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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That's an interesting question about Barry I hope is never answered, in that he showed up late. Origin stories tend to be as boring as a box of non-pet rocks. I've promised myself I'll never endure reading another Superman origin, especially if it involves a lot of time on Krypton.  I wish writers, both movie and comic books, could move Superman past Krypton's history. It's fine if Zod is an enemy of the House of El; I don't need to read about it for six issues, or spend the first 20 minutes of a movie watching it.

Richard Willis said:

I know Barry made being slow and always showing up late into a behavior pattern. I can't remember if he was really like this before he gained his powers or if this was just misdirection. As the anti-Lois, Iris never suspected he was the Flash and wasn't even aware of it until (some time) after they married.

Dan Long said:

Barry being stiff was his personality. He was a slightly shy guy, and a little socially awkward. Made his personality stiff. It wasn't played up much beyond as an excuse to hide he was the Flash. A lot of DC heroes alter egos were to hide that they were heroes, and that was the basis for the personality traits. It's not a good way to define a person.

I think if the Marvel string of movie successes with Iron Man and Avengers had been around longer, then Warner may have seen a black GL as a universe building foundation. As it was, if this was supposed to be the beginning of  a JLA universe, it failed. It wasn't a bad movie. It was sadly average, which is the worst thing any movie can be. You remember good movies; you remember bad movies. In 10 years, I won't remember GL.

Figserello said:

Not having seen the movie, I have to agree with Neal Adams' recent comments that they were really daft to throw away the John Stewart version of Green Lantern for the leading man.  He was the one that a whole generation had grown up watching on Justice League United.

Hal Jordan wouldn't tweak the same nostalgia buttons for most of the target market.  "Who's this guy?  Why isn't he the one in the great old cartoon I used to like?"  That's a little alienation of the audience going in.  There was a big deal made of Geoff Johns' involvement with the production of the movie, and his natural uncanny affinity for what the tiny fanboy market of the past decade wanted wasn't much use applied to the mass market the film was aimed at.  And then throw in his own personal investment in the Hal Jordan character that he was trying to gain recognition of.

A superhero who looked different to the rest of them might have made GL stand out a little from the other blue-eyed matinee idols.  I did read some reviews from critics unfamiliar with the comics who were perplexed that we were being asked to sympathise with this character who had been dealt winning cards by the lottery of life in almost every respect.

A movie with a black GL might have had a different 'texture' and presented a less assembly-line, cookie-cutter superhero to the world.

Yes, they are contemplating another movie. They're trying to figure out how to make it cheaper. Since Sinestro is obviously (or at least apparently) the villain, then it's another space movie which means more and more CGI. What they should do is introduce the Rainbow Lantern concept, and have a Star Sapphire (the gem, not a character) come to Earth and find Carol Ferris. Sinestro will be trailing it to Earth. Or something like that. Gets it mainly on Earth, has fewer characters, and gives the audience great visuals.



Richard Willis said:

Figserello said:

Hal Jordan wouldn't tweak the same nostalgia buttons for most of the target market. "Who's this guy? Why isn't he the one in the great old cartoon I used to like?" That's a little alienation of the audience going in. There was a big deal made of Geoff Johns' involvement with the production of the movie, and his natural uncanny affinity for what the tiny fanboy market of the past decade wanted wasn't much use applied to the mass market the film was aimed at. And then throw in his own personal investment in the Hal Jordan character that he was trying to gain recognition of.

If nothing else in the movie was different except the main character I have trouble believing it would have been any more successful. From what I'm able to gather, worldwide box office receipts caused the film to do better than break-even, and that they are contemplating another movie. If they do, hopefully they will bypass the origin.

The first time I saw the term "fanboy" it was a pejorative, as was "geek". Now I guess neither necessarily is.

I've never bitten the head off a chicken. At least you can't prove I have.

I thought the Invisible Girl/Woman was written like she was in the 1960s. She needed a major update. I thought Johnny was fine. Reed was too dull.

Mark S. Ogilvie said:

  You need charisma when you play a character like Downey's Iron Man and he has it.  In the FF films they weren't bad, but none of the actors really clicked in their rolls except Chicklas as the Thing.

Johnny was a revelation, I thought.  I hadn't really realized before I saw the movie that he was such a shallow flashy self-loving hothead.  But that's the guy in the comics.  The actor played him to perfection, and the fact that the same guy is playing Captain America shows that he has some range. 

