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Superheroes and comics remained at the forefront of pop culture in 2018, but which publisher had the biggest influence? Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’ll be sizing up Marvel and DC to see which of the “Big Two” had the better 2018.
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Round 1: Comic Books
Though they may almost seem secondary in the modern world of high profile adaptations, comic books are the source material without which none of this would be possible. Over in the Marvel camp, it was a strong, if not an astounding year. Their soft reboot, “Fresh Start,” dialed back the legacy heroes, returning numerous secret identities to the fan-favorite original characters like Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, and Bruce Banner. It was a safe move, but also a mostly well-received one. In terms of events, Spider-Geddon isn’t likely to become a classic, but was a fun read throughout, while Nick Spencer’s new Spider-Man series has become a worthy follow-up to Dan Slott’s tenure. 2018 also saw the new Venom series get off to a GREAT start, and Donny Cates’ “Thanos Wins” story arc become one of the Mad Titans greatest tales.
Over on the DC side of things, it’s similarly a mixed bag. Doomsday Clock was changed to a bi-monthly schedule in May and will conclude in the summer of 2019. Dark Nights: Metal kicked off in 2017 but concluded earlier this year and was delightfully odd. Batman: White Knight made for a fascinating take on the Joker. Brian Michael Bendis switched from Marvel to DC just in time for Action Comics #1000; a notable milestone and a well-received one at that. Unfortunately, DC also had some major missteps. First off, there was that whole showing Batman’s penis debacle, which felt like a blatant PR stunt gone wrong. The Batman Catwoman wedding twist was spoiled by the New York Times, upsetting fans and series writer Tom King. The Heroes in Crisis limited series promised an unprecedented emotional journey through the traumas inherent to the life of superheroes, but instead alienated many with its first issue when it went for shocking character deaths rather than an honest investigation of mental health.
In terms of sales, DC and Marvel took turns pulling ahead month by month, making it difficult to say with any certainty who outperformed the other in that regard. When it comes to quality, however, DC could have won had their missteps not been so major. Marvel takes it, but it’s a close one.
WINNER: Marvel: 1 / DC: 0
Round 2: Live Action Television
Starting with Arrow in 2012, DC has slowly but surely built up an impressive small screen shared universe. As of 2018, that includes Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, and the epic crossover event series Legends of Tomorrow. The shows have not been immune to criticism, but for the most part, they’re a lot of fun. Then there’s Black Lightning, which, although not a part of the Arrowverse as of 2018, has made sparks all on its own. Over on Syfy, Krypton has been more critically divisive, but it did well enough to earn itself a second season. Gotham also continued to offer up a strong take on Bruce Wayne’s early years. Finally, Titans debuted on the DC Universe streaming service and has been relatively well-received, surprising fans who were skeptical of its over-the-top Comic-Con trailer.
In recent years, Marvel has found comparable success on the small screen.Legion’s second season continued the delightfully odd riff on the story of David Haller, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. soldiers on. Though more modest in their success, The Gifted, Runaways, and Cloak & Dagger have all found their audience and received good reviews. Unfortunately, something went wrong with Marvel’s Netflix universe in 2018 and we can’t help but suspect that it has something to do with Disney’s future streaming plans. After expanding to 5 shows and a crossover, cancellations occurred in 2018, with Netflix pulling the plug on Iron Fist and Luke Cage.
Though Marvel still has some great shows, the Netflix universe was its crowning gem and seeing that lineup of shows shrink seriously hurt Marvel television in 2018. With the Arrowverse going strong, DC conquers the television landscape to tie it up.
WINNER: Marvel: 1 / DC: 1
Round 3: Video Games
It’s all well and good to read and watch the exploits of our favorite heroes, but isn’t the dream to live out those adventures for ourselves? In 2018, Marvel delivered its first truly great superhero video game in years: Spider-Man. Released to critical acclaim and described as one of the greatest superhero games ever made, this 2018 PS4 exclusive does for Spider-Man what the Arkham series did for Batman. Many have called it the spiritual sequel to beloved 2004 game Spider-Man 2. Thrilling to play, boasting stunning visuals and a solid story, Spider-Man was a big win for Marvel. Seriously, we can lose hours simply web-swinging our way through the city.
For years, DC has owned the video game market. The aforementioned Arkham franchise kept the company well ahead of the competition, but it wasn’t the only property with selling power. The Injustice games are also extremely popular and spawned a pretty successful comic book tie-in as well. Unfortunately… none of these were released in 2018. What DC gamers got was the final two episodes of Batman: The Enemy Within which marks the end of the franchise since the developer, Telltale Games, shut down in September. There was a free to play mobile brawler, DC Unchained, which is a good way to pass the time while waiting for the bus, but nothing to write home about. We also got Lego DC Super-Villains courtesy of Traveller’s Games. It received positive reviews but compared to games in the Arkham or Injustice series, it’s not all that exciting.
It’s really no contest. DC was apparently between tentpole releases in 2018 and so Marvel takes this round by a mile!
WINNER: Marvel: 2 / DC: 1
Round 4: Animated Movies
Marvel has been lagging behind on the animated film front for years. It seems like they give it a half-hearted attempt every couple of years but that they don’t have a clear vision as to what their animated film identity should be. In 2018 however, they’ve made an honest effort. The Disney Channel/Disney XD original movie Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors takes what has worked for the company in terms of animated series and tells a bigger story. It’s a great (if perhaps modest) start and we can’t wait to see what the Marvel Rising franchise does next. Of course, the big animated win for Marvel is actually a Sony offering, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Like with its live-action television, DC has found a model for animated films that works, and it knows not to mess with a good thing. As part of their ongoing DC Universe Animated Original Movies series, DC and WB have been releasing direct-to-video animated films aimed at teens and adults for over a decade. In this medium, fans have gotten to see many of their favorite story arcs brought to life, as well as the occasional original concept like Batman Ninja. In 2018 alone, we got The Death of Superman, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay, Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, the aforementioned “Batman Ninja”, as well as a few more kid-oriented movies, including the theatrical film, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies.
Though Into the Spider-Verse is a huge move for Marvel, the sheer volume of rock rock-solidated films coming out of DC earns them the round. We’ve got ourselves a tie going into round 5.
WINNER: Marvel: 2 / DC: 2
Round 5: Live Action Movies
Though the importance of comic books can never be understated, as of 2018, Marvel’s main moneymaker is Marvel Studios. What the MCU has accomplished under the ownership of Disney is unprecedented. It’s changed the film industry, inspiring numerous imitators, none of whom can seemingly compete. In 2018, 10 years of movies culminated in Avengers: Infinity War, a cinematic crossover event the likes of which we’ve never seen before. Of course, it wasn’t alone. 2018 also saw the release of Ant-Man and the Wasp and the groundbreaking Black Panther. So not only did Marvel dominate the box office, but they did it with arguably some of their best films yet.
After a rocky start to their shared cinematic universe in 2016 with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, DC rebounded in 2017 with Wonder Woman. It seemed like a course correction until “Justice League” landed in theaters and people officially lost all hope. Almost. 2018 sees Jason Momoa take center stage in his Aquaman solo outing. Maybe slowing down to just one movie in 2018 will benefit the future of the franchise as they regroup and look for ways to course-correct, but this year was a quiet one for DC on the silver screen.
Here’s the thing… even if Aquaman was the greatest DC film ever made, a single stand-alone adventure can’t possibly overshadow the cultural impact of both Infinity War and Black Panther. Marvel takes it with a massive knockout punch.
WINNER: Marvel: 3 / DC: 2
There you have it! Delivering better films, a standout video game, and marginally more consistent comics, Marvel beats out DC in 2018.