Joss Whedon Considers why DC Movies Don’t Work

Joss Whedon has his cult following – the Whedonites, and he has earned this respect of the masses on his roller coaster career. I do have a lot of respect for a guy who has as much talent and presence as he does and is still very down to earth. Well recently Joss put out a bit of a commentary where he shares a theory as to why Marvel Films are more successful than DC films, and it is an interesting read.

First Showing shares:

Joss begins by saying: “With that one big exception (Batman), DC’s heroes are from a different era. They’re from the era when they were creating gods.” For a bit of background and perspective before we continue, DC Comics was founded in 1934 (originally as National Allied Publications), while Marvel Comics was founded in 1939 (as Timely Publications). Batman was created in 1939, Superman was created in 1932. On the Marvel side of things, Spider-Man was created in 1962, and Captain America was created in 1941.

“The thing that made [rival publisher] Marvel Comics extraordinary was that they created people. Their characters didn’t live in mythical cities, they lived in New York. They absolutely were a part of the world. Peter Parker’s character (Spider-Man) was a tortured adolescent.”

“DC’s characters, like Wonder Woman and Superman and Green Lantern, were all very much removed from humanity. Batman was the only character they had who was so rooted in pain, that had that same gift that the Marvel characters had, which was that gift of humanity that we can relate to.”

This hits home for me, and while I was always a big Marvel fan I couldn’t quite explain why I didn’t like DC as much. Oh I loved my DC Comics, but there was certainly a difference in feel and presentation to the characters. My favourite DC Character is Robin (the most recent Robin) because he is more than just Batman’s sidekick, but also because he is a “real boy” who deals with real issues on top of being a superhero. (And despite him being my favourite I still say he shouldn’t be in the new Batman films …yet)

Even Batman on some level is elevated to demigod status because in real world terms he is not a “common man” what with all the millions of dollars and celebrity status he holds. Even in a real world he would be hard to relate to as an everyday guy.

But this theory that Whedon has also brought me to thinking about other movies. People complain about Transformers and that they hate how it focuses on the humans and not enough on the Robots. While I agree they could shift the balance away from the people a little more, that Human element is what connects you to the film, and to remove them completely would make the movie less emotionally involved.

When you watch a movie about two warring robot factions coming to earth with no human connection at all, you would be more drawn to a “I hope they just leave” kind of story instead of the Autobots fighting their own war while protecting the humans, and the humans in kind helping out the Autobots. Now there is a connection.

Of course there are a dozen other factors that come into play when considering why one company’s comic books make better movies. The writers, actors, directors and everyone involved affect the quality of the film. We have seen two Hulk movies that were both based on the same character and told a similar story, but they were both very different films.

The article does speculate on Joss’ assumption that DC movies are not as successful, since by the numbers more Marvel films have failed than DC has put out. So his theory isn’t flawless, but it is an interesting look at the difference that DC and Marvel have always had and how this may be affecting their efforts to adapt these properties to film.

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57 thoughts on “Joss Whedon Considers why DC Movies Don’t Work

    1. This coming from somone who cannot even SPELL Whedon.

      I would like to hear more about this “Wheaton” guy you are talking about… just what is it that makes you so upset with him?

  1. well this is very interesting for me because i follow super man story. well i thing im not agree with josh in the words then he said about the place were are the hero located.ithing this is more about creativity. because super man hes not a human but he have the form and the felings of a human.i like dc movies and i admith,rihgt now marvel has the first place doing movies because they put super villians in the movies.but if dc do like an example the movie of superman vs bizarro or super man vs dooms day i guaranted you then dc gone go to the skie whith that movies.and thats mi complain about dc movies they dont put super villians in super man movies they always put lex luthor.except for super man2.but that was a old movie and we talking about the new movies.well thats mi opinion thanks everyone.

  2. Well Tony and Bruce are very similar and yet treated very different on the films. Tony is a egocentric wiz kid who eats cheeseburgers after being months in the desert. Bruce is moved by pain and revenge but lacks one human characteristic, is on control always he controls his anger and revenge driven ego. In contrast the Joker is the same; drive by pain and revenge but like most humans without control of his most intense emotions. I can relate more to the joker than the batman. Spider man is another example in the first movie you can see the joy of Peter Parker with his new powers in the second movie of Hulk you can see the isolation of Bruce Baner.

