Question Regarding the Future of Super-Hero Comics and Movies/TV Shows

The following is based on my current (mis?)understanding of what's going on with super-hero comics, movies and TV shows.

1)It is my understanding that Marvel and DC are currently making shedloads more money from movies and TV shows based on their super-hero characters than they are from their "traditional" products, comic books.

2)It is also my understanding that these movies and TV shows are not creating significant numbers of new readers for said comic books. That is, John and Jane Non-Fan may watch and  enjoy Aquaman or Black Panther, but they are not typically rushing out to their LCS afterwards and buying scads of comics, at least not in any appreciable numbers. 

3)It seems to me that the current vogue for super-hero movies and TV shows has some of the characteristics of a "bubble", and as we know, "bubbles" eventually burst.

My question is :   What happens to Marvel and DC if/when this "bubble"  (if it is a "bubble") does indeed burst, and the revenue stream from these movies/TV shows dwindles to, at best, a trickle?

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It's my feeling that whatever happens with the movies and TV shows has nothing to do with the comics operations. So if successful movies and TV shows aren't helping the comics operations survive, the bubble bursting for superhero movies won't hurt them either.

People tend to assume that Marvel Comics and DC Comics are being kept afloat because the movies need them, and when the world turns away from wanting comic book movies, the parent companies of Marvel and DC will cut them off like so much deadwood. But I don't see that happening; they're already deadwood, and they're still around.

And what happens with Marvel's and DC's superhero movies has nothing to do with whether Dark Horse or Archie or IDW or Image or the other (admittedly smaller) comics companies are doing.

In that case, would it come to a point (if it hasn't already) where DC and Marvel would be publishing comics just to maintain copyrights (if that's actuallly a thing)?

ClarkKent_DC said:

It's my feeling that whatever happens with the movies and TV shows has nothing to do with the comics operations. So if successful movies and TV shows aren't helping the comics operations survive, the bubble bursting for superhero movies won't hurt them either.

People tend to assume that Marvel Comics and DC Comics are being kept afloat because the movies need them, and when the world turns away from wanting comic book movies, the parent companies of Marvel and DC will cut them off like so much deadwood. But I don't see that happening; they're already deadwood, and they're still around.

And what happens with Marvel's and DC's superhero movies has nothing to do with whether Dark Horse or Archie or IDW or Image or the other (admittedly smaller) comics companies are doing.

Maybe, but ... aren't the characters copyrighted, or at least trademarked -- versions of same, anyhow -- by the movie and TV studios? So the comics aren't needed for that reason, either.

That may well be.  We're getting into areas that I have to admit that I don't know anything about.

ClarkKent_DC said:

Maybe, but ... aren't the characters copyrighted, or at least trademarked -- versions of same, anyhow -- by the movie and TV studios? So the comics aren't needed for that reason, either.

Well, I am not a lawyer (and I don't play one on TV); I only know enough to know what I don't know.

I think my view on this is a bit contrarian; it seems to be taken as an article of faith that the ax is going to fall on Marvel and DC the moment there's a huge flop or two at the box office. But what I see is Marvel and DC chugging along regardless.

My only thought was "Why would a corporation maintain a division that wasn't making money?"  If it's not a legal issue, then maybe it's just the prestige of publishing these characters.

And of course, I don't know that the comics are a money sink, even if they're not making as much money as the movies and TV shows.

Why would a corporation maintain a division that wasn't making money? Beats me, but I think the implicit assumption that the comics aren't making money is, at best, uninformed.

But I also think the comics haven't gotten to the place where some bean-counter can make the case to kill them, as happened with MAD. Maybe the comics aren't making boatloads of money like they were in the old days, but they are making enough to keep afloat.

1 and 2 are true far as I can tell.

3 I stand a bit less certain about.  I think that Marvel and DC are in significantly different situations there.

DC's bubble burst back at some point between 2010 and 2016 (after the Watchmen movie, definitely no later than the Batman V Superman movie). 

But corporate mentality sometimes overextends the shelf life of failed merchandise, particularly when there is the fear of looking weak against their direct competitors. 

For all the talk of Zack Snyder's cut and all the disorientation and confusion arising from the pandemic, it is clear to me that Warner / AT&T higher-ups failed to notice and understand the signs comings since 2013's "Man of Steel" movie and ended up setting themselves for a lot of IP damage with the Justice League movie of 2017.  I assume that they hoped to follow the MCU trail and launch at least a couple of blockbusters every year from 2018 on.  That is not likely to happen any time soon.   DC has understandably and IMO correctly changed course since and now launches movies that are largely peripheral to their would-be JLA franchise, or even entirely disconnected.  It has a large catalog of some of the best known fictional characters in human history to tap into and that does not falter overnight.  But the JLA movie was a fiasco and no amount of HBO Max-motivated marketing will change that. 

Considering current trends, it may well be that no JLA theather movie will ever be attempted again; by the time that memory of the 2017 movie subsides, the actors, technology and consumption habits will have changed so much that odds are good that streaming media, VR experiences or something else entirely will be the cash cow of choice.

But that is all about the intellectual properties and their use to achieve money for DC, Warner and AT&T.  The comics are a different story entirely.  Ever since the New 52 back in 2011 they have grown increasingly precarious and reliant on short term, over-extended gimmicks that even DC itself doesn't particularly care about.  It is my understanding that they are currently seen as a IP farm of sorts. There is always the chance for a new New Teen Titans or Outsiders or Constantine to arise in that media and be dutifully converted into lucrative merchandise of some form or another later.

