By: John D. Pepe

This is the golden age of comic book movies. We are seeing unique, diverse, and once irrelevant superheroes cast in movies that are exploding onto the big screen.

Two of the largest comic book companies out there: Marvel and D.C. (former obscure, nerd only universes) have become mainstream at the box office and are bringing in the big bucks. But it seems to me that Marvel is a few steps ahead of D.C. So, my question is why? Is it because Marvel was more popular comic book universe? Was it just timing? What is it?

When you look at the history of comics on television and in the movies, I would have to argue, that up until about ten years ago, D.C. had the distinct advantage when it came to viewing popularity.

As far back as 1952, when the George Reeve’s Superman aired on television, D.C. has been producing and recycling some of our foremost heroes. D.C. then moved onto the campy, Adam West Batman of the late 1960s. Then they had the success of Wonder Woman series in the mid to late 70s. Not to mention the other avenues that D.C. has ventured down with the Superman character on television: Lois and Clark and Smallville.

And Marvel had what, the widely unsuccessful, The Amazing Spiderman and the moderately successful, The Incredible Hulk.

I mean D.C. even leapt onto the big screen long before Marvel with both the Superman Movies featuring Christopher Reeve and then the Batman series that started in 1989 and bled through 1997.

But with the last Batman movie in that series, Batman and Robin, taking on heavy criticism it seemed as though studios just decided that they were no longer going swimming in the comic book pool.

Marvel in 2003 and 2004 tried a stab at the silver screen with Hulk, starring Eric Bana, who just didn’t fit the part and The Punisher, starting Tom Jane, which I though was a good movie, but was trashed by the critics, and got only a 29% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Then BAM! POW! KABLAM! Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins hit the theatres in 2005, and man was it cinematic gold! I absolutely loved this movie, and so did audiences. He then came out with the second in the series in 2008, The Dark Knight, and Heath Ledger’s Joker stole the show, creating cinematic platinum. I mean it was even better than the previous movie, and audiences couldn’t wait to see a reappearance of Ledger in the subsequent Batman movies to follow. It seemed as if D.C. had again flown by Marvel in the superhero movie race.

But alas tragedy stuck and stole the up and coming Joker star, and while the third installment of the Dark Knight Trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, was an excellent movie it seemed that it left audiences wanting, because of the lose of the Ledger character; that and in 2008 Marvel cast an all but washed up Robert Downey Jr. as the lead in Iron Man, really an unknown Marvel character to the wider audiences outside those who were attune to comic books- -And low and behold it was a smash hit!

After Iron Man Marvel just kept rolling them out, with little to no response from D.C. until 2013 with the Man of Steel. D.C. decided that they needed to get back in the race and came up with an aggressive move to try and catch up to what Marvel was doing with The Avengers. D.C began creating several break off movies trying to capture the excitement that has been building in Marvel which is clearly heading to Avengers: Infinity War, with their own lead up to something…???

The problem is that D.C. has been trying to play catch up with Superman vs. Batman, Wonder Woman, and most recently Justice League. But Justice League just isn’t in the same “league” as the Marvel movies. It seems rushed and quite frankly, a less clear, and less cogent copy of the Marvel idea.

Here are some of the other reasons why I think that has Marvel is just better:

1.    D.C. has taken the approach that characters like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman don’t have any doubts, anxiety, or neurosis. While Marvel has taken the approach that with their characters being less iconic. They are more like the men and women who watch the movies with their foibles, sense of humor, and relatable problems.

2.    Marvel has a more interwoven story line, with greater content to tap into, especially when it comes to their stand-alone movies. And there is always, new, more obscure characters being plucked from the pages of the comics which adds flavor. While D.C. has a very straight forward approach, with less content. I mean, as I stated above, how many times have they recycled the Superman and Batman stories.

3.    Warner Bros has taken D.C. down the doom and gloom path, while Marvel, although the fate of the world might be at stake is lighter, with more wit and humor.

4.    This, in my opinion, is the best argument for why Marvel is winning the cinematic wars and it was postulated by Robert McCallister-

Marvel is doing it out of the love of the story, and I believe that has been true since Iron Man show cased. (The one exception is Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy-I believe he cared for the story as well, and it came across). Marvel cares about what the fans want, because they are picking writers and directors who have passion for their projects. They pick actors who aren’t necessarily marque but fit the role of the character (They picked Robert Downey Jr., who is Iron Man, has silver screen charm, but had been nearly blacklisted in Hollywood a few years before) Picking someone like Downey Jr. means they care about what the fans want first and making a buck second, and that comes definitely comes across on the big screen.

While Fox and Warner Bros. just seem to care more about making money off their D.C. franchise, and care less about a good, well written story, with actors who fit the bill.

So, that is it in a nutshell. Tell me what you think.


7 Comments Add yours

  1. I completely agree. I’d also add DC/WB’s lack of patience. Marvel began in 2008 with ‘Iron Man’ and with a plan. It was a long, thought-out road to ‘The Avengers’ in 2012. They were slowly weaving this world together and then they blew out minds when it finally did. Since then, they’ve become more and more connected and the films have felt more and more like one big universe.

    DC/WB on the other hand, started with ‘Man Of Steel’ in 2013…a film with a high box office but mixed fan/critic reactions and moved right into a “team” movie with ‘Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice’ in 2016 while doubling down on the tone and characterizations so many people found problematic As a result, ‘Justice League’ comes along with a bunch of characters (Flash, Cyborg, Aquaman) we’ve never met before (so we have no relationship with them) and the film’s tone is closer to MoS and BvS even as you could see the move to feature Wonder Woman more and try and bring in the feel of her film a bit as well (as her movie was the one surprise DC’s gotten so, so right).

    Marvel took four years of careful planning and five films to get us from ‘Iron Man’ to ‘The Avengers.’ DC/WB had three years from ‘Man Of Steel’ to ‘Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice’ with no other films and a shaky (at least from my standpoint) plan at best. I even think people would be willing to embrace DC’s darker tone (as a contrast to Marvel) if their stories and characters showed the same level of planning and care you outline above that Marvel always brings to the table.

    What a fun post!


  2. jdpepe says:

    Yeah Mike. I agree with everything you say. D.C., as I eluded to before I went into my 4 points was exactly what you said- no patience. It seemed more like panic mode in that they had to catch up to the “team” film so they could make money. Rushed , no character development with other stand alone movies, and just not well thought out. D.C. is taking a backward approach “team” movie then we will worry about individual characters. Again, I agree in your assessment that even though D.C. is darker it would be more acceptable if the movies were better. But I still think that Marvel has a wider audience with their ability to weave humor into their movies and show a bit of levity even in the midst of world destruction. I mean isn’t that what made Iron Man so successful


  3. Ron Avants says:

    Great blog. One movie for me that sums up the Marvel camp. Is The ending of Guardians vol2. Because it has heart.


  4. jdpepe says:

    Thanks Ron! Not only heart but some great music


  5. gpavants says:

    Hi JP,

    Fantastical! Great job pulling together this running synopsis that dovetails Thursdays piece on Neekology. Brilliant.

    You summed up how Marvel lives up to its name by how they are developing great stories. I agree that if you let money be your motivation you will lose the real heart of the story.

    Keep it to, Mr. Fantasyland!



  6. jdpepe says:

    Thanks Moviewarden for checking out the post


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