    Marvel characters seems to start with a well construct persona (peter parker, tony stark etc) and then what happens if that human somehow has superpowers. DC uses a different approach in superman, wonder woman and even batman they never has been regular humans and thats why is hard to relate with them

  3. nOva’s point hits right at home. I haven’t seen a quality storyline that could become a great DC superhero movie lately, barring a few exceptions of course. Superman returns was a great film, but only to those who actually saw the first two Chris Reeve Movies at the theater….no offense, but Luthor as a mad scientist who runs after land? please, give him is old purple jumpsuit while you’re at it. and the deal with Supermax…is it even a superhero film? Green Arrow without his Quiver and Bow? A Rocky movie without any punches thrown would be more enjoyable.
    But that doesn’t mean marvel’s got an enviable lineup of scripts, please, take out even half the special effects and the film would have nothing to show. They didn’t show ANYTHING that’d have made Tony Stark endearing or a RELATABLE character. such a pity people actually thought it was a masterpiece because of the whole Terrorist bashing thing.

  4. I think the main reason the DC movies have not done as well is something Whedon could really relate to: interferance from the higher-ups.

    Too many people have a say-so in the Time-Warner structure; they don’t have an Avi-Arad-figure and they are too beholden to various intrests in the characters – not unlike Marvel in the early days of it’s productions, where their licenses were not under Marvel’s direct control.

    This is why you get insanity like Kevin Smith’s story about the Superman pitch he did, or ideas such as making Batman a homeless guy, or Alfred a huge black mechanic, pitched in all seriousness. The actual /DC Comics/ arena appears to have little say in how their characters are handled.

  5. I grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons in the 70’s. I looked forward to Spiderman (67 series) and the Superfriends (especially Legion of Doom). There are two things that I looked for then, and two things I look for now.

    First, Who’s the Badguy? That made all the differenc in the world. Even when watching the Superfriends and the Legion of Doom go at it. If Cheetah was the main villain – I would just assume play with the action figures. That held my interest more. To this day, my favorite Superheroes to watch are Spiderman (Marvel) and Batman (DC). Why? They’ve got the BEST villains!

    The next thing is probably more important. It’s all about the story. Whether or not I can identify with a character means nothing (at least to me). I want to be entertained. I want to step out of this world and step into something beyond me. That is what a good superhero movie SHOULD do.

    So how do I rate a Superhero movie? If it makes me feel (at 35) like I did when I was 7! Mystery. Excitement. Man, I feel like playing with action figures right now!

  6. Superman rules! I can’t believe no one quoted this yet, but we have the reason why from a fictional character (David Carradine’s Bill in ‘Kill Bill Volume 2’:

    “As you know, I’m quite keen on comic books. Especially the ones about superheroes. I find the whole mythology surrounding superheroes fascinating. Take my favorite superhero, Superman. Not a great comic book. Not particularly well-drawn. But the mythology… The mythology is not only great, it’s unique. Now, a staple of the superhero mythology is, there’s the superhero and there’s the alter ego. Batman is actually Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker. When that character wakes up in the morning, he’s Peter Parker. He has to put on a costume to become Spider-Man. And it is in that characteristic Superman stands alone. Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red “S”, that’s the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears – the glasses, the business suit – that’s the costume. That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent. He’s weak… he’s unsure of himself… he’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race.”

    1. Define failure.

      He had ONE SHOW that was canceled in the first season, and it may not fill the seats but certainly has a following.

      Aside from that, Buffy and Angel were both successes, and lets not forget the revolutionary money press he invented when he made Doctor Horrible?

      I don’t think canceling one show of his is considered a “failure”

  7. Whedon knows what he is talking about. I think he hits it spot on. Theres another take on this, while DC tells the story of Superman, Green Lantern or Wonderwoman, Marvel tells the story of Peter Parker, Tony Stark or Bruce Banner. with the exception for Batman= its the story of Bruce Wayne :) Its always the human characters first “then” comes the story of the superhero.

    DC should focus more on Kal El if they want a good Superman story. Who is Kal El? tell his story rather than that red spandex dude.

    1. If you deconstruct Batman, you start to realize that it is Bruce Wayne that is the alternate identity. Batman is the man, and Bruce Wayne is the costume he wears to hide his identity.

      I still agree that Marvel tends to focus more on the heart of the characters while still giving us lots of action like we crave.

    2. I totally agree Batman is the man! lol

      i guess its the heart of the characters that makes the story interesting, the setting and persona are just extensions of it.

      well another character comes to mind, how about Thor, do you think its gonna have trouble translating to movie?

  8. This just in…

    “Joss Whedon Considers The Causes of Male Pattern Boldness!”

    Seriously, who cares what Whedon says. It’s the Coke VS Pepsi, McDonald’s VS Burger King argument. Big deal. Yawn.

