James Gunn explains why he portrays superheroes as ‘maniacs’ not ‘gods’

Image via DC Films

There are a lot of different ways that superheroes are portrayed in modern comic book movies and TV. By and large, the MCU tends to depict its heroes as flawed, relatable people while the DCEU is famed for presenting its heroes as stoic gods, mostly in Zack Snyder’s films. But James Gunn has a unique way of portraying his costumed crimefighters — more often than not, they’re unhinged weirdos with unresolved personality issues.

In an interview with Vulture, the Peacemaker creator opened up about why it is that he tends to handle comic book characters in this way. Gunn explained that he just loves the idea of superheroes as “maniacs”, which is something he enjoyed bringing to the table with Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy franchise.

“The idea that superheroes are maniacs is something I like very much,” Gunn said. “[Guardians of the Galaxy] is much different because it’s really a science fiction story, a science fantasy story. They’re not superheroes, they’re not wearing masks, which is one of the reasons I think I had an easier time working my way into it.”

For his DC debut The Suicide Squad, however, Gunn was faced with a team of anti-heroes in traditional four-color costumes and decided he couldn’t treat them like “gods” as he finds the whole idea of dressing up to fight crime preposterous. Ultimately, it’s the inherent “silliness” of the genre that appeals to the writer/director.

“But in The Suicide Squad, you got guys wearing yellow costumes and all this stuff,” he continued. “I decided to go for what it would really be like. Treating these people like gods is like, ‘Whaat?’ I have a hard time imagining a guy who’s really serious and wants revenge making a costume for himself and putting black around his eyes so his skin doesn’t show when you look him in the face. He’s got the mask on, and also the eye makeup under it! There’s a silliness to it that I can’t deny. Not because it’s making fun but because it seems to me that the silliness is what is real.”

Gunn makes a good point about how he was almost able to sidestep the superhero genre with the Guardians movies, as the ragtag nature of the team and the cosmic setting makes them more sci-fi adventure flicks than cape ‘n’ cowl films. But his DC projects tackle that world head-on, which is why they feel much more parodic and self-effacing. Peacemaker, for instance, derives endless fun from poking holes in the DC universe, referencing some of the weirdest characters from the comics. e.g. Bat-Mite and Matter-Eater Lad.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which is shooting now, will see Gunn briefly return to the MCU before he switches back to DC to helm multiple upcoming projects for HBO Max, including another Suicide Squad spinoff and a second season of Peacemaker. So get ready to see many more maniac superheroes in the DCEU in the years to come.