Earlier in the week, Drew McWeeny at HitFix sent the internet into a tizzy when he reported that Warner Brothers and DC Entertainment had mandated a strict “no jokes” policy for their entire slate of upcoming superhero movies. As per usual, much handwringing ensued, followed by several reports debunking the original one.
Whether that no joking policy was true or not is irrelevant. The mere fact that so many people believed it in the first place shows just how different and far apart DC and Marvel are in their approaches to superheroes. For decades, DC has embraced grimdark — in both their comics and their movies — to their benefit as well as their detriment.
The irony of it all is that for the longest time, the Big Two publishers were perceived the other way around. DC, the granddaddy of the superhero genre, was the company that embraced the inherent goofiness of grown men running around in tights punching bad guys. Sure, Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s Detective Comics was the originator of the grim and gritty superhero, but most of DC’s output in the 1940s and ’50s were full of puns, one-liners, and generally silly material. After all, they were called funny books for a reason.
I mean, Adam West gets a lot of grief for camping it up in the 60s, but they were merely reflecting a lot of the zaniness that already existed in the comics at the time. Just peep a Dick Sprang Batman story for god’s sake.
Meanwhile, Marvel Comics — and the whole “Marvel era” came to prominence in the 1960s as a counter to the perceived silliness of the DC comics. Instead of larger than life gods, Marvel’s heroes were made up of normal, recognizable people who reacted to having superpowers the way a normal, recognizable person would. Moreover, the Marvel heroes were full of pathos and angst and were just a little bit edgier than their counterparts at DC.
The Fantastic Four were a dysfunctional family. Peter Parker was a socially awkward dweeb when he wasn’t in tights. Tony Stark was an alcoholic. Bruce Banner had anger issues. The X-Men were outcasts. These clearly weren’t your granddaddy’s superheroes, so the “cool” kids made theirs Marvel.
Chris Sims at ComicsAlliance wrote a great piece last November outlining how this fact became “The Problem” of DC Comics.
To put it bluntly, The Problem is that DC wants to be Marvel, and they have for the past 50 years.
I call it The Problem and I think I have a pretty good reason for that, but to be honest, that desire has actually led to some of the best DC stories ever printed — arguably some of the best comics ever printed, so it’s not entirely a bad thing. The thing is, when you look at the history of those two companies and how they’ve fed off each other, you start to see what looks like an inferiority complex that’s driven decisions about the direction of their stories that seems to be there for decades, across multiple creators and editors, and once you notice it, the evidence just keeps on mounting up.
Really, you should just read Chris’ whole piece. It’s the reason why DC has become so infatuated with grimdark in their comics and movies — that and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy just printed money at the box office. Meanwhile, Marvel Studios has proved that bringing fun and lightness back to superhero films was not a disaster of Schumacher proportions, but an antidote to the seriousness — and some might even say pretentiousness — of the Nolanverse. And you can still rake in the cash at the box office.
So the whole “no joke” thing probably is bullshit. But the fact that so many people were so quick to believe it should trouble the folks at DC. Sure, nobody wants a repeat of Green Lantern — or god forbid, Batman & Robin! — but those movies didn’t suck because they had jokes. They sucked because they were terrible movies.
If Warner wants to replicate the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s success with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — and the dozens of movies it will hopefully spawn, then what they have to concentrate on is putting out well made, entertaining movies that don’t suck. I mean, how hard is that?