Marvel vs. DC Panel: Which Cinematic Universe Won at Wizard World New Orleans?
If you allow yourself to take decades of comics into account, the Marvel vs DC debate would last forever. So at the Marvel vs. DC panel at New Orleans Comic Con this weekend, panelists Superherologist Travis Langley, Henderson State's Eric Bailey, Vantage: Inhouse Productions's Victor Dandridge, and Outer Places's Kieran Dickson, along with moderator Aaron Sagers, mostly limited themselves to the franchises' cinematic universes. If we were including the Nolan films in DC's cinematic universe then it would actually be a fairly close call; Marvel may have the business side down pat, but Nolan's films are often thought to be the most momentous creative achievement, and credited with changing/legitimizing the entire superhero movie genre. But since DC has started a whole new slate of movies with a recast Batman, the panel counted DC's current cinematic universe as Man of Steel and on.
The overwhelming answers from the panel were, unsurprisingly, that Marvel is winning at movies and DC is winning at television. The Marvel films are critically acclaimed box office smashes, and the tie-ins and investment in the characters keep the audience coming back for more time and time again. The success of the Marvel films is also notable for the fact that heroes like Batman and Superman had the advantage of already being in the public consciousness, while hardly anyone outside of comics enthusiasts knew who Iron Man, Captain America, or especially Guardians of the Galaxy were before these films came out. Sagers cited the fact that Marvel may turn down the chance to include Spider-Man, definitely the most well-known Marvel superhero prior to the MCU, in their universe as a sign that they have "made it," so to speak.
DC's cinematic universe hasn't been nearly as popular or acclaimed so far; Langley called Man of Steel a portrayal of "what Superman would look like in real life right now," for better and for worse. He said DC was caught between wanting to make superhero movies, but also wanting to have an extremely serious tone. "The result was that Man of Steel was this underwhelming, dry movie, but it's a comic book movie, it should be fun." With those rumors of a no-joke mandate for Warner Bros. superhero movies, it seems that DC might be trying to distinguish itself from Marvel in a misguided way. Serious superhero movies can work, but only if you have the writing and acting pedigree to back it up, as they did with the Dark Knight films. The vast majority of comic book films work better when they're cheeky, humorous, and somewhat self-effacing.
But, as Kieran pointed out, the fact that Marvel has had a huge head start in their cinematic universe makes the movie side of things a bit of an unfair fight; even discounting the Spider-Man and X-Men films, they were essentially comparing the ten Marvel films that have come out since 2008 with Man of Steel. We may be able to make a more informed assessment of who is "doing it right" after we see Batman v Superman, but the panelists didn't seem to have high hopes. Langley stated that while the film could easily be fun, it probably won't result in DC overtaking Marvel because they're "rushing" to create a cinematic universe, while Marvel took the time to build one. Sagers asserted that DC/Warner Bros. "has so much riding on" Batman v Superman, that if it doesn't do well, the landscape for DC will look very grim indeed, and movies such as Wonder Woman, which has a director but hasn't technically been greenlit, probably just won't happen. But, as Langley succinctly put it, "They survived Batman and Robin, they'll be back."
And this wasn't just a DC bashing session, as all the panelists thought that DC was doing a better job with their television shows than Marvel. Agent Carter is well-reviewed, but it just started, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is finding its footing this season, but it hasn't been nearly as consistent as either Arrow or The Flash. The panelists (and myself) all had mixed feelings about Gotham, but it has also been very well-reviewed so far and has an undeniable prestige factor. Especially with Agent Carter's immediate success, Marvel may well catch up, but so far DC is "winning" television.
The panelists considered whether this comparative success is partially the result of the separation of DC's television shows from their cinematic universe. No one on the panel thought that two Flashes at the same time was a particularly inspired idea, but otherwise felt that more freedom may very well be responsible for the overall higher quality. Arrow showrunner Marc Guggenheim has stated that it's easier for him, even just on a purely bureaucratic level, to write a show that's not tied to a billion-dollar franchise, as he doesn't have to ask permission for nearly as many creative decisions. Kieran asserted that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was struggling in the first season as a result of being strangled by its ties to the MCU, and is much better this season because it's "its own show." Sagers pointed out that critics loved the Captain America tie-ins as a counterargument, but the showrunners stated that their hands were somewhat tied before the movie came out, stalling the plot until they had permission to include the Hydra infiltration. So it would seem that separating the cinematic and television universes can be the better creative choice, although Dandridge also thought that DC was doing it as a kind of safety net, so that if their cinematic universe fails their television universe can "pick up the pieces."
-Dandridge was unhappy about the casting of Gal Godot, only because he was hoping for Paula Patton after seeing her ability to carry an action role in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, claiming that she would also add to the diversity of upcoming superhero movies. But he qualified that he'd been converted about casting decisions in the past: "I once thought, 'Mr. Mom as Batman? Heath Ledger as the Joker? What are people thinking?"
-In response to the question of whether Marvel could "overdo" their universe tie-ins, Dandridge said, "We don't even know what Marvel is doing past 2020..." which, of course got some pronounced reactions. Sagers: "Hold on, that scares me." Eric: "I don't want to make that kind of commitment, devote that much of my life to it." Dandridge's response: "I've gotten on a whole new diet just to make sure I'm alive by then."
-Who would win in a fight: Batman or Iron Man? In spite of the panel overwhelmingly coming out on the side of Marvel's Cinematic Universe, Batman won hands-down in this fight. Kieran: "Bruce Wayne will take it more seriously, he'll want it more. Tony Stark would be too preoccupied with thinking of wisecracks in the middle of the fight." Langley: "Batman has a strategy for EVERYTHING." Eric: "As much as I'd like to come out for Marvel, it's Batman." Dandridge: "Let's be honest here, you can beat Tony Stark with a Chardonnay."