On DC Entertainment, Man of Steel and Hope

I really wanted to do ‘Kamandi [The Last Boy on Earth]’, this Jack Kirby character. I had this great pitch… and he said “You think this is gonna be for kids? Stop, stop. We don’t publish comics for kids. We publish comics for 45-year olds. If you want to do comics for kids, you can do ‘Scooby-Doo’.” And I thought, “I guess we just broke up.”

Paul Pope on a conversation that he had with DC Comics Co-Publisher and Idiot-in-Chief Dan Didio, via Bleeding Cool

Have you ever dated someone who, during the course of your relationship, completely changed? And things ended kinda badly, but despite all that you still care about the person because, after all, you can still see the spark of the person you loved deep inside? That is what I’m feeling about DC Entertainment right now.

I get it – DC is trying to emulate the sort of success that Marvel Entertainment is currently having, and given that the last big success that DC had theatrically was “The Dark Knight Trilogy”, they’re trying to mold their characters into that darker formula across comics, television and film, as evidenced by “Man of Steel”, featuring a Superman who didn’t bother to save anyone while he was busy knocking General Zod through whatever buildings remained standing after Zod’s weird terraforming plot was foiled.1 And during Comic-Con International, Zack Snyder announced that the follow-up to “Man of Steel” will be a Superman/Batman crossover flick where Batman beats up Superman.2

I know that there are some of you who will point that the fact that “Man of Steel” doing well enough to warrant a sequel is all the proof we need that DC Entertainment has everything on lock, but chew on this: Superman, first published in 1938 , has been in seven movies, five television series, three solo video games and a freakin’ Broadway musical, for crying out loud. The ‘S’ shield is one of the most recognizable icons in the world. Superman doesn’t really need much in the way of introduction. Compare this to Iron Man, a comic book character created twenty-five years after Superman’s debut, was relatively unknown in 2008 when he hit the big screen for the first time. In fact, Iron Man’s largest exposure from a cartoon show on UPN. UPN. And it aired on Sunday mornings, the Seventh Circle of Hell for children’s entertainment television.

As of yesterday, “Man of Steel” has pulled in $288,681,970 domestically.3 “Iron Man”’s domestic gross? $318,412,101, or $361,861,400 when adjusted for inflation.4 And “Iron Man” was released only in 2D – “Man of Steel” was released in 2D, 3D, IMAX and IMAX 3D, meaning there are three additional, higher price tickets that are inflating “Man of Steel”’s grosses, and it still falls over $73 million short of “Iron Man”. Admittedly, when adjusted for inflation, “Man of Steel” bests “Iron Man” when you look at the current world-wide box office, $647,329,106 to $634,642,905… That’s a difference of about thirteen million dollars. Superman is DC Entertainment’s premiere character; Iron Man in 2008 was a B-lister on his best day.

Here’s what I think the problem really is: DC learned the wrong lessons from Nolan’s “Dark Knight” flicks, thinking that the darker and bleaker the movie is, the greater the connection it will have with the audience, and they’re applying that to their entire line. However, “The Dark Knight” was easily the most successful movie of the three, making (adjusted for inflation) only $125 million less than the other two films combined.5 And you know what the main point behind “The Dark Knight” was?6 People are generally good, and that faith is rewarded.7When a Batman movie is more hopeful and optimistic than a Superman movie, the world has gone completely insane.

And, ultimately, that is why DC will continue to fail while Marvel makes tons of cash off of something like “Guardians of the Galaxy”8: Marvel’s movies are hopeful and fun, while DC’s movies are generally the Debbie Downers of the comic book movie world. And with the constant barrage of depressing crap in the world coming streaming at our face from the 24-hour news cycle, I doubt people will want more of that in movies about people who can fly.

  1. Thirty-five years later, and we still get villains who only want real estate in Superman movies. C’mon. 
  2. For the record, a Batman that Superman has no reason to trust – especially a Superman who has shown that he will kill if he thinks there is no other way – would last about 17 seconds in a fight with the Man of Steel. What’s the rest of the movie going to be? A Clark and Lois rom-com? 
  3. “Man of Steel” box office figures from BoxOfficeMojo.com 
  4. “Iron Man” box office figures from BoxOfficeMojo.com 
  5. “Batman Begins” box office figures from BoxOfficeMojo.com
    “The Dark Knight” box office figures from BoxOfficeMojo.com
    “The Dark Knight Rises” box office figures from BoxOfficeMojo.com 
  6. You know, besides that warning us that the only person who should be in control of being able to spy on people through their cell phones is Morgan Freeman… A lesson the NSA didn’t pick up on when building PRISM, I’d wager. 
  7. Don’t worry, I’ll back that up for you, YouTube style
  8. Which even fewer people have heard of than Iron Man in 2008. 
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