Opinion: Marvel vs DC – the multiplex battle’s next stage.
It’s been the subject of many a fanboy debate: who produces the better comics, DC or Marvel? That’s an argument that could go in circles forever, but one thing is for sure: Marvel certainly makes more films than DC.
This year alone, Marvel has Thor, Captain America and X-Men: First Class coming up, while DC just has Green Lantern. Marvel also has The Amazing Spider-man in production alongside their much-hyped Avengers movie, and sequels/reboots of Iron Man, Ghost Rider, Daredevil, Fantastic Four and Wolverine in development. Add to that rumoured big screen features for Deadpool, Doctor Strange, Iron Fist and Luke Cage, and DC’s slate, consisting solely of yet more Batman and Superman films and a Wonder Woman TV pilot, begins to look a bit sparse.
Why are Marvel doing so much more with their properties than DC? Are they just more business savvy? Or is it because with Disney backing them they have far more resources to bring these characters to the big screen? Maybe DC are hobbled by the fact that their character rights are scattered to the seven winds, making a shared filmic universe like Marvel’s next to impossible? Or is the answer simply that DC’s characters are not as cinematic as their competitor’s?
Aside from Batman and Superman, DC’s major films have been few and far between. Nonetheless, their characters are behind arguably the two best comic book adaptations ever: Richard Donner’s Superman and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. But they seem reluctant to branch out beyond those two tentpole characters. Marvel, on the other hand, have taken the approach of throwing mud at the wall and seeing what sticks. Some of their films have been disappointing (Hulk never quite works) while some previously obscure characters have shot up the ranks since their hit cinematic debuts (hello Iron Man). But none of their films are downright awful, they’re still fun and, most importantly, undeniably cinematic.
Stan Lee knew what appealed to young readers and gave his stories very clear, classic structures and archetypes that translate well to the screen even 50 years later. Just compare Spider-Man to Wonder Woman. Every Spidey story is essentially the same: Nerdy kid gets superpowers, enjoys them, learns humbling life lessons, saves city (and love interest) from a supervillain. Wonder Woman, however, is damn near impenetrable, with a back story borrowing heavily from Greek myth and changing every ten years. No surprise her film adaptations never escape development Hades.
Marvel, wisely, has a big focus on its heroes being relatable. They’re largely all regular folks who are suddenly gifted amazing powers, be it from radioactive spiders, genetic mutations or super serums. Their heroes are nearly all human and their cinematic universe has wisely remained Earth-bound thus far. DC, meanwhile, are quite alien-heavy. Lately cinema audiences have been turning away from extra-terrestrials. Fans mauled the Star Wars prequels and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ‘alienated’ its audience with its ‘interdimensional beings’. Rooted-in-reality superhero films like Kick-Ass, Watchmen and even Iron Man are seemingly more popular these days, although that might change when audiences are confronted with Norse gods and intergalactic space police this summer.
The Avengers is an exciting and logical development of the Marvel universe. One of the best things about comics is the sight of favourite characters crossing over and coming face-to-face, and now Marvel can do that on screen. Forums practically exploded when Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury first showed up to tell Robert Downey Jnr’s Tony Stark about “the Avengers initiative”. But the chances of Green Lantern’s Hal Jordan being interviewed by The Daily Planet’s Lois Lane are slim (unless DC are damn good at keeping secrets).
DC have tons of characters who, while not as iconic as Bruce and Clark, should be given a chance to make an impact on the big screen. But something always seems to hold them back. The Flash is almost Marvel-esque in his relatability, but super-speed tends to look ridiculous on screen. Wonder Woman’s multiple histories stump everyone who tackles her. A Teen Titans film depends on whether Robin’s rights can be wrestled away from Batman. Green Arrow sounds too similar to Green Lantern and may confuse audiences. Aquaman is… rubbish. Maybe DC needs to take a tip from Marvel and experiment with their less well-known characters, like the fame-hungry time-traveller Booster Gold, or the backwards-talking sorceress Zatanna? Most importantly, they need to stop viewing their projects as separate and start moving towards a unified world like Marvel have done.
DC’s more outlandish universe seems to fit more comfortably with animation, which is where they have been focusing their efforts lately. But fans of the publishers are hoping that Green Lantern will prove a watershed and pave the way for more of their characters to make it to the screen before the comic book film bubble bursts – or before Marvel owns a complete monopoly on the genre.
By Abigail Chandler.