With the recent release of Marvel’s [Captain America: The Winter Soldier](movie:254973), it's become very clear what Marvel is aiming to do with its new multimedia properties. It wants to do for movies and TV what it has already done for decades in comics: set up multiple characters with their own story lines within the same fictional universe, and then orchestrate large events through crossover stories that resonate within the individual story lines. Comic book fans who are familiar with Marvel know all about these mega-events, the ones that are centered in stand-alone miniseries and extend into multiple, individual comic book titles; now, Marvel is doing the same thing to a set of movies and TV shows. That’s why the events of Winter Soldier impact the narrative direction of the [Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.](series:722469) TV series, and why Winter Soldier, [Thor: The Dark World](movie:206462) and the upcoming [Guardians of the Galaxy](movie:424073) movie are going to impact the story of the next Avengers movie.
Of course, Marvel has a universe of characters big enough to launch a series of interconnected movies and TV shows and it has done so amazingly well with the support of its latest owner Disney. So why isn’t Marvel’s most likely rival, DC Comics, doing the same thing through the support of its owner, Warner Brothers? Here are four reasons why DC is already out of the running in the latest effort by media companies to dominate the superhero box office charts.
1. No steady presence of DC cartoons on TV
Remember DC Nation, the hour-long programming block of DC cartoons that was supposed to run on Cartoon Network? It made sense when it was announced a few years ago: Warner owns DC and its parent company Time Warner owns Cartoon Network, so it made sound business sense for Warner to use one media property to promote another media property among kids, the impressionable demographic that’s most likely to buy toys and is capable of developing a brand loyalty to DC that could carry over into adulthood. Yet what started of promisingly with Young Justice and the CGI animated Green Lantern series has since dwindled down to Teen Titans Go!, a dumbed-down rehash of an older cartoon.
In contrast, Disney XD has three Marvel cartoons running on its schedule: Avengers Assemble, Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. and Ultimate Spider-Man. There have been better Marvel cartoons than this selection in terms of quality, but what matters is that these cartoons are produced in a way that suggests a shared universe: the character designs are similar and the voice casting is consistent so that a character from one cartoon can guest star in another and still look like he/she belongs there. This is consistent with Marvel’s current live-action properties that also adhere to the concept of a shared universe.
2. An extremely small selection of in-production movie titles
Marvel is working on several movies at the moment, including [Ant-Man](movie:9048), [The Avengers: Age Of Ultron](movie:293035), [Captain America 3](movie:994409) and [Thor 3](movie:956858). DC is working on [Batman vs. Superman](movie:711870) … and that’s it. Word has it that the success of Batman vs. Superman will lead to a Justice League movie and stand-alone films for popular DC characters such as Wonder Woman, but that’s an awful lot riding on just one movie.
3. TV series' that have no connection to the movies
The [Arrow](series:720988) series has proven to be successful enough that a Flash spin-off is in the works, and DC is also working on a Batman-themed series called [Gotham](series:1127075). But none of these shows have a connection to Man of Steel, the movie that DC set up as the lead-in to Batman vs. Superman. This is very different than Marvel, which developed [Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.](series:722469) as a series that connects the live-action movies to each other and thus encourage fans to watch both. By taking a more fragmented approach, DC can build audiences for its individual TV shows and movies, but it’s much less probable that the audience of one property will be interested in following another if the properties don’t share specific characters and story arcs.
4. An over-reliance on Batman
I like Batman: he’s a great character with some great stories, and a great cast of villains and supporting characters. But, he’s just one part of a much larger universe. This just makes the disproportionate amount of media properties that have been based on Batman so much more peculiar: he’s had more stand-alone cartoons, video games and live-action movies than any other DC character, even Superman. In fact, the upcoming [Gotham](series:1127075) will be the second Batman-themed TV series that does not actually feature Batman. (The first was Birds of Prey, which only lasted one season.) Someone at DC or Warner obviously thinks that Batman is so popular that people will tune in to watch stuff that’s just vaguely connected to him, but I can’t understand why anyone would want to develop a Batman-without-Batman TV show when there’s an entire universe of superheroic DC characters from which to choose.
I think that Marvel’s loss of movie rights to its most popular characters, Spider-Man and the X-Men, was a blessing in disguise. It forced Marvel to develop characters for movies and TV shows that it otherwise would not have considered, and now Marvel is better off in the long run for it.
The biggest problem that DC is facing is how Warner views the concept of superhero franchises—namely, as franchises that are developed individually so that the financial risk is minimized in case one of them falters at the box office or is cancelled on TV. I think that a statement recently made by writer/producer David S. Goyer made in an interview with IGN aptly summarizes how Warner feels about its DC properties:
"I know that Warner Bros. would love to make their universe more cohesive. There have been a lot of general conversations about that, but it's really, really early. I'm not sure. Marvel has had enormous success, but I'm not sure that everybody should try to emulate them either. It's just been vague conversations so far."
I doubt that Marvel will have any problems competing with what its competitor “would love” to do, but can’t make it past “vague conversations”. How non-committal can a giant media conglomerate get?