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James Gunn and Peter Safran Named Co-Chairmen and CEOs of DC Studios



Filmmaker James Gunn is now formally the co-guardian of the entire universe, the DC Extended Universe (although one doubts if that term will endure under the Gunn's direction). And all of a sudden, the universe is brimming with possibilities after struggling for years to go beyond Gotham City, Metropolis, and Themiscira. Gunn is ready to fulfill DC's desire and right to a hero.


The news that Gunn will be collaborating on DC Studios' film and television projects with talent manager-turned-producer Peter Safran, whose credits in the comics-to-screen genre include Aquaman, Shazam!, Gunn's own The Suicide Squad installment and HBO Max spinoff Peacemaker, as well as the horror franchise The Conjuring, should give DC's movie and television fortunes a boost.


Despite having some of the most recognizable and enduring names in comic book and pop culture history, the venerable company's film division has struggled to compete with the dominance of Marvel Studios' massive Marvel Cinematic Universe. It also appears to have learned the wrong lesson from Christopher Nolan's critically acclaimed Dark Knight trilogy (make everything super-serious and decidedly dark), and it has never managed to avoid going all-in on director Zack Snyder.


Even DC's TV successes with its Arrowverse lineup of series have been modest, existing in the shrinking broadcast space of The CW and infrequently generating widespread critical attention or watercooler-level buzz—despite the fact that the shows were instrumental in exposing some lower-tier super-players to a large audience and increasing their popularity.

The decision to hire Gunn comes at a crucial, if somewhat strained, point in his long-standing relationship with Marvel. With the Guardians Of The Galaxy movies, he transformed a group of unloved underdogs into cherished superstars, flinging open the door to the intergalactic reaches of the MCU. Gunn, however, has long indicated that he only had so much of a story to tell with Star-Lord, Rocket, Groot, and company, and that he had not staked a claim on any additional space in the universe (though one wishes he had had the opportunity to make a serious attempt at Howard the Duck before leaving). With so much of the rapidly expanding MCU already creatively taken, and directly under Kevin Feige's cross-connected orchestration, Gunn's upcoming, long-planned Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy third film seems like the perfect time for him to take the helm of an even more difficult undertaking, and one he seems perfectly suited for.


With The Suicide Squad and Peacemaker, Gunn demonstrated that in addition to having "cooler" Marvel Universe cred, he was a true DC fanboy with a deep appreciation and understanding of its characters. These films utilized a variety of real D-list supervillains for both deliriously funny and unexpectedly poignant purposes, and they also demonstrated that he could find the right big-screen tone for established A-list characters like Harley Quinn and Silver Age curiosities like Starro the Conquer, Gunn was steeped in DC comics as a child during the 1980s, a time when the company was simultaneously honoring its lengthy history, integrating its quirky world of far-flung titles, and discarding its quaint image in favor of something more contemporary, urgent, and continuity-driven. A creatively astute director and current executive like Gunn is likely to be aware of the lessons learned from DC's expansion and transition during that time, and they are ideal for this new phase for DC Studios.


While Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman may not be perfectly suited for Gunn's own personal filmmaking aesthetic, he recognizes the special, inherent qualities in them that will work best on screen. Gunn has repeatedly demonstrated that he inherently gets the essentials of what makes characters tick, and tick best. Gunn is a creative at heart rather than a businessman, and if given permission by WB Discovery's senior management, he appears ideally qualified to find, encourage, and cultivate the right filmmaking talent to bring DC's heroes to life on screen.


Another benefit is that Safran, who once served as Gunn's manager, has a history of supporting and advancing the careers of creative individuals. These executives are less likely to bury directors and showrunners under a mountain of notes meant to appease stockholders.


Indeed, Gunn is among Hollywood's most well-liked directors on both a creative and social level. Long before the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie became a huge hit, Gunn developed a solid reputation among the industry's many tiers. He has repeatedly shown himself to be a devoted, encouraging friend and collaborator, therefore it is safe to say that a line is already developing throughout the industry to work with him on his most audacious project to date.


Along with skillfully handling the attempt to "cancel" him due to long-ago social media gaffes, Gunn has also shown a keen grasp of and great ability with the media. He shrewdly interacts with both mainstream and genre-specific journalists. To a huge online following on social media, he also speaks in fluent geek: His capacity for engagement makes him a potentially powerful primary figurehead/impresario—could he be the Stan Lee of the new millennium?—for promoting DC's future fare to the general public. He might outperform Kevin Feige, who is more loyal to the MCU, in this situation.


It goes without saying that Gunn and Safran will put a lot of effort into finding the best creative talent to guide DC's most powerful characters in their new big-screen iterations: Shazam, Black Adam, and the Suicide Squad will probably find the best creative talent; Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman should land in good, visionary hands. Additionally, Gunn has already shown a remarkable understanding of synergy and cross-pollinating continuity across many media when he transitioned Peacemaker from the theatrical edition of The Suicide Squad to streaming TV.


Gunn and Safran might at least be able to help provide a better brand definition for how such projects fit alongside the main DCEU line. It is unclear if Matt Reeve's recently released The Batman films or clearly out-of-DCEU continuity projects like Todd Phillips' Joker sequel will fall under their auspices.


However, Gunn's eclectic tastes and deep reservoir of fanboy knowledge promise to open the screen to a host of less-traditional DC projects, whether they be longtime fan favorites or more obscure properties with excellent hooks that would make for exciting film and TV fare. This is especially true given Warner's strip-mining of Gotham-set properties. He may be prepared for better, grander cultivation of DC's Vertigo line of characters like Swamp Thing, Constantine, and Fables; he may also be ready to fight to ensure future seasons of Neil Gaiman's prestigious, critically acclaimed, but pricey Sandman series. His long-standing love of horror could lead to fast lanes for big-screen adaptations of characters like Etrigan the Demon and Deadman. Characters like Booster Gold and Guy Gardner might shine, or other works like Mark Russell's satirical version on the Wonder Twins or the cult-favorite Silver Age parody group the Inferior Five might dismantle ground that fans of cinematic superheroes have grown accustomed to.


Gunn's cosmic sensibility may finally pave the way for new interpretations of the New Gods, Adam Strange, and the Green Lantern Corps, and his general taste may inspire him to choose outlandish works that are ripe for the big screen, including Warlord by Mike Grell, Starman by James Robinson, Tom King's Human Target, and the long-forgotten but intriguing Camelot 3000. DC has a vast, varied toybox of properties after more than eight decades, and Gunn has a particularly tuned skill set that could compete with Marvel's crowd-pleasing fare and, more importantly, add a much-needed diversity of storytelling styles and genres to Hollywood's all-too-formulaic comics-to-screen output.


After the comic book publisher was acquired by the movie studio, Warner Bros. and DC entered the post-Adam West Hollywood age as a symbiotic organism. If based mostly on just two significant movies: Batman (1989) and Superman (1978) both set durable precedents for how superheroes may succeed on the big screen and financially. A character might win over a generation of followers thanks to the television format and a well-cast actress, as the Wonder Woman TV series showed. A few examples of defining superhero cinema, such as Nolan's films, and entertaining, character-building television shows like Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl were produced during Warner and DC's protracted second phase, which has been at best wildly uneven.


Now that Gunn and Safran are in charge—proven professionals who have a grasp of the cinema, television, and comics businesses and their fandoms—Warner and DC appear to be perfectly positioned to capitalize on their next evolution and take it to the next level. Let's hope that it finally moves up, up, and away from this area.

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