Beginning as an innocent childhood debate, the battle over whether DC or Marvel is the better company has turned into a full-fledged war. Disagreements on social media have sparked endless bickering and turned into plots to sabotage film reviews. The rivalry between these two comic-book powerhouses began as petty arguments between writers over whether one was copying characters from another. Historically speaking, DC is credited with the invention of superheroes, introducing Superman in the 1930s with Marvel following shortly after with Human Torch. In the 1960s, the war kickstarted when Stan Lee was tasked with creating a team that could compete with the growing success of DC's Justice League, finally founding the Fantastic Four with Jack Kirby.
After a series of comic-book reboots created by both teams in an effort to outsmart each other, the battlefield expanded to the world of television and movies. DC launched Richard Donner's Superman series and Tim Burton's Batman, bringing superheroes to the silver screen while Marvel struggled to keep up until 2000 when they released the box-office hit Spider-Man. DC then gained a major win with Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, earning an Oscar for Heath Ledger's Joker performance. Meanwhile, Marvel was quick to give movie deals to every character in their line-up, hitting a home run with The Avengers. Breaking free of the comic book stores and into theaters everywhere, the war between DC and Marvel continues to rage on. With no apparent end in sight, CBR attempts to offer reasons why both companies edge each other out and why they both ultimately lose.
According to a recent study by ZappiStore, Marvel movies are bigger box-office successes because audiences find them more emotionally engaging than DC films. Using the audience's facial expressions, the study found people react positively to DC trailers only when CGI elements and special effects are shown and have little reaction when the actual characters make onscreen appearances.
In terms of Marvel trailers, positive reactions were found through-out the screening, especially if humor was involved. In terms of specific trailers, when shown the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 trailer, there was a 78% emotional engagement from the audience. When shown the Justice League trailer, the engagement went down to 71% showing audiences reacted poorly to the dark and gritty nature of the DC universe.
While the DC cinematic universe may be doing poorly, there's no doubt their animated universe is a tremendous success. Thanks to Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, Batman: The Animated Series and its various stand-alone movies have become beloved childhood treasures. Cartoon Network's Justice League and JLU allowed "The Trinity" to take a step back and give other superheroes their time in the spotlight.
Both the television series and animated films embraced the human sides of their fantastic heroes, leading to more emotionally compelling story-telling. Many of the actors such as Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill and Michael Rosenbaum to this day are still widely recognized as the very heroes and villains they voiced and willingly continue to lend their talents when needed.
Marvel's perfect casting when it comes to its characters-- Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark-- continues to lead to success at the box office. Marvel also hasn't been shy when it comes to recasting characters such as the Hulk and Punisher and took risks casting unfamiliar actors like Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Letitia Wright as Shuri.
Stan Lee has continued to praise the performances of many Marvel actors including Chris Evans as Captain America and Tom Holland as the most recent Spider-Man, stating he hopes "we stay with them forever." With the recent announcements that Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill are leaving their respective roles as Batman and Superman, it appears the DCU has ultimately lost the fight.
In contrast to their cinematic universe, which often exchanges quality story-telling for graphic action sequences, the DC television universe understands the importance of developing a background for their characters. Now in its fifth season, Gotham is the prequel to the traditional Batman origin story, delving into the backstories of characters essential to the Dark Knight's rise. Fans of Supergirl praise Melissa Benoist's performance as "Superman's plucky little cousin" and enjoy the cross-over episodes with the equally brilliant Arrow.
Creating its own multiverse, the DC universe has expanded to include The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and the soon-to-be Batwoman. Laying the foundation for each individual's story to be told and relationships to be both made and destroyed greatly improves the overall enjoyment of fans watching these shows.
What has always worked in Marvel's favor is the fact they have a giant interconnected universe at their disposal. Movies like Avengers, Captain America: Civil War, and Avengers: Infinity War had multiple heroes and villains from the comics interact with one another, forming new friendships and bitter rivalries.
Through the clever use of post-credits scenes, Marvel is able to set up which characters will make appearances and how certain story elements will be reflected in later films. The cinematic universe also has expanded to television series such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Agent Carter which aim to place the spotlight on the supporting characters behind the superhero phenomenon.
Admittedly, it took DC a while but in 2017, Wonder Woman proved a female superhero movie could be successful. The film broke numerous box-office records, grossed over $800 million worldwide, and won Best Action Movie at the 23rd Critic's Choice Awards. Seeing their risk paid off, DC was quick to announce plans to make Birds of Prey, Batgirl, and most recently a Supergirl film.
