Superman vs. Iron Man: Why DC’s “Man of Steel” Is More Glum Than Marvel Chum

Burning Question: Reading some of the nasty reviews of "Man of Steel" makes me wonder: Why are DC Comics-based flicks, like the "Dark Knight" franchise, so somber, while Marvel-inspired movies feel lighter, a la "The Amazing Spider-Man" or the "Iron Man" series? — Clan B.V.

First things first: Not every critic has a problem with Man of Steel — only many critics, including the film folks at Time Out New York, Entertainment Weekly, Variety, and Fox News.

"You'll believe a man can mope," sniped Scott A. Mantz of "Access Hollywood."

David Edelstein of the New York Observer agreed , calling the Henry Cavill-led reboot "pleasure-free."

As I type, the Rotten Tomatoes consensus on the flick is 65 percent — still red, if not farm fresh. Critics have been kinder to past DC franchises for sure.

But we're straying from the point. Regardless of box-office draw or critical opinion, there's no denying that films inspired by DC or one of its imprints do, at first glance, seem more broody ("Watchmen," "Dark Knight," "V for Vendetta," "The Spirit") than boppy ("Green Lantern") in the post-Tim Burton era.

That's not a bad thing, of course, just different, especially when contrasted with the relatively goofy "Avengers" or webbed crusaders co-created by Stan Lee over at Marvel.

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So why the apparent contrast in tone?

Well, it's obvious that Lee himself doesn't take life too seriously, with his self-parodying cameos and characters named Pepper Potts and Ego the Living Planet. Compare that vibe with Frank Miller, who shook up the DC Universe with his dystopian, cynical "Dark Knight Returns" comic in 1986. That reinterpretation of the Batman franchise is still considered some of the best graphic-novel-based storytelling of all time.

Could that influence still be echoing through DC's films? Maybe.

Or maybe you're just reading too much into things.

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After all, "Batman almost has to be set in a dark world," says Siike Donnelly, a comics expert at the iconic Golden Apple in Los Angeles. "So saying that DC and Warner Bros. made a 'dark' Batman franchise is silly. They made an 'accurate-to-the-character' Batman franchise, in my opinion."

As for the tone of "Man of Steel," with its endless Christ-like imagery (e.g., Supes is 33 when he transforms into a selfless, humanity-saving hero) and Nolan-influenced gloomyvision, "that's something else entirely," Donnelly mulls. "Maybe it was because they already tried it the other way, with 'Superman Returns,' and to many fans it didn't work. They tried the version where he smiled, and didn't throw a punch, and was a father, but fans didn't seem to care too much."

True that. Besides, in the movie business, it's important to differentiate one's brand — say, making a so-called "darker" picture to contrast with a wise-cracking Robert Downey Jr. in a metal suit.

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"If DC and Warner Bros. just do what Marvel does, then what's the point?" says Donnelly, who also runs a Superman-themed podcast called Up, Up and Away. "They tried that, with 'Green Lantern.' It didn't work. Sadly. ... So far, with the 'Dark Knight' trilogy, and apparently with 'Man of Steel' now, Warner Bros focused on a dark world, but made their heroes the beacon of light.

"Personally, I like that. I like fun movies too, but I don't want all of my movies cut from the same cloth."

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