There hasn’t been a more divisive movie in 2016 than Warner Bros’ spring release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The movie split critics and audiences down the middle, which essentially resulted in a civil war among fanboys.
Meanwhile, on the DC Comics side, they are in the midst of DC Rebirth, in which Geoff Johns is leading a total revamp of the entire comic book universe. The status quo is in the process of being reset, due to the manipulations of Dr. Manhattan from the Watchmen series. For the first time, the world and characters of Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore’s Watchmen run in the 1980’s, have been sharing the comic book space with the heroes of the Justice League.
This is the last major endeavor that Johns is attempting on the print side, while he transitions to one of the heads of DC Films for Warner Bros. So, it would stand to reason that his ideas on the comic side are testing grounds and a fertile creative space for new ideas before coming to live-action. When Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition was released last week, many expected cameos from the world of DC Comics, particularly for the characters with movies to come in the near future. However, most weren’t expecting director Zack Snyder to throw in so many direct Watchmen Easter Eggs in BvS.
It has already been reported that “The End is Nigh” has been spray painted on a billboard in Gotham in the film. However, there was another Easter egg in the Ultimate Edition, that was an ever bigger wink to fans.
In an added scene in the Ultimate Edition, Clark Kent is investigating recent news stories about the Batman, who has grown increasingly violent and disturbing. One of the articles that is briefly flashed on screen has a quote asking, “Batman is acting as judge, jury, and executioner and the GCPD seems to be complicit. If GCPD endorses vigilantes as our city’s watchmen, who watches the watchmen?”
“Who watches the Watchmen” is the key phrase that served as the main theme of the seminal graphic novel, Watchmen, that transformed the landscape of comic books in the late 80’s. While the “The End is Nigh” hints that Rorschach conceivably could be running around Gotham, the classic quote is potentially even more impactful. It’s a signal that the same thematic strings that made Watchmen a classic are running through the developing DC Expanded Universe. If there are vigilantes and superpowered policing the world, who do they report to? How is their morality self-governed? These are key elements of both Superman and Batman’s characters in BvS. Which is why we find Superman in court and a Batman who has gone off the rails and broken his own codes of conduct and morality.
While it’s a stretch to think that the Watchmen will be joining the DCEU in the near future, the groundwork is certainly being laid, both on-screen and off-screen. For the past thirty years, the comic book world of the Watchmen was considered too gritty and realistic for the colorful world of Superman, Green Lantern, and Plastic Man. Clearly, with DC Rebirth there is a shift in tone and the entire superhero world of DC Comics. On the film side, Snyder has already established a grim world where Batman kills and Superman is dead. Plus, he directed the live-action adaptation of the Watchmen, so his signature is over both properties, making a crossover visually and tonally possible. Will it happen? Probably not. But that’s the fun of Easter eggs, right? However, if DC Films can make it to their version of “Phase 2” around the year 2020, the entire film landscape will have changed and anything may be possible.