Fast Company

In Marvel And DC's Battle Of The Superheroes, Can The Hulk Kick Batman's Butt?

Read on for answers to that and other billion-dollar mind-blowing questions about the war between Disney’s Marvel and Time Warner’s DC.

The half-century battle between Marvel and DC for bragging rights as the leader of the comic-book marketplace used to be a real clash of the titans. In 1976, when the rival publishers decided to collaborate on a one-shot issue of Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man (Superman won, sort of), comics fans greeted it as if the Beatles and the Stones had suddenly agreed to a battle of the bands. And as recently as the early 1990s, the most popular monthly titles might sell more than a million copies each.

These days, in some ways, the comics business is a shadow of its former self. Most kids find their entertainment elsewhere, and if a comic book manages to crack the 100,000 sales mark--as only two Marvel titles and two DC titles did in April--it's time to uncork the champagne. But on another level, the business has never been more important, since comic books and the people who create them now essentially function as a relatively cost-efficient concept, character, and storyboard lab for a movie genre that has generated revenue in the tens of billions of dollars over the past decade. As this summer has clarified, from the moment Marvel's The Avengers raised the bar with the biggest opening weekend in U.S. history, the stakes have never been higher, especially since they now involve two of the world's largest entertainment conglomerates--Disney, which bought Marvel in 2009 for $4 billion, and Time Warner, which has long owned DC.

Photo by David Levinthal

Who's winning? Well, if this were a comic book--most of which, in case you haven't picked one up lately, still run about 20 pages and end with a full-page visual cliffhanger--what you'd probably see is Marvel's Iron Man standing triumphantly over a beaten and bloody Green Lantern, who would be glowering up at him through his eye mask and muttering something like, "You may think you've beaten me, Robert Downey Jr., but I'll be back--and next time, I'll bring some friends to wipe that smirk off your face!" (Yes, they still talk that way.) There's no question that Marvel, which, 10 years ago, had little to boast about but Spider-Man, has done a superb job leveraging characters whose movie and TV history was either nonexistent (Iron Man), cringeworthy (The Incredible Hulk), or animated (X-Men) into some of the best brands in the business. That makes Marvel No. 1.

DC is just beginning what's likely to be a difficult game of catch-up. By the end of this summer, The Dark Knight Rises will push grosses for the Batman movie franchise well past $3 billion worldwide--but for too long, DC's strategy has been just that: Batman alone. Still, don't count DC out. Last year, when the comics division launched a go-for-broke strategy to bring in new readers and re-excite old ones by reinventing a 52-title line in which every comic book simultaneously started or restarted from issue No. 1 (even the 75-year-old Detective, the oldest title in comics), cynics dismissed it as a last-ditch ploy. Instead, the maneuver--combined with a digital sales initiative--gave DC a (temporarily) dominant share of the market-place for the first time in years. If the company can bring that kind of creativity to filmed entertainment, this could finally be the slugfest fans deserve.

Here then, in 21 categories, is the current tale of the tape, from Bragging Rights to Biggest Setback, plus The Big Question for each of them. Pow!

MOST VALUABLE PLAYERS

[CORPORATE]

MARVEL: Kevin Feige, a 12-year Marvel veteran who became the president of production at Marvel Studios in 2007 and has performed so strongly he was recently on the short list to take over Disney's entire movie division

 

DC: Diane Nelson, the DC Entertainment president who oversaw the Harry Potter franchise for Warner Brothers and is now tasked with turning DC into Time Warner's next major player

 

[CREATIVE]

MARVEL:At the moment, Joss Whedon, cowriter and director of The Avengers.

 

DC: Writer-director Christopher Nolan, overlord of the Batman franchise and creative consigliere on Man of Steel.

 

BRAGGING RIGHTS

MARVEL: The Avengers is the biggest comic-book movie in history.

DC: The Dark Knight remains the only comic-book movie to win a major Academy Award (best supporting actor for Heath Ledger).

BRANDED MOVIES

(Since 2002)

MARVEL: 25 Spider-Man, Blade II, Daredevil, X2: X-Men United, Hulk, The Punisher, Spider-Man 2, Blade: Trinity, Elektra, Fantastic Four, X3: The Last Stand, Ghost Rider, Spider-Man 3, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Punisher: War Zone, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Iron Man 2, Thor, X-Men: First Class, Captain America: The First Avenger, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Marvel's The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man

DC: 8 Catwoman, Batman Begins, Superman Returns, The Dark Knight, Watchmen, Jonah Hex, Green Lantern, The Dark Knight Rises

BIGGEST MOVIE

MARVEL: The Avengers (total gross: $1.2 billion through 5/24/12)

DC: The Dark Knight (total gross: $1 billion)

BIGGEST FRANCHISE

MARVEL: X-Men (five movies and spin-offs since 2000, with two more pending)

DC: Batman (eight movies and spin-offs since 1989)

UPCOMING MOVIES

MARVEL: 9 Thor 2, Captain America 2, Iron Man 3, X-Men: First Class 2, The Wolverine, The Avengers 2, plus two still to be revealed and a possible Amazing Spider-Man sequel.

