We may be on the verge of adding DC Comics vs. Marvel — and by extension Warner Bros. vs. Disney and Fox — to the list of great American rivalries.
The two dominant American comic-book publishers have been battling for the same consumers for decades. But Disney’s hugely successful Marvel Cinematic Universe — a strategy of 20-plus feature films, TV shows and short films– and Warner Bros.’ answer, a five-year plan to release 10 DC-inspired superhero movies, have put billions of dollars in box office, licensing and merchandising revenues on the line and taken their competition to the next level.
And the success this year of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”– and even some of the negative commentary around it — and Fox’s “Deadpool” has ratcheted up the rivalry as well. It’s Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the Flash, among many, many other DC stalwarts, taking on Marvel’s The Avengers, Spider-Man, Captain America — whose “Civil War” will be in the center of the next Disney superhero release on May 6 — and a seemingly endless lineup of lesser-known but potentially lucrative characters like Ant-Man and Deadpool.
If this keeps up, these rivalries may someday be viewed the way sports fans see the ones between NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics, the NFL’s Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys; and baseball’s New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.
Those rivalries are all settled on the playing field, and the movie battles will go down at the box office, since studio executives uniformly take the high road, acknowledging the competition but rarely commenting — and never criticizing their rivals.
Creative types are more likely to be drawn in, occasionally. “Batman v Superman” director Zack Snyder and his wife Deborah, who is a producer on the film, earlier this year shot down rumors that “Deadpool” had inspired portions of the DC Comics epic, including its original R rating.
“We didn’t just shoot it last week, and we also didn’t edit it last week,” he laughingly told one interviewer.
But film director and comic-book devotee Kevin Smith, during his “Hollywood Babble-On” podcast with co-host Ralph Garman last week, praised the performance of his friend Ben Affleck, but criticized “Batman v Superman” as lacking the “joy” of the Marvel films.
The negative reviews drawn by the film have given Marvel fans — and there are legions of them — license to add their own barbs and momentum to the knocks from the critics.
“Though Marvel fans may be enjoying some of the barbs thrown at DC’s ‘Batman v Superman,” this rivalry can only serve to improve both brands and over time help create more satisfying moviegoing experiences going forward,” Paul Dergarabedian, media analyst at box-office tracker comScore, told TheWrqp.
“The superhero world is different than most in relation to the seemingly direct impact on the movie-making process,” Dergarabedian said. “One need only look at the power of the collective ComiCon fanbase and how many resources studios devote to wooing that all-important crowd and harvesting their opinions to better serve the source material, and frankly to have a better shot at big box office returns, to understand their importance.”
And speaking of the box office, there’s another reason there’s an uncommon degree of civility shown by the principals on each side. Inwardly, they may be hoping their rivals succeed.
That’s because somewhere down the road, five to 10 years from now, DC Comics and Marvel Comics will come together. Not in a merger, but rather on the big screen, in what will certainly be an Armageddon-like conflict pitting the most well-known and beloved characters of DC Comics against Marvel’s first team.
It’s as sure a bet as Deadpool cracking wise, or Batman brooding. And the public will win.