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Marvel vs. DC Rivalry Continues in Digital Media as AT&T vs. Disney & Sony

by October 27, 2019
DC vs Marvel

DC vs Marvel

As a typical Gen-Xer, my life-memories came online somewhere in the mid-70s and much of those early memories involve a love of comics that would last a lifetime. Long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and way before superheroes replaced more traditional action heroes on the big screen, the adventures of men, women and the odd teenager in tights were limited to the ink-smeared pages of comics.

I was a Marvel guy myself, but no stranger to some DC titles. Both brands had great artists and writers that created the mythic stories of our era. Through pencilled sketches, some shading and the addition of flamboyant color, all the rules of two-dimensional images were hopelessly shattered by artists that seemed to do the impossible with ink on paper. Neal Adams drew action so alive it burst from the frame and John Buscema’s drawings bristled with a brutality so vivid you could feel the pain being meted out by Conan the Barbarian, meanwhile inside one small box on a page, Jack Kirby could draw infinity.

Jack Kirby Artwork

Back when I started reading comics the decades-long rivalry between Marvel and DC was already well-established. But that rivalry is destined to continue through new businesses and soon a very different medium from comics publishing, as its future will play out over the next decade in Streaming Video on Demand services. The stakes couldn't be higher, the objective is nothing less than the total subjugation of rival SVoD apps and complete control of your entertainment-time online. These are difficult times for paper-and-ink publishing of any kind and comics are no exception. Both Marvel and DC's publishing divisions now languish in the shadow of far more profitable endeavors. Today, the focus of the conglomerates that own all the characters that were born in comics are mostly concerned with merchandise, movies and shows. But the latest battleground for popularity will be the delivery systems that bring Marvel and DC characters to life on your favorite screen. The decision-makers for both companies may sit in the air-conditioned offices of AT&T, Disney and Sony but the spirit of that rivalry remains as fierce as ever.

Superhero Box Office Dominance

It’s no secret that superhero movies are big business and Marvel reigns supreme in film as it has in comics since the 60s, while DC remains as ever, surprisingly not far behind. But there can be no doubt of Marvel Studios’ box office dominance over any other brand in the superhero genre. Seven of the top 20 highest grossing films of all time are based on Marvel comics characters, with Avengers Endgame at number one having set new box-office records this year. The finale of the Thanos saga raked-in an astonishing $1.2 billion on its opening weekend alone. Meanwhile, not one of the top 20 all-time box office hauls are based on DC comics characters.

Avengers EndgameMarvel Studios truly captured lightning in a bottle with its MCU. Between the charisma of Robert Downey Jr., impressive CGI spectacle and clever dialogue spiked with wit and humor, Marvel has set the superhero-film standard. But the most important part of what made Marvel’s latest wave of superhero films so good is respect for the source material and the deep history that was created in comics. Will the mega-hits continue with Disney in sole possession of the MCU's Phase 4? Disney will certainly create more blockbuster movies. But if they lose that respect for comic's core audience, we could be witnessing a movie empire in decline.

Respect for the characters and worlds created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby is essential. The success of the modern superhero movie genre is rooted in the same principle of audience-familiarity that Stan Lee employed to make Marvel comics number one. Stan Lee has said many times that he created characters with which his readers can identify, so he gave them everyday problems. From Spider-man, who is really an insecure teenager to the Fantastic Four, a loving but often quarrelsome family, Disney must continue to present characters that look recognizable to the audience. No matter how fantastic the story or superpowers, it only works when we see reflections of ourselves in the characters representing mythic archetypes.

Disney and the MCU

Disney+Disney secured a $71.3-billion deal for 20th Century Fox that will bring the X-Men (and by extension Deadpool) into the MCU. We still have no firm news of how Disney will fit the X-Men into the MCU. There are already rumors that its first step could be a revival of X-Men: The Animated Series, the legendary cartoon series that aired as part of the Fox Kid’s lineup back in the 90s. But after the disaster that was Dark Phoenix, The X-Men's corner of the MCU is likely to be recast and rebooted under Disney. With almost complete control over the Marvel universe, Disney is set to make it easy for Marvel fans to see on-screen versions of their favorite characters with its streaming service, Disney+.

