This article originally appeared on Den of Geek UK.
Throughout the decades, the battle for comic book supremacy has swung back and forth between Marvel and DC, the two publishing giants that have dominated the medium’s market since its Silver Age heyday back in the mid-50s. While the perennial war of attrition between the big two has sometimes seen one company on the ropes (such as the time during 80s when Warner Bros. reportedly came close to selling DC to Marvel, or even in the 90s when an ailing Marvel declared bankruptcy), for the most part the two comic book behemoths have existed on a relatively equal footing.
However, the same cannot be said about the duo’s cinematic and television endeavours.
While DC are certainly finding success on the smaller screen, they’re currently no match for Marvel in the movie stakes. The two companies have fought many pitched battles across the years to win market share in a range of product lines, from action figures to cute little doggy outfits that your pooch hates you for making them wear… but never have the stakes been higher than in the struggle for screen domination. With tens of billions of dollars at stake and Hollywood luminaries like Steven Spielberg predicting a market crash, the difference between success and failure could ensure (or curtail) each company’s future.
So let’s start off by looking at who’s in charge.
An important one: although the TV/movie business is by and large a collaborative one, there ultimately needs to be somebody at the top who has the final say. Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios is the top dog for the House of Ideas and he ensures that the company’s vision is a singular one. Filmmakers may be brought in to add their own personal touch to a movie but Feige is unswerving in his dedication towards delivering a cohesive cinematic universe; just ask auteurs like Edgar Wright and Patty Jenkins who found themselves leaving their movies because they didn’t adapt to the Marvel Method.
It isn’t all sweetness and light at Marvel under Feige’s leadership, though.
Until recently, Feige reported to Ike Perlmutter, the Marvel Entertainment CEO. However, the pre-Disney Marvel owner is legendary for his penny pinching (reportedly, his original offer to Mickey Rourke for Iron Man 2 was $250,000) which apparently led to an eventual powerplay from Feige. The Mouse House restructured and just like his Pixar and Lucasfilm contemporaries, Feige is now answerable only to Bob Iger, Disney’s C.E.O.
Probably a good thing really. With Perlmutter’s fixation on the bottom line, next year’s Captain America: Civil War could have been less of a titanic clash between the heroes of the Marvel universe and more like a two-on-two basketball game.
What does this mean for Marvel’s cinematic and television projects going forwards? Feige’s track record so far is proven, but one wonders if Pelmutter, who still has control over Marvel’s TV output, will be as willing to work with Feige to produce synergistic content. ABC’s Agents Of SHIELD. is particularly dependent on assimilating events from the wider cinematic universe, especially with their Inhumans angle which is building towards a feature film in 2019. Hopefully, ego won’t be an issue and Marvel’s TV and cinematic output will continue to develop the impressive levels of integration we’ve seen so far.
And what of DC’s Extended Universe?
Zack Snyder seems to be the head guy there; the brave decision to hand the keys to DC’s stable of characters to a filmmaker rather than a producer seems like it could be a double-edged sword – on paper at least, a visually creative filmmaker like Snyder collaborating with other talented filmmakers sounds like a recipe for boundless creativity and should at least allow DC’s chosen directors to stamp their own visions onto their projects. This could be a breath of fresh air, especially to those who feel that Marvel’s movies are all a bit too similar.
It works both ways though. Snyder is a director above all else and one has to wonder just how much time he can spare towards developing the DC Extended Universe when he’s neck-deep helming three films in four years.
Besides, the committee approach to filmmaking isn’t always successful. Marvel have disbanded their creative committee, believing it to have been largely responsible for the conflicts that arose with original Ant-Man director, Edgar Wright; the same is arguably true for DC: Man Of Steel’s controversial final act didn’t just divide fans – Christopher Nolan himself (serving as executive producer on the film) apparently took a lot of persuading to get on board with the scene where Superman snaps Zod’s neck. He has since announced that he won’t he won’t be collaborating on future DC films through to 2020.
It remains to be seen whether DC’s gambit pays off, but Snyder is a very busy man and he has one hell of a task to create a consistent universe whilst also putting out a series of successful movies himself.
The two studios also differ in their approaches to linking their cinematic properties to their television output. Marvel’s fully-integrated cinematic universe is a fascinating beast and it’s hard not to admire the way they link so many moving parts; such a cohesive approach does not come without its difficulties though. Kevin Feige has gone on record in the past to state that the much longer production cycles of movies make it exceedingly difficult to match them up to TV where lead-in schedules are vastly reduced.
There’s an argument to be made that some of the Marvel properties may be too tonally jarring to integrate further and shows like Agents Of SHIELD. have their fair share of detractors too, who complain that the series is too beholden to the wider cinematic universe. When S.H.I.E.L.D. went down for the count in The Winter Soldier, the show was given no option but to follow.
It’s that sort of creative straitjacket that can herald a show’s doom; so far, Agents Of SHIELD seems to be holding up pretty well but integrating its Inhumans angle with the planned feature film will be the writers’ toughest challenge yet.
DC has opted instead to go for something of a ‘halfway house’ option: whilst their television and cinematic universes are essentially separate which them to largely bypass the jarring tonal differences that could be created by having Stephen Amell show up in Justice League, the two individual entities are still linked by way of the multiverse.
This certainly could be a shrewd move on the part of DC as it allows their respective universes ‘to breathe’ in the words of C.C.O. Geoff Johns. Cleverly, it also leaves open the possibility at some point for the multiverse to collapse or contract (or whatever it is that multiverses do) and for the characters from both TV and cinema to come together in the style of a Crisis or Flashpoint event: a trademark storytelling device which is classic DC. The final aspect to this throwdown that should probably be taken into account is the rights that each company holds to their characters and from this perspective, DC definitely has the upper hand. With Marvel having sold off the rights to their most recognisable assets back in the 90s, they’ve already turned to their lower profile characters (Ant-Man; Guardians Of The Galaxy) during Phase Two and it could simply be a matter of time before Phase Four opens with a rebooted Howard the Duck starring in a buddy cop movie alongside Loki (‘I am a God you feathered fowl and I will not have my promotion to Lieutenant undone by your loose cannon antics!’).
However, the House of Ideas has made the most of its commercial partnerships: its deal with Sony to bring Spider-Man back into the fold was huge and its participation with Fox to bring X-Men-related properties to TV is equally exciting.
That said, it can’t hold a candle to the unqualified freedom that DC has to deploy any of its characters wherever and whenever it chooses, a far cry from the days of Smallville when certain characters like Batman were considered off-limits. They even had Superman feature in a cameo during the new CBS Supergirl show recently. Poor Marvel. Looking back now, I bet they wish they’d sold the company silverware instead.
And what about a winner? Well with all those comic book movies gushing forth in the next five years, that’d be us, right?