today was the cherry on top of it all. With the announcement of Green Lantern Berlanti gets to revisit his initial stumble and right it. I imagine that the budget of that show is going to be intensely high, one that will surely put even his Crisis to shame. This is going to be big.
You know what’s funny? That initial slate of DC movies, the one that didn’t quite happen the way Warner Bros thought it would, ended with a 2020 film. It ended with Green Lantern. HBOMax debuts in 2020. There’s no telling when Green Lantern would hit the service, but it’s not impossible that it would be next year. It could end up that this new show represents the fulfillment of the vision of a grand shared DC live action universe… but that its center of power has shifted from the big screen to the small. Nobody could have imagined it when Arrow debuted, a show that was afraid to even give its main hero a superhero name, but today Greg Berlanti stands triumphant.