Betamax vs. VHS. PlayStation vs. Xbox. Team Jacob vs. Team Edward. If there’s one thing that popular culture has taught us, it’s that people love to pick sides, and as comic book influence continues to overrun both TV schedules and the box office, there’s no rivalry more intense and hard-fought than that of Marvel vs. DC.
Last year Screen Rant’s Ben Kendrick wrote a defense of the Marvel vs. DC rivalry, arguing that the competition encourages studios to innovate, that it engenders a passionate and knowledgeable fanbase, and creates tight-knit communities similar to those that gather around particular sports teams. That would be fine if the spirit of the Marvel vs. DC debate remained friendly, with an unspoken acknowledgement of its ultimate futility, but too often it seems like fans take it too far and turn good-natured banter into vicious flame wars.
No competition that revolves around imaginary people in tights punching one another should ever get to the point where people on either side are genuinely angry and hurling personal attacks. Aside from the fact that the Marvel vs. DC rivalry is taken far, far more seriously by some people than it has any right to be, it also obscures that simple fact that you don’t have to pick a side. It’s perfectly possible to like Deathstroke, Deadpool, Green Arrow, Iron Man, Superman and Squirrel Girl all at once, and it’s equally possible to like Batman whilst simultaneously disliking Superman.
Brand loyalty might be good for DC and Marvel’s pockets, but it should never be considered an obligation, and with the widespread popularity of superhero movies bringing new fans (particularly young people) into the comic book community, now more than ever it’s important to set a good example. This is why The Marvel vs. DC Flame War Needs To End.
Neither Marvel Nor DC Is Objectively Better
It’s hard enough to quantify the value of a single creative work, so trying to quantify the value of a sprawling, decades-old, media-spanning, complex and unwieldy mass of creative works resulting from the input of thousands of people whose only common denominator is the company that owns the copyright is an impossible task. Add to that the fact that Marvel and DC properties have shared writers, artists, directors, actors and other talent, and the argument as to whether Marvel or DC is “better” becomes more futile than ever.
Personal preference is another matter, of course. There are plenty of reasons why some people have ended up gravitating toward Marvel properties more than DC, and vice versa. It’s hard to deny that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has a particular style all its own, with an emphasis on some form of comic relief always accompanying its adventures, while both Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder’s contributions to the DC movie library (which also happen to be the most successful contributions of the past decade) lean towards a darker and more serious tone.
Yet the fact that both of these approaches have enjoyed commercial and critical success is further evidence that one type of superhero movie isn’t inherently better than the other. Not only does the variety mean that more people are likely to find a superhero movie that suits their tastes, it’s also a very good thing that Disney and Warner Bros. aren’t trying to make the same kind of movies.
The Movie Studios Aren’t Fighting
One thing that the most combative fans on both sides of the fence would no doubt love to see is a DC movie release going head-to-head with a Marvel movie release – yet that’s never happened for the simple reason that it would be an idiotic move on the part of both studios. Though the raging flame wars might make it seem as though comic book movie fans only go to see movies belonging to their chosen faction, most of the people who turn up at theaters for superhero movies don’t care which company logo happens to be slapped on their movie posters or comic book covers – at least, not enough to actively and consistently boycott cool-looking movies that happen to come from the ‘wrong’ house. A passion for the genre – for seeing heroes in costumes battle it out against dastardly supervillains – both precedes and supersedes corporate loyalty.
There’s a reason that Avatar 2 was delayed from its planned December 2017 release almost immediately after Star Wars: Episode VIII was pushed back to that same release period. Studios aren’t interested in beating their chests and sending their own blockbusters out into the ring to face off against similar movies. Even if that could provide a definitive answer as to who has the better franchise (it couldn’t), it would do so at the expense of “splitting the vote” and damaging the overall box office gross of both releases. Superhero movies arrive in theaters opposite romantic comedies and animated family films; they don’t release opposite other superhero movies.
This is mainly due to the fact that a lot of people are cash-strapped, and can’t afford to go and see two superhero movies on the same weekend. They can, however, afford to see two superhero movies in the space of a month.
