As the battle for spandex supremacy rages on, the latest gambit comes from DC Entertainment: a subscription streaming service dedicated exclusively to DC content. (Marvel relies on a little upstart called Netflix to host much of its original content.)
Thus far its selection of contemporary blockbusters is relatively humble, but DC Universe runs deep with more obscure and retro offerings, and several series on the way. Its first original scripted series, “Titans,” based on the “Teen Titans” comics, debuted this weekend. “Doom Patrol,” “Harley Quinn” and “Swamp Thing” are scheduled for 2019.
Some features, however, set DC Universe apart from competing platforms — notably, a limited selection of digital comics, which subscribers can download.
Subscriptions start at $7.99 a month, or $74.99 for a year. Here’s a look at some of its best offerings:
Max Fleischer’s “Superman” cartoons (1941-43): Superman made his comics debut in 1938, and he first appeared on the big screen three years later in these animated shorts. There are a few cringe-inducing moments of Japanese stereotyping, but the animation — notable for its use of rotoscoping — holds up very well.
“Super Friends” (1973-86): For a goofier take on the DC superheroes, check out this former Saturday morning cartoon, which we have to thank for that wonderful GIF of Aquaman riding two dolphins as if they were skis. There’s something refreshing about seeing the DC characters let loose and be wacky, especially when considering how dark DC has gone lately.
“Wonder Woman” (1975-78): Long before Gal Gadot strapped on her bullet-deflecting bracelets, Lynda Carter was beating up German soldiers as the crime-fighting Amazon princess Diana Prince. The series is campy (Diana basically fights crime in a bathing suit, and the invisible jet is never not hilarious), but Wonder Woman is still a female superhero who doesn’t bow to any man.
“Superman: The Movie” (1978): Christopher Reeve wasn’t the first live-action Superman, but for many he defines the role. The late Margot Kidder is excellent as Lois Lane, making the character more than just a girlfriend, and Gene Hackman does great work as Lex Luthor. Add the score by John Williams and Marlon Brando as Superman’s dad, and you have a classic. Reeve starred in three sequels, all available on DC Universe, but “Superman II” (1980) is the only one worth checking out.
“Batman Returns” (1992): This dark, melancholy take on Batman has grown only more relevant with time. In this sequel to the 1989 “Batman,” Michael Keaton is joined by Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. The two characters are portrayed as damaged, lonely people drawn together by trauma, and Pfeiffer’s transformation from a meek secretary into a wild cat is thrilling.
“Batman: The Animated Series” (1992-95): One of the best animated series of all time, this offers a noir-inspired aesthetic that’s still suitable for kids. Elements of the series were so popular that they were added into the comic books, including Harley Quinn, who has become one of DC’s most popular characters.
“The Dark Knight” (2008): Christopher Nolan’s second Batman film broke new ground for complex superhero storytelling, with Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker, a psychotic criminal who just wants to see the world burn. The film asks how good can succeed in the face of evil, and what lengths we will pursue in order to achieve justice.