Over the years the MCU and the DCEU have gone in very different directions. DC movies have generally been a lot more serious, maintaining a more grounded approach in the process. In short, it’s not the kind of universe that would embrace the more outlandish aspects of the comics they can draw upon for source material.
Marvel, on the other hand, has generally been more light-hearted (Endgame excepted), and willing to adapt the weirder elements from its back catalogue into something that works on the big screen. This is the company that took a gun-fetishizing racoon and a talking alien tree that few had ever heard of, and put them at the forefront of multiple movies.
Fans noticed this difference, and it ended up spawning more than a few memes back in the day.
DC/WB is all like "Wonder Woman's too confusing for a movie!" and Marvel/Disney is all like "Here's a raccoon with a machine gun"August 12, 2013
Of course things have changed slightly in the years since. DC movies have distanced themselves from the dark gritty tone characterized by the Zack Snyder movies. Shazam and The Suicide Squad (2021) are perfect examples of this in action. Though the remarkably emo-looking The Batman shows they haven’t quite given up on it just yet.
However the latest edition to DC’s cinematic universe, HBO Max’s Peacemaker series, is the most MCU-like entry yet. And it’s certainly no coincidence that the driving force behind the show is the same man that made us believe that racoons and trees were actual people.
Peacemaker has only been around for a few short weeks, but already the show has expanded the DCEU in ways that are absolutely mind-blowing for someone who had to sit through Batman v Superman in a crowded theater.
Peacemaker embraces the ridiculous
The one thing Peacemaker does better than any DC adaptation before it is embracing the ridiculousness of its entire existence. Or, more accurately, embracing it while also remaining totally self aware. The ‘60s Batman was ridiculous, after all, but the key difference here is that it’s being done deliberately.
Obviously Peacemaker himself is completely oblivious to this, as is his dimwitted Deadpool-esque sidekick Vigilante. He doesn’t seem to understand what’s so bad about wandering around in public in full costume, despite the fact he’s a wanted felon and his teammates calling him out on it at every available opportunity.
Peacemaker himself is also the most ordinary of the superheroes we get to see these days. Whether it’s Marvel or DC, superheroes either have power, equipment, or near-endless resources. Peacemaker has none of that.
He may well have been trained to kill since childhood, and has muscles that would put any gym bro to shame, but he’s just as fallible and gullible as the rest of us. He trusts the news he sees on Facebook, and genuinely believes that “butt babies” are an actual thing that happens.
Peacemaker also isn’t very smart, given how he thought Economous could frame one of his kills on Super Mario, and goes around telling people who he is. Again, an escaped felon should want to be a little more discreet. Of course, compared to Vigilante he’s a bona-fide Tony Stark.
Though, to top it all off, the dude has a pet bald eagle. It makes sense given his jingoistic personality, and the fact his father is basically KKK Iron Man. But, come on, there are better, and less endangered, predators to try and domesticate.
Peacemaker expands the DCEU in mind-blowing ways
The main thing I still can’t get my head around is the fact Bat-Mite is apparently a thing in the DCEU. Comic readers and Batman TV series viewers will be familiar with the character, a fifth-dimensional being with spectacular powers and a serious obsession with Batman. Bat-Mite is such a fan of the Dark Knight that he winds up getting Batman involved in various hijinks and ridiculous situations.
Yes, Batman has his fair share of straight-up ridiculous villains, but can you seriously imagine Ben Affleck’s moody, ultra-violent Batman doing anything that could remotely be described as a hijink? Let alone running around with a tiny impish-being in a poorly-fitting Batman Halloween costume.
Not to mention Peacemaker himself mentioned encounters with a guy who flies around on a giant kite (Kite Man) and another who managed to eat an entire fast food joint (Matter Eater Lad). Both are pretty insane characters, relegated to the Z-list of DC comics lore, and Peacemaker's trying to bring back to the forefront. Sort of.
Marvel’s been doing this sort of thing for a while. A lot of people forget that the MCU is built on taking C-list heroes and bringing them to the forefront. That’s what happens when you don’t have the film rights to your biggest characters - like Spider-Man or the X-Men.
Iron Man may have been an Avenger, but he was a minor character in the days before Robert Downey Jr became associated with the character. Likewise the Guardians of the Galaxy were so far down on the popularity scale that even James Gunn, who co-wrote and directed the movie, wasn’t sure whether it would be a success.
Then you have Ant-Man, a hero with a name so mind-blowingly ridiculous that the movies turned it into a running joke.
DC played it safe at first, and Peacemaker is a move in the right direction
Necessity is the mother of invention, and in Marvel’s case it had to contend with the fact all of the most well-known comic characters were owned by different studios. Or at least they were when the MCU was first conceived.
Meanwhile DC had been sticking with what was safe. Batman, Superman andthe Joker, and so on. Even the lineup of the first Suidice Squad movie was mostly made up of the big players from the comic incarnation of the team — and was set to be a launching pad for characters like Jared Leto’s Joker and the ever-popular Harley Quinn.
The 2021 Suicide Squad movie was a turning point, featuring some more C- and D-list characters like Peacemaker himself. Though it still feels like it has more in common with other pre-Marvel Gunn movies, like the criminally underrated Super, than it does with Guardians of the Galaxy.
Peacemaker certainly feels more like a push in the Marvel direction. No matter what Marvel movie you watch, regardless of the stakes, you can be sure there will be plenty of action and laughs. In the absolute simplest terms, and as Zack Snyder put it, Marvel is in the action comedy business.
Peacemaker is no different. It’s more R-rated than I can ever imagine Disney letting Marvel be, and some scenes are real tearjerkers, but it still has a lot of that Marvel DNA. Like Marvel movies the show is more than just an action comedy, but it’s not inaccurate to call it that. Which is more than you can say for other entries in the DCEU.
What happens now?
Of course this doesn’t mean DC is changing course anytime soon. The Batman is on the way next month and looks set to continue the trend of the dark moody cinematic Batmen. Meanwhile Black Adam is a complete mystery, and I have no idea what to make of The Flash from what we’ve seen so far.
Not that DC should go out of its way to emulate the Marvel model. For starters it’s tried doing this in the past, by rushing the run-up to Justice League and changing the direction of both it and 2017 Suicide Squad mid-production, and failed spectacularly.
No matter how Marvel-like it may be, and how many people compare Vigilante to Deadpool, Peacemaker is still a great story. No matter if they’re filming for theaters, HBO Max, or something else entirely, that’s what DC needs to continue doing.