DC: Grounded Characters over Escapism

It isn’t sacrilege to say that a Superman origin story should be taken seriously; it is an undeniably serious one. Kal-El is the quintessential immigrant, an orphaned boy raised by parents who teach him how to be a man for others, and leave it to him to determine how his abilities will make the world a better place. If told honestly, it’s hard to think of a more serious story, superhero or otherwise.

But does it have to be a dark story as well? Far from it. In many ways, it’s the happiest and most inspiring story in comic books, if told right. And it may hold the key to how Man of Steel will launch DC’s shared movie universe.

In the debate over how much seriousness is acceptable in the superhero genre – one which is likely here to stay for the foreseeable future – it’s easy to try to divide the argument between Marvel and DC fans. But do Marvel fans think no hero should be portrayed seriously? Considering the fan reaction to darker takes on characters like The Punisher, Daredevil, and others, we’d say the tone should fit the character.

But Marvel chose the route that would grant them the biggest cohesive universe, and as we continue to warn, every comic book license reverting back to Marvel means fewer Marvel heroes appearing in fewer films. There’s also the fact that re-acquired characters like Blade or Ghost Rider might not fit with the current slate of heroes; a no-holds barred take on The Punisher, for instance, is harder to market as part of the family-friendly Avengers shared universe.

Will Warner Bros. and DC encounter a similar problem, and be unable to introduce a character more known for humor and heightened reality like, say, the Flash? Green Lantern dove into the deep end of Marvel’s strategy, introducing absurd and poorly-explained villains and plotlines that now make fitting the character into the upcoming universe a challenge, not a headstart.

Only time will tell how GL is handled, but the steps being taken by the studio to build a shared universe are promising; Man of Steel will be setting the stage for other heroes, not by name-dropping or alluding to other Justice League members, but by establishing a formula that can be taken with every DC character. They may not all have the same tone (Batman’s darkness vs. Superman’s hope), but all are built with the same commitment to serious storytelling and character insight over fantastical adventure and escapsim.

Obviously, we hope to see both formulas find success, since it means comic book movies that offer both a look at heroes in our own world, and one that will make comic book fans’ dreams come true. However, fans of each approach must learn what to expect from one studio’s films over the other.


As Iron Man 3 has already shown, and Man of Steel may make clear before long, superhero movies will never make everyone happy. If nothing else, we hope this look at DC and Marvel’s different strategies will help remove some of the venom from the more heated debates between fans. Arguments can continue over which is preferred by a specific movie fan, but the two studios are headed very different directions, and are doing so on purpose.

What do you make of the differences between each studio’s idea of a ‘serious’ superhero movie? Do you tend to lean toward Marvel’s take or DC’s? Can you see your opinion changing in the future, or are you sticking with one side?

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Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.

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