When you think of the oldest examples of superheroes being translated to the movies or television, likely you think of a DC Comics character. And no wonder, because Marvel didn’t become a significant success until Fantastic Four in the 1960’s. Superman and Batman were in the comics in the late 1930’s and were quickly snatched up for movie serials, WWII war bond ads and, in the case of Superman and Captain Marvel, 1950’s TV. DC is credited with creating the superhero genre, having published the first superhero comic ever with Superman’s first appearance in 1938.
Marvel, on the other hand, is credited with making comic book superheroes feel real. While DC’s characters are big, larger than life characters, loosely based on ancient mythology (with a sci-fi slant), Marvel’s characters, whether sci-fi or more mystical fantasy, were always characters you could relate to. They gave the secret (or not so secret) identities of these characters a life beyond waiting for something bad to happen to they could find a phone booth (or something) and become the costumed crime fighter in the front of the comic.
Marvel was ‘late to the game”, so to speak, but they also upped the game, reinvigorating what was a dying art form at the time by creating real characters. To hear Stan Lee tell it, this all happened because he was sick of comics and tried to get fired by doing things his way. I wouldn’t recommend doing that at your job unless you have something to fall back on. But it worked for Stan Lee and the comic book medium as a whole because DC also started giving their secret identities more interesting private lives, in imitation of Marvel.
With movies it was the same way, DC was the first to put their characters on the big screen. It had been that way since the black and white movie serials. Christopher Reeve and Michael Keaton made us believe a man could either fly or play a dark Batman. Marvel was late to the game here too, having successes with The Incredible Hulk TV show and a few cartoon series, but watching DC get far more movie business from the 70s-90s.
But why didn’t Christopher Reeve ever hang out with Batman? Or Michael Keaton with Superman? Warner Bros. owns DC Comics. Adam West was a little older than Christopher Reeve. They could have done an older Batman in a Superman: The Movie follow-up, just like they’re doing now. Or recast. What did it take for DC Comics to do a shared universe in the movies, even after (thanks to Bruce Timm), they had a lot of success with that kind of thing in cartoons?
Well, Marvel did it. Just as DC Comics started the superhero genre so that Marvel could improve on it, now DC is scrambling to imitate the incredible success of the MCU with admittedly better-known characters than Iron Man. I don’t know if those Internet rumors about Warner execs being worried about Batman v. Superman and looking for a way to readjust by pushing a Ben Affleck Batman movie forward are true. But a good chunk of the reason that DC is pushing the Justice League movie forward first and then doing solo films is not to look like they’re imitating Marvel (again). They’re doing it backward, so it looks different, just like what some people do with copyrighted video on YouTube.
Or it could it be that someone who is in charge of these films pointed out that Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man were once second or third-tier characters and figured out that they would be justified in rushing things a bit because everybody knows who Superman and Batman are. They can put the Superman/Batman logo on a movie poster or in a department store and people will recognize it easier than “that astronaut riding the ant or whatever.”
What do you think, Marvel and/or DC fanboys? Is DC Comics the jealous sibling that tries to imitate what his (younger?) brother does? And why did we never get the Adam West/Christopher Reeve/Lynda Carter Super Friends movie that I dreamed about when I was six? Sound off in the comments section.