Disney & Sony, Marvel's Divorced Parents

For about six months, Disney and Sony were at an impasse in their negotiations to keep Spider-man in the MCU, leaving Marvel's most recognizable character out of Disney's hands. But not for long! On Friday, September 27, 2019 Disney and Sony announced that Spider-man will remain in the MCU for at least two more appearances with Tom Holland reprising the role of Peter Parker. Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige also announced that the next installment of the Spider-Man Homecoming series will hit theaters on July 16, 2021, which should wrap-up the the cliffhanger at the end of Far From Home. Spidey will also appear in one more as yet unannounced film by Disney's Marvel Studios. At first glance, it looked as if Sony had caved and accepted Disney's 25% equity stake in the third installment of the Spider-Man series. But rumor has it that Disney was seeking more Spider-man appearances than just the two they received in the latest agreement with Sony. During Sony and Disney's negotiations over the fate of the webslinger, Sony had a compelling plan B up its sleeve and that must have threatened Disney's MCU just enough to get a deal completed. But Spider-Man deal or not, Sony is moving full-steam ahead on a separate Marvel-comics cinematic universe of its own that will inevitably compete with the MCU.

”[Spider-Man] also happens to be the only hero with the superpower to cross cinematic universes, so as Sony continues to develop their own Spidey-verse you never know what surprises the future might hold.” - Kevin Feige, President Marvel Studios

Venom with Tom HardyBuoyed by the box-office successes of Venom (2018) and Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse (2018), Sony is set to launch its own "Venomverse", a shared universe based on the many characters Sony controls through its rights to Spider-Man, which Columbia Pictures netted for only $10-million back in 1985 and Sony inherited when it purchased Columbia Pictures in 1989 for $3.4 billion. With Spider-Man and the various spinoff characters it owns the movie rights to, Sony is ready to go head-to-head with Disney's MCU. You can expect Sony and Disney's shared custody of Spider-Man to spin a tangled web over the next several years. But the current deal seems like the proverbial win/win for both studios and for fans of the superhero genre. During Disney's Spider-Man announcement, Kevin Feige dropped this cryptic statement:

”[Spider-Man] also happens to be the only hero with the superpower to cross cinematic universes, so as Sony continues to develop their own Spidey-verse you never know what surprises the future might hold.” The line hints at the possibility of the MCU's rendition of Spider-Man appearing in Sony's upcoming Venomverse films, and this is likely what Sony was looking for all along as it negotiated with Disney.

Sony - Disney Spider-Man Deal, a Win for Fans

Competition is good, and Sony's little corner of the Marvel comics universe could be a great alternative to Disney's future plans for its MCU. I'm excited to see another take on a Marvel movie universe, as Disney's commitment to family-friendly content could present an opportunity for Sony to take its Venomverse in a different direction, perhaps with slightly edgier films that can pass as sci-fi/horror as it did with Venom. I honestly don't have much confidence in the future of the MCU under Disney. Rumors are already circulating that the next Avengers movie(s) may be based on A-Force, a 2015 comic title that sold poorly and was cancelled after about a year. A-Force was a completely inorganic gimmick to create an all-female Avengers team led by She-Hulk and Carol Danver's Captain Marvel. After Captain Marvel, I can only imagine an A-Force movie will bring more of the cringe-inducing, superficial social commentary we saw in Captain Marvel. Although, She Hulk was one of the great derivative characters in the Marvel universe, thanks to the clever writing of Dan Slott who plucked the Jade Giantess from relative obscurity and gave the character depth, I look forward to seeing her on the big screen.

