Watching television requires a strategy. That is unless you can afford every single streaming service that dares to toss its hat into the ring. Now, already riding high on a recent wave of killer programming (Watchmen, The Outsider, Westworld), HBO is looking to reclaim their crown as the home box office champ with their new HBO Max brand by putting Bad Robot in their corner.
No matter the content, a partnership with Bad Robot was going to raise interest and eyebrows. The house that J.J. Abrams built is not only responsible for stone-cold classics like Alias, Lost, and Fringe, but the production company reinvigorated both the Mission: Impossible and Star Trek franchises and is partly responsible for the Stephen King renaissance thanks to Castle Rock, 11.22.63, and the upcoming Lisey’s Story. They’ve had a few misses (Undercovers, Almost Human, Alcatraz), but even their duds appear compelling from a distance.
As part of their already established alliance with Warner Bros. Television, Bad Robot is spearheading a trilogy of projects that pretty much guarantee my HBO Max loyalty: Duster, Overlook, and the as-yet-untitled Justice League Dark spinoff. The first one is a ’70s-set crime thriller following the exploits of a getaway driver associated with a crime syndicate on the rise. Cool, cool, cool. Will watch, but let’s be real, I’m plugging into HBO Max for those other two.
Overlook continues the Stephen King party. Similar to how Castle Rock picks and chooses from King’s mythology, adapting a story here, twisting a story there, Overlook hopes to explore the many horrors that hide behind each of the rooms within the infamously haunted resort hotel. The concept screams anthology series, but I wouldn’t expect Bad Robot to rest idly on that particular format.
We were given a taste of the Overlook’s deeply disturbing history within The Shining and Doctor Sleep, but imagine how unsettling a proper exploration of the malignant force that draws these horrors to its doorstep could be for a ravenous audience willing to give up hours of its life to contemplate. King myth excels when serialized. IT could barely be contained in two chapters; King’s brick-sized books need their space.
HBO Max has big plans for several DC Comics titles, which is fascinating considering Warner Bros. also has its own DC Universe streaming service. In addition to the Justice League Dark series, there is a planned Aquaman animated adventure on the way, as well as two Greg Berlanti-produced vehicles: Green Lantern and Strange Adventures. Not to mention that the second season of the DC Universe show Doom Patrol will also air on HBO Max. With Marvel Studios on the verge of its small screen domination by way of Disney+, Warner Bros. wants to make sure that they continue their streak of slaughtering the competition on the boob tube.
There are scant details available as to who or what will be involved with Justice League Dark, or even if that name will stick when the show airs. For a long time, Guillermo del Toro was attached to a cinematic adaptation, and according to Variety, Warner Bros. says a movie could still be in the cards, but Abrams will most likely beat all to the punch. The comic book only recently launched in 2011 when DC rebooted its entire universe as part of their New 52 branding, and its connections to the Justice League were mostly tangential, using the more popular IP to hook readers’ curiosity, although, lately Wonder Woman has been hanging out with the oddball collection of supernatural do-gooders.
The team primarily consists of folks like John Constantine, Swamp Thing, Deadman, Zatanna, Shade the Changing Man, and Madame Xanadu, with the occasional appearance of Man-Bat and Detective Chimp. Yeah, ok, so maybe you recognize those first two characters, but you’re scratching your head over the rest. That’s to be expected, and that’s the reason the concept is so damn compelling.
The characters who frequent the pages of Justice League Dark are screwy, weird as hell, and behave nothing like the heroes who prance about the big screen in spandex. These are twisted individuals with origins scarred in tragedy and anger. They don’t operate in black and white ethics. They deal in gray, often drowning their enemies in the murky moral color.
Swamp Thing had his shot on the DC Universe streaming service but his show was canceled just as it was getting pretty damn good. It’s a similar fate suffered by his comic book counterpart. The plant who used to be Dr. Alec Holland is a cult staple, and while he’s never broken into mainstream success despite multiple adaptations, Swamp Thing is a character greatly loved by his fans and is forever on the verge of a cultural explosion.
There is no chance of Wonder Woman appearing in the series. She’s too busy dominating the box office with Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins. You’re more likely to see Superman stumble into the show than the Amazonian (and that’s also not going to happen).
You’ve met John Constantine as Keanu Reeves in the Francis Lawrence horror flick named for the character, but also as Matt Ryan on the NBC show of the same name and it’s sister CW series Legends of Tomorrow. Could he find his way back into Justice League Dark? Sure, why not? He’s the closest the team has to a leader, and his irascible contempt for humanity fits nicely with the world outside our window.
But you don’t care about those guys, right? You get the gist when it comes to Swampy, Constantine, and Diana. You want Deadman and Detective Chimp. The longer comic book culture seeps into conventional narrative storytelling, the more bizarre it will become. We crave weirdness. Once we understand the basic models of these characters, we want them stirred into an incredible pot of oddity. Justice League Dark is designed to satisfy folks hip to the tropes, but keep enough of the average viewer away to make it feel special for the cult.
Reinventing segregated IP is what Bad Robot does best. They take franchisees that were rejected as too obscure or financially unreliable and boost their cred for the mainstream crowd. Justice League Dark looks like a wonky proposition from a distance, but under Bad Robot’s direction, the misfits can join the cool kids.