Death of an industry: how the MCU and DCEU killed comics

Drishti Upadhyaya, Features Editor

Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird—it’s a plane!

Nope, it’s just another billboard advertising a Marvel movie.

Comic book films are currently at their prime. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has ended another phase, and are entering a grand, new phase, ready to set up new heroes for many to look up to. DC has finally found its calling in standalone films, with Joker and the upcoming Batman trilogy. They are finally ready to embrace the creative, more emotional side of comic adaptations. The world has fallen for superheroes. Vivid lights, choreographed fights, angsty nights—these appeal to audiences of all ages. The film industry is entering a new era centered around cinematography and fantasized plots. Creativity and imagination are being embraced, and it’s getting great responses from the public.

And yet, comic books suffer.

Comics, at their core, are the definition of creativity. Designing grand heroes and villains, exploring black-and-white morality, incorporating sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, and any genre you could ever think of gives an author a lot of freedom. The industry’s greatest successes occur only when creativity is embraced. And yet, executives haven’t seemed to grasp that concept. Rather, they believe in formulaic successes. Any well-received storyline is copied repeatedly till the very life that made it appealing is drained out of it, leaving a poor story with flat characters and flat arcs. Creativity seems to be shunned in the industry. The same stories are told over and over again, without a shred of imagination. Confining an industry based on creative freedom will always lead to its decline. We’ve seen this throughout mediums, and comics are no different.

However, comics didn’t truly begin to suffer until the creation of comic-based cinematic universes. The MCU, praised for its new interpretations of old comic book stories, became the new formulaic story for Marvel Comics. Marvel Comics began to base newer comics on the movies and their histories. The problem? The characters were entirely different. Despite the films being based on the comics, both were ultimately disconnected from each other in all but name. Plots, characterizations, motives, histories—everything that defined a character’s person was completely different. To disregard years of storytelling for the sake of incorporating both mediums was a huge mistake. Many loyal fans began to stop reading Marvel comics. Audiences have always reacted poorly to reboots, but executives have yet to learn.

While Marvel began to change plotlines, DC began to change characterization. DC movies, known to be overly gritty and dark, never truly represented the characters they portrayed. The cinematic universe focused on a different direction compared to the comics. Cinema is characterized by dramatics, but movies can never truly succeed without being grounded in reality. So, characters’ origins and drives had to be altered in film to make them appear more realistic. Comics, however, are an entirely different story. They embrace the freedom in narratives, and constantly push stories to increasingly absurd lengths. Characters’ personalities, histories, and ambitions don’t have to be entirely relatable—and in that medium, it’s okay. But the same stories can’t translate into film. And the characterizations present in film definitely don’t translate back into comics. Altering characters’ past and dreams change both the character and their overarching storyline entirely.  Changing characters to follow new codes that contradicted their histories and personalities angered fans. Characters known to represent one major value, or follow one specific code, lost sight of who they were, and became overpowered, moralless shells of who they once were. This, along with a number of reboots in a short amount of time, drove fans away from DC Comics.

Comics originally succeeded because of the freedom given to authors. Freedom fuels creativity, and creates meaningful stories that appeal to the masses. The comic book film industry didn’t originally succeed, but as directors were given more creative freedom, films improved, and audiences grew. Keeping both industries separate and allowing creativity to thrive in both is deal in order to achieve greatest amount of success in both industries. Pushing the storylines from one industry into another just doesn’t work. The comic book film industry began as a failure because of the lack of freedom and the pushing of comic storylines. Comics are now suffering the same fate. Until executives place more trust in creativity, neither comics nor films will have long term success.