DC Superman vs Marvel Hulk
The half-century battle between Marvel and DC for bragging rights as the leader of the comic-book marketplace used to be a real clash of the titans. In 1976, when the rival publishers decided to collaborate on a one-shot issue of Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man (Superman won, sort of), comics fans greeted it as if the Beatles and the Stones had suddenly agreed to a battle of the bands. And as recently as the early 1990s, the most popular monthly titles might sell more than a million copies each.
These days, in some ways, the comics business is a shadow of its former self. Most kids find their entertainment elsewhere, and if a comic book manages to crack the 100, 000 sales mark—as only two Marvel titles and two DC titles did in April—it's time to uncork the champagne. But on another level, the business has never been more important, since comic books and the people who create them now essentially function as a relatively cost-efficient concept, character, and storyboard lab for a movie genre that has generated revenue in the tens of billions of dollars over the past decade. As this summer has clarified, from the moment Marvel's The Avengers raised the bar with the biggest opening weekend in U.S. history, the stakes have never been higher, especially since they now involve two of the world's largest entertainment conglomerates—Disney, which bought Marvel in 2009 for $4 billion, and Time Warner, which has long owned DC.
Photo by David Levinthal
Who's winning? Well, if this were a comic book—most of which, in case you haven't picked one up lately, still run about 20 pages and end with a full-page visual cliffhanger—what you'd probably see is Marvel's Iron Man standing triumphantly over a beaten and bloody Green Lantern, who would be glowering up at him through his eye mask and muttering something like, "You may think you've beaten me, Robert Downey Jr., but I'll be back—and next time, I'll bring some friends to wipe that smirk off your face!" (Yes, they still talk that way.) There's no question that Marvel, which, 10 years ago, had little to boast about but Spider-Man, has done a superb job leveraging characters whose movie and TV history was either nonexistent (Iron Man), cringeworthy (The Incredible Hulk), or animated (X-Men) into some of the best brands in the business. That makes Marvel No. 1.
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