DID ANYONE SEE Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice? I’m just asking. Personally I didn’t bother; it wasn’t that I didn’t care, it just sort of passed me by. The figures suggest that’s probably the case for a lot of people out there, since the film did a passable, but disappointing, $850m & received damning reviews across the board. Given it was meant to launch a mega-expanded-universe-cinematic-juggernaut-crossover franchise (as was 2013’s uninspiring, but successful, Man of Steel), this is bad news for DC. Once upon a time, they could open massive comic-book movies like 1978’s Superman (plus four sequels), 1989’s Batman (plus three sequels), & 2005’s Batman Begins (plus two sequels & a pretty good animated spinoff), while in roughly the same timeframe, Marvel was producing unwatchable shit almost exclusively, which is funny since in terms of sales Marvel’s always had a competitive edge against the older, more conservative DC. In terms of popular iconography, DC’s always had the upper hand with their Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman trinity, though the depth & variety of Marvel characters is more impressive, & outside of that trinity DC’s never really managed to manage another household name, where Marvel has several (Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, The Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, The Mighty Thor, the X-Men & especially Wolverine plus, of late, Iron Man). Plus, in recent years Marvel have launched hugely successful films even when based on their obscurer characters. Similar attempts by DC have resulted in nothing but flops. Given all of this cinematic kerfuffle, plus DC’s flagging readership since the New 52 reboot, they’d be wise to watch out, lest they surrender the greater market share to Marvel after sixty-odd competitive years, making things less of a two-horse race & more of a 1.5-horse race.
1.5-horse races are surprisingly common; if anything, they may actually be more common than true two-horse races. It’s where one company has a clear lead, perhaps more than 50% of the market share, & their next competitor is almost as visible, almost as famous, almost as acclaimed, sells almost as well.
In fast food, there’s McDonald’s vs. Burger King. In traditional animation, there’s Disney vs. Warner Bros. (appropriate, given Disney owns Marvel & WB, DC); in CG animation there’s Disney Pixar vs. DreamWorks Animation. In cola, there’s Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi; in orange soda, there’s Fanta vs. Tango (Tango is sold in the UK by Britvic, who distribute fellow 2nd-bester Pepsi); in lemonade, there’s Sprite vs. 7Up (again, Sprite is Coca-Cola’s horse; 7Up, PepsiCo’s). In computers, there’s Microsoft vs. Apple. In trainers, there’s Nike vs. Reebok, & there’s Adidas vs. Puma. In girls’ dolls, there’s Barbie vs. Cindy. In American cars, there’s Ford vs. General Motors. In Italian sports cars, there’s Ferrari vs. Lamborghini. In music, there’s The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones, The Sex Pistols vs. The Clash, Oasis vs. Blur, Madonna vs. Cyndi Lauper, Michael Jackson vs. Prince, & 2Pac vs. The Notorious B.I.G.. In American inventing, there used to be Thomas Edison vs. Nikola Tesla. Many football rivalries also work the same way: Manchester United vs. Manchester City, Arsenal vs. Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool vs. Everton, West Ham vs. Millwall, Norwich vs. Ipswich, Cardiff vs. Swansea, & Crystal Palace vs. Brighton and Hove Albion. Celtic vs. Rangers has become this of late, after Rangers’ bankruptcy/buying-out saga. No doubt other sports have their own examples too. This can even extend to rivalries between cities, for which many of the football rivalries spill out into a larger rivalry. It can even happen with countries: look at Australia vs. New Zealand, Japan vs. South Korea, or for a less friendly example, South Korea vs. North Korea.
Even the Cold War, when you really think about it, resolves itself as another of these 1.5-horse races, with the Soviet Union stretching itself too thin in trying to remain competitive with the United States. But, as you can see from perusing the list above, it’s rare for one side to ever get enough of an upper hand to really drive its rivals into the ground, so both sides keep hanging on while an indifferent public tends just to go for the brand they prefer.