On Jan. 17, Warner Bros. announced that the debut of the next Superman movie – the one tentatively titled Batman vs. Superman – has been pushed from July 17, 2015, to May 6, 2016. Injuries? Script problems? We don’t know. What we do know is that the highly prized summer release spot was quickly nabbed by Marvel Films – for Ant-Man, starring Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas.

That’s right. DC Comics – through its parent corporation, Warner Bros. – can’t get a Superman movie off the ground for another year. But chief competitor Marvel is ready and waiting to jump in with a new star ... one whose super-power is to get very, very small.

What’s wrong with this picture? Across the Internet, fans whine and wonder why DC has such trouble turning its famous superheroes into successful movie franchises, while Marvel releases four movies a year, and can even build a film around a C-list character who talks to insects.

And that’s with one hand tied behind its back – Marvel Films can’t even use all of the characters from Marvel’s own comic books! The movie rights to Spider-Man are held by Sony. The rights to Fantastic Four, Wolverine and the many X-Men characters are clutched by Twentieth Century Fox in a death grip. Until recently, Daredevil and Ghost Rider were off limits, too.

But so what? Marvel has managed to turn Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man and Thor into solo stars, and their team, The Avengers, into money-making machines. That allows Marvel the luxury of experimenting with lesser lights, like Ant-Man in 2015 and Guardians of the Galaxy this year.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. keeps failing with some of the biggest names in the history of comics. Superman and Batman have done all right, but Green Lantern was a flop; Captain Marvel, The Flash and Green Arrow have never appeared anywhere but the small screen; and Wonder Woman … oh, for Pete’s sake, how can there not be a Wonder Woman movie?

The Internet isn’t shy, of course, in launching lots of theories about why DC seems so incompetent with its own characters. Let’s take a look at a few:

1. It’s not as bad as it seems.

I agree, because nothing is ever as bad as the Internet thinks it is.

Sure, DC looks lame now, but how about Marvel around 30 years ago? DC had the successful Superman franchise in the ‘70s and ‘80s, while Batman was boffo box office in the 1990s, plus plenty of TV shows and serials before that. Marvel had no characters on the silver screen, and what it had done – some cheesy made-for-TV Spider-Man and Captain America movies, and the Incredible Hulk TV show – wasn’t very good. They’ve turned it around, and so can DC.

And, hey, actress Gal Gadot will appear as Wonder Woman in Batman vs. Superman, as part of a three-picture deal. Figuring the second of those movies will be Justice League (scheduled for 2017), the third could well be that elusive WW solo film.

2. Warner Bros. doesn’t understand its own characters.

This actually may be a tiny bit true.

While I was watching Man of Steel, I was stunned to see Pa Kent advising young Clark that maybe keeping his secret identity might be more important than saving the lives of a busload of kids. Before I had time to express my disgust of this fundamental misunderstanding of what Superman stands for, not to mention what Pa Kent stands for, the middle-aged black lady next to me said loudly, “Nuh-UH.” Pithy, and entirely accurate.

And having Superman – the one superhero who famously has a code against killing – break Zod’s neck seemed like it was designed specifically to distance the character from what made him famous for all these years. I expect situational ethics from other characters, especially those like Captain America, who have served in wartime. But from the Man of Steel I expect Super-ethics, because that’s what is so amazing about him – not that he has super-powers, but that he resolutely refuses to use them for his own gain or convenience. Now, that’s super!

Then there’s Batman. In the recent trilogy, the third movie begins with Bruce Wayne having retired for eight years. As every Bat-fan knows, Batman retiring is like Ahab giving up on that white whale. It’s a mission, not a hobby.

3. Marvel characters are just better.

This one I don’t buy.

It is true that Marvel characters were deliberately constructed with internal conflicts that are inherently interesting. Spider-Man’s famous mantra about how great power brings great responsibility almost makes his super-powers seem like a curse. That stands in opposition to DC’s major characters, who are essentially icons more than characters, born of the square-jawed heroism and idealism of the 1940s, something that can seem quaint today.

But, as we like to say on my website, there are no bad characters, just bad writers. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman have been popular for more than 70 years, so the appeal is there – it’s up to the screenwriters to find it.

4. WB makes movies; Marvel Films makes superhero movies.

I actually kinda agree with this one.

Marvel Films has one job and one job only, and that’s to turn Marvel’s catalog of characters into successful movies. That focus has no doubt meant a lot of man-hours figuring out how to translate the virtues of one medium into those of another – and successfully so. Warner Bros., meanwhile, releases a lot of movies in a lot of different genres every year, and only has to think about what makes superheroes tick every once in a while.

There are more theories, of course, but mostly variations of the ones above. As fans we can only hope that the bad ones are wrong, and that Warner Bros. has a better plan for bringing its characters to life than plopping as many as possible into Batman vs. Superman, followed by a Justice League movie crowded with a bunch of strangers. The characters deserve better than that – and we long-time fans do, too!

If not, there’s always Ant-Man.

Contact Captain Comics at capncomics@aol.com.

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What if they introduced the Legion and used Supergirl instead of Superboy? I don't know why but I feel like the Legion needs something to connect it with the present day DCU if it is going to work on screen.

Since no one seems to know what to do with Supergirl, either, that sounds like a win/win to me.

I think part of the problem is this: at the core of every DC super hero--or at least, the ones that are well enough known to get a movie made about them--is that these are characters who are heroic. They know why they're doing what they're doing, they understand that sacrifices they'll need to make from time to time, and they're confident in their abilities.  They may have personal issues, they may be imperfect, but at the end of the day when things matter, they understand their own motivations and why it's important for them to do their best, no matter what. I think that's really difficult to conceive for many of the people writing and creating comics/TV/Movies today because for many of them the flaws are what are most important.

