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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I saw that. It's astonishing that this is the guy Warners thought could fashion the universe in which their heroes would operate. He's clearly influenced by Miller, as he says, and Miller's superhero world is not one I'd want to live in, even back in 1986, much less today. 

I laughed out loud at his complaint that fans who don't like his killer-heroes are "living in a f***ing dream world." Says the guy writing about a man who can fly and get thrown through multiple buildings without missing a beat!

-- MSA

I always thought DC got off track when too many writers, artists and filmmakers took The Dark Knight Returns as the model for how Batman should be portrayed -- completely overlooking that the story was set 30 years in the future, and the Batman in that story was embittered because of a lot of bad things that happened in those 30 years.

The Nolan Batman movies were successful (although I was less impressed than most people), and the PTB seem to have figured that those same people would know how to handle every other superhero just as successfully. 

Ironically, they seem to have made THE EXACT SAME mistake DC made in the 1990s in thinking that the cynical, dark, grim 'n'' gritty world that worked for Batman was what Superman and every other title needed.

Putting a guy with that cynical and harsh view of superheroes in charge of the DCEU was a major mistake. Fortunately, they seem to have, little by little, realized that and are trying to adjust. 

Variety just reviewed Shazam and calls it a big, goofy, colorful comic-book movie--*just what comic-book movies ought to be*, they say. Certainly, a Shazam movie should be that.

I take that as a promising sign that DC is going to let directors figure out the characters and get out from under the massive cloud of gloom that Snyder conjured (and still wants to conjure, based on his F.U. screed).

When I was in high school, I went to see Clayton Moore at a public appearance. Moore had been making appearances as the Lone Ranger ever since the television series went off the air, but at that time he wasn’t allowed to wear the mask (he wore an over-sized pair of dark sunglasses instead) and he had to bill himself as “The Man Who Portrayed the Lone Ranger” due to the then-current movie The Legend of the Lone Ranger starring Klinton Spilsbury. One of Moore’s objection to the film was that it carried a PG rating, and nothing associated with the Lone Ranger should ever be stronger than G.

I (quietly) disagreed with him then, but I’ve since come around to his way of thinking. The thought that Batman or Superman (or the Lone Ranger, for that matter) should kill illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the characters in question.

The vagaries of the film business being what they are, a G rating is considered fare for little kids only.

The last all-ages, good for the whole family movie that was rated G, as I recall, was The Rookie (not the cop show) back in 2002. It was a based-on-a-true-story flick about a high school teacher and baseball coach who tried to make a go of it as a pitcher when he was young but damaged his throwing arm before he made it out of the minors. Years later, he gets an improbable shot at the big leagues.

The Rookie was a straightforward telling of the story without any raunch, sleaze, nudity, violence, drug use, or foul language, but is as "realistic" a movie as anyone would want. Even E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial has a couple of The Seven Dirty Words You Can Never Say on Television included specifically to push it over the line from G to PG, because PG is where the money is. 

That said, 

Jeff of Earth-J said:

The thought that Batman or Superman (or the Lone Ranger, for that matter) should kill illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the characters in question.

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Teens and young adults are the biggest audiences at the movie houses. They will see a G rating and stay away regardless of the movie. Movie makers will throw in something extraneous (language, implied sex, etc) to push it to a PG or R rating if it isn't already part of the story. One F-bomb will get you the coveted R rating.

“The vagaries of the film business being what they are, a G rating is considered fare for little kids only… PG is where the money is.”

That is certainly true. As Richard pointed out above, producers will often throw in something extraneous to push it to a more profit-friendly rating. To be perfectly honest, most “PG” movies are “G” in my book. Star Trek: The Motion Picture was rated G.

One F-bomb will get you the coveted R rating.

Technically, a PG-movie gets one F-bomb (unless it is prefaced by the word "mother.") I'm not sure what it takes to turn a G-movie into a PG-movie, but most times they want to do that to avoid the G. Likewise, it takes a fair amount of violence to get an R rating, and superheroes try to avoid that (except for Deadpool).

I like reading the PG ratings to see the weird categories they come up with. Here are some good ones:

Dumb & Dumber (1994) – Rated PG-13 for off-color humor.
Wayne’s World 2 (1993) – Rated PG-13 for ribald humor.
Coneheads (1993) – Rated PG for comic nudity and some double entendre humor.
The Brady Bunch Movie (1995) – Rated PG-13 for racy innuendos.
Grumpier Old Men (1995) – Rated PG-13 for salty language and innuendos.
Addams Family Values (1993) – Rated PG-13 for macabre humor.

-- MSA

IIRC, in 1982's Annie, Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan says "goddamn" just to give the film its PG rating.

Mr. Silver Age said:

One F-bomb will get you the coveted R rating.

Technically, a PG-movie gets one F-bomb (unless it is prefaced by the word "mother.") I'm not sure what it takes to turn a G-movie into a PG-movie, but most times they want to do that to avoid the G.

As John Travolta explained in Be Cool, the sequel to Get Shorty, TWO F-bombs will get you an R rating. "Well, f*** that," he said. 

I recall that The King's Speech got rated R because of a scene in which King George VI, as a vocal exercise, rattles off a dozen F-bombs because he could say those without stuttering. That was definitely a case where the letter of the law crushed the spirit of the law. The King's Speech might be considered all-ages, good-for-the-whole-family fare, even with that scene.

 

Mr. Silver Age said:

Likewise, it takes a fair amount of violence to get an R rating, and superheroes try to avoid that (except for Deadpool).

The calculation there is that the movies that make hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office do so on repeat business. It's harder for R-rated movies to make those numbers if the teens have to bring a parent along for those repeat showings. 

ClarkKent_DC said:

The calculation there is that the movies that make hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office do so on repeat business. It's harder for R-rated movies to make those numbers if the teens have to bring a parent along for those repeat showings. 

I think the calculation here is that teens 16 and up have more money and don't need to bring their parents.

Somebody like Zack Snyder, who is stuck in the adolescent philosophy Objectivism, should never get anywhere near a moral character like Superman. He doesn't understand them.

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