The battle between DC and Marvel has been going on for decades. Since its boom in the mainstream, nerds have rejoiced at the surge in popularity of their favorite heroes. For a cosplayer like me, the constant redesigns provide a wealth of costume choices and ideas. Of course, the redesigns can cause as much heartbreak as they do excitement.
Batman is unequivocally the best thing DC has going for it. Don’t bother arguing with me, we all know it’s true. Charted by his incarnations, from the tights and underwear of Adam West to the rubber of Michael Keaton (to George Clooney’s nipples, oh my) and finally to Christian Bale’s body armor, Batman has been busy.
As reboots go, Nolan’s reinvention of the Joker, brought to life by the late Heath Ledger, has served as the gold standard for character redesign. The distinctive makeup paired with an even darker sense of humor really legitimized reboots. But, (aside from DC’s Vertigo properties) Bats has also been the only successful DC reboot to date. He’s due for another makeover when he goes head to head with Superman in 2015’s Man of Steel sequel, played by Ben Affleck.
The sequel to Superman’s newest reboot, this new 2015 match-up up, could be just what DC needs. But how will the new Batman measure up? If Superman’s reboot in Man of Steel is any indication, compared to Superman Returns, we can expect a sleeker and more modern design.
The lack of underwear over tights was pretty symbolic of the changing of the times, but is it a good thing? That underwear has been part of Superman’s get-up from the get-go. I, myself, was sad to see it go in favor of the jumpsuit. DC has been inching towards a Justice League movie, but only time will tell if they strike the right notes and catch up to Marvel’s Avengers. (Hint: Green Lantern was not the way to go.)
A couple of intellectual properties have seen success on the small screen. The origin stories of heroes have gotten new looks, starting with Smallville, which I unashamedly watched for years. Arrow made a good showing this past year and there have been reports of a Flash series in the works. The generally more casually approached heroes (nice eye shadow, Green Arrow) have been a boon for cosplayers, and they seem much more accessible as people. To me, the efforts expended towards these TV ventures seems worthwhile.
Marvel has had an extraordinary run on the big screen. The big break-out for classic superheroes came in 2000 with the star-studded X-Men. With the line “What would you prefer? Yellow spandex?” referring to Wolverine’s old-school costume, the industry vaulted into a revolution on how to reinterpret dated and outlandish designs into modish versions (usually made of black leather). Already, the series has experienced a semi-reboot in the prequel trilogy, starting with First Class.
The most recent success has been Avengers, directed by Joss Whedon. Here’s my worry. If I’m being cynical, I look at the trilogies Marvel has released in the past as: a fantastic movie, an even better sequel, and then a steaming pile of “whoops-better-reboot-the-franchise.” See: X-Men, Iron Man, Spider-Man (already rebooted). I hope Whedon can break the streak. I thought it was especially clever to reference character redesign when Captain America was given a new suit, designed by fan (and geek), Agent Coulson. It was a little tidbit of meta when talking about beloved fans updating their old-school favorites.
Let’s be real. For each of Marvel’s successes, they have produced some really bad movies. I can’t skip Marvel’s biggest redesign misstep: Deadpool. Wolverine: Origins, despite a knock-out cast and massive budget, was one of the worst (Marvel) movies to date, competing with Fantastic Four, Elektra, and Spider-Man 3. Also worth mentioning are Punisher and Ghost Rider. Marvel has such a huge bank of great characters that they apparently don’t feel the need to try very hard on each and every movie.
On the small screen, Marvel has stuck primarily to animated features, a tack DC has utilized as well for the better part of 50 years. Of course, this fall sees the premier of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. This will be Marvel’s first foray into live-action since the doomed Blade series, and the first interesting live-action since Lou Ferrigno’s Hulk. Let’s hope they choose to follow DC’s example and do some more down-to-earth origin shows.
Marvel may be dominating the theaters and drawing in some talent, but they have a bad habit of dropping the ball part way through a series. DC, on the other hand, has lumped all their cinematic hopes onto their titans, Bats and Supes. But their TV shows might open the door for more varied enterprises. While I hope the Justice League movie doesn’t let us down, you can rest assured that, no matter what, they’ll take another crack at it in five to ten years. Whether we want them to or not.