DC and Marvel’s respective movie studios have put out some of the most successful films in cinematic history. The likes of Aquaman, Avengers: Endgame and Captain America: Civil War have raked in billions at the box office. However, they’ve also made some mistakes that comics can fix.
One of the biggest questions modern comic book fans have is why the billions of dollars spent at the box office on superhero media hasn’t trickled down to the comics themselves. Name recognition of these brands has never been higher, nor has interest in the characters. This can be partially attributed to the divergent tones and portrayals between the movies and comics. Many have questioned how the films can better be leveraged into higher comic sales. One key opportunity the comics have that they seldom attempt to explore is going beyond simple movie tie-in books and actually taking the lead on what the movies have missed. It’s no secret that the MCU and DCEU alike have made numerous mistakes or left the door open for ideas never to be explored in their respective cinematic universes. With key heroes dead or retired, relationships sabotaged, and story arcs ended, comics have an opportunity to win over new readers by continuing derailed storylines.
Comics Have Previously Tried To Capitalize On Movies
Marvel and DC have always sought to capitalize on the movies released by their respective studios. Whether its prequels and tie-ins for upcoming movies or comic adaptations of the films after they release, there’s no shortage of this. Comics like the slew of Green Lantern tie-in prequels for the 2011 movie or the prelude to Spider-Man Homecoming are good examples. However, fans have never really shown a high interest in these books, despite the use of genuinely respected and acclaimed talent. Esteemed creators such as Denny O’Neil, Jerry Ordway and Geoff Johns have all worked on these books, only to underwhelm in actual sales figures. There is likely a simple reason for this. When the movie has already been shot, fans know a tie-in is playing to the tune of the film, having no genuine consequences. This, however, doesn’t have to be the case.
Recently, DC (who has a much better track record of capitalizing on films) produced sequels to their classic movies, Tim Burton’s Batman and Richard Donner’s Superman. With decades having passed since the release of their respective movies, the sequel miniseries felt like genuine comics rather than advertisements for the films. With Robert Venditti & Wilfredo Torres on Superman ’78, and Sam Hamm & Joe Quinones on Batman ’89, the company signaled a real effort to continue these stories. The double release is actually one of the rare times fans agree a Superman book surpassed its Batman counterpart in quality, as the Daek Knight is often considered the favorite. Unlike the average tie-in book, these creators actually had the freedom to form their own sequel story, unshackled by any pre-set narrative. This strategy paves the way for comics to make a play for movie fans.
Many comic book publishers, notably Dark Horse and Boom! Studios, have made a name for themselves by continuing the stories of canceled TV shows or movies unlikely to garner a sequel. Not only this, but they’ve often collaborated with the original creators to ensure both quality and authenticity, increasing the likelihood for fans to accept the new stories as canon. Examples of this include Joss Whedon on Buffy the Vampire Slayer under Dark Horse and John Carpenter on Big Trouble In Little China under Boom! Studios. Of course, with a fully fleshed out comic universe already under their belt, Marvel and DC typically don’t follow this approach, although they have ventured into it, such as Marvel’s continuation of Dexter. The template for how to do this has already been set, and these type of projects have been proven to actually gain the interest of fans of the original IP, especially after frustrating cancelations.
DC And Marvel Have Numerous Opportunities to Continue Film Storylines
While DC and Marvel have many opportunities, some are considerably more obvious than others. Notably, the continuation of Zack Snyder’s DCEU through its own imprint would be a brilliant idea for DC, as Snyder himself has released the general outline of what he had planned. Many of his most ardent fans, including those who orchestrated a huge campaign to get Snyder’s cut of Justice League produced, want to see his world continue. While some would prefer to see the DCEU live on through their own universe, comics may wind up being the best (and most cost-effective) way of doing this. As resistant as some moviegoers may be to embracing comics, if the publisher can convince them that a continuation is true to Snyder’s vision, they might just win them over as new customers.