    I still can’t burn the pilot of Dollhouse from my skull. Argh!

  9. I’ve heard this “theory” presented before. In fact I’ve heard it applied many times in any general Marvel Vs DC argument. And at first glance it holds some value logic to it, however when you analyse it, there’s really very little difference between Marvel and DC. Any example you want to give of a DC character being “above human”, there is a Marvel equivalent.

    Sure, some elements of Batman make him unrelatable as an every-man. But the same things apply to Iron Man. Both are successful films and characters. Sure, Superman is an all-powerful alien. But his human side is far more relatable than animalistic characters like Hulk or Wolverine. But again, all are successful films and characters.

    I think the lack of “humanity” only comes about as a result of poor writing, directing and acting. Many generations of children grew up wanting to be like Superman, so people can clearly relate to him on even a very simplistic level. He may be a god-like figure and an alien, but dammit he embodies the absolute best human traits.

    I don’t think success or failure has anything to do with the characters, it’s simpler than that; it’s the quality of the films.

  10. Even tho Batman is a billionaire, the viewer has the illusion of possibility. That they could do these things that batman does(mainly because he lacks superpowers and is just a plain ole` human). It’s impossible to ever think you will be a hulk or superman.

    That for me sums up the situation.

  11. BUT THOSE ARE ALL THE REASONS WHY I LIKE DC!!!!!!! i like my super heroes to be above humans, it gives them the right to judge us and decide what’s right for us, figure out how to save us. I don’t want a reporter saving me. what does he know? just because he has super powers doesn’t make him qualified to save the human race.

  12. I’ve always felt that the hero movies that manage to focus on the people and their story are the best. When the world or the galaxy is at stack the story suffers.

    1. Ahh, but the main thing with Cap is that he was trained and enhanced to be a hero and/or leader. When he is thawed out, he still has his abilities, will “size up” his stronger opponents, even stronger ones, and “finds ways” of beating them.

      But one thing about Cap. There have been countless times where his leadership is questioned even if he may be right.

  13. don’t think it’s an entirely fair assessment to say that most DC films suck because apart from Superman and Batman we haven’t really gotten any other DC heroes on the big screen.
    Marvel also has had their fair share of bombs as well (critically, commercially, with fans). Ghost Rider, three unsuccessful attempts at a Punisher movie, the Hulk, Spiderman 3, X-Men 3, all Fantastic Four movies etc.
    What does that mean? It means that it comes down to one thing, and one thing only – Direction.
    If a director views the source as childish entertainment then that’s what the film is going to end up as.
    Nolan is REAL director who has extraordinary vision. He saw Batman and wanted to do something that other directors were failing to do – Address why a so-called sane man would EVER want to jump off buildings in a bat suit? He tackled it and it still remains the best film superhero origin story with Iron Man in a close second. With The Dark Knight he wanted to push the boundaries of the genre and he did. He injected complexity, sombre and craftsmanship to form the greatest comic book film to date.
    Sam Raimi made Spiderman a slick and entertaining film with cohesion and action because he had the vision for it.
    Jon Favreau knew Iron Man was outlandish but he saw that it as well had the potential to be intelligent and entertaining without being stupid. He saw it as something more than pop nonsense.
    However, the directors of Ghost Rider, Fantastic Four and X-Men 3 saw it as purely a way to gain a quick buck and destroyed entire franchises in the process.
    In short, I think they need to hire directors who actually care and not ones who are looking for a cash grab.

    1. XMen3 destroyed the franchise? That would explain why they are making a Wolverine and First Class movies out of the franchise.

      And Ghost Rider is getting a sequel too… ruined? No.

      What Joss was presenting is not an absolute its just a theory. Obviously if a movie is not handled right, it doesnt matter how loved the source material is, it can still fail.

      Look at Schumacher’s Batman compared to Nolan.

    2. Again, not strictly failures commercially but mostly with fans. Ratner undid the framework that Singer established and he was the wrong man to take over the project from the beginning.
      Ghost Rider was critically a failure and I think most people disliked it but as we all know, money talks. It made enough cash to warrant a sequel.
      At the end of the day, it all depends on the director’s vision and it can either make or break a film.

    3. I agree, Nolan’s Batman franchise is so brilliant because if you removed the costumes, there is still a complex and multi-layered story beneath it.
      I think this is where other comic book films have failed because without the spectacle and explosions there’s often nothing much to them.
      I think DC characters can be just as “human” as Marvel characters with flaws and problems that they deal with.
      Superman has the burden of being a GOD, the world is literally on his shoulders, that’s not something easy to deal with.

