Monday, October 08, 2012

DC & Marvel: Beyond the Comics and Back Again

DC and Marvel have a long history of not only being the two biggest comic publishers but also being the two biggest competitors in comic history. Some will go so far as even saying their fans are even so polarized. There's the DC Fanatics and the Marvel Zombies that will stand by their chosen universe no matter what.

But let's also add in there that DC is owned by Warner Brothers and in recent history Marvel was bought by Disney. Two other powerhouse companies that have a history of competing against each other.

Warner Brothers and Disney both have strong animation franchises. Bugs Bunny and his friends in Camp Warner and Mickey Mouse and his pals in Camp Disney. It's a long-standing feud that has lasted for decades.

One would have to wonder why these two big corporations would even bother with super-hero comics. Well, aside from two important factors: they sell and they can be mined for ideas for movies and cartoons.

Which brings us to our little comparison.

First up: Animation.

DC Comics are known almost as well for their cartoons as they are their comics. They have Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League Unlimited, Teen Titans, Batman: Brave and the Bold, Young Justice and Green Lantern on tv and several made-for-dvd releases. Not to mention the stuff from the '60s through the '80s, namely Super Friends. The first three I mentioned went even so far as to build a coherent animated universe between the shows, rivaling even that of DC Comics, themselves. Their biggest draw is that most (if not all) the shows I mentioned are aimed at a wide audience. Even Brave & Bold, which has a simpler animation style has little bits of adult humor hidden in it.

Marvel, on the other hand, has focused more on the younger crowd with their Super Squad show, Ultimate Spider-Man and Iron Man. I think the last show they had that was aimed for a more wider audience was X-Men: Evolution. I remember in the '90s how Batman: The Animated Series and X-Men (both on Fox Kids at the time) pioneered the current acceptance of super-hero comics as a source material for animation.

In the animation department, though, I have to say the winner is DC Comics. They seem to have not only higher production value in their cartoons but they also appear to be doing a better job reaching more viewers by not targeting one specific age group.

Our next comparison is in movies. This may be a no-brainer to some.

DC Comics has had two Batman franchises so far, with a third one possibly on the way. The first series of films ran from 1989's Batman to 1997's Batman and Robin. The second started with 2005's Batman Begins and ended with 2012's Dark Knight Rises. Meanwhile, DC's previous success in the movie department, Superman (from 1978's Superman to 1987's Superman: Quest for Peace) got revisited in 2006 with Superman Returns. Then, of course, there was Green Lantern...

And that's pretty much it. Unless you count Jonah Hex. Or Constantine. Yeah... I didn't think so.

While there is similarity in a lot of Warner Brothers films and DC Comics (namely Harry Potter/Books of Magic and Matrix/Invisibles), when it comes down to actual DC Comics properties used, that's pretty much it. There are rumors of a Justice League movie being worked on and that would expand their horizons enormously but a new Batman or Superman film would be more likely given their track record.

Marvel, however, has exploded on the movie scene. With not only two main franchises of their own (X-Men and Spider-Man) but the first ever 'Mega-Franchise', deemed the 'Marvel Cinematic Universe'. Much like what DC's animated universe accomplished for them, Marvel has created a world in these films that rivals that of their own comics. Beginning with 2008's Iron Man and continuing through Incredible Hulk (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), Captain America (2011), Thor (2011), and Avengers (2012), this multi-movie series is set to continue even further with Iron Man 3, Thor 2, Captain America 2, Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers 2 on the horizon.

There have even been other Marvel-based movies in the form of Daredevil, Elektra, Blade, Fantastic Four and another Hulk film (unrelated to the Avengers version). But Marvel seems to have really hit it out of the park with the Avengers line of films. Again, this is due to the high quality of production and the wide audience appeal.

So, in the movie department, Marvel wins hands hands down. Granted, DC could do better. They have great production in the Batman movies but they seem to be stuck recycling the same franchise over and over.

In video games, it's almost as much of a landslide but in the opposite direction.

DC Comics has really revolutionized what a super-hero video game can be with Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. Those games not only offer a challenging and entertaining gaming experience but are also a wonder to look at. They're absolutely stunning.
Add in their DC Universe Online game and you have a winning hand.

Marvel has had a few games out but most of these were based on movies, with the exception of X-Men Legends and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. These last two were essentially the same gaming system and while both had sequels, Marvel seems to have let them fade into the distance.

The winner here is DC Comics. If not for the sheer quality of the Arkham games, I would say it was a tie but they've really reaised the benchmark with their games.

What of live-action television..?

DC currently holds that with Smallville being the high-mark for them. Lois & Clark was another good run. Unfortunately, Flash and Birds of Prey didn't fare so well. They have a new series, Arrow (featuring Green Arrow), starting now and response so far has been lukewarm.

Marvel..? They had Mutant X. A show that, despite trying, flopped mostly because it had virtually nothing to do with the source material.

This could all change when the new S.H.I.E.L.D. series begins. Overseen by Joss Whedon and set in the same universe as the Avengers films (Avengers, itself, directed by Whedon) it already has two good things going for it.

For now, though, it appears DC owns television. But just slightly.

So where does that put us?
Animation/Cartoons: DC Comics
Movies: Marvel
Video Games: DC Comics
Live-Action TV: DC Comics

While it looks like DC Comics is the winner here, I think it's gearing up to be more of a tie. DC clearly owns Animation and Marvel, without a doubt, owns Movies. DC's reign on Video Games is due solely to the Arkham franchise and Marvel's S.H.I.E.L.D. could easily oust Smallville if they bring all their cards to the table.

DC could make more of an effort in their movies by expanding beyond their two big heroes, Batman and Superman. Ironically, a Joss Whedon Wonder Woman was talked about before they scrapped the idea and Joss went to do Marvel's Avengers.

Marvel, also, could step it up in their animation department by making shows that are aimed at a wider audience. If they were to bring what they've done with the movies to their cartoons they could give DC a run for its money. But that doesn't seem likely as they are more focused on the movies at the time being.

The interesting thing about all of this is that for all their successes in these areas, their comics have become more of a shadow of what they could be. DC's animation and video games have started to outshine the comics they were based on and Marvel's movies have reached (and maintained) a bigger audience than their comics currently have. And yet, neither of them have utilized what they've done beyond comics in the comics, themselves. Matter of fact, fans of the games, shows and movies are at a loss when they attempt to find the familiar characters in comic form. The comic versions (especially in DC) are so different that new readers coming from these other avenues of experience are either confused or simply turned off.

DC has, however, made an attempt at giving those fans something to read. There's the Arkham Unhinged series for the game fans, Smallville Season 11 for the show fans and the Young Justice comic for the cartoon fans. Only time will tell if these lines expand more or if DC is merely tossing fans a bone, though, just to draw them into the world of comics.

Marvel's answer was Avengers Assemble. This title uses the same characters that appear in the movie but it's still set in their main comic universe. A universe vaguely similar to the one in the movies but with many more heroes, mutants and slightly different origins.

In this respect, DC and Marvel have found themselves in the same predicament. The licensed versions of their original characters and universes have started to eclipse the source material to the point that the originals may become less important. While a modest success on the comic front, DC's rebooting with New52 didn't help much either in that regard as it removed the source material even further away from the more familiar licensed versions.

What will be interesting to see is if, when the 'Avengers Mega Movie Franchise' does finally end, Marvel continues those adventures in comic form. That, I think, would be a winner. Especially if they were to reboot the Marvel line to be more consistent with the films.
The origins/first issues could be the films (which would get more exposure) and the first regular comic could reference it and move on from there. I know I would get it.

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