DC v Marvel War: What is it Good For?

Batman v Superman (2016); Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016); Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is now under two months away, and the number one question looming is, “Who will win the fight?” This should be the historic payoff of a timeless comic book conundrum. But even with a growing sense of positive sentiment toward the film over the past few months, this question nevertheless remains shorthand for, “How will DC Comics’ first committed foray into its own shared cinematic universe measure up to the cultural phenomenon that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe?”

The MCU needs no introduction; it has indisputably changed the way blockbuster films work. Because of it, questions about the future of superhero films have largely been replaced by questions about future superhero films. Rocket Raccoon has arguably become more mainstream than Wonder Woman. Beyond superheroes, every blockbuster franchise believes it is required to have its own shared cinematic universe, and corporations are scrambling to piece together whatever brands they can.

Naturally, this pressure is most directed at DC Comics, not only Marvel’s most “distinguished” competitor, but also its most direct competitor. And only now, almost eight agonizing years since Iron Man, is its response finally imminent. Many DC fans are haunted by this pressure, and await DC’s response with trepidation. Despite its wealth of characters, DC has had trouble bringing many of them beyond Batman to the big screen. Even the Last Son of Krypton, DC’s flagship superhero, is still popularly considered by moviegoers to be inherently boring. On top of that, DC’s initially stoic public relations response to the Marvel Studios model of filmmaking exuded ambivalence, and the announcement of Batman v Superman gave many people the impression that Batman was being used as a crutch. Now, as Marvel Studios’ Phase Three gears up with Captain America: Civil War, DC’s maiden voyage into its own shared cinematic universe is being directly measured against a major installment in the tried-and-true MCU. Everyone wants to know, “Who will win this historic commercial and critical fight?” Let’s take the plunge to think this question through, and try to get to the bottom of it in time for the lights going down.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016); Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016); Captain America: Civil War (2016)

The Box Office

Both Civil War and Batman v Superman will be undisputed successes. On the Marvel side, all Marvel Studios movies are successes. More than that, Civil War will feature most of its universe’s established superheroes, premiere several new ones, and is an adaptation of a story that is as well-known as it is seminal. On the DC side, as others have pointed out, not only are Batman and Superman universal icons, and not only does Batman v Superman draw from an even more seminal story, but Batman v Superman is also even more of an event movie. It is the first to feature the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel together, and the first official step into the DC shared film universe. As the overwhelmingly positive response to Star Wars: The Force Awakens has demonstrated, when a movie is sufficiently an event, little else is required to skyrocket it toward box office success. And among all the successes of Marvel Studios, the Avengers films have been its most financially significant movies to date. 1 Thus, both Batman v Superman and Civil War will succeed, and have the opportunity to surpass one another, with, well, flying colors.

The Reviews

It’s always hard to tell what movie critics will enjoy. Sometimes story is important, sometimes not. Some brands are derided, while others are embraced. Opinions change. These days, in the age of clickbait, some critics just stick with what seems popular. In any case, Civil War will most certainly be the safer movie. The heroes in both Batman v Superman and Civil War will be fighting for a license, but the MCU already has one. Marvel has a successful stylistic formula and sticks with it, even if it has to lose filmmakers along the way. Audiences have tremendously enjoyed the MCU’s lighthearted and familiar tone, and its popularity has overtaken its critics.

DC, meanwhile, has a lot going against it on the critical front. For one thing, Man of Steel received infamously divisive reviews. More significantly, the primary demographics of superhero movies have been raised on Marvel media, and believe DC to be inherently lackluster in comparison. There has been a palpable culture over the last several years dismissing DC Comics to the outskirts—the running joke on the popular YouTube channel CinemaSins, in which DC movies always get a point marked against them, is very emblematic of this atmosphere. 2 3 On another level, even though Civil War will be adapting just as many source concepts into a new context as Batman v Superman (the iconic catalysts for the respective battles in the comics differed from those that will be in the films), any awkward rearrangements of those concepts will be more distinct in the first impression that is Batman v Superman.

Suicide Squad (2016); Wonder Woman (2017)
Suicide Squad (2016); Wonder Woman (2017)

DC is also a separate brand from Marvel, and thus has its own identity. Although DC has a lot of fans in other markets, it may take time for its presence to settle among blockbusters. An additional obstacle will be its filmmakers’ individual styles. It looks as though DC supports more distinct styles among its directors, intending for each movie to stand more prominently as its own cinematic, or at least authorial, experience, from Batman v Superman to Suicide Squad to Wonder Woman. This could initially be distracting for some audiences used to the more uniform MCU experience. Furthermore, much like the relationship between Lois and Clark in Man of Steel, DC has confounded the public with its decision to bypass the traditional universe building audiences have come to expect from blockbusters. Rather than building stories about individual characters who sometimes intersect, DC is building stories of a universe.

