Which is better: Marvel or DC movies? Now, which do you prefer? Even if your answer is the same, they're still entirely different questions. In an industry that gets bigger (and more crowded) each year, it's understandable that fans would enjoy debating which superhero movies excite them the most; however, where fans used to bond over a love of comic books and graphic novels, (playfully) debating which superhero was best, these preferences and personal tastes have become a fault-line that divides us - rather than a shared passion capable of uniting us.
Never is that divide more apparent than at the annual mid-summer gathering of comic book lovers in San Diego, Comic-Con - specifically Saturday in the San Diego Convention Center's 7,000 seat venue, Hall H. No doubt, many fans love both Marvel and DC equally or respectfully express their preference without tearing down a differing opinion; yet, like so many aspects of pop culture, others have become increasingly entrenched in their corner of fandom - taking pleasure in a reverberating echo chamber filled with praise for their favorite comic book properties and toxic admonishing of the "competition." On the surface, this is normal (at least these days) for any fandom. However, in an industry where characters (not product) mean so much to a tremendous variety of people, for any number of different reasons, it's scary to see fellow fans gleefully reframing the biggest celebration of geekdom around the world as a grudge match between competing companies, and well-known film journalists (who should know better) egging them on.
After all, DC and Marvel have repeatedly reinforced their mutual respect, and while there's no question they each want their products to woo the most viewers and collect the biggest box office takes, it's rare to see anyone with official seniority at either company disparage the other - because both DC and Marvel know that a rising tide floats all boats.
Nevertheless, following both the DC and Marvel panels in Hall H at SDCC 2017, fans and film journalists took to social media to express how their favorite shared universe "beat" the other one. On the surface, that's innocent enough: that is, until those subjective opinions are presented as objective facts - in a way that is intended to diminish someone else's opinion or (worse yet) excitement. The meaning behind Comic-Con is lost when we prioritize being "right" over allowing other people to relish in what excites them the most.
So, why is declaring a "winner" of Hall H so damaging?
Understandably, some will defend the right to make these grand statements, and claim that those statements are objective, because we should be able to "review" or compare the quality of movies and TV. But when it comes to Comic-Con panels, we're not judging complete movies or TV seasons - that comes later at the appropriate time (read: release day). Each presentation is a mix of interviews, unfinished footage, and finalized trailers - and that's all before we take into consideration the varying tones, styles, and thematic through lines of the actual films themselves. It might stop short of judging a book by its cover but, at the very least, it's equivalent to judging that book by its back cover blurb, comparing it to another blurb in the same genre, and consequently declaring one the winner over the other.
Rather than simply focusing on which one grabs your interest the most, grandiose declarations about winners and losers add an additional layer of qualification that simply cannot be measured or objectively analyzed - no matter how bold the claim.
In the interest of not throwing anyone specific under the bus, because this truly isn't about any one person (it's about an increasingly divisive community), I've made slight alterations to the included few choice quotes that were posted to social media by industry professionals at Comic-Cons (past and present).
- "Marvel just said "fuck you WB."
- "Take THAT Marvel suckers! #DC proving they know what movie fans want to see. Marvel fans should be embarrassed."
Statements like these, while presented in in the heat of personal excitement or a packed Hall H full of amped fans, do not build the community up - they force people into camps: those who believe Marvel beat DC, for example, and those who don't (either because they feel the complete opposite or land somewhere in the middle). While that might seem innocent enough on the surface, it fuels an already volatile (and completely unnecessary) fire between fandoms. Declaring winners and losers in a subjective medium where both studios have passionate fans (and have enjoyed box office success) inherently places those fans, all of whom went to great lengths to see their favorite franchises in Hall H, on an uneven playing field (those who are on the "winning" team, and those misguided souls who sided with the inferior product).