DC has never been afraid to depict women in power and has been quick to embrace diversity. In the all female-led Birds of Prey, directed by Cathy Yan, the character of Black Canary will be played by Jurnee Smollett-Bell. When it came to casting Batwoman, the CW specifically sought out an "openly gay actress" for the role, deciding on Ruby Rose.
What gives Marvel an edge over DC is the fact they have more characters to work with when it comes to movies. After giving Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor their respective trilogies, Marvel branched out and released unexpected films like Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Doctor Strange. While not always successful, the films allowed Marvel to expand their franchise by including more humorous and mystical elements into their storylines.
Already in Phase 3, Marvel has plans to release movies as far into the future as 2022 and teased projects such as a stand-alone Black Widow film, a Black Panther sequel, and a reboot of Blade. By having more "cinematic" characters--according to Mark Millar--to work with, Marvel is able to tell more heroic stories.
While Marvel heavily relies on their heroes to stand on their own, DC isn't afraid to continue their heroes' legacies in other people's hands. While Batman is efficient by himself, the creation of his own Bat-Family and teaming up with the Justice League ensures his endless pursuit of justice will be upheld.
Knowing they can't be there to prevent every disaster, the Justice League took it upon themselves to create Young Justice, a group of teenage sidekicks who will one day step into the spotlight previously reserved for their mentors. Even the mantle of The Flash and the title of Green Lantern have been passed down through the ages, providing a team of super-speedsters and ring-wielding warriors to defend Earth in times of crisis.
DC suffers criticism because their universe is too dark. When an attempt at humor was made-- Joss Whedon taking over Justice League-- the end result left audiences cringing with discomfort. Despite the heavy feelings Marvel left fans with at the end of Infinity War, many of their movies continue to bring laughter and overall joy to their fans.
Films like Ant-Man and Deadpool weren't afraid to take a less-serious tone and cranked up the immaturity level with goofy antics and witty one-liners. Characters such as Tony Stark and Star-Lord are adored because of their bold sarcasm. When Taika Waititi directed Thor: Ragnarok, he did away with the Shakespearian overtone and dedication to mythology and replaced it with visual gags and laugh-out-loud performances.
Disregarding Jared Leto's controversial Joker in Suicide Squad and Jesse Eisenberg's over-the-top Lex Luthor in BvS, the majority of DC's villains have been overwhelmingly better than those of Marvel. It can be argued that what hurts Marvel is their heroes never stop being "the hero" and therefore the villains are left as simple stereotypes of the classic "bad guy" who wants to take over the world.
What makes DC villains more appealing are the tragic backstories that made them the formidable foes they are where in the case of Marvel, many just turned to the dark side on their own. Marvel has taken a serious beating because many find their villains non-threatening-- with the exception of Thanos' recent devastating effects from his "Finger-Snap" moment.
Now that Disney is taking control, 21st Century Fox has had to give up its film and TV assets. Currently, Dark Phoenix and New Mutants are without a respectful owner due to both currently being in production. Safely assuming Disney is reluctant to turn Deadpool into a potty-mouthed princess, its believed Marvel might be hesitant to give away Fantastic Four.
With Blade belonging to New Line Cinema and Spider-Man to Sony, Marvel has struggled to keep its characters within its grasp. What concerns many fans is how X-Men will be handled when it comes to the merger; the films already frustrating audiences with numerous reboots and confusing timelines. If claimed by Disney, they will have to compete with Marvel's far more successful Avengers for attention.
DC fans are already concerned regarding Ben Affleck's wavering commitment to playing Batman and now their worries have increased following Henry Cavill stepping down as Superman. Though confirmation about either departure has yet to be officially made, replacements for both heroes are already lining up. Michael B. Jordan is the frontrunner for the Man of Steel despite ties to the Marvel Universe and recently Noah Centineo was rumored for the Dark Knight.
If DC were to lose its top-tier heroes, Gal Gadot would be the only remaining member of "The Big Three." Though Wonder Woman was a box-office success, the same can't be guaranteed for Aquaman and Shazam. As the DCEU tries to reboot itself with various spin-offs and stand-alone films, an uncertain fate awaits.
While Marvel's movies are entertaining, it has struggled in the past to get their heroes just right. Spider-Man had to go through the turbulent Tobey Maguire trilogy, then the awkward Andrew Garfield phase before finally settling on Tom Holland as their friendly neighborhood wall-crawler. In terms of the Hulk, the green giant suffered a forgettable performance by Eric Bana and was almost rewritten by Edward Norton before Mark Ruffalo stepped in to end the chaos.
However, Marvel's worst mistake was attempting to remake the Fantastic Four in 2015. Regarded as a "commercial failure" and the worst film ever made, the reboot was unfaithful to its comic book roots and plagued by bitter conflict between director Josh Trank and 20th Century Fox.
