The signs haven’t been good for DC, but its decades-long rivalry with Marvel suggests the fight’s far from over.
Batwoman couldn’t marry her girlfriend. Harley Quinn was naked in a bathtub about to go for an overkill suicide. Man of Steel involved lots of people dying. The Justice League film was cancelled. Then it was back on again. DC doesn’t know what it’s doing. Marvel has it all planned out to 2028. They’ve won; DC fans should head for the hills wailing “Superman is dead!” at the top of their lungs.
Go online and you’ll find any number of blogs, newspapers and magazines that are looking at DC and seeing nothing but panic
So I made the last one up, but everything else above is true, adding up to what looks like a torrid time for DC, Marvel’s great rival in the battle for comic book audiences. Certainly last year was anything but great for DC - Marvel was building on its numerous successes with the Iron Man films, Thor, Captain America and of course Avengers Assemble by releasing Iron Man 3 and Thor: the dark World. The Agents of SHIELD TV series premiered on network television, and everyone was getting excited about Captain America 2. DC, however, was busy dealing with the two controversies already mentioned (Batwoman’s non-marriage even made the pages of The Times, it was that big a deal to some) on top of a mixed reception to Man of Steel.
Go online and you’ll find any number of blogs, newspapers and magazines that are looking at DC and seeing nothing but panic. To such commentators, the whole Batman vs. Superman project, expected to come out around May 2016, smacks of desperation. After all, what can be served by having your two most iconic characters slugging it out for two and a half hours? What would they fight about exactly? Who can do more damage to a city while trying to kill the bad guys? Who looks better in a cape? Which one of them sports the best imitators? For that matter, how would they fight? Superman can fly backwards around the Earth. What’s Batman going to counter that with? Is he going to get Lucius Fox to give him a Batgunship with warp drive and Gatling guns that fire depleted kryptonite?
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Well now that I’ve played Devil’s advocate, let me try and put some gloss on the whole deal. Batman vs. Superman may sound like someone’s idea of a bad joke, but if so, then it’s a bad joke that’s attracted some pretty big stars. Besides Henry Cavill, reprising his role as the apparently ‘murderous’ Superman (yes he killed Zod. Yes it would have been nice if Zod had been available for a sequel. Yes, it was a crappy ending. Deal with it), you’ve got Ben Affleck as Batman. As if that’s not enough, Jesse Eisenberg is said to be the new Lex Luthor, while Jeremy Irons will provide a new touch of British class as Alfred Pennyworth.
Beyond the title characters, Batman vs. Superman is also expected to feature Wonder Woman, Cyborg and Aquaman. In addition, according to Screen Rant, Batman vs. Superman will simply be the opening salvo of DC’s counter offensive against Marvel. Reading the story, DC and its partners at Warner Brothers have up to 11 different films currently in various stages of development. These include standalone vehicles for Wonder Woman and Aquaman, while a Justice League film is expected in 2017/2018, along with a Justice League Dark movie featuring supernatural elements and characters like John Constantine and Swamp Thing.
20 years ago Marvel was bankrupt, forced to sell off pretty much all the movie rights to its characters just to keep the lights on
There’s talk of plenty of other ideas rising from within the depths of DC lore that might grace the silver screen in the not too distant future. On TV, the success of Arrow has now led to a spin-off series for the Flash, giving DC a couple of counter-punches to Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. Does this look like a company that thinks it’s lost? People who talk of Marvel having taken an unassailable lead need to remember this is just the latest round of a title fight that’s been going on since the 1940s, and is far from its endgame. 20 years ago Marvel was bankrupt, forced to sell off pretty much all the movie rights to its characters just to keep the lights on. Marvel only survived because the movies that came from selling those characters generated interest in Marvel’s own product.
So while Marvel might look the bigger player at the moment, 14 years is a long time in anyone’s world. With heavyweights like Steven Spielberg warning against making a smaller amount of expensive movies that need a high-grossing sugar rush to make a profit, it screams hubris when you think that Marvel has plans worked out so far in advance. DC may lack such a plan, but like Britain’s constitution, a paper mountain rather than a single document, this gives DC flexibility that Marvel doesn’t have. It also takes off the pressure of DC needing its films to be hits. Marvel only needs to make one or two big flops in those 14 years before someone starts asking “is Marvel losing to DC?”
This fight is far from over.
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All images: Warner Bros