  14. WTF THERE is no secret here….rodney u know as well as i that the reason DC comics is so horrible is cause everything that they come with is so old….its like dc writers aqe like 75 year old man who was around during prohabition…..i think for years thats what it has been like….if u read DC u ….now this article isnt about “marvel vs dc” aaron….this is him saying what he believes is the downfall of dc…..for years dc has lived off the legacy of batman and superman…fact is superman is so beloved cause he was so righteous….basically he was the super good guy…batman was the exact opposites for good guys….he does it out of revenge…..fact is IMO if batman never got that reboot from the graphic novels and the movie he wouldnt be as muched loved….but like i said DC comics represents a dead era IMO…as i get older i think i tend to like dc more then marvel…maybe cause its a mmore mature look at super heroes..i guess….ps you sound like a dc fanboy who is mad at peoples opinions….do u own a PS3? HAHAHAHA jk

  15. There is a lot of truth to what he says. Batman’s been so successful not just commercially but as a contained universe because it presents us with a down-to-earth and realistic superhero story.
    Batman goes on a quest to accomplish what a normal man can’t and in essenece he does. But he is paradoxically still a MAN. He catches on fire from the Scarecrow and knocks himself unconscious trying to apprehend the Joker. It’s those little things that make him human and relatable, his weaknesses are INTERIOR.
    With Superman and other DC heroes, most of their weaknesses are EXTERIOR (kryptonite etc.). There’s a lot of truth in saying that DC are your parents comics whereas Marvel is the younger generation’s comics.
    Despite that, you can still create very great films from DC characters. Nolan kind of proved that anything has the potential to be great despite the source material. I just think they need to embrace what most criticize, their God-like existence. They literally ARE gods, and that’s what makes them intriguing. How would people really react to a man who could fly? I think that’s what can make them work on film.

    1. I think that’s what can make DC films just as successful as Marvel films. Embrace what they’ve been criticized for. There’s no way around it, they are gods among men. If they use that quality to their advantage they can hit just as hard as Marvel can.
      In The Dark Knight, Nolan involves the whole city of Gotham into play. How would regular people react if a man in a bat costume and a man in clown make-up were dueling in the streets. Not everyone is going to be so happy about it.
      Same with Superman. They can apply what Nolan did and analyze what a flying, super strong costumed man’s impacts are on the city, both positive and negative.

  16. @rodney

    like i said, i was being sarcastic. tony and bruce are very similar, yet you give tony a pass and accuse wayne of being “unrelatable” for being a billionaire playboy–which is *exactly* what tony stark is. (tony is also a technological genius which doesn’t exactly add to his relatability.) you, whedon, and other marvel fans make it sound as if tony is a joe plumber everyman.

    as for whedon’s main point, marvel has had several (to say the least) bombs when it’s come to their adaptations. hulk, the punisher movies, the fantastic four movies, ghost rider, x-men 3, spider man 3, daredevil, etc. were all either financial, critical, or popular duds. now, you can say that marvel has had more failures simply because there have been more marvel adaptations, but if whedon’s theory is correct–that marvel has more “relatable” characters–then shouldn’t marvel have more hits than misses? maybe it has less to do w/ the source material and more to do w/ how a particular mythos is adapted for the screen. but whedon wants to play the “marvel vs. DC” game which is fine, but the truth is, the dark knight is, by far, the most successful (on every level) comic book film to date. and it looks as if watchmen will be a top tier adaptation as well. and say what want about superman, but the first two superman films are classics that took this otherwordly being and made him very, very human.

    1. Aaron, could you please point out where I make the observation about Batman and say that even though IronMan is similar in that narrow respect that it doesn’t apply to him??

      I just want to know where you keep getting this idea that I “gave him a pass” because I said nothing of the sort.

      The generalization is that as a whole Marvel has more human relatable characters which he credits for their success. Does this mean that they ALL are? No. He did not say that.

      DC’s central characters are less human relatable, the most relatable one they have on Film (which Joss credits) is Batman, and I made an observation that on one level he still is out of reach but still the MOST relatable.

      I never said the quality didn’t apply to Iron Man

  17. “Even Batman on some level is elevated to demigod status because in real world terms he is not a ‘common man’ what with all the millions of dollars and celebrity status he holds. Even in a real world he would be hard to relate to as an everyday guy.”

    as opposed to tony stark, a plumber w/ a cheeto addiction, who somehow crafts a flying suit of metal that shoots firebombs out of its palms. TOTALLY RELATABLE.

    1. Actually, Tony Stark is a little more then a “plumber”…even if you dont know his background, the movie itself describes his brilliance in several fields of technology.