But as Marvel’s success has proven, safety does not determine the future of a market, and with movies, uncertainty is short-term. It’s likely that many audiences will respond to the concrete aftermath that Batman v Superman will present for the next chapter of the DC cinematic story. Like all successful companies, including Marvel, DC is trying not just to give audiences what they want, but to also stay ahead and challenge them, and the status quo—and it is worth noting that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been drifting into the status quo.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

So after taking this brief step back, who emerges victorious? In this case, both movies come from powerhouses honing strategies that will be successful no matter what. A lot of people are going to see these movies and their sequels as long as they are made, whether or not all of the movies themselves are critically esteemed. Most victories will surely be insignificant in the long run. Instead, right now, there is something to learn from both Batman v Superman and Civil War. Like all fights between superheroes, there is an underlying issue lurking in the shadows; our own metahuman civil war. The real question on so many people’s minds is whether Marvel Studios is inherently better than anything DC Comics can produce. This did not develop because all audiences have read everything that DC Comics has to offer, but rather because DC Comics is largely unfamiliar in movies beyond Batman. Now, the success of Arrow, The Flash, 4 and Supergirl 5 on television demonstrates that mass audiences are finding greater affection for DC Comics characters. The question as to which is inherently better than the other is shortsighted and brings a pall over the experience of movies, from premiere to legacy—a remnant of an unwinnable war that needs to be set aside.

To paraphrase Lois Lane in Man of Steel, this contributor is done measuring, and will just see both movies on their own. Like the heroes we admire, it is important to remain on our toes and widen our questions about the very powerful perceptions around us and our responses to them. If Batman can accept Superman, and the DC Universe, maybe audiences will, too.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016); Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016); Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Works Cited

  1. See where they rank among the highest grossing movies of all time: http://www.boxofficemojo.com/alltime/world/
  2. CinemaSins. “Everything Wrong With Man of Steel in 8 Minutes or Less.” YouTube. 26 Nov. 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1Cl5FzEIjY
  3. “DC Comics?” CinemaSins Reddit thread. Begun 12 Nov. 2014. https://www.reddit.com/r/CinemaSins/comments/2m0vxf/dc_comics/
  4. O’Connell, Michael. “TV Ratings: The Flash Premiere Gives CW a 5-Year Best.” The Hollywood Reporter. 8 Oct. 2014. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/tv-ratings-flash-premiere-gives-739170
  5. Kissell, Rick. “CBS’ Supergirl Premiere Ratings Strong: Top New Show of the Fall.” Variety. 27 Oct. 2015. http://variety.com/2015/tv/news/supergirl-premiere-ratings-1201626577/

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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With a background in film and TV, Ian Boucher became a librarian to advocate for information literacy. He is fascinated by the roles of film and comics in cultural discourse.

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  1. I’m a fan of both I’ve seen every Marvel movie except Ant-Man and I’ll probably watch it this weekend as far as DC goes in excited about what they’re doing Man of Steel made me like Superman and Black Pnayher is high on my list behind Flash Aquaman and Justice League.

  2. Love both brands. Watched the cartoons as a kid and read a few comics and today they both have great and terrible movies (well, the new DC hasn’t really messed up yet imo). Good movies are good and bad movies are bad. It doesn’t matter the brand name.

  3. I’m more of a DC guy myself but I enjoy almost all comic book movies, I just want to see them do well so the rest can see and appreciate why we love these stories and characters so much.

  4. I’m 53 years old. I grew up reading these stories about all of these characters in both the Marvel and DC universes. I remember really enjoying the first crossover I ever read when Superman and Spiderman (briefly) fought and then teamed up. Cooler than the other side of the pillow. Loved it!

    What’s so fantastic today is that after waiting four decades, movie technology has finally caught up with the brilliant imaginations of the writers and artists that created and developed these characters. I am literally in nerd heaven here. So as long as the filmmakers honor the legacy of the original source materials, I’m on board with all of it. The really good news is that none of us has to choose, and we get an average of four or five superhero movies EVEY YEAR!!!

    There is no need to compare DC with Marvel because they exist in different universes, just like Star Trek and Star Wars. There’s plenty to go around, so enjoy it all while it lasts!

  5. As a fan of the genre I am happy we have more than 1 comic book giants!

  6. Glad to see this addressed.

  7. I have never read a Marvel or DC comic and have no intention of doing so. I own every MCU and X-Men movie on blu ray, I actually really liked Man Of Steel and I’m looking forward to both BvS and Suicide Squad this year.

  8. I am a DC fan both I am the biggest die-hard fan of Marvel’s X-Men. I love both comic book companies alot that i had to spend the whole weekend of November 2015 watching Jessica Jones (and that someone who criticise their Non-Netflix shows) and I criticise DC for the bad movies. In the end I love both DC and Marvel.