Sony, on the other hand, already has several movies in development with the names of talented actors attached to the projects, and two are said to be released next year. A second Venom movie staring Tom Hardy and a Morbius film staring Jared Leto as the Living Vampire. Morbius may be an obscure, b-list character that first appeared in Spider-Man, but a fresh take on a lesser-known character can make for the best entertainment. Morbius seems like exactly the kind of role that would be well-served with the kind-of eccentric performance that Leto pulled off as The Joker in Suicide Squad (2016). Other Spidey characters in early production by Sony include Black Cat, Silver Sable and Kraven the Hunter. Now that Sony has finalized a deal with Disney, we may get to see the MCU's rendition of Spider-Man slip right into some of Sony's Venomverse films without the need for another tired retread of Spider-Man's origin story or a reboot of the character. My biggest hope for Sony's Venomverse is that Sony doesn't attempt to launch yet another Streaming Video on Demand service to compete with the rest.

All Your Disney on One Bill

This coming November, Disney will launch its third streaming video service, Disney+. The media and hospitality company has been the longstanding owner of a majority stake in the sports network ESPN and its streaming service ESPN+. With Disney’s purchase of Fox it took the majority stake in the ad-supported network TV streaming service, Hulu. Disney has recently announced a package deal for all three Video on-Demand apps for a monthly $12.99. At that price point, it will be highly competitive with Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, and will cost less than the projected rate of WarnerMedia’s upcoming streaming service, HBO Max. To sweeten the deal even further, Disney is offer 1 year of its streaming services for FREE to Verizon Unlimited wireless subscribers as well as FIOS Internet customers and only $6.99/mo thereafter.

Between San Diego ComicCon ‘19, and Disney's D23 Expo, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige laid out the Disney’s master plan to keep the Marvel hits coming with several new shows and films on the horizon, many of which will be Disney+ exclusives. It looks like Disney will lean heavily on new live-action dramatic TV series with Falcon and Winter Soldier, WandaVision, Loki and Hawkeye all set to launch over the next two years. There can be no doubt that Disney+ will be a mega-hit at launch, and will appear as a fully-formed top contender in the Streaming Video on Demand market. Hosting Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar and many other properties will make it a go-to service for geeks and parents the world over. Despite lacking a deal with Sony, Disney+ will make it easy for Marvel fans to watch its media online. Unfortunately it’s a little more complicated for the DC faithful.

AT&T and DC

Justice LeagueWhile Disney has worked hard and spent big to bring most of Marvel into one tent, the future for DC viewing remains ambiguous. When AT&T bought Time-Warner, (now WarnerMedia), it inherited DC comics, along with other Warner subsidiaries including Turner Broadcasting System and HBO. AT&T’s acquisition of DC makes its future media home a bit less certain than Marvel because Warner plans to launch its own mega-streaming service to compete with Netflix and Disney+ called HBO Max. So, it would seem HBO Max is an obvious destination for your DC viewing. Unfortunately, old and new DC-based media is spread across a complex web of networks and streaming rights, including ongoing deals with Netflix. So, WarnerMedia may never be able to fully reel in DC's various shows and movies into one destination. But Warner and DC have created a dedicated DC Universe streaming service that serves as an incomplete home for all things DC. But the announcement of HBO Max may have cast the future of the fledgling DC Universe app in doubt. But for now, Warner stated that it's going ahead with both services running separately.

DCEU and AT&T

Possibly the best thing Warner has done for fans of DC comics is the DC Universe app, a streaming digital love letter to DC comics.

It’s no secret that the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) hasn’t been as successful as the MCU on the big-screen. Among the top 50 highest grossing superhero movies, DC makes a respectable showing. But there is no doubt the list is dominated by Marvel. Only Aquaman (2018) at number nine cracks the top ten for DC. Only two of the top ten superhero films weren’t created by Marvel Studios. The only other non-Marvel film in the top ten is The Incredibles 2 at number six, and it was created by Pixaralso owned by Disney. The theatrical releases making up the DCEU have been decidedly hit or miss. But DC’s creative output has its bright spots. DC films may play second-fiddle to Marvel, but that only incentivizes Warner, the studio that owns the cast of DC characters, to strike out in different directions and try new things. The studio proved the value of originality with the success of The Joker (2019) staring Joaquin Phoenix, directed and co-written by Todd Philips. The movie's release was preceded by the kind of controversy in the media that Disney would never willingly touch. But its originality as a homage to the gritty crime dramas of Martin Scorsese and the controversy itself, turned this dark-horse film into a box office success. The Joker is already ranked at number 29 in the list of the highest grossing superhero films after raking in over $700-million in only its second week at theaters. Sony should take note as it builds its own film universe around comics, the genre is ripe for subversion as proved by films like Logan, Deadpool and now Joker, and there's box office bank to be made.