DC: 2 The Dark Knight Rises, Man of Steel (the Superman reboot)

BIGGEST RECENT STUMBLE

MARVEL: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance opened miserably, proving that sequels can't always fool people twice--not even fans of Nicolas Cage movies.

DC: Green Lantern was expensive, critically reviled, and a box-office disappointment that will need a major creative reboot to prove franchise-worthy.

MOST PAINFUL ILLUSTRATION OF THE LIMITS OF SYNERGY

MARVEL: The inability to get all of its franchise characters under one roof. Though the company is now owned by and housed at Disney, Sony still holds the rights to make Spider-Man movies, and Fantastic Four, Daredevil, X-Men, and its various offshoots all belong to 20th Century Fox.

DC: Although the company--home to Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the Flash--was once seen as the repository of characters even more valuable than Marvel's, that's changed in the past five years as Marvel has made one successful movie after another and Warner Brothers has failed to make any kind of grand plan that would lead to an Avengers-style Justice League movie.

THE THING THEY KIND OF WISH YOU WOULDN'T MENTION

MARVEL: Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

DC: Marvel

THE BIG QUESTION

MARVEL: How quickly can it get Avengers 2 off the ground?

DC: Since The Dark Knight Rises marks Nolan's farewell to the series, how soon before it can reboot Batman, its biggest asset?

BIGGEST SUPERHERO PROBLEM

MARVEL: Excessive number of superheroes with lame origin stories involving radioactivity (Spider-Man, Daredevil, etc.)

DC: Excessive number of square-jawed godlike heroes without relatable personalities (Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, etc.)

MOST UNDER-EXPLOITED AREA

MARVEL: Television. With its multiple characters and long-running story lines, X-Men could be the series Heroes never was and a flagship for any network hoping to attract young men.

DC: The movies. There are endless filmworthy characters not from Gotham City and nearly 20 years of great storytelling from the more-adult Vertigo imprint that have barely been touched.

MOST OVERUSED STORY LINE

MARVEL: Superheroes meet for the first time (or the fiftieth) and can't think of anything better to do than fight each other.

DC: Multiple Earths and manipulations of chronology by cosmic forces conspire to erase and restart every story line every five to seven years.

MOST FERTILE CREATIVE PERIOD

MARVEL: 1961 to 1964, which saw the creation of the Fantastic Four, Hulk, Thor, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Iron Man, and X-Men.

DC: 1938 to 1941, which saw the creation of Superman, Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman.

SMARTEST RECENT GAMBLE

MARVEL: The decision to build to The Avengers over four years and five movies, starting with Iron Man, paid off brilliantly.

DC: The decision to restart all of its comic books from issue No. 1 last summer resulted in great press and amped-up sales, and the digital day-and-date release of all of its titles, though not yet a major driver of revenue, feels like a potential game-changer.

AND FINALLY, IF SUPERHEROES COULD REALLY TRAVEL BACK AND ALTER THE TIME STREAM, YOU NEVER WOULD HAVE SEEN...

MARVEL: Ang Lee's Hulk

DC: Nipples on the Bat-suit

Illustrations by Ward Sutton; Wireimage (Feige), Stephen Lovekin (Nelson), Barry King (Whedon), Ethan Miller (Nolan), All from Getty Images. Others courtesy of the Everett Collection

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12 Comments

  • guest

    Honestly people u forget quality. Sure Marvel can throw out all the movies it wants bt really it's still down to the fact that DC has more depth, it goes deep and is far closer to the comics of origin. Marvel needs several movies to get box office hits. Bt movies like the batman and superman stand alone and bring countless support. DC is always a favorite, it's always gonna be something u remember. Marvel, we'll u really gotta think marvel vs dc, it's a clear winner dc. Warner Brothers just needs to do a flashpoint reboot. A justice League stand alone movie and I'll see that we'll dc rules. I mean regardless of how many years past people will always know the justice League. Bt most marvel members u don't remember. And the dc movies can speak to all ages and bring a plot.

  • Jauren0524

    DC has been struggling to even keep up with Marvel for so long they are hardly a glint in the eye of comic fans if not for Batman and his fantastic films/comic series.

  • Jauren0524

    DC has zero depth. The Man of Steel shows this. There characters have so few flaws and so little character that it's painful. Twilight had better story than Man of Steel.

    The only worth while films DC ever had was...

    Dark Knight series
    Superman: The Movie
    First two Batman films a few decades ago.

    Let's look at Marvel's list of successful, amazing and fun films that just... well, destroy DC.

