Since 2008, Marvel's star has been on the rise. The ever-growing Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a triumph of film-making, giving a raw and untested studio the surprising chance to build one of the most successful shared universes ever. Meanwhile, Marvel Comics has almost continually dominated the comic book market; it's not unusual for sales of Marvel books to take up 40-50% of that month's total comic sales! But Marvel's main competitor, DC, is pushing forward - today's awesome announcements should be seen in the context of a company fighting back!
While Marvel is getting to the point where the comic book universe is relaunched pretty much every year, #DC Comics is best-known for its periodic reboots. Unfortunately, the last reboot - the "New 52" - hardly proved to be a sales success. But last month saw the launch of DC's attempt to fix that, with Geoff Johns taking a long, hard look at their performance. The result was DC Universe - Rebirth #1, in which Johns penned a bold, meta-aware narrative that set the comic book world on a very different path.
We now know that DC Universe - Rebirth #1 was a powerful commercial success. Diamond sales estimates are that the book sold 235,791 copies, the second-best-selling comic of the year so far. The book topped the sales charts for May 2016 as well, with second place going to Marvel's Civil War II #0. But the gap between the two was massive, with Civil War II #0 selling 177,283 copies. That still marks the issue as a phenomenal success in its own right, but it suggests that blockbuster event didn't even make a dent in DC Universe - Rebirth #1's sales!
Now, it's worth remembering that all these figures only represent the US market, not international sales; they also don't include digital sales. But the Diamond sales estimates are the closest thing the comics industry have to a public measure of sales performance.
DC's #Rebirth is being handled in a smart way. Not all franchises are being retooled - the #Batman franchise, for example, really doesn't need a "Rebirth". The last Batman run was that rare thing: a series where sales actually tended to increase with every issue. So seeing new series writer Tom King insist that Batman doesn't need fixing is no surprise. But then cast your eyes to books like Green Arrow, where "Rebirth" - and the movement's focus on restoring relationships between key characters - has unlocked something beautiful, immediately making the series a stand-out in the modern comic book industry. The remarkable thing about Green Arrow, though, is that the creative team hasn't changed! Geoff Johns's assessment of DC Comics, and his "Rebirth" treatment, is clearly the right call.
All of this is perfectly timed. #Marvel had huge problems with last year's "Secret Wars" event, with the story running for an extra issue, and delays of almost four months. That in turn caused issues for the company's latest relaunch, the All-New All-Different Marvel Universe, which was staggered between October 2015 and February 2016. What's more, Marvel seems to have grown a little cocky with its market dominance, and there's been a dearth of originality affecting most of their franchises; only the Spider-Man franchise truly seems in a strong shape right now. Tellingly, this year's Summer Event - Civil War II - is an attempt to revisit an old idea, while this year's resulting relaunch actually has a brand Marvel used several years ago, "Marvel NOW"! I'm sure Marvel has great things in store, but fan reaction has been fairly disinterested.
DC has also made a smart move with pricing. Across DC's entire line, books have been priced at $2.99. DC won't be able to keep that up - even DC Universe - Rebirth #1 was priced up for it's second printing - but it's a clever strategy to give readers a chance to invest in the new status quo. The last time DC cut their prices, they moved to a position of market dominance for a few months; and meanwhile, Marvel seem to continually be upping their prices, making them particularly vulnerable to competition.
Let's be honest that the DC Expanded Universe didn't get off to the best of starts, with an insane amount of controversy around #BatmanVSuperman: Dawn of Justice. That said, DC Film's reaction has been wise. The studio has clearly been examining what worked and what didn't. DC Film is taking a course-correction over the style and tone of the DCEU, and as part of that Geoff Johns has been shifted from the comics to the movies. Over in the comics, Johns's diagnosis of DC's problems in the "Rebirth" event clearly carried huge implications for the movies. His becoming involved in the films clearly suggests DC is willing to listen to that criticism, and today we learned just what that will mean for Justice League - critics got to see the Flash's recruitment, and saw a film that had more than a little humor! Even from the Dark Knight himself.
For all the issues with BvS, though, Ben Affleck's Batman was universally praised. It's no surprise that DC Film has shown enough confidence in him to commission a solo Batman movie, with Affleck making an original and creative film. Meanwhile, excitement is building for this summer's Suicide Squad; it's the most anticipated summer film on social media. Where the Marvel Cinematic Universe has an Avengers focus (with Guardians of the Galaxy as a minor string to the bow), DC Film's strategy is clearly to avoid centering their whole universe around the Justice League. A sequel to Suicide Squad has already been commissioned, along with a spin-off featuring Margot Robbie's #HarleyQuinn. The DC Extended Universe will be developing a lot more variety than Marvel's Cinematic Universe, and that makes it a real threat to Marvel's long-term dominance.
DC has always performed well in terms of the small screen (I grew up with Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and I'm currently rewatching Smallville). But right now, DC TV is in a fairly strong place. In a very different approach to Marvel, DC has chosen to have the TV series exist in a separate universe to the films. It's too soon to truly understand which approach is better - my suspicion is that neither will be better, each approach is simply different.
The last week has really shown the advantage of this approach, though. With the casting of Supergirl's Superman, fans have been reminded that DC can use characters in both TV and film. Where Marvel Entertainment is pretty much unable to ever use Tony Stark - Robert Downey Jr. would command far too hefty a pay-check for a cameo in Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - DC can simply recast Superman or Batman for TV. As a result, DC has a level of freedom that Marvel doesn't.
That's not to say that DC isn't facing very real challenges. My fellow Creator Will Cloud has recently discussed his concerns, and they mostly come down to the writing. Meanwhile, DC's competition is growing in strength. Marvel has an insane number of TV shows in the works - from Cloak and Dagger to Damage Control - and is flourishing on Netflix, where shows like Daredevil and Jessica Jones are adding something really original to superhero TV. On this front, I'd consider Marvel to be moving into the lead right now.
DC traditionally dominate in the animations, too, and there are no signs of that changing any time soon. Marvel doesn't seem to truly be committed to animation; it's as though the studio hasn't worked out that animation isn't just for kids. In contrast, DC has always been associated with top-rate animated adventures (think the classic Batman: The Animated Series), and the next DC animated movie - The Killing Joke - is R-rated. Given that The Killing Joke will be followed by Justice League Dark, we can expect DC animation to keep us excited for a long time!
Animation is an area where DC can relax. DC has the lead, and Marvel show no sign of even coming close to catching up.
It's traditional for Marvel and DC to be placed in opposition to one another. My fellow creator Tyler Calloway recently demonstrated that the fan war may not be as real as everyone thinks, but the fact remains that the two companies are business rivals. In my view, Marvel has dominated in a lot of areas for far too long; a monopoly is never good for an industry. But there are promising signs for DC. With the success of "Rebirth", and the possibility that will translate to the movies, DC look set to give Marvel some serious competition. Given that will include iconic characters and shows, I have to say that I couldn't be more excited!