On Tuesday, DC Studios co-chairmen James Gunn and Peter Safran shared the 10 projects that will chart the “first chapter” of their all-new, all-different DC cinematic universe. And while the usual DCU suspects feature prominently in their plans — hello, Superman; hiya, Batman — Gunn and Safran seem just as interested in plumbing the depths of DC Comics’ vast catalog to pull out some truly deep cuts. In an interview with DC.com, Safran, speaking with Gunn, stated that this first slate of projects will, in essence, resemble the structure and continuity of Marvel Studios’ film and television Phases, but the DC duo promises that their slate will be a bit more freaky. Says Safran: “[This] first chapter’s called ‘Gods and Monsters.’”
So it’s fitting, then, that the next big swing from this Gunn-DC partnership will be Creature Commandos, a new seven-episode animated series for HBO Max written by Gunn and is designed, it seems, to further cement the tone established by Gunn’s The Suicide Squad and Peacemaker. Creature Commandos may even have a part to play in the live-action HBO Max series Waller, which looks to be the next series to premiere in this slate, for reasons we’ll get into soon enough. (One of those reasons being this unambiguous tidbit from DC’s interview with Gunn: “In Creature Commandos, one of the main characters shows up in Waller.”)
Yeah, it may not come as much of a surprise that the filmmaker who brought Marvel also-rans like Guardians of the Galaxy to worldwide prominence would be given free rein to bring more esoteric DC characters like Creature Commandos to the fore. But, and this is where things get interesting, the Creature Commandos cartoon is designed to kick off this new direction for the entire DC cinematic universe. “[We’re] having animation [tie] directly into live action,” Gunn says. “Television, movies, and games all intertwine within the same universe. We’re going to cast actors that are going to be able to play the characters in [Commandos], as well as in other things, some of which we’ve already cast.”
For now, at least, Gunn and Safran have supplied a first-look promo image from Creature Commandos (see header), along with a show update that indicates that this new dawn for DC might be closer than anybody might have guessed. Says Gunn: “I’ve written all seven episodes of this show and it’s in production now.”
So! Who are these Creature Commandos, and why are they about to become your new favorite DC characters? Before we get into all of that, a quick note: this piece will meander around various DC Comics realities, chiefly those of the Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths, Flashpoint, and New 52 continuities, and this writer will do his damnedest to clarify any cosmic confusions as we go along. With that, here is the only primer on Creature Commandos that you're going to need.
By November 1980 DC’s anthology series Weird War Tales was all but kaput and a change was needed to boost sales. Enter writer J.M. DeMatteis, who, alongside artist Pat Broderick, took the comic’s already out-there concept and tossed it toward its wildest extremes. “I took a look at the title, ‘Weird War,’ and I said, ‘[you] gotta have a lot of monsters,’” DeMatteis told Comics Interview in 1986. So, with Weird War Tales #93, the Creature Commandos were born, a frightful result of a top-secret U.S. psy-op called Project “M.” (“M... for monster!” declares the Commandos’ first leader, Lieutenant Matthew Shrieve, in the issue.) Will Project “M” factor into Creature Commandos? That remains to be seen.
One thing is certain, this proto-Task Force X concept was both simple and completely deranged. The scientists behind Project “M” (“Division M” in later iterations) researched the archetypes of horror which subconsciously torment all people — regardless of upbringing or “cultural conditioning,” as Shrieve tells the top brass — and went about making these terrors flesh and blood. Designed specifically to freak out America’s enemies, the first iteration of the Creature Commandos transformed a line of soldiers (who were either 4F or facing jail time for various reasons) into a werewolf, a vampire, a gorgon, a robot, a Frankensteined monstrosity — all of whom were led, of course, by Lt. Shrieve.
Creature Commandos will feature a different lineup from its comic book forebears — you’ll note a lack of vampires and werewolves in this new crew — but it’s a fascinating change for those who have kept track of DC’s freakiest of fighters over the years. Blending teammates from the original Weird War run, the New 52-era Agents of S.H.A.D.E., a wrongfully discarded Batman villain, and Gunn’s own Suicide Squad (hello, Weasel!), the animated Creature Commandos promises to be a proper motley crew.
Since there’s no official word on whether or not Viola Davis will provide vocal support to Gunn’s Creature Commandos as Task Force X’s hard-ass director Amanda Waller, let’s just get this out of the way. We know that at least one member of Commandos will appear in the live-action Waller series for HBO Max. Plus, with Commandos' deployment of ex-Task Force X recruit Weasel, not to mention the presence of an elder soldier by the name of Flag, it’s safe to speculate that the already very long shadow Waller casts across the DCU will likely fall across this animated monster mash in some substantial way before its seven-episode run is over. And speaking of Flag…
Rick Flag Sr.
The top-secret exploits of Richard Montgomery Flag serve as the genesis point for what was once called “The Suicide Squadron,” a World War II-era military unit that sprung up after the “sudden” disappearance of the Justice Society in the early ’50s. (You’re just gonna have to look that up to discover where they went — and why!) President Truman called on Flag to fill the superhero gap with a new outfit of his design: Task Force X. Also, you might recognize the name; the late Rick Flag Jr. (Joel Kinnaman) perished during The Suicide Squad. Considering Flag Sr. was bombing around WWII, he’s looking pretty fit for a man his age; perhaps that will be a crucial story point for Creature Commandos. And if the series takes place in the present, Dad Flag might have a few things to say to Amanda Waller concerning the untimely passing of his good soldier son.