Warner and AT&T may perceive DC Publishing as self-sustaining farm for potential new sources of revenue and leave it alone, or it may decide that it is too much trouble and license the characters for an imprint at Marvel, IDW, Image or Dark Horse.  It can really go either way.

Frankly, I think that the movies are in greater risk.  They are much too expensive while also visible and prone to criticism. It would not surprise me to see a greater emphasis on streaming services and ongoing live action series.

Which brings me to Marvel, which has clearly gone to that route.  There is continuity between those series and the MCU movies (quite unlike DC, which seems to have let go of continuity even in the comics themselves), and I expect the movies to continue for a significant time.  But Disney seems to want to avoid the bubble by limiting the number of movies along time and investing more in live action series now. 

It is possible that DC/Warner/AT&T will want to take a more direct interest in the CW series or their successors, but I doubt it.  There is a lot of work involved and those companies simply have not shown the skills to select proper creators for non-comics media.

TL/DR: I think that Disney/Marvel will avoid the bubble by shifting into a more hybrid model of live action media centered on Disney Plus and various series, with more occasional movies.  Comics will go on largely undisturbed, albeit now with more (self-)licensed properties such as Aliens, Predator, and Star Wars.  DC Publishing is IMO in dire trouble and may be discarded at any point, and I do not expect the movies to keep this launch frequency for very long either.  For both companies the future is mainly on live action series.

Luis Olavo de Moura Dantas said:

Frankly, I think that the movies are in greater risk.  They are much too expensive while also visible and prone to criticism. It would not surprise me to see a greater emphasis on streaming services and ongoing live action series.

I disagree that the movies are in greater risk. I direct your attention to this list from The Numbers: "All Time Worldwide Box Office for Super Hero Movies"

Notice that the top 12 movies made at least ONE BILLION DOLLARS, the No. 2 movie made TWO BILLION DOLLARS, and the No. 1 movie made almost THREE BILLION DOLLARS.

Also notice that only four of the top 20 movies -- and only one of the top 10 movies -- are from DC/Warner Bros.

That's why they keep trying. As I was saying to somebody yesterday (albeit in an unrelated context, major league football), "Winning fixes everything."

There used to be a huge number of western movies and western TV shows. There were so many of them that the public got sick of them. OTOH, none of them made a billion dollars or more.

As for the DC cinematic universe:

They have (or had) the most recognizable characters yet have the most trouble figuring out what to do with them. Somehow the CW TV shows do a better job with much less money.

Marvel started out with X-Men (2000) and two sequels (2003 and 2006) and Iron Man (2008). It can't be stressed enough that NOBODY BUT US KNEW THESE CHARACTERS. The Incredible Hulk TV show (1977-1982) ran for 82 episodes over five seasons with little public foreknowledge. The first Spider-Man movie (2002) came out with much more name recognition. Yes, I know that until Iron Man these movies were from 20th Century Fox and Sony. Fortunately for Marvel they weren't from Warner Bros. 

The bottom line is that the DC cinematic universe has major management problems. 

Richard Willis said:

As for the DC cinematic universe:

They have (or had) the most recognizable characters yet have the most trouble figuring out what to do with them. Somehow the CW TV shows do a better job with much less money.

The CW TV shows, and the various animated shows are all better because they're run by people who love comics and love the characters and understand what is important about superheroes and actually want to make things that are entertaining. Whereas the DC movies aren't. DC movies (okay, okay, not all of them), by and large, are made by people who are embarrassed at the idea of superheroes and think they're making Art, which they define as not being entertaining or giving the fans what they want.

(We chew on this idea at length over here: "What's Wrong With DC Superhero Movies?")

It's my belief that the poobahs in charge of DC movies look at the multi-thousand-dollar box office results and draw the wrong lesson: That people like what they do, when it's more that people want to see those characters, DESPITE what they do. But Marvel movies make billions of dollars (that's "billions," with a "B"), because people want to see those characters AND they like what Marvel does with them.

Grafting the Marvel approach onto an in-process DC movie didn't work, as we saw with Justice League. Building a movie from the ground up with the idea that you're going to have fun with them does, as we saw with The Suicide Squad.

(Naming a movie The Suicide Squad five years after releasing a movie titled Suicide Squad that has some of the same actors playing the same characters but loudly declaring it is not a sequel or a reboot is cinematic malpractice, if there is such a thing.)

I agree. 

To the best of my understanding the decision makers involved in DC movies are attempting a "continuity optional" model.  They go out of their ways in order to create genuine doubt on whether any two movies are supposed to exist in the same continuity.

I can only speculate on their reasons, but I think that there may be three main ones.

1. Creative freedom.  Since their movies have been so erratic, there is no great incentive to glue them to each other.  In some cases, such as the Harley Quinn movie, it is probably best to ignore previous continuity to some degree.

2. Legal freedom.  The perception that the formula may require frequent tinkering makes loyalty to any director's creative vision unappealling as well.  Lowering continuity expectations from the public gives them more freedom to do soft retcons and better standing to hypothetically challenge creators in court at some future point.

3. Lack of regard for character consistency.  More so than Marvel, DC has licensed their characters left and right, and there isn't any great attempt at keeping compatible takes on the characters between media.  My pet peeve there is the "Titans" live action series. Whoever it is that they are calling Dick Grayson there has no resemblance to the comics versions. 

I fear that this lack of care will hurt the marketability of the intellectual properties for a long time.



ClarkKent_DC said:

(Naming a movie The Suicide Squad five years after releasing a movie titled Suicide Squad that has some of the same actors playing the same characters but loudly declaring it is not a sequel or a reboot is cinematic malpractice, if there is such a thing.)

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