Marvel Vs DC: Who’s Winning the Battle For TV’s Hearts and Minds?
By Meredith Loftus
We are in a renaissance of superhero stories.
This year alone there are six superhero movies to come out from four different studios — the Marvel-Sony partnership on Spider-Man joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe included.
While there is heavy emphasis on the battle between Marvel and DC on the cinematic front, the battle between the two also plays out on the small screen.
Here we break down the rivalry on television between Marvel and DC and discuss what each brings to the table, where they falter, and ultimately who is currently winning the battle on the small screen.
Playing to their Strengths: DC Vs Marvel
A Broad and Many-Hued Palette
Both Marvel and DC have been able to break out of their classic stereotypes in television by offering a wide variety of heroes and stories worth investing in.
DC is known for its grittier content and characters, but while they still cater to the darker side with shows like Gotham and to a lesser extent Arrow, they have recently broadened their content with lighter shows like The Flash, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow.
It’s refreshing to see DC have fun with their superheroes as they expand their shows. We can’t get enough of Oliver Queen’s dark past, but there is lighter fun to be had with Kara Danvers. Additionally, we’ve recently seen a combination of flavors in certain characters. An example of this blend is The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow’s Leonard Snart aka Captain Cold. This villain-turned-antihero-turned-time traveler is able to crack a quip and capture audiences in with his devotion to his sister as well as his desires to be more than he’s made himself to be.
Flip side, Marvel and their cinematic universe has been characterized as a blend of action and comedy, like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Agent Carter. It was only year ago when Marvel changed this view by releasing their critically acclaimed Netflix television shows, Daredevil and Jessica Jones. With these two shows, Marvel has reached a new level of their storytelling with shows that are violent, dark, and real. Take Daredevil’s Wilson Fisk. In one episode, we see him try to woo Vanessa and then later detach a man’s head with a car door. The morally gray themes of the Netflix shows balance out the lightness of the ABC shows, therefore providing audiences with real range.
When it comes to the talent, DC and Marvel have done an excellent job casting their heroes and villains. A benefit of the MCU is carrying over to small screen the acting chops of Clark Gregg and Hayley Atwell, as well as the fantastic additions of Ming-Na Wen, James D’Arcy, Chloe Bennet, Enver Gjokaj, and Iain De Caestecker just to name a few. Similarly Daredevil and Jessica Jones perfectly cast Charlie Cox and Krysten Ritter to take on Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk and David Tennant’s Kilgrave.
On the DC side, there is exceptional acting caliber. Victor Garber, Tom Cavanaugh, Neal McDonough, and Mark Hamill are just some of the big names to enter into the DC TV world recently. Grant Gustin, Stephen Amell, Melissa Benoist, Rose McIver, and Ben McKenzie lead their audiences with their rich portrayals of these complex characters, not to forget Emily Bett Rickards, David Ramsey, Carlos Valdes, and Jesse L. Martin just to name a few. Honestly, there is a plethora of amazing talent to bring these comic book characters to life.
Bad Ass Leading Ladies (Marvel)
For years audiences have been clamoring for solo female superhero movies to get the spotlight in comic book universes. Granted, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel are on the slate, but on television we are getting this request met a little early. The reason Marvel has the current leg up on DC is simple: quantity. Marvel has two shows centered on their titular characters, Agent Carter and Jessica Jones. This isn’t to say Supergirl is not a great show that has a strong female protagonist or to even ignore the women of Arrow or The Flash, but in this case Marvel has more and both are successes. Peggy Carter and Jessica Jones may come from different eras, but they both show a strength that is compelling and motivating.
It was hard at first to see how Peggy could carry her own show, but her character’s strong will and confidence became an instant inspiration for the female audience. Jessica Jones was raped during a mind-controlled stint with Kilgrave and was haunted by it. In the pilot, when it would have been much easier to run away and hide, Jessica chose to help out Kilgrave’s newest victim. From there, audiences followed her story as she persevered and triumphed over Kilgrave in the end. Peggy and Jessica give us the full range of the female psyche as fully developed complex characters.
Plus, they can fight their own battles and enjoy a stiff drink at the end of the day. Superhero television has needed women like them, and it’s about time we finally have them.
Crossover Episodes (DC)
DC has not fully connected their cinematic universe to its small screen counterpart, but what they’ve done with their TV universe is quite impressive. The crossover episodes between Arrow, The Flash, and the newly added Legends of Tomorrow blend together seamlessly and organically. No character from one show who appears on the other feels out of place. The audience buys into the fact that Cisco had a brief relationship with Hawkgirl, who now is teammates with Ray Palmer, the former love interest of Felicity Smoak. In another example, Constantine appeared in one of Oliver’s flashbacks and then was summoned to reunite Sara’s soul with her body after being resurrected from the Lazarus Pit. These episodes are truly events, plots revolving around a super-villain that can only be taken down by the best DC heroes. This repeated success of big ratings has caught the attention of Supergirl, and a crossover episode between Supergirl and The Flash is now underway. DC is capitalizing on the freedom of their ties to their cinematic universe and created a unique and believable world on television that fans can’t get enough of.
Not Hitting All the Right Notes: DC Vs Marvel
Marvel changed the storytelling game with their expanded cinematic universe. There’s no denying this. Other studios, like Fox and Warner Brothers, are currently playing catch up in an attempt to master and surpass Marvel’s success. Because of this, DC’s cinematic universe is beginning to alter the storytelling that characterizes their TV property.
Take Amanda Waller’s death on Arrow. The death felt a bit sudden, which could have intentionally been for shock value, but it did tie up her portrayal and create distinction for Viola Davis’ depiction of Amanda Waller for Suicide Squad coming out in theaters this summer. Also as mentioned earlier, the casting for these shows has been spectacular. Ezra Miller will play Barry Allen in the DC cinematic universe, even though Grant Gustin makes the perfect Barry Allen on The Flash. Think of what we’ve seen between Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Quicksilver (Marvel) and Evan Peter’s Quicksilver (Fox). The two different Barry Allen’s create discontinuity.
On the Marvel end of things, the MCU has achieved this continuity between their movies and TV shows. For example, movie goers would not know why the Avengers were in Sokovia unless they had watched Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. While the Easter eggs are fun to find, it can also lead to forced dialogue and plot that don’t necessarily feel as natural to the story. The current plot of the new season of Agent Carter is trying to connect them with the Doctor Strange world, which Doctor Strange also comes out this summer. Even Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D suffered in the beginning, relying too heavily on the MCU and Avengers references. As much as audiences love intricate and interconnected stories, we don’t want great television stories to suffer because of dependence on their cinematic world.
By sheer number of shows and ratings, DC is the current winner. They have hits like Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, and iZombie. Although Gotham is one of the weaker DC shows, their fan base is very active, keeping the Batman anthology going. Quantity and quality are working in DC’s favor. However, Marvel has really gained some momentum in the past year from the successes of their Netflix and ABC shows. Also, their content actually fits in the established world Marvel has created, therefore providing continuity.
One thing is certain: it is an embarrassment of riches for audiences, from comic book nerds to avid TV fans. We are the real winners, receiving quality content on superheroes we love to root for.