Back to Cap's question: What's wrong with DC superhero movies?  Well, I think it's mostly answer #1, it's not as bad as it seems, with a bit of #4, WB makes movies; Marvel Films makes superhero movies.  DC is clearly well behind Marvel in terms of quantity, but the Nolan Batman series was a huge hit, and Man of Steel, for all of its flaws, did huge box office business, actually beating Amazing Spider-Man in North America in that department.  Green Lantern was a flop, but the only DC flop, unless we want to bring Jonah Hex and Catwoman into the discussion.  And if we do that, it's only fair to point out that Elektra and both Hulk films were money losers.

Now I know that box office is not a measure of quality any more than the sales charts are for comics themselves.  But let's be honest, the box office determines if a movie is judged as a success or failure in Hollywood.  I'm no expert on it, but it has always been my understanding the domestic (North American) box office is the driving force behind the idea of making sequels and similar movies in the genre.  I doubt we'll ever see a GL 2 starring Ryan Reynolds, but I suspect within 5 years we'll see a GL reboot.  By the same token, another Hulk movie is unlikely - it would be the 2nd reboot of the franchise, as we're on our 3rd Bruce Banner.  I think a Black Widow and Hawkeye movie would be a better bet.

I don't think there's reason to panic about Batman vs Superman (or whatever it ends up being titled).  Movie release dates get moved all the time, and it's often strategic, not a panic move.  I've seen speculation that there's no desire to compete with the Avengers sequel, which makes sense, and also that a JLA movie will be filmed back-to-back with this one.  As Cap said, Gal Gadot is signed to do 3 films as Wonder Woman; you have to think it's BvS, JLA, and a solo WW film.

John Dunbar (the mod of maple) said:

Now I know that box office is not a measure of quality any more than the sales charts are for comics themselves. But let's be honest, the box office determines if a movie is judged as a success or failure in Hollywood.

If we like a movie or a style of movie and it loses money, we will not see its like again, so box office is very important.

I'm no expert on it, but it has always been my understanding the domestic (North American) box office is the driving force behind the idea of making sequels and similar movies in the genre. I doubt we'll ever see a GL 2 starring Ryan Reynolds, but I suspect within 5 years we'll see a GL reboot. By the same token, another Hulk movie is unlikely - it would be the 2nd reboot of the franchise, as we're on our 3rd Bruce Banner. I think a Black Widow and Hawkeye movie would be a better bet.

I can't think of an example at the moment, but I have heard that there are movie franchises that do mediocre business in North America but are extremely popular elsewhere in the world (maybe someone else can come up with some examples). These movies DO get sequels because money is money.

I agree that the next GL movie, if there is one, will be a reboot. I also agree about a third Hulk movie being unlikely. It's not impossible, though, since Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner in the Avengers was head and shoulders above the previous versions. It didn't hurt that the CGI was much improved. I also think the Hulk's treatment of Loki was a game-changer for the character.

I thought the Hulk movie was looking quite certain.  Didn't everyone love him in the Avengers movie?

(Oops, just echoed Richard, there...)

Yeah, people loved him in Avengers, and as Richard said the CGI has gotten much better.  The problem is the two (unrelated to each other) Hulk movies from 2003 and 2008.  Both of them were sluggish at the box office, not flops on the scale of the GL movie, but they both were money losers domestically.  I'm not sure what the reasoning is, but that seems to be a critical point.  By contrast, the Cap movie, the two Thors, all three Iron Men, Avengers, and all of the Spider-Man and X-Men movies were big money makers just counting the North American ticket sales.

With the two Hulk movies, I found the first one just painful to sit through and the second one to be an improvement over the first but not by much and really mediocre at best.

I think the original Hulk movie (2003) had a silent-except -for-growling Hulk (taking its cue from the TV show). The second Hulk movie had Lou Ferrigno voicing the Hulk, though I don't remember him speaking much. The Avengers movie had Mark Ruffalo voicing the Hulk in addition to playing Banner. His dialogue reminded me of the early days of the character, with sinister/snarky comments. This probably helped make him more popular.

I thought Chris Evans was excellent as Johnny Storm myself, and yes, Michael Chiklis was good as Ben Grimm.  Unfortunately, casting the flavor of the month as Sue was a poor choice, and the guy playing Reed just wasn't very good in the role either.

I interpreted Ioan Gruffudd's Reed as in line with the John Byrne version, which some other creators followed. The Lee/Kirby Reed was the adult in the room and an action man. Byrne's was scrawnier (as Kirby's Reed had been very early on), not domineering, and less in touch with what was going on.

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