There’s a good chance that the best DC Comics movie of 2017 is the one coming out in a few weeks. DC hasn’t had a great post-Christopher Nolan track record, with the three movies in the DC Cinematic Universe to date being of questionable perception. Wonder Woman has us hopeful, but there’s early concerns that Justice League just looks…”meh.” I could be wrong, but I’d put money on February’s The Lego Batman Movie to be the top-rated DC film of the year.
And why not? From all previews, The Lego Batman Movie appears to be overdosing on a bottle of concentrated joy. It’s humorous, self-referential, includes an all-star cast, and rejects everything grim and dour about Ben Affleck’s Batman in favor of the free spirit of childhood and play. No wonder, then, that its predecessor, 2014’s The Lego Movie, was the fifth-highest grossing film of that year. If The Lego Movie is any predictor, The Lego Batman Movie is going to be awesome.
Strange, then, that DC Comics isn’t doing anything as a tie-in to it. Comic books have become such a wellspring of pop culture these days that film and television adaptions inevitably lead to the source companies trying to tag along. The Walking Dead television show has led to boom sales of the comics, and you can now buy the trades in Wal-Mart and Target. Summer brings movies, so the companies often tie their events and Free Comic Book Day promos to the films. Look at Marvel–Captain America: Civil War came out in 2016, so of course they had a tie-in comic. This summer is bringing us a Spider-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy film, so of course, the FCBD books relate to them. It’s very simple: see the movies, buy the comics for even more of the fun.
DC is usually smart about their movie tie-ins: when a movie comes out, they do something to promote it in the comics. The release of Batman vs. Superman led the company to issue a reprint of the first issue of Superman/Batman at comics shops and Barnes & Noble. Their Free Comic Book Day tie-in for 2016 was a Suicide Squad comic, and they issued a freebie similar to the Superman/Batman one in August when the Suicide Squad movie came out. Again, this is a smart move–there’s a possibility that fans who see the movies may want to read the comics to get more stories, and the free comics can serve as a gateway drug.
But Lego Batman? Nothing. This could be the biggest Batman movie ever, and DC is virtually silent on it. There’s no promotional banners, no free books, nothing. DC has a movie-related contest up on its website right now, but in terms of the comics themselves, there’s no connection. If all the Lego Batman Movie merchandise showing up in stores right now is any indication, we’re in for nothing but Batman, Batman, Batman for a few months after. (Trust me, The Lego Movie had a lot of staying power long after its release.) But nary a peep from DC, and this is the company that did a series of variant Lego covers only three years ago.
The only possible explanation for this that I can come up with is that, sadly, “Lego” Batman is very tonally different from DC Comics Batman. The Lego Batman Movie is aimed at children, and although the child-part of adult brains will enjoy it, the film operates on a madcap level that’s not consistent with what DC Comics publishes right now. Will Arnett’s Batman has obnoxiously oversized vehicles, cooks lobster in a microwave, has variant costumes ranging from a Rastafarian to a Frank Sinatra suit, and uses the word “butt.” He’s very recognizably Batman, but filtered through the mind of a very creative child.
Most of DC Comics’ current versions of Batman are, well, not tonally suited for the young audience of The Lego Batman Movie. Scott Snyder’s recent run leans very “adult” with mass murders being a common story trope. Tom King’s “Rebirth” run is toned down considerably and is probably more accessible to the middle-school set, but may still be a bit much for the ten-and-under crowd that The Lego Batman Movie is aimed at. Most of the Batman books in DC’s archived library really don’t fit what a young Lego fan would be looking for either–the Batman stories by Frank Miller or Grant Morrison or Jim Aparo are all very good reading, but not something that matches what this movie is going for either. Possibly the closest a reader could get in therms of age-appropriateness is the Batman Adventures line based on the Timmverse cartoons, which is slowly being collected in trade format. Even then, the Timmverse stuff could get heavy-handed at times.
Point is, The Lego Batman Movie is going to make a huge impact on the culture next month, and DC Comics–the source of all things Batman–is missing out on the party. A new comic movie is always an opportunity for comic shops to open their doors and tell the non-comics market: “Hey, we’ve got more of that!” However, Batman has been so “adulted” for decades now that DC has painted itself into a figurative corner where they can’t market to the prime audience of this movie.
Kids will be seeing The Lego Batman Movie. Kids should be reading Batman comics. But for some reason, DC has situated Batman in such a way that they’re missing an amazing chance to turn those film kids into comics lovers.