In a world where so many different things divide us, do we really need another place where we're forced to defend our preferences - especially within an industry built around entertainment and escapism? In a world where people are both more connected and more isolated than ever before, a world where we can't seem to have civil conversations about religion, politics, or social programs, what's the point of drawing yet another line in the sand to divide us? Why carry all the toxicity, bitterness, and insecurity of everyday life into a place that has traditionally been "safe" - a place where fans can celebrate their passions, no matter how niche, without judgement.
Perhaps the worst thing to come out of this manufactured rivalry is the fallacious generalizing of "Marvel fans" and "DC fans" as though they were two distinct groups of people all in lockstep with one another - if one DC fan does something objectionable, it becomes something that "DC fans" are doing and vice-versa. It's the same kind of pejorative grouping that, in a more sinister context, fuels fears and hate toward the "other." It might sound alarmist but, in a time where some people will kill each other over trivial disagreements, it's scary to see fans and influential members of the press lumping people into groups, throwing gasoline on an increasingly irrational, bitter, toxic, and uncomfortably close to violent fanboy war - for seemingly little reason other than to corroborate their own personal tastes, within an echo chamber.
No doubt, fans and critics have a right to express their opinion and state how they feel - that's always been a component of informed criticism and friendly debate, alike. Sadly though, recent years have seen the tone of these debates - and similarly grandstanding from fans and industry insiders - become twisted. At the end of the day, it's not about what your opinion might be, it's in how you choose to express it. There's a big difference between "I liked X better than Y because Z" and "X just said FU you to Y" or "X fans should be embarrassed." Again, expressing an opinion is one thing but, for the sake of fandom, it's worth taking an extra second to consider how you express that opinion - or risk reaping what you sow. The more we segregate fan culture and close doors to fun debate in favor of defensive scorn, the harder it makes for anyone (including everyone who falls somewhere in the middle) to enjoy all that comic book culture has to offer.
The point of Comic-Con has, for decades, been to come together in celebration of all corners of comic book culture - without judgement or hierarchy. Comic-Con was a place that relished in the diversity of geekdom - in fact, that diversity was central to the culture: all our favorite superheroes had their own means of making the world better and safer. Their methods varied, as did our preferences for which hero was our favorite at any given time, but we were united in the belief that a person should do their best to make the world a brighter and more inclusive place - using whatever gifts (mutant, meta, or human) we possess. For many who grew up with Comic-Con in their life, this framework provided a safe space; yet, as the Comic-Con community expanded into a major pop culture platform, some fans have started to become the kind of bullies that many read comic books to escape.
At the macro level, all of the focus on Marvel and DC's "competition" distracts from the hundreds of other panels and properties at Comic-Con. Each year, incredible authors, comic books, films, and TV shows are drowned out by bickering between fans who are, in the golden age of superhero cinema, preoccupied with fighting one another instead of appreciating the variety of superhero movies and TV shows (not to mention comics) available to enjoy.
This brings us to the real point: there shouldn't be losers at Comic-Con - we can all be winners without taking anything away from other fans. Never before in history has their been such a broad variety of entertainment for comic book enthusiasts to explore. We can all win, all the time - and all we have to do is choose to take the higher road: to let other people enjoy what they enjoy, and not try to take that away from them just because it's different than what any one of us might like more.
To their credit, the creative forces behind the Marvel and DC cinematic universes have set a fine example of showing respect for one another - one that fans would do well to follow. Justice League director Zack Snyder has commented that although he understands why "people would want to make it this big, intense rivalry," he personally thinks that Marvel are "so great." Similarly, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige has said that DC Comics CCO Geoff Johns is "a very good friend of mine," and that "when [DC movies] perform well and are well received, it's good for us - which is why I'm always rooting for them."
If all else fails, it might be worth fans pondering a very simple question. Given that we're all in this fandom because something resonates with each of us about superheroes (even if that something is different for everyone), how would your favorite hero feel about the way you treat people in other corners of the fandom? Getting back to the roots of Comic-Con, as a place of celebration, inclusivity, and (frankly) love, are any of us really "winning" when we're so divided?