Marvel and DC are part of the biggest rivalry in comic books and, in turn, comic book movies over the past few decades. While DC Entertainment saw some early success on the big screen with Richard Donner’s Superman and Tim Burton’s Batman in the late '70s and '80s, respectively, Marvel Entertainment has been dominating movie theaters around the world with movies like Iron Man, Captain America, and [The Avengers](movie:9040). But while DC is positioned to make a comeback after a short slump since the release of The Dark Knight trilogy with [Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice](movie:711870) in 2016, Marvel is seen as the clear winner in modern comic book movies - so far.
However, Marvel isn’t the frontrunner on the small screen and in animation like their comic book counterpart DC is. In fact, it is arguable that DC Entertainment releases better TV shows and animated feature films than Marvel Entertainment. With strong outings with Under the Red Hood, Justice League War, and The Dark Knight Returns. Their live-action TV is solid, too. The upcoming release of [The Flash](movie:15273) on The CW will compliment [Arrow](series:720988), which has been doing a great job in storytelling and ratings, and the Batman prequel [Gotham](series:1127075) on Fox proves that DC is digging deep to provide a better quality of entertainment than Marvel currently is, who only has [Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.](series:722469) and [Marvel's Agent Carter](series:1119765) to account for at the moment. Still, it's DC's animation that has led the way onto the small screen.
So, what is it about DC animated storylines and characters that make them more appealing on the small screen than what Marvel has to offer on the big? While Marvel continues to dominate movie theaters, DC & Warner Bros are building a better reputation on television and in animation. I think there are a few reasons for this.
At first glance you can say that DC characters are more adult in nature and therefore built for adult storytelling, while at the same time giving younger viewers heavy action and a deep mythology. If you look at DC’s most recent release with Son of Batman, I wouldn’t recommend viewers under the age of 13 years old watch an animated feature film like this with its stylized, bloody action and complex morality. While Marvel has plenty of stories that appeal to the whole family with titles like Planet Hulk, The Invincible Iron Man, and Ultimate Avengers, DC is willing to take their characters to much darker places than Marvel in animation, making for deeper, more meaningful stories.
If you look at Superman vs. The Elite, which was released in 2012, the animated feature film tackles Superman’s most gripping and interesting moral dilemma; the Man of Steel won’t kill. In Superman vs. The Elite, Superman is confronted with a new group of vigilantes that save people from danger and super villains both, but are willing to go that extra step to kill their enemies so that they never cause harm to the good people of Metropolis again. Superman isn’t willing to kill, so the Man of Tomorrow struggles with the face of justice in an ever-changing world. That kind of moral complexity is something that DC fully explores in animation, but not in their live-action feature films. That kind of moral characteristic and dilemma doesn’t seem to exist in Zack Snyder’s [Man of Steel](movie:15593) movie, which came out one year later in 2013, where Superman destroys Metropolis and kills General Zod to save others from eminent danger. Now that’s not the Superman I know and love! That Superman exists in DC's animated series.
Maybe it has something to do with the face of DC Animation, Bruce Timm? While Marvel Studios has producer Kevin Feige to shepherd the Marvel Cinematic Universe, DC Animation has Bruce Timm to do the same. He has been the singular creative presence with Warner Bros Animation since the late '80s. Timm designed the characters and look for Batman: The Animated Series in the early '90s. He is also responsible for DC Animation’s unified look and tone across a majority of their animated films. Having one creative person like Bruce Timm driving and guiding DC Animation makes its universe cohesive. Marvel Animation has Feige, producer Craig Kyle, and screenwriter Greg Johnson, but none of them have the same kind of eye for animation as Bruce Timm.
Overall, it’s hard to really pinpoint why DC Animation is releasing stronger and deeper animated films and series than Marvel Animation. Perhaps its Marvel’s penchant for serialized storytelling that makes it hard for the company to fully expand or explore deeper themes like DC does, but it’s one of the feathers in DC Entertainment’s hat for sure. DC on the small screen also proves that audiences want better stories told on television and something like the Gotham TV show could give viewers an opportunity to meet their demands. But if there’s one thing that's for sure, it’s that the rivalry between DC and Marvel will rage on and not just in comic books and at the movies!