Comic-Con is now over, but it was just beginning of the fight between Marvel and DC for the superhero movie crown after Warner Bros. and DC made the shocking announcement on Saturday that their 2015 followup to Man of Steel would feature both Superman and Batman. Not to be outdone, Marvel revealed the title and villain of their Avengers follow-up due out that same year. That may seem like small potatoes compared to a Superman and Batman movie but the reaction to their panels made it clear that DC is still the underdog in this fight.
Marvel Studios created a miraculously successful business model, which started with the first Iron Man film in 2008 and led up to the moneymaking bonanza of The Avengers in 2012. Man of Steel, out just this summer, was Warner Bros. and DC's attempt to establish the beginnings of their universe the same way Marvel did.
The big DC news was leaked before the panel ultimately got to confirm it in in what should have been exciting fashion. Harry Lennix, who played General Swanwick in Man of Steel, came out in Hall H to read a line from Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns: "I want you to remember, Clark. In all the years to come. In all your most private moments. I want you to remember my hand at your throat. I want you to remember the one man who beat you." Then, as Darren Franich of Entertainment Weekly reported, "giant Superman logo appeared on the Hall H screen … and it was superimposed on the Batman logo." The film, like Man of Steel, will be helmed by Zack Snyder and written by David S. Goyer.
In Marvel's case it was more about showing off what they already had, and, boy, was it fun. Tom Hiddleston emerged in full costume as Avengers and Thor villain Loki, and had the entire crowd chanting his name. Though there was footage from the Thor and Captain America sequels and from the strange-sounding Guardian of the Galaxy, the big reveal was the Avengers follow-up's title and villain: Avengers: Age of Ultron. "If you were in the Hall, you knew who the hell Ultron was," Franich wrote. "If you were in the Hall, you were probably cheering."
El Mayimbe (a.k.a. Umberto González) of the fan site Latino Review broke down the differences between the panels. "In this corner, Marvel dropped GOTG footage, THOR footage, WINTER SOLDIER footage, & an AVENGERS 2 teaser. Those are serious haymakers," he wrote on Twitter, adding: "In this corner, DC drops some rinky dink BATMAN/SUPERMAN logo. 90 minute wait for a fucking logo. Are you kidding me DC? Like seriously?"
Many pegged the Superman/Batman combo move as a hail marry. "It feels like WB is in a hurry, and slightly desperate," Anne Thompson wrote on her blog at Indiewire. "They aren't taking the slow painstaking time to establish these characters inside a unified DC comic book world." At MTV Kevin P. Sullivan wrote: "Anyone who would outright say that they have no interest in seeing Batman and Superman on the screen together is probably a horrible cynic, but the move on DC's part does feel somewhat desperate." Franich added: "You could argue that Batman/Superman is a desperation move. The studio has found success with a Superman film that felt an awful lot like a Batman film, and was made by many of the same people who made The Dark Knight; now they’re bringing Batman into the mix, putting him back on the big screen a mere three years after The Dark Knight Rises ended the most critically successful franchise in superhero history."
You can't deny that there's something thrilling about seeing Superman and Batman on screen together, but it also seems like an effort on Warner Bros. and DC's part to play catch-up really quickly, a cynical ploy to capture our hearts and our money. As people like Thompson and El Mayimbe remarked: the leadership guiding the DC plan isn't as strong as Marvel's. Man of Steel may have made over $630 million worldwide, but it wasn't exactly beloved by critics. Of course Marvel Studios—owned by Disney, after all—has an interest in money, but they've earned our attention, by making us care about more obscure characters in the comic-book canon. Ultron may have gotten cheers in Hall H, but he's not an instantly recognizable villain for the masses. But that sort of doesn't matter.
Marvel seems to be having fun on their road to billions, appealing to the geek heart of the genre. DC, on the other hand, seems to be asking for mainstream approval. Sure, everyone's interested in a Superman/Batman movie, even Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige. "Look, we like being pioneers. We like taking chances first, and nothing indicates that success more than people trying to emulate it. It's the sincerest form of flattery, and the bonus is I now get to see a Batman/Superman movie," he told USA Today. That sure sounds kind of like gloating.