Despite the fact that more Americans know the names of characters created by DC Comics (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman), Marvel Comics, home of Spider-Man, the Hulk and X-Men, continues to own the cineplex as one big-screen adaptation of its titles after another is released. In fact, Marvel will drop four new movies this year: Spider-Man 3, Fantastic Four 2, The Punisher 2 and this week's Ghost Rider. Ghost Rider is a character that has never really mattered to fans anywhere until now, sort of like Blade, who was a second-rate character until Marvel turned him into a blockbuster. That is Marvel's secret superpower: They know how to take ho-hum superheroes and turn them into box-office gold. DC, on the other hand, is stuck releasing adaptations from their adult-themed Vertigo banner (Constantine, for example) and Batman and Superman who, let's face it, are so iconic that they market themselves.

Why is it that DC, home of the Super Friends — the most infamous superhero cartoon in U.S. history, which made characters like Green Lantern and Hawkman back when the X-Men were still struggling for widespread acceptance — can't even get a movie based on one of their biggest names off the ground?

For the past few years, DC has been desperate to turn Wonder Woman into their next big franchise, but the company has yet to be able to get past development. Everyone from Sandra Bullock to Mischa Barton has been rumored to be attached. Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was even hired to write and direct, but after months unable to appease the powers that be with his take on the character, he was canned only last week, and his script was replaced by one crafted by newcomers Matthew Jennison and Brent Strickland. None of this makes sense, though. We're talking about Wonder Woman.

She's an American icon. She's twice as old as the friggin' X-Men. And she's a household name. Like Superman. Like Batman. Like Aquaman.

It's even arguable that more people know who DC's Black Lightning is — a character created in a blatant attempt to racially equalize the vanilla-based comicverse in the '60s and '70s — than recognize Ghost Rider. Certainly more than are familiar with the next slate of Marvel characters blazing the cinematic trail in 2008: Nick Fury, Deathlok, Iron Fist and Ant-Man. Along with Iron Man and the Wolverine solo flick, as if next year weren't cluttered enough with Marvel movies, the inexplicably planned sequel to Hulk is also scheduled to drop in 2008. Marvel is even giving super-villain Magneto a movie of his own in 2009.

So again, why is it DC can't get movies based on their characters off the ground while Marvel can release enough titles in one year to fill a multiplex?

It all comes down to this: DC Comics enjoys a surplus of heady drama, but suffers from a deficit of seriousness. This is the creative team that thought making its characters wear underwear on the outside of their costumes was a smart move. DC, you see, has never even attempted to operate in a realistic world. Marvel has. Sure, Spider-Man gets bit by a mutagenic spider, Wolverine has claws growing out of his knuckles and Daredevil is a blind dude who can see with his ears, but, at the end of the day, they face a real world filled with real issues like betrayal, racism, drugs and war.

When Superman went to war in World War II, it made no sense; he was Superman, and if he wanted to, he could've wiped out the Nazis single-handedly. He's that powerful. When Captain America, a Marvel character, took the fight to the Nazis, he got his ass whupped and wound up frozen in a block of ice for a couple of decades. It didn't matter how powerful he was, he could be defeated. That's something DC has never been able to overcome. Their heroes, despite being fallible, are invincible.

That makes for lousy movies. That, and the unbelievability of their situations. Think about it: Wonder Woman battling the gods a la Xena, or the Green Lantern making giant fly-swatters out of "green energy" to swat his opponents to the ground? Invincible and unbelievable characters just don't sell at the movies; there's no real drama involved. That's why Marvel characters are cluttering up the next few years' release schedules and DC can't figure out how to make a profit off anything but American icons.

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