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TV and Movies

Comic-Con 2018: Hands-on with DC's bold, new streaming platform

DC Universe is like Netflix, a comics shop and a message board all rolled into one service.

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TV, comics and movies, all in one place.

DC Entertainment

DC is kicking off San Diego Comic-Con 2018 with an ambitious foray into the world of streaming services. It calls this venture DC Universe, a platform that aims to tie its different varieties of superhero adventures together. 

Want to watch a Batman movie? Want to watch Batman: The Animated Series? Want to read Batman: The Court of Owls? You can have it all -- for $7.99 a month.

That may raise some eyebrows among those already paying for multiple subscription services. But DC is betting on your loyalty to its characters' adventures and how easily they can now be explored to convince you to open your wallet.

During a limited walkthrough at Comic-Con, DC showed off a not-yet-final version of the service, which is set to launch in the fall. It starts off with your phone or tablet, where you can scroll through a curated series of movies, TV shows and comics, which will be available for consumption either online or offline.

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The Swamp Thing will veer into horror.

DC Entertainment

As expected, that slate of programming is entirely weighted toward DC properties. Several Batman films, the DC Animated Universe and its upcoming crop of original programming are among the current video offerings. On the comics side, there will be a rotating selection of books at least partially tied to the current video properties.

"We wanted the DC Universe comic reader to be a blend of art and technology that would further enhance fan's experiences of the live-action and animated programming on DC Universe," DC Entertainment Publisher Dan DiDio said in a statement.

DC Universe flagship show Titans, for example, will be joined by Teen Titans comics from the series' expansive archive. You'll be able to view those comics on iOS and Android devices as well as on your television.

Bold splash panels, as demonstrated by a section of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's 2011 Batman #1, looked as good on the big screen as they did on the page, though viewing a remastered version of the comic on a 4K goes a long way to help. Scrolling through individual panels was seamless via the remote, and you'll even be able to set the app to scroll through panels at a pre-set interval, presenting an interesting backdrop to your next party.

If you're more of the solo TV-binging type, DC will be launching three confirmed live-action series: There's the aforementioned Titans, which lives up to its TV-MA rating, and a Doom Patrol series, which will be tied to Titans and explore the stranger side of DC. A Swamp Thing series, taking a more horror-inspired direction, will be separate from the two other shows entirely.

"We have no mandate to tie everything together," DC Chief Creative Officer and Publisher Jim Lee said, drawing obvious parallels to the thoroughly intertwined Marvel TV and cinematic universes.

DC Universe will also host the continuation of the fan-favorite animated Young Justice series with Young Justice: Outsiders. There's also a brand-new Harley Quinn animated series following, you guessed it, Harley Quinn. Her show also inspired a cathartic fan experience that we got to try at the DC Experience, across from the Comic-Con convention center. 

Beyond the shows and those multi-device capabilities, what separates DC Universe from the countless other streaming platforms aching for your subscription? In an interesting step beyond where the likes of Netflix and Hulu have tread, DC emphasized fan-driven content and conversation.

For diehard fans, a community section will provide a forum for debates over which Flash is the fastest or whether Batman will get over his failed attempt to marry Catwoman -- debates that DC claims will be monitored to lessen the toxicity that has infected many fan communities.

The aim is to recreate the "old-school, traditional message board," in the words of Rob Kamphausen, vice president of Warner Bros. Digital Labs. To that end, Kamphausen said the community aspects of Universe will include active moderation along with hosting content and conversations created by fans -- though beyond the app's home screen display, neither were included in DC's demo.

A safe, inclusive environment is a necessary step, Lee said, alluding to backlashes among highly vocal members of fan communities.

The way Lee and Kamphausen positioned it, DC Universe is designed to retain the best elements of online fan communities without the nastiness many find on Facebook and Twitter.

Craig Hunegs, Warner Bros. Television's president of business and strategy, was even more clear about DC's attitude toward conversations that run afoul on other platforms: "We're not going to tolerate that," he said.

But whether DC is capable of solving something that has challenged every social and content-hosting platform of late remains to be seen.

And along those lines, DC Universe has a lot of deliver in across the board. Our guided demo worked well, but it was just that, a demo. Preorders for a full year of service are already available for $75.

But Lee set the project's ambitions higher, with the goal of looking at the DC library and repositioning and reinventing it for an audience that may not just want to read a series of comics. The mix of original and legacy content, paired with a moderated community, could prove successful. Or, come San Diego Comic-Con 2019, DC could be facing a Crisis on Infinite Streaming Alternatives.

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