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Pretty much everybody knows about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The 11-year, 23-movie storyline called The Infinity Saga took the world by storm, and what Marvel accomplished was nothing short of amazing; indeed, it may be a long time before we see its likeness in theaters again. However, Marvel's rival DC has an epic, cinematic superhero saga of its own. This one just so happens to be animated.
The 2013 direct-to-video Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox saw the Flash make a life-changing decision, and in the process created "The DC Animated Movie Universe," or DCAU. This month, the journey concluded with Justice League Dark: Apokolips War. Throughout this seven-year odyssey, DC gave fans a shared universe of characters that rivals the MCU. The films' creators adapted some of the DC's most classic tales, and gave a conclusion that could arguably be considered one of the company's most ambitious creative decisions in any medium.
It could be easy to shrug off an animated series, but let's delve into why the DCAU is a DC shared movie universe that fans have always wanted.
NEW TAKES ON CLASSIC STORIES
Ever since we figured out comic books could become movies, fans have had "they should make (insert story here) into a movie" conversations. With the DCAU, those conversations turned into reality. Thanks to these films, fans stood trial before the Court of Owls. They watched as the Teen Titans were betrayed by one of their own. They could only stand feebly by as DC's greatest hero fell to Doomsday. And they were shocked to discover the true identity of the newest villain of Gotham, Hush.
Longtime comics readers were finally able to see these tales brought to life. But they were more than just straightforward adaptations; the animated films added fresh ideas, so fans who had read the books from cover to cover multiple times were given something new as a reward. In Death of Superman, Doomsday took out the main Justice League roster, which made his presence even more menacing. In Hush, the psychotic killer had a new identity, so fans were guessing until the very end. What's old is new again.
Sure, cartoons like Young Justice and DC Superhero Girls are just as witty and smart as the movies in the DCAU. However, they are aimed at an all-ages audience. They are made so families can watch them together and have a great time.
The DCAU is aimed at an older demographic. The majority of the DCAU films are rated PG-13, with the two Justice League Dark movies and Suicide Squad receiving R ratings. As such, the creative teams behind these films have much more freedom to tell their stories. If a story calls for violence, then it can get violent (Apokolips War is not for the faint of heart). If a story calls for swearing, then let the language fly (and let's be honest, John Constantine wouldn't be the same if he couldn't keep his sharp tongue).
A "REAL-TIME" CONTINUITY
Comic books usually have what's called a "rolling continuity." Otherwise, Batman and Superman would be over 100 years old by this point, and watching their great-grandchildren fight crime. The DCAU lets fans experience a DC Universe in real time. The beginning of The Judas Contract takes place in 2012, and Apokolips War occurs between 2020 and 2022. Much like the MCU, fans experienced roughly 10 years of DC stories in the same amount of time.
As Dick Grayson grew up, he became Nightwing. Damian Wayne's voice changed as he grew from the Boy Wonder into the Teen Wonder. Fans even got to see Superman date Wonder Woman, break up with her, and fall in love with Lois Lane. All of this occurred within the same continuity of stories.
During an interview a few years ago, Kevin Smith said comic books were always going through a "second act." The first act is their origin story. Unless you are going to end a character's run, everything else is a second act, hence the rolling continuity. The DCAU allows us to see a beginning, middle, and end to the stories of our favorite DC heroes. And the ending is up to us.
AN ENDING WE NEED RIGHT NOW
The ending to Justice League Dark: Apokolips War is arguably one of the most ambitious things DC has ever done, regardless of medium. After defeating Darkseid, the League is in disarray. The majority of DC heroes are either dead or maimed beyond repair. The Earth itself is slowly destroying itself from its core. The only chance anyone has of survival is for the Flash to go back in time and create another Flashpoint.
After John Constantine convinces Flash that anything he does would be better than their current situation, the Scarlet Speedster sets off through time. The remnants of the League look on as a wave of light washes over them, and the movie ends.
We don't know what Flash did when he went back through time. Did he create something better? Did he create something worse? It's up to us as fans to decide if he was right to play god for a second time.
We live in a time in which we don't get to make a lot of our own choices. Something entirely out of our control seemingly determines what we are allowed to do. DC gave us a gift of sorts with this ending. Not only do we get to choose what happened when the credits rolled, but we get to choose the fate of DC's greatest heroes. Are you feeling OK today? Then everyone survived and is happy. Are you feeling a bit down? Then Bruce Wayne is now The Batman Who Laughs. When what we can do to spend our time is limited, the DCAU gave us something we can think about, change our minds about, and debate for years to come.
The MCU gave us a 23-episode narrative that changed the way people went to the movies. While it didn't make billions upon billions at the box office, the DCAU quietly gave us its own cinematic universe that's just as enthralling, emotional, and entertaining.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBCUniversal.