The evolution of Marvel and DC

The major publishers of super hero comic books are clearly going through some steep transitions. There are ups and downs, and neither DC or Marvel is immune to woes.

Interest in super hero comics is a pendulum, which typically swings between two dangerous extremes in society. Historically, it usually hits all comics publishers more or less the same, but recently, we’ve been seeing some strange behavior in the market. More specifically, DC is pulling ahead in comics, while Marvel is struggling.

DC Comics recently ‘relaunched’ their entire super hero comics library, ending all current lines, and starting 52 brand new lines in an even they’re calling the New 52, a program which is finishing its third month.

The new books are breaking sales records left and right, showing comic book sales numbers that haven’t been seen in years. They’ve managed to make their characters almost all more compelling, more mature, and ultimately more readable. 

Not every new line is diamond, but all are a definite improvement of what they once were. The characters are more relatable, more believable, and with lots of exposition in these first few issues, they are all at the perfect point to bring in new readers who might be daunted by long histories to catch up on.

Meanwhile, over at the Marvel offices, things are not looking up. Every few days we get news that yet another line has been cut from their roster, and their recent initiatives to bolster their stories have fallen flat.

For example, they ended their longest line, The Fantastic Four, and began it again as FF, after a few months, however, they brought back the original Fantastic four, picking up the numbering from where it left off. Further, when Ultimate Peter Parker was killed – not the core canon Parker, Ultimate is an alternate timeline of sorts – and replaced him with a multi-racial teenager, the fans were up in arms, a completely different and salient reaction to the mostly positive response that DC has received for the New 52.

If this continues, Marvel might have to cut their super hero lines to the bare minimum, or even stop publishing altogether. However, Marvel’s film division has been doing great since the company was purchased by Disney a few years ago.

The Marvel Film Universe, which contains the stories of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye – together known as The Avengers – has seen some of the most popular, and highest grossing, films ever, made possible by the ability to connect the films into a larger mythology and franchise, despite the enormous budgets and different directors and producers.

Having the same actors for each repeated role helps, but the real trick is that the directors and producers of half a dozen different films have all managed to stay on the same page, and this has been a recipe for success.

DC, while successful with its Batman films lately, doesn’t have quite the same cinema following, partly because of how disconnected its films are. The Green Lantern Film didn’t to as well as anticipated, while their most recent attempt at a Superman film was a flop. Meanwhile, the upcoming Superman film, although already looking better than the last one, is still disconnected from the other DC movies, both existing and planned.

True, The Justice League film is coming up in the next few years, along with another Batman trilogy, but none of these stories will be connected to one another, as each director and producer will follow their own vision. Essentially, Marvel will have the better, more successful film library of the two.

It is worth noting that DC is under a lot of pressure to make great films. However, the company apparently isn’t up to the challenge, mostly because it doesn’t seem to be in control of their film properties the way Marvel is. In short, fan go to see Marvel films because they love The Avengers’ story, people go to see Batman because they love Christopher Nolan.

Are we looking at a future where DC only makes comics, and Marvel only makes films? It’s looking that way, and, frankly, I wouldn’t mind such an arrangement.