Forced to step down from Justice League, Zack Snyder had to give up the directing reigns to Marvel's Joss Whedon. Reshooting roughly "20 percent of the movie," Whedon was heavy-handed when it came to his edits. The end result was a mashup of Snyder's depictions of graphic violence and heavily-emotional undertones with Whedon's crude humor, comments that demeaned women, and a comedic attempt to make Batman less of a "Dark" Knight.
After being let go from the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, James Gunn will be taking over filming Suicide Squad 2 after Gavin O'Connor's departure. Though interest in the sequel has been piqued, the film has been delayed due to growing favoritism for Birds of Prey with Warner Bros. wanting to expand the character line-up.
The vast majority of the "aspiring hero" storyline Marvel continues to tell has been told and supported by predominantly white actors. Despite being a surprise box-office success, the Blade trilogy was never properly recognized for reviving the adoration of superhero films during Marvel's early years. It wasn't until Black Panther's release that the desire for diversity was truly felt.
In regards to female superhero films, Kevin Feige thanked DC's Wonder Woman for paving the way for Captain Marvel's debut and the potential for a stand-alone Black Widow. Following Elektra's poor performance in 2005, the idea of creating another female superhero film was unspeakable. Though baby steps are being made, fans still question the company's commitment to expanding its cultural impact, especially during today's tense political environment.
By comparison, DC suffers the same criticism as Marvel in regards to their lack of diversity. Much of the DCU heavily relies on the success of "the big three": Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. It wasn't until Justice League brought more heroes into the spotlight and Suicide Squad tried to operate outside the boundaries of BvS that the overwhelming presence of the beloved trinity was pushed away.
After Justice League's terrible debut, DC is attempting to restart itself by focusing solely on stand-alone films like Aquaman, Shazam, and Birds of Prey, giving other heroes a chance to shine. The DCEU is also delving into villainous territory with various Joker movies including an "Elseworlds-esque" inspired film with Joaquin Phoenix and a Mad Love storyline with Harley Quinn.
Expanding their cinematic universe into television hasn't been a smooth transition for Marvel. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, while renewed for a sixth season, continues to suffer from a steady drop in ratings since its first episode premiere. Despite overwhelmingly positive reviews, Agent Carter only lasted two seasons due to ABC wanting Hayley Atwell to convert to a more "mainstream" series.
Netflix series Iron Fist and Luke Cage were recently canceled after failing to generate social media buzz, leaving fans of Daredevil, The Punisher and Jessica Jones wondering if these shows will also receive the chop. Another cause for worry in Disney's plan to release their own streaming service, leaving homeless Marvel characters with a fleeting hope of a cameo appearance elsewhere.
Due to DC's love of all things dark and gritty, there have been moments when the universe has crossed a few lines. To this day, The Killing Joke is regarded as one of the most horrific Batman stories ever told, receiving tremendous feminist backlash over the treatment of Barbara Gordon at the hands of a sadistic Joker.
The animated film reignited anger over the controversial storyline by involving a highly-intimate moment between Barbara and her mentor Bruce Wayne. The passing of Jason Todd, Superman breaking Zod's neck in Man of Steel, even the Joker turning normal in White Knight have all left fans with a bitter taste in their mouth and questioning how far the DCEU is willing to venture into the darkness.
While characters like Iron Man and Captain America receive continued adoration, others haven't been so lucky. Black Widow has been recently reduced to the flirty female member of the Avengers attempting to seduce her male teammates. After Hawkeye's wife-reveal fizzled hopes of a romance, the assassin tried to gain sympathy from Bruce Banner in Age of Ultron by revealing she too is a "monster" due to her inability to reproduce.
In terms of Hawkeye, the expert archer was absent from Infinity War and given no explanation for his disappearance or lack of marketing during the film's promotion. With Marvel being called out for its lack of diversity, model and disability activist Nyle DiMarco campaigned for a more comic-book accurate version of the normally deaf character.
Much of DC's struggle to edge out Marvel is the inability to create a successful franchise. While Marvel has given several of its heroes their respective trilogies, DC's only successes are Nolan's Batman trilogy and the Christopher Reeves' Superman series. Confusing timelines only further complicate the issue, leaving fans scratching their heads when it comes to determining an order for the events of the DCEU.
Following Man of Steel, the assumption of BvS: Dawn of Justice as its sequel was seemingly confirmed when the aftermath of Superman's confrontation with Zod was reflected in a scene where Bruce Wayne witnesses the destruction of his family's business. With Affleck and Cavill's rumored departures, plans for another Batman trilogy and a five-movie Man of Steel franchise have fallen by the wayside.