Warner and DC have also hit home-runs with live action and animated TV, as well as a string of direct-to-video animated movies. But possibly the best thing Warner has done for fans of DC comics is the DC Universe app, a streaming digital love letter to DC comics. Since the AT&T purchase, we can expect that the DCEU is being reevaluated as several film projects have been on-hold pending the AT&T takeover. But according to a memo acquired by Screen Rant, it looks as if AT&T will employ a hands-off approach with Warner. Naturally, a lot will hinge on the performance of DC films set to release next year, which includes the highly anticipated Wonder Woman 1984. While DC-based movies have suffered delays and a few critical duds that proved unpopular with auiences, one place DC does well is on the small screen.

DC Comics on TV

DC has scored consistent hits on TV in both live action and high-quality animated movies and shows.

The Arrowverse is a series of interconnected TV shows that share continuity and sometimes intersect with crossover stories. The name, Arrowverse refers to the show starring Green Arrow that started it all, aptly named Arrow. The tone set for these shows is pure family-friendly network TV, created for the CW Network in a joint venture between Warner and CBS. They will continue to be broadcast on CW and for now at least, will continue to live in your Netflix queue and in the CW Network's own streaming video app until current contracts expire. But Warner is probably not in a hurry to take the lead on the Arrowverse shows, as it has already dropped its own DC-based shows outside the family-friendly confines of the CW Network.

Batman the Animated Series and the Timmverse. Many of us have fond memories of Bruce Timm’s Batman the Animated series, the show that created the character Harley Quinn. Following Timm’s success with Batman in the early 90s, Warner and DC have been creating a deep library of top-notch animated movies and shows ever since. Some DC animated films recreate legendary comic story-lines, including Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and Year One, both employ a gritty, adult-oriented style and feature the slightly darker take on the Batman that we've all come to take for granted today. But is all of this Warner-owned DC media enough to sustain its own streaming video service? We won't know for sure until HBO Max has been available for awhile.

DC Universe Streaming Service

DC UniverseWhat I love about the DC Universe streaming app, is that respect for the source materialcomics. Officially launched in September 2018, the streaming service promised to be the online destination for fans of various media based on DC comics. Besides shows and movies, the service also streams a rotating library of digital comics and has a digital encyclopedia to help the DC-comics curious catch up on characters. Unfortunately, the DC Universe's video collection is inconsistent. It offers a deep slice of older DC media from both TV and film including classic nostalgia like Linda Carter’s Wonder Woman, Batman the Animated Series and all those Superman films starring Christopher Reeve. But the Arrowverse shows are absent, which honestly doesn't disappoint me personally, but it's worth pointing out. Also absent are Adam West’s Batman all of the new DCEU movies.

But DC Universe has some juicy bait intended to hook new viewers in original programming that DC and Warner have cooked up especially for streaming.

Swamp Thing, Doom Patrol and Titans

DC Universe LineupDC Universe launched a collection of new shows that are poised to be the start of a new, edgier tone for DC dramatic TV series. The decidedly adult-themed Swamp Thing and Doom Patrol stray far from Arrowverse-territory and look as though they’d be at home on HBO’s roster, and it turns outthey will!

Doubts about the future of the DC Universe streaming service were laid to rest, at least for now, when Warner outlined its next steps at San Diego ComicCon ‘19. WarnerMedia says it intends to continue running DC Universe alongside HBO Max as a standalone service and the edgy new DC Universe shows will stream on both services simultaneously. Warner also announced that Doom Patrol and Titans have been confirmed for a second season along with a string of upcoming live-action shows including one staring Harley Quinn, and all of it will be shared on both of its on-demand apps. Unfortunately the dramatic horror of Swamp Thing didn't make it to a second season and was cancelled after releasing its first episode last spring. I'm still scratching my head about that one. Warner seemed so confident in this new, dynamic direction and a Swamp Thing horror TV show seemed like a great addition.

