Superman versus Spider-Man. Wonder Woman versus Storm. The Joker versus Loki.
Comic book aficionados have long debated the qualities of the DC universe versus the Marvel universe. Superman, Wonder Woman and The Joker are all DC characters as distinctly American as apple pie. But Spider-Man, Storm and Loki are Marvel characters similarly as well known. The two universes tell their super hero stories in different ways and brand themselves in various manners, all of which manifests in considerable market share.
According to the comic book marketplace, Marvel has enjoyed a slight edge in comic book sales over DC Entertainment. Similarly, a recent Ipsos survey that asked Americans which movie franchise they prefer found that 47% of Americans prefer Marvel’s Spider-Man, X-Men and Thor sagas to the 11 percent who prefer DC’s franchises that include the new film reboot of Wonder Woman.
Marvel might have a slight edge here for a basic reason: their most popular stories are often rooted in humans who gain superhuman abilities but face very human setbacks. At least that’s how Ariell Johnson, the owner of Philadelphia’s Amalgam Comics and Coffee, analyzes the situation.
“For the most part on a larger scale, it’s almost evenly split with Marvel just eking out in front,” says Johnson, whose comics coffeehouse is part of the comic and graphic novel renaissance. “Although with symbolism, DC does a better job with that because all their heroes have logos – Batman, Green Lantern, Superman. And, most of their heroes are godlike. With Marvel, not even Storm or Wolverine have logos, but I feel like Marvel stories are human based. Tony (Stark, for example) is an alcoholic and Nightcrawler was going through a crisis of faith because he’s a priest.”
That said, both Marvel and DC movies do quite well at the box office. Spider-Man: Homecoming pulled in $117-million domestically while Wonder Woman pulled in $103-million. Not too shabby for both. Audiences flock to superhero films in uncertain times.
Still, Marvel is ahead. And, the friendly rivalry might do some good for all comic brands.
Ipsos’ Julia Locklear, a vice president in the Connect division, has additional insight into why that might be.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all that Marvel is winning the comic book universe cinematic arms race,” says Locklear, who works out of the Ipsos Culver City office, a city that is home to the world’s top film studios. “The way in which they very deliberately, from film to film, weave together the stories of heroes and villains keeps fans going to theaters to see what surprises will come next. This is a good thing for all superhero films because it primes audiences to want more.”