  9. I really dont understand the animosity between DC/Marvel fans, both excel at what they do.

  10. Great article! I don’t like to classify myself as either of DC/Marvel fan… I love ALL superhero movies. This year I am super excited to watch ALL of them.

  11. What everyone needs to remember is that we as fans have all this to watch.

  12. Kiyokope

    The DC vs Marvel sweaty dork war is the most pathetic excuse for a rivalry I’ve ever heard of. Choosing one or the other is like choosing between having a father or mother when you can have both. There is no rational or logical reason to choose between them any more than it is to choose between films made by Paramount Pictures or Universal Studios. Unless you work for the company or are a shareholder, who cares which company made it or how much money it makes? Does it fulfill some sort of inner need for competition? Start watching a sport. Not only does it balance your life out having a second passion that takes place in actual reality, but choosing a side is warranted. The teams are actually competing, facing off against one another, and there are winners and losers.

    • Ian Boucher

      Great point on the movies, but although having another interest like sports certainly diversifies someone’s leisure time and one can get just as much enjoyment out of the teams on both sides, in the case of sports it’s also very corporate. And following the film industry is a legitimate interest as well; the problem is when it significantly takes over the movies themselves.

  13. Looking at a comics perspective dc totally wins.

  14. Ian Boucher

    All of these comments reinforce to me how much warmth, support, and harmony there really is among superhero movie fans! It’s so great to see it brought out.

  15. Tale as old as time am I right? We’ve seen from very early on the war between Marvel and DC and with this new medium they are exploring they continue to add more rounds to this fight. To get straight to the hot debate here, I think overall Marvel is the better of the two. Not to say DC is bad or inept just they are lacking in one key area: their heroes. The three most recognizable heroes in the world are (or at least for a time) Batman, Superman, and Spider man. DC owns two of those spots yes, however when we look at it they are the only heroes who have maintained their spot lights. Even with that Superman has quickly becoming a boring and stagnant character that just happens to make more than enough money for it to not matter. Batman is of course Batman, he (and the bat family) have carried the load for DC when it comes to heroes and even with the success of shows like Arrow and The Flash they still seem to be little more than side shows to the main attraction. Now undoubtedly DC has better villains, no debate. Marvel has had so few GOOD villains we often don’t care for who the hero fights anymore. In the end my point boils down to this: the comics are about the heroes and whoever has better heroes wins.

  16. Ben Bouffard

    It certainly will be interesting to see how both are received. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Marvel or DC. If anything, I admire DC’s mythological approach to some of it’s heroes, especially Batman and Superman. The MCU formula is a good one, but one that is drying up quickly and is in need of some innovative tweaks that would cause major game-changers for the series.

  17. MairIreland

    Fans of both have become pretentious douchebags. If you want to see Batman and Superman over Captain America and Iron Man and vice versa, the fanboys will accuse you of being a troll or they’ll insult your intelligence. All of this for a bunch of fictional characters owned by people who wouldn’t throw water on you if you were on fire, but, fanboys are blindly loyal to these companies and these fictional characters like their lives depended on it. That’s the world we live in.

  18. Marvel and DC’s approach in their respective universes are different.

  19. The ultimate Super hero movie would be Avengers vs. Justice League…..if Marvel and DC could ever team up and put their characters in each others movies, that would be so cool…they did it in the comics……Hulk vs. Superman anyone?

  20. Wise words.

  21. Superhero movies are competing with other genres more than each other.

  22. Excellent points. I love DC as well and like to see more of their characters onscreen.

  23. My favorite is when DC and Marvel fans argue which superhero would win a fight. From all the arguments I’ve seen, DC fanboys are a little worse.

  24. Great article with some very good points. There is so much hate in this world, I find it crazy when people feel they have to say that one studio is poor, just because they prefer another studio and perceive them as ‘competitors’, in some misguided view that it demonstrates their loyalty to the one they love.

  25. So far I’ve liked all the movies that have come out from Marvel, DC and Fox. And as long as they keep coming out, I’ll keep watching them all. AND buying them all on Bluray when they come out.

  26. They are both on the same side, fighting the same fight – for the superhero genre to thrive.

  27. Naomi

    I agree that both DC and Marvel have distinct styles. I think Marvel is gaining larger popularity on the cinematic side because, as mentioned in the article, Marvel tends to connect everything and add a bit of witty humour in there to break the tension. DC tends to create very intense movies requiring high audience concentration. I think because some of the cinematic superhero audience doesn’t always read the comic books, Marvel set the precedent for what the general audience expects when it comes to superhero movies. Being someone who reads both DC and Marvel comic books, I would say that both the MCU and DC cinematic experience match up with the styles the comic books tend to have, especially concerning DC individuality when it comes to film directing. One aspect I do hope that DC improves upon in the future is their character development, because thet are known for being so complex and detail-oriented.

  28. SimpleCrumb

    There is more then enough room for both Marvel and DC on the big screen

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