Can Digital and Print Media Succeed Together?

I'm biased toward experiencing comics in print form. I just love the institution that is "the local comic shop", from the smell of print when you walk through the door, and the experience of browsing for my next read before gathering my regular monthly titles at the counter. I don't want to see comics become an exclusively digital medium. Although digital comics are here to stay, I think there's enough room in entertainment for comics to survive in print, digital and in motion-pictures.

I love that the DC Universe app pays respectful homage to the deep history of DC titles with a rotating lineup of digital comics you can stream from the app. Although, the comic collection on DC Universe doesn’t let readers get too comfortable, back-issues are far from complete and prone to being replaced by other runs of different titles. But getting a taste of the comics through a digital stream might be enough to get potential new readers up to speed and maybe into a local comic shop for more. The service also includes social user-engagement features with forums, community ratings and recommendations. Hopefully, Disney+ will do something similar for the Marvel universe. The long history of DC and Marvel’s respective comics-universes deserves special consideration even as media in a streaming video service. Categorizing DC or Marvel shows and movies only in an “Action” or “Drama” section, seems like a missed opportunity to present them as distinct worlds of entertainment.

Stan LeeWhether we're talking about comics, movies or shows, Marvel and DC should respect the source material by producing stories that audiences can relate to, so we can see a glimmer of ourselves in these fantastic characters. It's what comics have done for generations and if can they succeed in this there’s no reason comic worlds won’t continue to live on for generations to come.

"Just because you have superpowers, that doesn’t mean your love life would be perfect. I don’t think superpowers automatically means there won’t be any personality problems, family problems or even money problems. I just tried to write characters who are human beings who also have superpowers."

– Stan Lee

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About the author:

Wayde is a tech-writer and content marketing consultant in Canada s tech hub Waterloo, Ontario and Editorialist for Audioholics.com. He's a big hockey fan as you'd expect from a Canadian. Wayde is also US Army veteran, but his favorite title is just "Dad".

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Recent Forum Posts:

panteragstk posts on November 09, 2019 00:35
JengaHit, post: 1349046, member: 88330
Looking forward to Wonder Woman sequel; believe Patty Jenkins is again directing which bodes well. Aquaman was so-so but still worth seeing on video. As I said earlier, DC went off the rails when they hired Zack Snyder to oversee creative direction of the DCMU. Slick but emotionally unsatisfying director. Unfortunately the Nolan Bros (Dark Knight triogy) are too busy with other projects. Think they wanted to end their Batman project on a high note and move on. Marvel in Kevin Feige just has better executive leadership than DC. He's had a coherent vision. Any inconsistency really is due to the earlier parceling out of Marvel's rights to various entities like Fox, Paramount, and Sony. Now that Marvel is beginning to consolidate under Disney's banner, like others I just hope they don't go too far in homogenizing the whole MCU into a family-friendly-only movie brand. There's room for different flavors with so many characters.

The Nolans never intended to create a universe. That isn't their style. Would have been setting special though.
William Lemmerhirt posts on November 08, 2019 21:00
snakeeyes, post: 1347686, member: 85468
I meant Dark Knight but the entire trilogy was top notch.

The new Joker movie is really different from what I expected. I definitely believed he was mentally ill.

Of course you did. It’s Joaquin Phoenix!!!. Pretty sure he IS mentally ill. Lmao! Actually I think he’s a really talented guy. Looking fire to seeing joker.

Heath ledgers Joker was great. I even enjoyed him before that, but that was definitely his best. Rip.

I saw panteragstk mention Wonder Woman. Excellent soundtrack. Imo, most DC tracks seem to be better than most MCU tracks.
JengaHit posts on November 08, 2019 19:13
panteragstk, post: 1349011, member: 61217
Spot on. The X2 will probably be one of my favorite super hero movies for a long time. I get that the MCU is more family friendly, but there's something about the way Singer did the xmen that was just awesome.

