It’s one of history’s greatest rivalries. Just like Edison vs. Tesla, Coke vs. Pepsi, and McDonald’s vs. Burger King, the super hero universes created by Marvel and DC have been battling for geek marketshare for decades.
However, while the original battles were waged strictly on paper, the past 30 years or so have seen a new battlefield enter the fray: movies and television. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, odds are you’ve heard of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), or of shows like Arrow, The Flash, and Gotham–even if you don’t watch any of them yourself.
While each side clearly paints the other as the loser in trying to tie up all of your super-powered media consumption, I’m here to argue that they’re both successful, just not at the same thing.
See, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Marvel has the blockbuster action movie market on an almost Hulk-like impenetrable lockdown, an arena that, despite their best efforts, DC just can’t seem to get any footing in. But, much to the liking of Two Face, this coin has two sides; on the other side, we have DC who, in my opinion has managed to finally find their groove in the hour-long TV action/drama market–the only area where Marvel just hasn’t hit gold as of yet.
So, how is it that each company has managed to find their strength in opposing markets?
Well, if you ask me–and I can only assume you are, seeing as you’re here reading this and all–it boils down to a single concept:
Consistency (or, perhaps, a lack thereof).
Consistency in television and movies is key if your goal is to build a media empire, much like Marvel and DC have been doing in the graphic novel business for years now. If you want to keep the audience engaged, and coming back for more, your characters have to seamlessly move from their individual storylines into that of their accompanying heroes’ and back again. If you need evidence of this, just look at how well the individual Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America films blended into the first, and second Avengers movies.
Cinematic consistency is where Marvel has absolutely hit the nail on the head. While some of our favorite actors are coming up on possible contract negotiations, and taking any Marvel property produced by Fox (i.e., Spiderman and X-Men movies before First Class) out of the equation, the throughline in these films is impeccable.
Every important character who appears in any capacity in any individual film appears in that exact same capacity in the group films, and this reliable storytelling is what makes us go along with outside-the-box concepts like Guardians of the Galaxy.
Even more important, Marvel’s consistency extended beyond films into their initial TV project, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Unfortunately, swinging Coulson into his own side-project has had its hang-ups. Not even briefly bringing both Samuel L. Jackson’s kick-ass Nick Fury and Cobie Smulder’s unyielding Maria Hill in for cameos, while keeping perfect pace with the MCU didn’t do the trick in winning over the causal TV audience.
“Why not,” you ask? “Consistency,” I answer.
“But you just applauded Marvel on their consistency,” you state, pressing forward. Yes, but the fact of the matter is that, as much as I happen to enjoy Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.–now in its third season–it was a change of pace inconsistent with what audiences had become accustomed to from the superhero factory.
No longer were we invited in for an action-packed look at our favorite heroes’ public and private struggles, now we were thrown headlong into the day-to-day bureaucracy of S.H.I.E.L.D. as an agency. Yes, we got to see a few superhumans do their thing, and eventually we got to the Inhumans storyline, but the fact of the matter is that Coulson and his team, and Agent Carter and her’s simply don’t deliver an experience consistent with what we’ve come to want and expect from Marvel’s live-action department.
Now, to their credit, Marvel has attempted to combat this by introducing both Daredevil and Luke Cage as series featuring superheroes on Netflix. However, as hard as it is to believe, not everyone has Netflix (and accessibility is arguably just as important as consistency), and even though they are bringing heroes doing heroic things to the TV, starting with weaker properties like the previously Affleck-ted (see what I did there?) Daredevil and the obvious blaxspolitation that is Luke Cage, doesn’t push them any closer to moving in the right direction, if you ask me.
Luckily, where Marvel shows its cracks, DC is more than ready to take over.