For the MCU, there are plenty of decisions unlikely to be reversed that Marvel Comics could address, whether through continuity or a multiversal series dedicated to the movies. Things like the break-up of Peter Quill and Gamora, further exploration of villains now killed off, or more adventures of Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man are all ripe with potential. With Marvel in particular, they have the added benefit of having a wider roster of heroes the MCU has yet to introduce, such as the X-Men and Fantastic Four. When the cinematic universes leave questions unanswered, publishers can swoop in and deliver some much-desired fan service. The loss of projects that never even got started, like Nicolas Cage’s Superman, present opportunities begging for a true adaptation that only comics can deliver.
One of the biggest missed opportunities in superhero cinema was the never-realized Spider-Man 4, with Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire attached. Raimi himself has written comics in the past, and Marvel gaining the ability to use Maguire’s likeness should not be terribly difficult. Ideas like more crossovers between the three Peters, the reunion of Quill and Gamora, and MCU Hulk’s life on Sakaar or adventures in the Quantum Realm all present opportunities. Plenty of prolific creators would be happy to pen official conclusions to these loose-ended stories in a way that leaves readers satisfied.
Comics Can Go Further Than The Movies
Thanks to a combination of fewer restrictions and licensing, the comics don’t just have the power to go more in-depth for these stories, but to conjure up crossovers moviegoers could only dream of. Canonical comic book sequels and crossovers like Prime Earth Batman interacting with his cinematic counterparts or even Judge Dredd meeting his Stallone and Urban counterparts has already been done and to great effect. These higher concept ideas are something that the movies would be unlikely to do for multiple reasons, not least of which is the deaths of some of these actors. Where movies have to deploy expensive CGI to deliver nostalgic looks at the past, comics merely require a talented artist to make it happen.
Considering the fact movie studios like Disney and Warner Bros/Discovery own a range of properties, fans have an endless potential of new team-ups. From Hasbro, there’s a shared comic book universe between Transformers and GI Joe in development that will be able to satiate fan hype in between movies. The comics dedicated to the superhero cinematic universes don’t need to go quite as far, but there are countless ideas that could use the development the movies are unlikely to deliver upon. With the DCEU effectively dead, DC Comics has an entire line of continuity it could pick up. With rumors of an MCU reboot in the works, it too could end off with a fan-favorite line-up of actors and characters unlikely to return – except through comics.
Even non-superhero wasted potential could be picked up by comic book companies. The adventure-heavy world of Brendan Fraser’s The Mummy, more Alien vs Predator action (which comics are no stranger to), and worthy “requels” with original creators are all options. With Frank Miller’s RoboCop stories and John Carpenter’s slew of movie sequels in comics, there are plenty of examples for big companies and indies alike to explore. However, the key is ensuring that fans of the movies outside of the built-in reader base, are aware of these follow-up projects.
Movies Shouldn’t Always Take The Lead
Both Marvel and DC are almost certain to continue producing comics devoted to movies around their release date, despite the consistent lackluster response from readers. They could turn this around by looking into ways to take control of these worlds. Outside the MCU and soon-to-begin DCU under James Gunn, virtually all of these studios’ past superhero movies are effectively finished. If a cinematic venture isn’t dead, like ’90s Blade or the DCEU, then it’s open-ended enough to explore, like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. To its credit, 2023’s The Flash helped renew interest in old and canceled projects, with much talk of how incredible Tim Burton and Nicolas Cage’s Superman looked like it could have been. Whether self-contained projects or small universes, there’s so much to be explored.
It should always be remembered that, while the movies may rake in the billions, the comics are where these stories and characters begin. Movies will always, ultimately, be beholden to the limitations of current technology and budget restrictions. Comics, on the other hand, are an inexpensive way of following ageless versions of these great heroes, whose adventures can be as epic and wide-reaching as the artist can draw. Rather than producing tie-in books to play catch up with a story already made, Marvel and DC can take the initiative and continue things these stories miss. With both companies having entire lines of Elseworlds and out-of-continuity tales, adding a cinematic one would create an entirely new base of readers.
Both the DCU and MCU are great, but there have been a few missteps that can be corrected in DC and Marvel comics. Read More