Grace Jordan, Campus Carrier arts & living editor
In the last fifteen years, North America has seen a boom in superhero movies. From Ironman to Wonder Woman, these characters have become household names. These characters can be found in long-standing comic books, some being a part of DC Comics and others a part of Marvel Comics. Many know the distinction between DC and Marvel movies, but their comic book origins could not be more different.
DC Comics were created in the 1930s, debuting a superhero who has withstood the test of time: Superman. According to Curt Hersey, assistant professor of filmmaking and cinematic arts, Superman is the reason for superheroes today.
“You go back to the birth of superhero comics with Action Comics 1 which is the debut of Superman around 1938,” Hersey said. “Superman, in many ways, is a forerunner for what we’re seeing now. He is not just a superhero; he is a media product.”
Superman was not just a superhero, but an entity for media outlets to use.
“He is in action comics, then they spin him off to Superman comics,” Hersey said. “They also start doing a newspaper-syndicated cartoon that’s being printed in newspapers in the 1940s. He gets his own radio program; he ends up with an animated Superman film that gets played between films in film theaters. Once television comes around in the 1950s, he gets his own television show.”
At this point, there were no superheroes movies, only other forms of media. That is until 1978 when a movie about Superman is released. This starts a new generation of superheroes in media.
“In 1978, they launch the first legit superhero movie which is Superman,” Hersey said. “That kind of launches an ‘oh we can spin these off.’ Then you get Batman that comes out in the 1980s, and so DC has this run of successful movies.”
Marvel comics were also created early in the 1940s, but didn’t have the media presence that DC comics did. In fact, Marvel had a financial crisis in the 1990s, which led to Marvel selling the rights to notable characters.
“The comic book industry really imploded in the 1990s and Marvel ended up being sold off,” Hersey said. “They were trying to figure out how to recoup money and so they licensed their characters to film studios. That’s when they licensed Spiderman to Sony Pictures and Fantastic Four, X-Men and Daredevil to 21st Century Fox studios.”
This was not the end for Marvel, however. Upon the realization that they could create a movie franchise from their characters, they began filming successful box office movies.
“Then a couple years later they realized they could have their own film studio and their own film universe,” Hersey said. “They launched the first Iron Man film and at that point the film industry realized that sequels were a great way to make money. At first, they were like ‘we’re going to have Iron Man and Iron Man Two’ and it was so successful they decided to spin off other characters. That’s when we suddenly start to have this idea of not just sequels, but what we call film franchises.”
Even though Marvel became a media presence much later than DC, their success is inarguable and, according to Hersey, even greater than DC.
“I would say that Marvel surpassed DC a long time ago,” Hersey said.
The transference of comics to movies has been one that has seen much success, and due to the lengthy and sometimes paradoxical storylines, there has been a wealth of content to choose from.
“You take something like Black Panther, as a case study,” Hersey said. “So Black Panther is dealing with some characters that were created in the 1960s by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. But then they’re taking a story line that was written by Don McGregor for a series called Jungle Action in the 1970s, and that’s the story line where Killmonger is trying to take away his title as King of Wakanda. Then they also take elements from Christopher Priest’s Black Panther run in the 1990s where he introduces the agent that is played by Martin Freeman and he also introduces the women that guard him and introduce Shuri, his sister. So, the film itself is this mix of all three of these different Black Panther’s in comic books from the 1960s, 1970s and 1990s.”
For the future of the franchises, Hersey believes that Disney is doing a fantastic job of continuing a long lasting franchise.
“I think for Disney, what we’re already seeing, is them looking ahead to post television, post theatrical release,” Hersey said. “’How do we take the properties that we own and dole them out in this really smart way.’ So we got WandaVision and we didn’t even get a full months break before we got the Winter Soldier. We didn’t get a full month’s break because if you go a full month without content, you can cancel your subscription. I think we’re only going to see tighter integration between Disney+, the streaming outlet, and Marvel studios.”
Comic books were created soon after the invention of television, but through the adaptation of these superheroes from books to screens, it is not unreasonable to believe their legacy will be around for years to come.