      You know..the whole Weapons Designer for the military thing?

    2. Aaron, the fact that you called Tony Stark a plumber makes it almost hard to discuss this with you.

      Stark may share that quality with Batman but that is where similarities somewhat end.

      It was one observation, and yes Stark also shares that trait, but it hardly destroys Whedon’s theory.

    3. i was being sarcastic. tony is a genius billionaire playboy who makes a flying suit that is basically a living weapon, but rodney says bruce wayne is unrelatable because *he* is a genius billionaire playboy (not a genius in the same way tony is, but still a detective genius). yet tony gets a pass b/c he’s a marvel character–how is that consistent?

    4. Did I say he “gets a pass”??

      You found one exception to that rule that is similar to the observation I made about Batman.

      And I made that observation because Whedon’s theory suggested that he was the only major player that was still based on human characteristics.

      My observation is still valid even if it can also apply to a marvel character.

  18. I kind of agree more with nOva than with Mr. Whedon. I think there’s a lot more laziness on the part of DC screenplays to relate the characters to the common interests of man, than it is to simply say “they’re more human”. If it was simply about being human, people wouldn’t stick around for generations, reading, watching, following the lives of these characters. It has to do with the way they are related to us through their words, and the way they are captured on the screen.

    People want stories shown to them in a manner that keeps them involved. And we want people that are likeable/dispisable in their roles. Casting is a big part as well. Case in point, the Superman Returns movie bombed (IMO) at making “the bad guys” (you can’t have Kal Penn playing a “bad guy” – just too unbelievable. And Spacey as Luthor??? What were they thinking!!!???) and you can’t have a barely 20yr old playing a high-strung, “loved him then he took off on me”, should be in her 30’s actor. There’s more depth needed in that role, and Kate was just the wrong girl to play Lois.

    BTW, Bruce Wayne is a Billionaire, not a Millionaire, making him even less likely to be “one of us”. So that “human factor” Whedon tries to project is bogus.

    1. It is just an interesting theory, no one said this was law. Just an observation. And the guy knows his comics, so it has some weight.

      And Spacey as Luthor was inspired. I have no problem with that casting. Lois was the only casting problem I had with the movie.

  19. “Don’t work” either has to be defined as “not financially successful” or “the stories don’t translate well from comic to screenplay.”

    For the most part, DC has plenty of characters that WB hasn’t taken on because they KEEP relying on Batman and Superman. Saying DC’s characters don’t work in film is too fatalist. And only in recent times have these boneheads been unable to tell a halfway decent Superman story on film.

    This is not a case of publisher vs. publisher. It’s a case of lazy, ignorant Hollywood scribes and execs that want to milk as much money out of comic books as possible but don’t know where to begin as far as actual storytelling. And furthermore, if Marvel ever gets around to bringing Thor to screen (and it’s actually enjoyable for the masses as well as the fans), then there will really be no excuse for WB to not “fix” Superman, do Wonder Woman and eventually move on to the rest of their properties and stop using Bats and Supes as a crutch.

    1. Which is why I hope Jonah Hex works- and somebody gets wise and drops the supernatural angle that for me “wrecked” the character. I also still hold out hopes for an Enemy Ace or Sgt Rock flick one day. Or a film based off a story from House Of Mystery or Weird War.

      Hero wise, Green Arrow sort of works, given the appearance on Smallville. I’m also a bit favored towards Plastic Man, and early Firestorm. Or how about Deadman?

      But I too favor Marvel over DC. Why? It has nothing to do with relating to the characters. It has more to do with all those alternate DC Earths/Mutiverse crap that collide with one another from time to time (I always got lost!)

      Anyway, what Joss forgot is that when it comes to films, yes, DC seems to get the short end of a stick, but what about DC’ Vertigo line? 300, A History Of Violence, V For Vendetta, the upcoming Watchmen?

  20. while i agree with whedon, his reasoning cant explain why superman is still the most beloved and recognized comic icon in the world today tbh (although i never really liked superman and DO like marvel characters and books more)

    1. Riggs- I believe Superman is as popular as he is for one reason: He represents the only Saviour mankind is willing to accept…one who does not judge. We would all like to think that there is a god-like being out there who is ALL GOOD and looking out for our best interests. But with Superman – he is the savior of the body – not the saviour of the soul.

    2. Riggs, Joss isn’t saying he isn’t loved. Just that he reasons that he is harder to relate to, so we find other hero films more enjoyable.

      Joss isn’t speculating on which HEROES are better, but rather their translation to film.

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