The Question Is; “Can’t We Just Enjoy Both?”
Long before comic book movie adaptations were blockbuster Hollywood franchises, there were rivalries: Star Trek vs. Star Wars, Sega Genesis vs. Super Nintendo, WWE vs. WCW, Microsoft vs. Apple, and the Red Sox vs. the Yankees, to name a few. However, in recent years, pop culture entertainment preference has become an increasingly violent battleground – where PlayStation and Xbox owners fire mean-spirited insults back and forth in an ongoing war for console bragging rights, and the decades-old playground question of DC or Marvel has turned into a bitter fight for shared superhero universe supremacy.
Where fans used to engage in playful debate regarding who would win in a battle between Batman and Iron Man, enthusiastic DC and Marvel faithfuls are now mired in a grueling fight to defend their favorite comic book (and movie) characters from opposing viewpoints. Of course, there are plenty of would-be peacekeepers caught in the middle, asking: “Can’t we all just enjoy both?” Yet, the fanboy war rages on.
Without question, the tone of the rivalry, as expressed in Internet comment threads, has left plenty of room for improvement (specifically an increase in politeness, patience, and overall understanding of subjective opinions) but that doesn’t mean the rivalry is a bad thing for fans, production studios, or theater owners; in fact, here are four reasons why the DC vs. Marvel rivalry is actually good for the superhero movie genre.
1. Competition Drives Innovation
The most basic, and obvious, reason the DC vs. Marvel rivalry benefits the superhero movie genre is that competition, by nature, raises the bar for all competitors. While some fans will, without question, see and enjoy both DC and Marvel films, there is a significant chunk of the moviegoing public that (due to lack of free time, interest, or funds) will be less egalitarian in their ticket purchases.
Fans on either side might scoff at the idea, but those familiar with the last 15 years of superhero films could chart a clear interplay between DC and Marvel movie properties – as each side (along with third-party studios that own standalone characters) attempt to up the ante and attract new viewers.
In 2004, Sony made Spider-Man one of the hottest film properties in Hollywood and, shortly after, Warner Bros. answered Marvel’s colorful web-slinging adventure with a gritty take on The Dark Knight in Batman Begins – only to see Iron Man set the stage for a budding Avengers movie universe two summers later. As a result of their ambitious attempt to translate the interwoven storylines of the printed page into live action, it only took four years for Marvel (and Disney) to secure a spot as one of the top movie franchises around the globe – inspiring DC to initiate plans for their own team-up heroverse.
Fans on both sides can debate the pros and cons of Marvel and DC’s past and upcoming film slate, as well as whether shared universe characters should all get origin films before a team-up, but there’s no question that this back and forth between the comic giants, along with their parent studios, has continually raised the bar in spectacle (as well as overall quality) for the genre as a whole.
In an effort to ensure their own heroes’ place in the pop culture spotlight, DC and Marvel have needed to be creative – and, while fans tear each other apart online, that creativity has turned superhero movies into a multi-billion dollar industry. Beyond just a bigger roster in subsequent hero team-ups, the need to show audiences something different has driven studios to invest in comparatively risky properties and ideas. Genre stories within the larger superhero shared universe (Guardians of the Galaxy), villain team-ups (Suicide Squad), and even cross-medium narratives (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) have entirely reinvented what viewers can (and should) expect from big and small screen entertainment.
Fans may credit one side more than the other, but the innovation didn’t occur entirely in a DC or Marvel bubble – as both learned from past mistakes and successes within the genre. The result? Whether a viewer prefers DC over Marvel (or vice-versa), the entire genre has become more innovative, dynamic, and exciting through the studios’ efforts to woo fans to their next product.
2. SPIRITED DEBATE MAKES FANS KNOWLEDGABLE
Plenty of superhero enthusiasts grew up reading comics but with so many books to choose from, across multiple publishers, for the better part of a century, few fans actually possess an encyclopedic knowledge of the medium. Often, perception of a particular hero or storyline is based on the one or two best-known versions or pop culture staples – entirely ignoring (intentionally or not) some of the best iterations that devoted fans of any particular book would hold in especially high esteem.
For that reason, the ongoing debate between DC and Marvel fans has the potential to improve appreciation for characters and franchises – plus encourages new readers to give select books a shot. Some moviegoers might poke fun at the prospect of an Ant-Man or Aquaman movie, but most top-tier characters have been modernized or altogether reinvented over the years – changing with the times (and as a reflection of current social issues). Updated versions of characters like Aquaman or Ant-Man, among others, offer genuinely fun (and even badass) stories that are a far cry from either character’s campy origins.
As a result, when skeptics poke fun at DC or Marvel in an effort to corroborate their own personal preference, there’s an opportunity for edification and recommendation – where knowledgable fans can actually inform detractors of stories they might legitimately enjoy. Even if the actual parties engaged in the heated exchange can’t agree, eye-witnesses and onlookers are sure to learn more about the heroes and villains at the center of the debate – leading to an overall better understanding and appreciation for characters that would otherwise be deemed unworthy of viewer/reader time (or money).
