Founded in 1934 and 1939, respectively, DC Comics and Marvel Comics have been rivals for nearly 80 years. But while that competition mostly existed in the pages of the comic books that gave them their starts, it’s increasingly showing up on the big and small screens as well.
Conventional wisdom seems to hold that DC rules on the smaller stage, with television shows like the CW’s Arrow and The Flash being some of the more popular superhero takes out there, though Netflix’s Daredevil and Jessica Jones (both Marvel properties) are worthy challengers. Marvel, on the other hand, has ruled the box office with the success of its Cinematic Universe.
This year, however, we’re being treated to a somewhat more direct matchup, with DC using Batman v Superman to set up 2017’s The Justice League: Part I and Marvel turning to Captain America: Civil War (which is, essentially, Avengers v Avengers) to kick off the third phase of the MCU. As such, I thought I would evaluate the two comic giants and their franchises to see which one, in my estimation, comes out on top!
* * *
Casting: Though there are a number of different elements that go into making a film, I would argue that nothing is more important than casting the right actors in the right parts. Since movies require a certain suspension of belief, you need people who can truly embody the characters they play instead of those who are obviously playing a part.
When it comes to DC, they’ve had few iconic portrayals over the years, including Jack Nicholson as the Joker in 1989’s Batman and Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy. But more often than not, its casting choices have been met with criticism and scorn. Personally, I thought Ben Affleck’s portrayal of the Dark Knight was one of the best I’ve seen in years, but I know that most people weren’t fans. And while Henry Cavill definitely looks the part as Clark Kent/Superman, reviews of his performances have been lackluster as well.
As for Marvel, their casting directors likely aren’t being paid enough! Beginning with Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man – whose casting has been widely credited for resuscitating his career – the actor choices for the respective MCU projects have been nothing short of perfect. You’ve even got roles like Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson, who became such a fan favorite that he was written into canon and literally brought back from the dead. And though there was some grumbling over the casting of Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Marvel has a good enough track record that it can weather some potential bumps in the road.
Winner: Marvel – for having casted its parts so well that we can’t even begin to imagine other actors in those iconic roles.
* * *
Vision: If a studio is going to create an extended universe of interconnected films, it is critical to have someone with an overarching vision to guide its efforts. Otherwise, the pieces will likely be more disjointed than it really wants them to be.
For Marvel, Kevin Feige is the man with the keys to the kingdom and has been for years. As the president of Marvel Studios, Feige is responsible for bringing the entire MCU to life and for creating much of our current popular culture. As a “walking encyclopedia of Marvel,” Feige has brought its comic book characters to life on the big screen in such a way that even though there have been a variety of directors and screenwriters helming the individual projects, each film has played nicely into the others while retaining its own look and feel. To be sure, there is a certain aesthetic to Marvel Studios productions, but that’s part of the appeal – as a viewer, you know exactly what you’re going to get.
In terms of DC’s Extended Universe, Warner Bros. (which owns the comics company) has tapped director Zack Snyder to oversee the creation of the Justice League. While Snyder has made it clear that he, like Feige, has a particular vision for the DCEU, Warner Bros.’ choice of the director to lead the project as opposed to a company executive means that the films will likely be defined by his stylistic preferences as well. Snyder’s grim and monochromatic view of the world certainly has its place (and seems to be DC’s de rigueur in a post-Nolan world), but part of the reason why Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and Fox’s Deadpool (also a Marvel property) were so much fun was that they weren’t afraid to poke fun at the genre. Though the MCU may eventually collapse under the weight of its own franchises, the DCEU may be undone by its own self-seriousness.
Winner: Marvel – for having an overarching vision that ties the MCU together, but leaves enough room for each franchise to have its own look and feel.
* * *
Faithfulness to Source Material: As a community, comic book fans are a passionate bunch, and it is rare that any decision concerning a beloved character, story arc, franchise, etc. will not be commented on. Though many such criticisms seem to concern casting choices, comic book aficionados are quick to notice when a related film or television show deviates too far from the original source material as well.
Now, I will be the first one to admit that I don’t have a deep comic books background, but it seems to me that this category might almost be a draw (C confirms that there have been criticisms levied at both entities for these kinds of transgressions). Having seen more DC animated television shows and movies, it seems to me like its films are closer to the comics, or at least that was one of the things that I liked most about BvS – it reminded me of the animated version of The Dark Knight Returns: Part II. For the first time, I was actually able to recognize something that I’ve seen before (or at least the inspiration for what I was watching) and it gave me a greater appreciation for what hard-core fans enjoy all the time. That said, I’d love to hear people more knowledgeable than me weigh in, so tell me who you think the winner should be in the comments below!
Winner: DC? Marvel? Tie?
* * *
Overall Winner: Marvel – as a Batman lover, I would love to give this to DC, but the truth of the matter is that the MCU’s connectivity is one of its biggest draws and the company’s casting choices have been spot-on. While DC’s emphasis on the multiverse does give it and its directors more room to play with the looks and feels of the various franchises, it also means that there’s more room for divisive choices like Snyder, who already has two Change.org petitions calling for his removal from the helm of the DCEU. However, the comparisons, admittedly, also feel a little like comparing apples to oranges since the MCU is entering its third phase, while the DCEU is just getting started. And I guess that will always give Marvel the edge: Since the MCU came first, that’s the kind of quality that the DCEU will continually have to live up to.