Dr. Nina Mazursky
Dr. Nina Mazursky is a relatively newer character to the DC mythos, spawning from the Flashpoint DC continuity (itself a whole can of worms) in Flashpoint: Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown #1, only to find a more concrete place in DC reality with the New 52-era Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. series. As a merperson, Nina is a human/amphibian hybrid and, judging by her appearance in the official DC preview image, Nina requires a water-logged helmet in order to breathe on the surface among her fellow Commandos. As the team’s resident scientist (and, according to New 52 continuity, their creator), it’s likely that the helmet is of her own design. As for Nina’s backstory, which is so tragic that it is most likely going to be a part of this series, we won’t spoil it here.
Created by Steve Englehart, Dr. Alexander Sartorius, the phosphorescently nuclear and quite insane Dr. Phosphorous, first appeared in Detective Comics #469 and has been a persistent pain in Batman’s ass for many years. While it’s too early to say whether or not the new DCU’s Batman will have brushed up against Dr. Phosphorus before he joined the Commandos, his manic desire to burn all that he touches will likely prove to be an issue for his fellow Creatures. It might also be worth mentioning that Sartorius is, if nothing else, the visual inspiration for Batman Beyond villain Blight, just in case James Gunn decides to cast his eyes toward DC’s cinematic future at some point.
World War II was not just the province of Rick Flag, Sr. or even the Justice Society; according to the Flashpoint continuity, it was also the stomping grounds of a Frankenstein monster. It’s not clear who Gunn is referring to when he calls the Frankenstein of Creature Commandos “Eric,” but it seems as though this monster is some kind of fusion of the original Elliot “Lucky” Taylor character from Weird War Tales and the monster modern readers loved in Grant Morrison’s epic Seven Soldiers revival, not to mention the New 52 version from Agents of S.H.A.D.E. (Comics!) Put back together after falling on a land mine and given new life by military scientists, Elliot — er, Eric — became an inhuman wrecking ball for the Commandos, and later a noble warrior for S.H.A.D.E. (also known as the Super-Human Advanced Defense Executive), providing his team a clear-cut philosophy concerning justice: no matter who does wrong, they’re getting the sharp end of the sword. It’s possible his Bride may find this just as unappealing in the animated series as she did in the comics. (More on her in a bit.)
There have been a few G.I. Robots that have marauded through certain points of DC continuity; however, it’s most likely that the rusty toy soldier among this series’ ranks is the soldier-android J.A.K.E. (Jungle Automatic Killer - Experimental). And, judging by the digit printed on the helmet of the robo-fella in DC’s promotional image, this isn’t the first version of the robot, or even the 6.1st — it’s J.A.K.E. #2, an iteration of the G.I. Robot who may or may not have survived all the way to the 31st Century, the temporal home of the Legion of Super-Heroes. (It’s where Superman — and sometimes Supergirl — hangs out, just to put that out there.)
Weasel might just enjoy a livelier existence on-screen than he’s ever had in the comics. Formerly known as the human Jack Monroe, Rick Flag (Junior, mind you) made short work of the squirrelly feller on the comics page. On-screen he’s proved to be more indomitable; he somehow miraculously survived the Corto Maltese fiasco, as depicted in Gunn’s The Suicide Squad. Portrayed by Sean Gunn in live action, it’s likely Sean may supply Weasle’s burbly squeak for this animated series, and he may just provide some repentant — yet defiant — murmurs when the subject of that heinous crime for which he was originally imprisoned gets brought up.
Ray Palmer, a.k.a The Atom
There’s a small chance (forgive us) that The Atom, sometimes Justice Leaguer and the U.N. Science Liaison for S.H.A.D.E., might make an appearance in Creature Commandos. If nothing else, if this show intends to be as awesome as it promises to be, it will at least include the home base of operations for the eponymous Commandos: namely, The Ant Farm, a mobile, 3-inch metropolis that hovers over Manhattan Island and is only accessible through Palmer-made shrink-tech. Sorry; Jeff Lemire wrote it, and it rules too much to ignore here.
The Bride of Frankenstein
As far as New 52 continuity is concerned, she is the Bride of Frankenstein in name only. (“Ex-Wife” is more appropriate.) While Eric Frankenstein’s steadfast actions tend to dictate how the Commandos operate in the pages of Agent of S.H.A.D.E., as far as James Gunn is concerned the leader of his Creature Commandos is going to be The Bride. Her fraught romantic history with Eric might prove to be the emotional bedrock for this animated series, and the show just might make some mention of a child between her and this lumbering dope/soldier of victory — one whose existence created a monstrous rift of its own that may never be mended between these two heroic, if tragic, Creature Commandos.
Jarrod Jones is a freelance writer currently settled in Chicago. He reads lots (and lots) of comics and, as a result, is kind of a dunderhead.
TOPICS: HBO Max, Creature Commandos, James Gunn, Animation