In the comic book world, there are hundreds of publishers, but two reign supreme. I’m not talking about Archie Comics (although some of their hilariously G-rated superheros are memorable). DC and Marvel have competed head-to-head since the 1970’s over which stable of characters and storylines was the undisputed champion.
These days, it’s a little harder to compare the two, with the universes bleeding beyond art and literature into animation, live-action TV shows, films, video games, toys, and more. Comparing the two requires a look at the past, present, and future of multiple media…
1. Film and Television
Nearly every movie critic will tell you The Dark Knight (and Heath Ledger’s turn as Joker) is one of the best films ever made. With some scenes shot in IMAX, the darker tone of the new Batman easily overshadowed the campiness of everything DC made prior. To this day, superhero films (and blockbusters in general) aspire to be more like Dark Knight.
Prior to Dark Knight, every Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman movie and TV show was garbage. The only good thing DC had going for it was Batman: The Animated Series, which is widely considered to be one of the best animated superhero shows ever made. This is the show that introduced Joker’s psychotic girlfriend Harley Quinn.
It’s also worth noting that Watchmen was made by DC, and that is among my personal favorite superhero movies ever made, though DC movies and TV series more often than not are garbage.
On the Marvel side, many corny films were made in the early years, but the wide range of usable characters made it possible to explore more characters. For every cheesy failure like the first X-Men trilogy and every Fantastic Four and Punisher to date, there’s a brilliant movie like Iron Man, Spider-Man, and X-Men: Days of Futures Past.
Heroes, though flawed, will be returning to TV soon, and it’s created by former Marvel writers. Daredevil on Netflix is critically acclaimed, and more superhero video content is in the works, including a Deadpool movie that looks to be much darker than both Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman, though time will tell.
While Dark Knight may be one of the best films ever made, the top 2o behind it are almost entirely Marvel.
2. Video Games
The video game industry is much different than Hollywood. While many Marvel movies are instant classics, often the video games lack depth. Spider-Man eventually introduced an open-sandbox element to become fun, but those Spidey games are kids play against the Arkham series in the same way Marvel’s Capcom teamup is a cartoony button-masher compared to the intricacies of DC and Mortal Kombat’s meetup.
Injustice turned out to be an even more appealing fighting game that even translated well to mobile platforms (although Batman variations were relied upon a bit too heavily, much like the direction the movies are heading). Few Marvel games are even worth remembering, with the hit movies being reduced to unplayable messes.
Even in MMO’s, DC had a fantastic superhero MMORPG that could easily have competed with World of Warcraft and Everquest, except the MMORPG craze appears to have been passed over for the freemium pricing model.
As in the movies, the crown gem in DC’s video game arsenal is Batman. Not only is the Arkham series a fantastic game, the storyline is so good, DC let the developers create a new character (Arkham Knight). Fans can’t get enough of the Batman video games, so, while one movie isn’t enough to triumph, a multitude of games is.
3. Comic Books and Graphic Novels
Both companies have a deep archive of collectible comic books and graphic novels. They’ve been around long enough that comic book collectors and stores have sealed copies of pretty much anything you’d ever want to read. Ironically, Comic-Con International (the largest of the independently operated Comic-cons) rarely focuses on comic books anymore because of the Hollywood buzz produced by the blockbuster films.
DC was campy all the way until the late 80’s, when Dark Knight and a few other darker storylines started to emerge (the death of Superman). During this timeframe, Marvel had much better comics in the X-Men series alone. The character depth and interactions between mutants and humans far surpassed anything shown in DC.
In later years, Marvel’s infatuation with mutants and alternate universes produced consistent quality, never becoming as family-friendly as their movie and video game image would suggest. DC, however, continued to get darker and darker, killing and torturing many fan-favorite characters.
Both companies are currently head-to-head in the comic book world, though judging on past decisions and consistency, I’d have to give this one to Marvel moving forward.
Brian Penny is a former business analyst and operations manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. His work has been featured on Fast Company, Huffington Post, BBC, Hardcore Droid, Cannabis Now, and more.