It’s funny watching DC and Marvel compete in the movie world. So far Marvel has beat DC to the punch almost every time -- DC may have invented modern superhero movies with "Superman" in 1978, but Marvel has definitely dominated the market in recent years. Marvel Studio's last three summer blockbusters have made an average of over $1 billion dollars each, and even with Suicide Squad, the DC Extended Universe movies so far have fallen short of that mark -- and they’ve all gotten poor reviews.
In the end, though, this may not be bad. Because DC’s been here before.
In 1960, DC Comics had been making superhero comic books for over two decades and with icons like Superman and Batman, they seemed to have a permanent spot as America’s Number One Comic Book Publisher.
Then in 1961 Marvel Comics released “The Fantastic Four,” and followed with characters like Spider-Man who brought something new to the table: heroes with real problems and flaws. Unlike Batman and Robin, Marvel's new characters were imperfect people with real-life struggles, and readers quickly connected with them. Geoff Boucher noted in his article for the "LA Times," “Superman and DC Comics instantly seemed like boring old Pat Boone; Marvel felt like the Beatles and the British Invasion.”
Within a few years, Marvel usurped DC’s position -- Stan Lee commented it reached the point where DC employees tried to mimic the cover designs of Marvel comic books, and then Marvel would redesign their covers and still outsell DC.DC continued to fall behind Marvel for a while until in the early ‘80s when it resurged to prominence with graphic novels. DC published “Watchman” by Alan Moore (which made TIME's list of 100 Best Novels since 1923), “Sandman” by Neil Gaiman (the most critically acclaimed comic book of the 1990s), and “The Dark Knight Returns” by Frank Miller (which inspired The Dark Knight Trilogy). These are only the top three in a list of DC graphic novels that quickly became classics .
There are certainly multiple reasons why these graphic novels helped DC Comics resurge, but one major reason is they had a tone that Marvel couldn’t emulate: grown-up and (mostly) British.
The DC graphic novels weren’t just dark, they were definitely for adults. “Watchmen” included all the subtleties, violence and moral ambiguity you’d expect in a novel for adults. “Dark Knight Returns” put Batman in a “Sin City”-style Gotham without a shred of camp. “Sandman” carried a book jacket label which read “For Mature Readers.”
While Marvel publishes some darker stories, few of them really have this grown-up tone. If you compare Frank Miller's work for Marvel on “Daredevil: The Man Without Fear” with his DC work on “The Dark Knight Returns,” you see one big difference: both are dark, but “Dark Knight Returns” has an iron-jawed grittiness to it while “Man Without Fear” has this sheen which says everything will be all right in the end. This is the same sheen you see in almost every Marvel Studios movie.
Then there was the fact DC hired so many British writers. Most of the DC graphic novels mentioned above -- with the exception of Frank Miller's work -- were created by writers from the United Kingdom. This may have had something to do with the fact the Comics Code Authority was still going strong in America, and British writers didn’t have to follow its strict censoring. Regardless, most of these writers were British, and they helped DC create a new brand -- particularly those which worked for DC’s Vertigo imprint, which became known as “the first (comic book imprint) to market trade paperbacks to an adult, literate, sophisticated audience.”
In light of all this, DC’s current drought of good film reviews may not be so disappointing. With luck, this means audiences will get something new and unique from them in a little while.