So, we’re potentially just days away from news on how Warner Bros. plans to exploit DC Comics for all its worth, with a fuller version of those plans – or, at least, a spreadsheet – to follow next month. But I have to ask: Am I the only person who wonders if it’s too little, too late, to actually succeed?
Don’t get me wrong; In the DC/Marvel cold war that is comics, I’m much closer to the Superman/Batman camp than the opposition (Really, I’d rather call myself a conscientious objector, but that run of Paul Levitz’s Legion might disagree), but the fact remains that Marvel, for better or worse, pretty much own the superhero movie market for most mainstream moviegoers these days – Yes, Batman seems to contradict that, but Batman, in so many ways, is a freak occurrence, and shouldn’t necessarily be looked at as a signpost for the success of other DC superheroes who haven’t owned the pop cultural zeitgeist on at least two separated-by-decades occasions – and, now that they have the might of Disney behind them, are probably about to hold onto that title for a long, long time to come.
It’s not just that Disney is very good at moving into and, from that point onwards, dominating particular markets that it sets its sights on (And with the Marvel IP, now they finally have material to do that in their longtime weak spot, teen boys), although that really counts for a lot, in my book. More, it’s that Marvel has spent a lot of time, money, internet presence and bad movies (Hi there, Hulk) teaching the world that, if you’re thinking “superheroes” that aren’t any of these annoying post-modern things like Kick-Ass or Super or Hancock, then you’re thinking “Marvel” – or, perhaps, Pixar but they’re Disney too and that was a one-off so that’s alright. Somehow – and, really, I’m still not entirely sure how they actually managed this – Marvel has managed to sell the audience on not just Iron Man, but the idea that all the other movies leading up to The Avengers are essential parts of the Iron Man story. Instead of selling Iron Man, they’ve managed to sell Marvel Universe, to the point where fans are excitedly awaiting Thor and Captain America despite the fact that none of the same creators are working on them: The shared universe becomes what’s important. So, why can’t DC do that?
Well, for one thing, because they’re not the first to do it. Newness – or, in this case, the illusion of newness – is important, and it can be better to avoid something than be the second people to try it, in many cases. More importantly, audiences have already bought into one shared superhero universe – will they be willing to do so for another? More cynically, will non-comic-reading audiences really be able to tell that Green Lantern, The Flash and whatever other DCU movies are coming out aren’t part of Marvel’s plans?
There’s definitely money being left on the table for Warners, insofar as the potential licensing of DC Comics’ characters and IP goes – If nothing else, outside of movies or television, there’s got to be room for exploiting the pop cultural iconography of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman in all manner of merchandise that we haven’t seen, surely? – but then it comes to building an empire based on multiple movies about the superheroes? Marvel’s already there, and there might not be any space left for another big player.