The first Christopher Reeve movie wasn't perfect, but it did give us the best Superman I've seen.  No conflicts about himself, no navel gazing, just go out and get the job done because it's the right thing to do. Killing your enemies?  No, because there's always a better way. Make a hash out of your personal life? Well, you're human, that could happen to anyone.

These characters are larger than life and need to be treated as such. This ain't James Bond or Sherlock Holmes, this is the Man of Steel, the Dark Knight Detective, this is a man without fear, the fastest man in the universe, a Wonder Woman. Treat them like this and you'll find plenty of stories to tell that people will want to see.

I think it would be interesting to have a LOSH movie with Supergirl. She might be our POV character, pulled into the future and facing a lot of weird teen heroes.

But there hasn't been a superhero movie focused on a woman. Not even Marvel has dared to go there. They'll go to Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, but they won't take on a movie starring a woman.

-- MSA

I take it Elektra doesn't count?

Mr. Silver Age said:

I think it would be interesting to have a LOSH movie with Supergirl. She might be our POV character, pulled into the future and facing a lot of weird teen heroes.

But there hasn't been a superhero movie focused on a woman. Not even Marvel has dared to go there. They'll go to Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, but they won't take on a movie starring a woman.

-- MSA

And Catwoman, and Supergirl. But nothing in this recent wave of mega-popularity.

This article in Variety from February says Marvel Studios is developing a stand-alone Black Widow movie.


I note, however, that Marvel Studios' website is silent on the subject.

Mr. Silver Age said:


But there hasn't been a superhero movie focused on a woman. Not even Marvel has dared to go there. They'll go to Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, but they won't take on a movie starring a woman.

I take it Elektra doesn't count?

You can make a case, but it's iffy. Elektra gets a 4.8  (out of 10) rating at IMDB, but it also says it made money ($56 million on a $43 million budget) nine years ago. I don't actually think of it as a super-hero movie, but it might count. I don't know that it makes a good basis for saying female-oriented superhero movies work.

And Catwoman and Supergirl

Catwoman was made in 2004, gets a 3.3 rating, cost $100 million to make and grossed $82 million.

Supergirl was made in 1984, gets a 4.3 rating, cost $35 million and made $13.6 million.

I suppose I should've said a *successful* female super-hero movie. But those three in 30 years make my case, I think. Those aren't the kinds of stats a movie suit wants to take into a meeting. And My Super Ex-Girlfriend wouldn't be very comparable, either. 

I think the general perception is that young guys who make up the bulk of the super-hero movie-ticket-buying audience don't want to see a female-centric movie. 

A BW movie would be the most obvious, since it would be a spinoff and Scarlett Johansson.'s Lucy did big box office. That might also be the case with Scarlet Witch after Avengers 2, but it would no doubt co-star Pietro, taking some of the focus off her. 

I don't doubt Marvel could make a great movie with a female star, as they know what they're doing. But I think they realize it would be a hard sell.

Besides, if Marvel decided it wanted to make a female superhero movie, who would they use? Who is the biggest female superhero right now? The Wasp might've worked if they hadn't decided to do Ant-Man.

I think DC would have to go with Supergirl, assuming WW is tied up, but that kind of infringes on the super-franchise. Birds of Prey would be the best bet. I don't see Batgirl, Power Girl, Catwoman or Harley Quinn working. Maybe Huntress.

-- MSA

I think a Harley Quinn movie could work if it were just Harley Quinn or even Harley Quinn against a heroine. A movie that pitted Harley against Batgirl wouldn't need much of an explanation anymore than a Joker against Batman would; once you get the plot rolling some off handed comments would do to explain it all.

For myself I think a Zatanna movie would work better than a Dr. Strange movie.

Mr. Silver Age said:

That Bat-mobile is the most embarrassing thing yet in this franchise, even more than the drab colors on Superman's costume and his inability to smile. Not exactly something that will fit down an alley--or even on most streets.

I wonder if they're regretting any of that enormous amount of armored crap (not to mention the mounted machine guns) in the light of all the talk this summer about Ferguson, Mo.? Their notion of these heroes continues to diverge significantly from my own, no big surprise by now.


I should hope so. A year or so ago, Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn were in a slob comedy about a bunch of knuckleheads on neighborhood watch -- and then Trayvon Martin was murdered, and it didn't seem so funny. (They put the movie on the shelf for several months.)

Clearly, the filmmakers are genuflecting at the altar of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. And it's not enough that the Batmobile be a car; no, it has to be a tank with a machine gun turret, because that's Badass and Awesome™!

But the second-most fundamental thing about Batman -- after the bat-motif, of course -- is that Batman does not use guns.

Batman does NOT use guns.

Batman does not use guns.

Batman does not use guns.

It's been pointed out that the Batmobile looks somewhat like the one in the Dark Knight Returns. I think it's more of an extension of the most recent movie versions. The one in DKR had mounted machine guns, although a caption has him saying he's using rubber bullets and then chuckling. 

It's apparent the guys driving DC's movie franchises don't see these guys as having the same moral code that we see as the essence of who they are.

BTW, we may get to see how well a superwoman can support a franchise. I didn't think they'd infringe on their Superman license with Supergirl, but apparently it's getting close consideration.


-- MSA

I mentioned the Helen Slater Supergirl in a column for Tribune a few weeks ago (which means you'll be seeing it soon). I'd hope a new Supergirl movie would have a better script and better antagonists, but honestly, I'm not keen on seeing the current Supergirl on screen. She's a brat!

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