— Full spoilers for Shazam, Aquaman and most of the DCEU below —
Regardless of what critics and general audiences think of the last two movies in the DCEU – Shazam and Aquaman – both have had a similar possibly negative effect on this universe: power creep.
For those unfamiliar power creep is a term used in many games, usually multiplayer ones and TCGs, in which new content added is much stronger than what has come before. This is intended, by the people behind the creations, to make their new offerings more compelling and pry a few more dollars from the players.
While it may not seem like this can be applied to movies, it kind of does when we’re talking about these movie universes.
In reverse chronological order let’s start with Shazam. Now I’m not claiming to be some Shazam expert that has consumed every piece of media that the character has appeared in, but I do know that he is usually presented to be either on par with the power of Superman, or at least near it.
This classic panel from Kingdom Come by famed artist Alex Ross comes to mind, and Shazam usually has an edge over Supes due to the fact that, in many continuities, Superman’s second big weakness aside from kyrptonite is magic. You know, magic, that hole thing Shazam is based on.
Countless people have joked over the years that the Justice League is a bit of a moot point when Superman can basically do everything the rest of the team can. Like most jokes this is rooted in some truth as even the Justice League movie illustrated this point as a newly resurrected Clark Kent goes to town on the new team.
But Shazam being in the DCEU isn’t really the problem… it’s that there are technically six of them.
Yes at the end of the movie the entire Shazam family shows up. Now there are lots of arguments to be made about this version of the character(s) not being up to par with other iterations, but for the DCEU this means that there are, potentially, around seven Superman-level entities flying around.
And that’s the crux of all of this: how are future villains in this universe supposed to compare to that? Is the next Justice League movie going to be ten minutes long and consists of some alien bad guy landing in New York before being vaporised by fourteen laser eye beams?
And all of this is before we even talk about Aquaman. Aside from Arthur Curry’s own individual powers, and the end of his solo movie where he takes control over Atlantis and all its armies.
In that movie we see that the armies of the sea are hilariously large and were able to decimate the world’s navies overnight.
When the sea has that much power do we even need the Shazam family if the Karathen can just pop up to deal with it?
With the Shazam family, the entire army of the sea and the existing Justice League members, what villain could possibly be a threat the next time we need a DC team up movie?
Darkseid or bust. Maybe.
Not one to point out a problem without suggesting a solution, there are some established characters and events that have brought the power of the Justice League, multiple Shazams and Aquaman included, to their knees.
Darkseid is the obvious answer here. There’s been countless teases and references to his coming in the past movies. The Parademons, Mother Boxes and Omega symbols are all associated with this character have already seen screen time. Darkseid is, historically, the character that can fell any DC hero out there. He also has his own army to take on that of Aquaman’s, and he’s basically the Swiss army knife of OP abilities.
The Crime Syndicate of America, silly name aside, this mirror version of the Justice League is one of my favourite “dark reflection” ideas out there. The JLA: Earth 2 series is amazing and presents unique, villain versions of your favourite heroes. For Superman there’s Ultraman, for Batman there’s Owlman, for Green Lantern there’s Power Ring. You get the idea. If the DCEU has been written into a corner, simply write in the new overpowered heroes, but evil. Simple.
Injustice isn’t just a duology of fighting games from the Mortal Kombat devs, and it was fleshed out more in various comics. If you ever wanted to see Superman punch a hole through Joker’s chest in live action, this is the route you want to go. Of course this would turn many people’s heroes into villains and end the DCEU as we know it, but it would be fun.
Flashpoint is, like Injustice, an incredibly dark take on everything, but it also brings into time travel and alternate timelines into the fold so it could be undone by the time the credits roll. We won’t go into detail about what happens in this arc, but here’s a taster: the Flash screwed up the world with time travel, Batman is actually Thomas Wayne because Bruce died instead (he also kills), Aquaman and Wonder Woman are at war which threatens to end the world, and Superman was found by the government instead of the Kent family, and kept underground depriving him of his sun-fuelled power.
An Act of God is what Warner Bros. may want to do if they prefer to end this universe with a whimper instead of a bang. The Act of God arc sees something called “Black Light” sweep over Earth, removing the super powers of every being on it. The only heroes and villains left fighting are those who use technology to get by. To be entirely honest this story line, in the comics, is not very good and does not live up to the potential of the idea. The movies could do that and use it to explore the nature of heroes when power is gone and it could even have some meta commentary about superhero culture in both the fictional DCEU and our real world.
Man I had a good laugh writing that last one. Could you imagine any of the DC movies actually having subtlety?
Jokes aside if we ever get another Justice League movie they’re going to have to do something drastic to nerf the good guys and make something compelling, and they’ll have to do it without the buildup Marvel had for Thanos.