Comic Fodder

DC's "Me Too!" Response to Marvel

In yet another example demonstrating how slow it is compared to Marvel Comics, DC Comics has finally made the announcement that they will be folded into the larger Warner Brothers structure and relabeled DC Entertainment. The sole purpose is to drive home the fact that the characters are to be exploited not just in comics, but everywhere. Exploited in every possible connotation of the term, good and bad. This move had been in development more than a year, but the surprise acquisition of Marvel by Disney that was sprung on all of us was an embarrassment for Warner Brothers. They moved up their announcement as quickly as they could, timing it just far enough away so it would not look like a "Hey! Me too! Look at me!" announcement. They failed at that, but they couldn't very well make the announcement the next day, could they? No matter when it was delivered, though, it was inescapable: it's still a "Me too!" message.

The move has been a long time in the making because the good suits at WB have been for the most part miserable at capitalizing on their library of DC characters. Watchmen finally made it out, and Batman has been successful, but everything else has been a miserable failure, or forgotten in mediocrity. Marvel has been the major player in the comic publishing market forever now, and their relatively recent cinema success was a sharp poke in the eye for the guys who had access to DC comics.

It is important to note that the comics guys themselves are not really at fault for any of this. Since Warner Brothers owns DC, they have a "first look" clause. That means if there is to be any proposal to develop a DC character into another format, be it TV show, movie, or dental floss, Warner Brothers gets the first chance to say they'll buy it and run with the ball. If they pass, then a different company is allowed to come in and offer a bid and try to develop things. In the meantime, the creative teams keep on writing their comics.

The problems date back decades, and mostly center on Superman. Endless millions were spent on lackluster script treatments, and only after Spider-Man's success did the WB finally pay attention and try to put something out. The result was a failure to meet expectations, a movie that was essentially a love-rerun of the first movie, but with a bastard child and some peeping tom action by the big red S added for flavor. Executives acted like THEY were the ones let down, when they gave approval for that type of thing when they let Bryan Singer take the reins. This disappointment was followed by the suits rejecting Joss Whedon's plans for Wonder Woman, and letting Ryan Reynolds escape from his desire to play Flash, as that movie also became mired in development hell. “Development hell” became a very common term mentioned in the same breath as most DC movie projects.

This is how bad things were at Warner Brothers: their failures were turned into pop culture satire. On the hit show Entourage, the epitome of making fun of DC characters was showcased as Vinnie Chase got a starring role in a fictional Aquaman movie, which then surpassed the box office gross of Titanic. Aquaman, the butt of most lame-character attacks for DC characters, became the symbol for Time Warner’s inability to field a decent superhero movie. Even Sony's Hancock has out-grossed the earlier Batman Begins. The gross of Pixar's superhero cartoon Incredibles is ahead of every DC movie except for the Dark Knight.

They got another wake-up call when Marvel formed their own movie studio, deciding that they knew their characters best, and were therefore better suited to translate the stories to the big screen than the mixed results that came from such pics as Fantastic Four, the first Hulk, Elektra (shudder), and others. Iron Man was a smash hit. Luckily the Dark Knight scored big for Warner Brothers, helping them to appear to stay in the game, but it was perception only. After the Batman sequel and Watchmen, they had nothing left in their armory.

The one bright spot for DC has been in animation, and it’s good that Marvel hasn’t has a clean sweep of everything already. Whether it’s the older Batman animated show, the newer things like the New Frontier, or pretty much anything at all that Bruce Timm has worked with, the animated adventures of DC’s heroes have far outclassed almost everything that Marvel has attempted for the better part of two decades. But now the race is on for the whole ball of wax.

TV. Movies. Cartoons. Video games and online virtual worlds. Amusement rides and action figures and statues and clothing. DC and Marvel have both been well and truly absorbed now into the two entertainment monoliths of America (a duolith?). For all of the years that DC was part of a bigger company, they really have put up a poor showing as far as trying to find synergies that would help everyone to properly harness the power of comics. Now that Marvel is backed by the Mouse, we have a genuine grudge match on our hands.

It is fair to say that Marvel has embarrassed DC with its fast success in Hollywood, and it is only reinforced when even executives on DC’s side complain that Superman is a bit stale as characters go, while everyone wants to be Iron Man for next Halloween. You may have heard of culture wars before, but this is a culture war of a different type, and the two companies will be competing for the premier place for making their properties the most celebrated, most successful pop culture icons of the future. Disney outlasted Hanna-Barbera, and now Disney is backing Marvel.

Expect to see some developments for DC characters now. Not that there wasn’t movement before, but the movement never actually pushed anything forward. Despite the lead DC should have had by all rights, it’s Marvel in front, and commanding the most attention, generating the most excitement. All that DC’s announcement did was serve to remind people that a big company already owned DC… and hadn’t done nearly as much with it.

DC needs to do better than, “Me too!”

Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.