Watch ALL The Superhero Movies
While it’s true that there are some seriously poor comic book fans out there who can only afford to go to the theater a couple of times every year, for the most part it’s pretty feasible to (for example) go and see Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice in March, and then head out again to see Captain America: Civil War a couple of months later.
One of the reasons that the Xbox vs. PlayStation rivalry among gamers is so intense – perhaps even more so than Marvel vs. DC – is that for many people buying both an Xbox One and a PlayStation 4 (which retail at a few hundred dollars each) just isn’t financially possible. Furthermore, since the number of video games released on both consoles far outweighs the number of exclusives, there’s little reason to buy both consoles unless you seriously love both the Halo franchise and the Uncharted franchise. Circumstance forces people to choose one console or the other, and human nature often leads them to develop an intense defensiveness over their choice of console – coupled with virulent disdain for the alternative choice and for anyone who opts to buy that instead.
To a certain extent the same is true for Marvel vs. DC; a lot of people can’t afford to buy all of the titles being released by Marvel and DC, and the interconnected nature of their respective multiverses means that subscribing to one series often means subscribing to others set in the same world in order to stay up to date with all the characters. When it comes to the movie universes, however, things are quite different. Not only is it not necessary to have read all the source material (these movies do cater towards general audiences, after all), there a lot fewer comic book movies than there are comic books.
When it comes to comparing Marvel and DC properties, “Which one is better?” is probably one of the most boring questions you can possibly ask. The movies and TV shows emerging from both companies are ripe for integrated discussion, since they share not only a niche genre that’s exploded in popularity, but also a similar business model of shared universes that other studios are hastening to emulate. This year in particular sees the release of a Marvel movie and a DC movie that compliment one another extremely well, with both Batman V Superman and Captain America: Civil War tackling the problem of superhero accountability.
Unfortunately, the “Which one is better?” conversation has a tendency to drown out all other conversations. For a site like Screen Rant, whose focus is largely on mainstream adaptations of comic book properties, articles are subject to keen scrutiny by readers who are all too eager to claim “Marvel bias” or “DC bias” based on a perceived tally of positive and negative comments about each of the major houses. This environment can make it exhausting to try and draw comparisons between Marvel and DC; it’s a constantly balancing act of trying to discuss both in detail without ever saying anything that could imply one has more worth than the other.
When corporate loyalty crosses the line from friendly jousting into constant, high-strung antagonism, it has a tendency to poison the well of discussion. This isn’t so bad if you’re arguing over the respective merits of Coke and Pepsi, but for complex and fascinating works like films, comic books and TV shows, there’s so much that can be missed out on by getting hung up on in-fighting.
Perhaps it’s futile to try and fight the trend of arbitrary rivalries. Warner Bros. certainly understands the power of competition in marketing, as evidenced by the current #WhoWillWin marketing push for Batman V Superman. Interestingly, Captain America: Civil War‘s tagline is the considerably more sober “Divided We Fall“. And no, that’s not an invitation to start arguing over which tagline is better.
Ultimately, the Marvel vs. DC rivalry is a false dilemma. It’s fine to pick sides when it’s all in good fun, or to prefer one studio’s style over the other, but when every conversation about comic book movies seems to dissolve into petty bickering and people refer to the divide as a ‘war’ unironically, it might be time to take a step back. After all, we’re entering a true golden age in which several big budget movies featuring Marvel and DC superheroes are being released every year. If they can co-exist peacefully, why can’t their fans?
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice will be in theaters on March 25th, 2016; Suicide Squad on August 5th, 2016; Wonder Woman – June 23rd, 2017; Justice League – November 17th, 2017; The Flash – March 23rd, 2018; Aquaman – July 27th, 2018; Shazam – April 5th, 2019; Justice League 2 – June 14th, 2019; Cyborg – April 3rd, 2020; Green Lantern – June 19th, 2020.
Captain America: Civil War will release on May 6, 2016, followed by Doctor Strange– November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man – July 7, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 – May 4, 2018; Ant-Man and the Wasp – July 6, 2018;Captain Marvel – March 8, 2019; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 – May 3, 2019; Inhumans – July 12, 2019; and as-yet untitled Marvel movies on May 1, July 10 and November 6, 2020.