Earlier this month, it was announced that J. J. Abrams had struck a deal with streamer HBO Max to produce a TV series based on DC Comics’ supernatural superhero property Justice League Dark. To the casual fanboy, this might seem like a fascinating prospect. When threats to our world get a bit too weird for the conventional Justice League (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman et al), this more sinister band of characters comes in to save the day. Yet despite the current insatiable appetite for comic book adaptations, Abrams (Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker) being involved could derail the whole thing.
Resurrector of both the galaxy far, far away and the Star Trek movie franchise, Abrams has been one of Hollywood’s major players since the turn of the Century. He’s prolific, visionary, and his box office numbers blow the competition to bits. The problems only start to appear when you look away from his record at the multiplex.
Inbetween directing gigs on Mission: Impossible III and Spielberg-influenced sci-fi Super 8, Abrams and his regular collaborator Damon Lindelof dreamed of adapting Stephen King’s The Dark Tower novels into a series of movies. As director Nikolaj Arcel would come to realise further down the line, making The Dark Tower’s genre-splicing, universe-hopping adventure into a big screen experience deserves an analogy involving Mount Everest. After much effort and expense, Abrams binned the project and it was left for other filmmakers to pick up the pieces at a later date.
Keen to kick on, a stream of ambitious titles were soon planned over at Bad Robot. These included steampunk epic Boilerplate, concept thriller 7 Minutes in Heaven, action flick Wunderkind and Collider, which would’ve seen Edgar Wright (Shaun Of The Dead, Baby Driver) in the director’s chair. Last we heard, Collider was still “in the script stage” after five years of development. Meanwhile, a deal was struck to take popular video games Half-Life and Portal and put them on the big screen.
However, due to other projects like Star Trek: Into Darkness, Abrams’ grip on this queue of movies loosened. Eventually, the master producer seemingly abandoned each project, leaving a sad question mark hovering above them.
As for his relationship with HBO, well that’s been a mixed bag too. Yes, they’ve shared some phenomenal success – most recently with Westworld – but for every existential android epic there’s a shelved Meryl Streep vehicle (The Nix), or failed space colony drama – Glare disappeared from slates shortly after being announced in 2016.
Obviously, Hollywood is littered with half-baked ideas and un-funded movies that never got the green light, but Abrams seems to have a particularly bad record for leaving things unfinished. DC fans would be wise to treat any of his projects with scepticism – especially one featuring an occult detective, the ghost of an acrobat and something called Shade the Changing Man.
First debuting in the pages of DC Comics nine years ago, Justice League Dark isn’t exactly the most accessible title out there. Granted, its characterisation and storylines offer a rich, grotesque alternative to the likes of Superman, Wonder Woman and the MCU, but successfully placing them in the mainstream arena for more than one outing will take some serious work.
Actor Matt Ryan’s solo John Constantine (the de facto leader of the gang) series lasted just 13 episodes – after a run of appalling ratings – and in 2019, streaming service DC Universe put its horror-tinged Swamp Thing to the sword after a mere 10 episodes. Interestingly, other Justice League Dark members were scheduled to make appearances in these franchises, but that crossover promise did little to halt cancellation.
We have no doubt that Abrams will be considering this during development, but these characters’ shortcomings on the small screen exist for a reason. Maybe, for whatever reason, they just don’t click with regular tellyheads. First thing’s first though, will he even see it through?