Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.
So this week (depending when I post this) a brand new trailer dropped for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. This same week I saw (or will see, again, depending when I post this) Avengers: Age of Ultron. And not too long ago we say our first proper trailer of what Ant-Man is going to look like. Which really got me wondering: At what point, specifically, did the two companies swap ideologies. When did the DC cinematic universe become like the Marvel comic book universe, and when did the Marvel cinematic universe become like the DC comic book universe. And what about all these TV shows to boot? Well, lets find out.
First off, to re-use a phrase I have used countless times before: â€œDC is Gods trying to be Humans, Marvel is Humans trying to be Godsâ€. Now before anyone rushes to point out Batman or Thor or the like, this statement isn’t so much literal as it is the conceptualization of both sides. DC heroes tend to be flawless, in so far that they’re not plagued with human problems so much. Superman doesn’t need to worry about going to the doctor, Batman doesn’t have to worry about a job, Wonder Woman doesn’t have to worry about gender stereotypes (since she can, you know, kick ass). The Justice League are all people with unbelievable amounts of power. The Flash’s super speed and the Green Lantern’s Power Ring are pretty much game-breakers when you get right down to it. These Gods don’t need to worry about petty things like paying the car bill on time, or remembering a friend’s birthday… but, as we all know, absolute perfection is boring. Or, it’s perceived as such. Believe it or not, I don’t have a problem with the ‘perfect hero’ story. The 1960s Batman series tends to have Batman be a ‘perfect hero’ (in so far that he has no real-world problems to deal with) and that’s fine to watch. I don’t watch superheroes to be reminded of all the problems that go on in my day to day life. So DC is rather famous (or infamous) for having its larger than life characters who try to act human, since acting human is the easiest way of grafting flaws onto them.
So what about Marvel? Well, lets look at the big characters: Spider-Man is an amazing superhero… whose also a high school kid trying to juggle his work life and social life. Iron Man is a genius inventor… who is also a recovering alcoholic as well as a narcissist. Bruce Banner is the ultimate embodiment of the ‘super-man’… that he can’t control. And so on and so forth. The core idea is that these are super-humans who achieve a level of Godhood while still being susceptible to human flaws. Even Thor, someone born with super powers, is still characterized as being a flaw being. In many ways, Marvel is seen as the answer to DC. While DC had no problem putting its heroes on pedestals, Marvel seemed to go out of its way to make the public hate superheroes. No better example can be found than with the X-Men comic book series (which, for the record, would never work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe due to how accepting the population is of super-powered beings, at least at this point). The X-Men are, more often than not, feared and hated by the general public. They’re usually a good shortcut to going â€œThis is what discrimination is likeâ€, whether it be racial or sexual minorities. It’s the sort of hate you wouldn’t see in the DC universe… until now.
Because perhaps one of the defining moments of the Batman v Superman trailer is the stature of Superman with ‘false God’ written on his chest, and a chant of ‘go home’. This, in a nutshell, is a very ‘Marvel’ thing to do. Marvel citizens are the ones that fear the superhero more than the DC citizens. Superman was always seen as an embodiment of good, where only Lex Luthor distrusted him for somewhat selfish reasons. And while I’m interested in exploring the idea of a Superman that isn’t embraced by the public (mostly because it’s yet to be done in film), it doesn’t seem to fit right. That’s not who Superman is or who Superman should be. That’s not his character at all. The DC universe should be bright and happy and a touch silly… like, for example, having a talking raccoon and a sentient tree. Because that’s what Marvel did, and it made them quite a lot of money. It was shown to be a winner of an idea. It was goofy and silly and it worked because Marvel put effort into it. They cared enough. But given how DC once had an entire comic dedicated to the animal versions of the Justice League, it seems odd that they’re the ones that keep thinking that dark and edgy is the way to go. But, bottom line, DC is dark and gritty where Marvel is more goofy and fun. Why is it this way?
Now I suspect the answer you’re waiting to hear is â€œBecause of The Dark Knightâ€. And in some ways, that makes a lot of sense. After all, that was the last DC film that had almost universal appeal… but I’d argue there’s a film slightly more influential than that. One that, despite making huge waves in the comic book world, never really seemed to do much in the cinema world. I’m talking, of course, about Watchmen. Yes, released in 2009, it is a film that did change the superhero cinematic universe… or the DC version, at least. Much how Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns ushered in a new age of dark, gritty comics, Watchmen and (ironically) The Dark Knight ushered in a new age of dark, gritty movies… in DC’s corner, at least. Marvel instead took one look at that, laughed it off for being silly, and made better movies. But DC… DC has never been quite able to get over the success of The Dark Knight and Watchmen. The Dark Knight started the trend, Watchmen helped solidify it, and now they’re determined to stick by it. So it’s all doom and gloom, right? DC will always by dark and cynical, Marvel will always be light and optimistic? Well… surprisingly enough, not quite.
Because while the cinematic universes of both franchises push further away from each other, the TV universes are doing almost the reverse. Marvels Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D is, at times, fairly dark and gritty. Marvels Agent Carter is actually quite a realistic portrayal of the late 40s and isn’t all sunshine and roses. Daredevil… okay I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m not going to be surprised if it’s also dark and gritty. So what about the flip-side. Ignoring Constantine and Gotham for being bad (even though I didn’t find Constantine too horrible), we have Arrow and The Flash. And it’s The Flash that I find the most interesting, because it’s one of the happier superhero shows out there. Sure, it’s dark in that pretty much every episodes starts with a murder, but on the whole it’s a rather bright and colourful show. It’s a very optimistic show. Even Arrow, its more darker counterpart, still has more light in it than either Nolan’s Batman or Snyderâ€™s Superman franchises. So while the cinematic universe grows darker, there’s more hope to be found within the TV universe. Of course, unlike the Marvel TV universe, this will never truly be canon. But it does show that someone at DC is willing to make good quality entertainment that isn’t beaten over the head with all sorts of miserable cynicism.
So there you have it. A convoluted look at the state of the DC and Marvel properties on television and film. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.