I just wish the Phoenix movies would have been good. Last stand was garbage and I'm not hearing anything about the new one that compels me to watch it. Hell, I still haven't seen Apocalypse.

The biggest issue with DC is that they can't get anything to stick. MCU did a wonderful job of this. DC just keeps trying to start over again and again. Dark Knight series was excellent. Trying to put Batman into DC that close to the end of the Dark Knight trilogy was a bad move. Now we're getting yet another Batman. The Animated Series is one of my all time favorites, but DC is going to lose fans if they don't get it together on the movie side.

Wonder Woman was awesome IMHO. I'm sure Aquaman will be too.
Looking forward to Wonder Woman sequel; believe Patty Jenkins is again directing which bodes well. Aquaman was so-so but still worth seeing on video. As I said earlier, DC went off the rails when they hired Zack Snyder to oversee creative direction of the DCMU. Slick but emotionally unsatisfying director. Unfortunately the Nolan Bros (Dark Knight triogy) are too busy with other projects. Think they wanted to end their Batman project on a high note and move on. Marvel in Kevin Feige just has better executive leadership than DC. He's had a coherent vision. Any inconsistency really is due to the earlier parceling out of Marvel's rights to various entities like Fox, Paramount, and Sony. Now that Marvel is beginning to consolidate under Disney's banner, like others I just hope they don't go too far in homogenizing the whole MCU into a family-friendly-only movie brand. There's room for different flavors with so many characters.
davidscott posts on November 08, 2019 18:34
panteragstk, post: 1349011, member: 61217
Spot on. The X2 will probably be one of my favorite super hero movies for a long time. I get that the MCU is more family friendly, but there's something about the way Singer did the xmen that was just awesome.

I just wish the Phoenix movies would have been good. Last stand was garbage and I'm not hearing anything about the new one that compels me to watch it. Hell, I still haven't seen Apocalypse.

The biggest issue with DC is that they can't get anything to stick. MCU did a wonderful job of this. DC just keeps trying to start over again and again. Dark Knight series was excellent. Trying to put Batman into DC that close to the end of the Dark Knight trilogy was a bad move. Now we're getting yet another Batman. The Animated Series is one of my all time favorites, but DC is going to lose fans if they don't get it together on the movie side.

Wonder Woman was awesome IMHO. I'm sure Aquaman will be too.
Wonder Woman was indeed excellent. Apocalypse was mediocre at best even trying to reinvent the origin of Storm. I was very disappointed and I am usually a Marvel guy. Haven't seen Aquaman yet.
panteragstk posts on November 08, 2019 14:54
JengaHit, post: 1347565, member: 88330
Yeah, X-Men 1& 2, First Class, and Days of Future Past were really good. All those had former indie directors who helmed or produced smart crime/action thrillers. Bryan Singer (XM 1&2, Days OFP) had directed The Usual Suspects. And Matthew Vaughn (XM First Class) had produced Guy Ritchie films, then directed Layer Cake and Kick-Ass, then later Kingsmen.

And the Dark Knight trilogy stands apart as a landmark in comics movies. Writing/directing that had smart action, and drama geared to adults, not just an adolescent audience.

Spot on. The X2 will probably be one of my favorite super hero movies for a long time. I get that the MCU is more family friendly, but there's something about the way Singer did the xmen that was just awesome.

I just wish the Phoenix movies would have been good. Last stand was garbage and I'm not hearing anything about the new one that compels me to watch it. Hell, I still haven't seen Apocalypse.

The biggest issue with DC is that they can't get anything to stick. MCU did a wonderful job of this. DC just keeps trying to start over again and again. Dark Knight series was excellent. Trying to put Batman into DC that close to the end of the Dark Knight trilogy was a bad move. Now we're getting yet another Batman. The Animated Series is one of my all time favorites, but DC is going to lose fans if they don't get it together on the movie side.

Wonder Woman was awesome IMHO. I'm sure Aquaman will be too.
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