Five years ago, few moviegoers would have ever believed an oddball team of space outlaws (including a talking raccoon and a humanoid tree) would be one of Marvel’s biggest box office successes. Yet, creative vision from director James Gunn helped put Guardians of the Galaxy on the pop culture map – cementing Rocket and Groot as fan-favorite heroes for a new generation of comic readers. Even though it’s movies driving interest in comic characters, regardless of comic book sales, it’s clear the values and tales of personal sacrifice depicted on the printed page are still relevant.
Although the primary delivery method has changed (from print to film), the DC vs. Marvel debate continues to raise awareness for characters on both sides of the rivalry – re-igniting interest in old favorites while introducing potential new fans to up and coming movie icons (with a storied past chronicled in comic book pages).
3. RIVALRY GALVANIZES COMMUNITY AND BRAND LOYALTY
Without question, there’s plenty of room for moviegoers and comic readers to support and enjoy characters from all corners of the superhero genre – but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t fun to root for our favorites. Much like in professional sports, people take pride in the teams/comic book characters that they looked up to as kids – and, in plenty of cases, continue to have a profound impact as adults.
No doubt, the sports analogy can only be extended so far – since the primary entertainment value of professional athletes is derived by competing against a rival team. Still, those who believe DC and Marvel are above friendly competition, for the sake of increasing loyalty and overall awareness for their respective brands, need only look back to the year 1976 – when the publishers joined forces for a one-shot crossover book Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man. The battle between the Man of Steel and the Webslinger was only the first of many crossovers between Detective Comics and Marvel – which later included DC vs. Marvel, JLA/Avengers, and even Darkseid vs. Galactus, among others.
Why would competing publishers bother to fuel the rivalry? Simple: it was (and is) good for business. Children don’t think in terms of copyright holders; they play with their Batman toy in the same sandbox as Captain America – where the superheroes can team up to take down the allied forces of Lex Luthor and Doctor Octopus. Additionally, if fans are passionately debating who would win in a battle between Green Lantern and the Silver Surfer, who are Marvel and DC to pass on free publicity – and potential comic book sales? Though, admittedly, those on the inside of the DC/Marvel rivalry seem convinced (for now) that such a crossover isn’t likely to happen again – in comics or film.
If an official battle is no longer feasible, then an online war over which studio is better, or has the better approach to shared universe building, is good for both franchises – because (in addition to raising awareness for individual characters) the conversation has helped transition superhero movies from niche genre titles to some of the most beloved and profitable films in Hollywood. Comic-Con isn’t just for die-hard comic book readers anymore, it’s a mainstream phenomenon – built on the backs of passionate fans who, much like sports enthusiasts, collectively spend billions of dollars each year supporting their personal heroes.
4. DIRECT FROM THE DIRECTORS’ MOUTHS
Understandably, some viewers will still maintain that the DC vs. Marvel rivalry is hurting the industry – as fans tear each other down instead of celebrating together over the cornucopia of quality comic book movies and TV shows that are now available.
Yet, even the directors behind the DCCU and MCU see the benefit of the rivalry – as Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon both assert that the passionate debate has energized the industry.
In an interview with Forbes, Snyder described the interplay between the two studios as “infectious“:
I’m a fan of the Marvel movies… and the thing that’s awesome is, we make a different movie. We have a different product than them, although they both exist in sort of the superhero world, which is great. I think that those are the opportunities. That’s what you get at the movies, you get a chance to go to all these different worlds. And I’m as interested in going to the Marvel Universe as anybody.
So, I personally don’t think that there’s any, from my point of view, we definitely don’t have any animosity or anything of that nature. We’re all in this big business together, and we hope people are interested in the adventures that we put up on screen. And I do believe it’s infectious, and the next weekend you’re like, “You know what? Let’s go do that again, that was awesome. We saw a cool movie, maybe we’ll get another cool movie.
Speaking with Nerd Machine, Whedon expressed a similar sentiment – indicating there’s room for both DC and Marvel in the industry (with success as well as shortcomings on both sides), and disagreeing that DC needs to “up their game”:
I don’t think I would say that. I think that would be a little presumptuous of me. I think that both studios have kind of different agendas, different ways of approaching the superhero genre, and the ethos of the thing, and the esthetic. They go very dark and serious and sometimes it works amazingly, and Marvel tends to be a little lighter. Both have movies that I adore, and both have movies that I’m like… [pained expression]. Including bits of my own.
I would not want them to do what Marvel does. I like what they do when they get it right. When you get a Heath Ledger, and Batman Begins, and those things that really grip you. That’s something nobody else is doing, and I like it. I want them to do what they’re doing.
CONCLUSION: BUILDING A BETTER SUPERHERO MOVIE RIVALRY
Nevertheless, while the DC vs. Marvel rivalry has been good for the publishers/studios over the years, and will continue to help them iterate within the superhero movie genre, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t opportunity to approach the debate with more respect for other fans.
As mentioned, it’s always been fun to discuss which heroes are the strongest, the smartest, and the most powerful – and which publisher DC or Marvel has the best overall roster. That said, there’s no doubt that the tone of these debates have become unnecessarily ugly and mean-spirited in recent years. So, while there are definite benefits to the Marvel vs. DC rivalry, there’s also reason to listen to those humble comic book lovers championing for love and acceptance. There’s a healthy middle ground where we can all relish in the fun of superhero cinema without being mean-spirited and dismissive toward others.
After all, just because a rivalry is good for superhero films, doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy both DC and Marvel movies!