    -Iron Man Series
    -Amazing Spider-Man
    -Captain America
    -Thor(not amazing, but better than MoS for sure.. and that hurts to say. I wanted it to succeed

    -AVENGERS(Duh)

    You do realize among the most loved heroes of the last three decades DC has one. Batman. The rest are among Marvels ranks. You are biased to DC for some fan-boyism... but numbers speak for themselves.

  • Waltersobchak1984

    Let me just say for starters that I have a very uniqe taste when it comes to movies. Marvel has outperformed DC recently, however there were some movies that were'nt present in the DC section...I dont know if they were being excluding purpously but you did not mention christopher reeves' superman films, of which there are 4. Marvel or DC.....? I think that WB typically turns out better films based on comics and graphic novels. Marvel is owned by disney, and disney dollars can carry even the worst films into domestic box office successes. Both fansastic 4 movies were god awful. And frankly, so was Captain america. I knew the second they announced that johnston was directing it had no chance. Blade 3, no thank you. Elektra, Xmen 3...awful. Marvel has saturated the industry with so many comic movies that the law of averages say that there has to be some good ones. Whereas WB (DC) has made 3 new batman films, all of which broke domestic box office records, Zak snyder's graphic novel epic THE WATCHMEN which was excellentby all accounts. Brandon routh's superman was'nt that bad I thought. I for damn sure think it was better than Captain America, and I think Green Lantern was better than ole' Cap too. Before you say you don't like GL you must watch the extended version. And I don't care what anybody says, Ang Lee's HULK was awesome. It went deep...and thats what a good director does. Lee told a story, within a story, that was in another story. I like Ed Norton better than Banna dont get me wrong, but I think Lee's was far superior. As for marvel, I F'n love DAREDEVIL!!! It was cruisified in the media though. Affleck did great, plus: (Affleck was the bomb in phantoms)  :-) lol...and Colin Farrell was excellent as bullseye. It had a very simplistic script and it was underdone as far as "inner conflict' with Matt Murdock and his duel identity. However, again I urge all those reading this to watch the directors cut, which has 30 extra minutes! Can you believe they cut 30n minutes off? A movie based on a marvel character with the following daredevils' size should be epic. Not a minute less than a 2 hour running time. Punisher war zone? The man in charge of green lighting that project should be fired, and then thrown out of a moving car. Wolverine origins was terrible. Yes I said it! with 30+ years of source material, there is no reason why they didnt adhere to things that were actually part of wolvie's actual origin. Fox and their executive producers have shown little to no interist in telling these stories how they were written in the comics. And I understand that movies are an entirely different medium in which to tell these stories. But the line has got to be drawn somewhere. where do we draw it? What tips the scale and makes us finally say, "okay, now this sucks!" Yes Jackman looked great as wolverine, but wolverine is supposed to be a pit bull. Short, stocky and mean. Jackman is 6'3 and sings showtunes when hes not doing an Xmen film. Overall, I think that for every 5 Marvel movies that get made, 3 of them are great. now, DC turns out 5 movies, and they're all doing great (financially speaking of course; taste on good or bad is subject to different personalities)I'd say they're even, MARVEL & DC.....DC moves far slolwer than Marvel nowadays, but their product is superior. Marvel turns out 2-3 comic based films every 12-15 months. A certain percentage of which seems to suffer from sophmoric script wighting and shortsided directing. Sorry to wright so much, but like alot of things; there just wasn't an easy way to say it.

  • Jauren0524

    Captain America was pretty much fantastic. You must be in an alternate universe on that one. Otherwise I can agree... but then at the same time I can't. MARVEL films seem to continually remain amazing. FOX sucks at it. Sony finally fixed Spider-Man though. 

  • Endamcaleavey

    Superman is so fast he could run behind hulk before he moves 3 steps and would throw him into the sun. GAME OVER

  • Sjohnson88

    um.....no question, hulk, he is nearly indestructable, bullet-proof, regenerative healing factor not to mention unbelievable strength which only amplifies when he is angry.

  • Jpakka

    Yes, Marvel has done amazingly with it's movie series but you skirt over other areas where DC have done well - although i'll admit that Marvel are "winning". Smallville, regardless of what you might have thought ot if, got 10 million viewers fairly regularly and DC's animated shows and movies have generally been more successful than Marvel's. The reboot of DC's catalog was probably a mistake but it's stuck in a cycle of such reboots at the moment. If it could finally find a fix and stick to it it'd probably be back n top, or at least better off.

    As you mentioned, neither DC or Marvel are going anywhere, even if they become loss making as they generate stories which are worth billions and they'll never let that drop. Marvel have created a series of movies which have helped revitalise themselves and I look forward to them getting more of their star players back one day and DC getting a decent run at some films.

  • Ashley Kilday

    AND FINALLY, IF SUPERHEROES COULD REALLY TRAVEL BACK AND ALTER THE TIME STREAM, YOU NEVER WOULD HAVE SEEN...

    MARVEL: Ang Lee's Hulk

    DC: Nipples on the Bat-suit

    No lie. :)