On September 15th (actually a couple days earlier if you were paying attention), Warner Bros. and DC Comics launched the new DC Universe streaming service, promising a one-stop shop for all things DC Comics related, including movies, TV series, comic books, articles, original material, prizes, shopping, and an online community. For $7.99 a month (or $74.99 per year – 15 months for those who signed up prior to launch), fanboys across the United States (with other countries coming soon) can get their fill of their favorite superheroes. But is it worth the investment?
In addition to one’s laptop/tablet/desktop computer, DC Universe is currently available as an app for the Roku, Apple TV, Android TV, and both iOS and Android mobile devices. Although not currently available, coverage is planned soon (how soon, no one knows for sure) for the PlayStation 4, XBox One, and Amazon Fire TV. For the purposes of this review, my coverage of DC Universe is based on the Roku, iOS (Apple iPhone), and web (laptop) experiences.
One of the problems when any solo studio launches a new streaming service is that much of its newer content is tied up in exclusive deals with other streaming providers and/or cable TV. That’s pretty evident as DC Universe launches. None of the new DC Universe theatrical films (which began with Man of Steel) are available here as of yet. That leaves a lot of the older theatrical releases, such as the four Christopher Reeve Superman movies, 1989’s Batman and its three sequels, and the first two Christopher Nolan Batman flicks. (The Dark Knight Rises is absent.) The rest of the films come from DC’s direct-to-video animated offerings, including the recently released The Death of Superman, along with a few other favorites such as Green Lantern: First Flight, the animated Wonder Woman, and a handful of the Batman titles. All of DC Universe’s content is supposed to rotate on a monthly basis, although we have yet to see if that rotation will involve a ton of material or just a select few titles here and there.
Once again, what’s here isn’t nearly as bothersome as what’s missing. Currently, not a single one of DC’s new TV series appear on the app. That means no Arrow, no The Flash, no Supergirl, and no Gotham. Also missing is any sign of Smallville. The big news is that the popular Batman: The Animated Series is here (well, the first two seasons so far) and it has been completely remastered in HD (and looks great). Other animated shows available at launch include all nine seasons of Super Friends, and the complete series of Justice League, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and Batman Beyond, among others.
In the live-action realm, Linda Carter’s Wonder Woman has been remastered in HD and appears here in its entirety. Also remastered in HD are all four seasons of Lois & Clark. Other live-action options include George Reeves’ The Adventures of Superman, The Adventures of Superboy, The Flash (1990-91), Birds of Prey, and Constantine. Not here yet? The 1960s Batman with Adam West.
DC Universe launched with reportedly 2,500 digital comics to view. These range from the old (the first issue of Action Comics) to the recent (2014’s Batman: Eternal) and a lot of stuff in between. However, given the immense number of comics that DC has published over the years, the selection here is actually on the slim side. What’s more, there’s currently no indication for the reader how long each comic will stay live on the site, meaning there’s a chance you could be halfway through reading a certain series of books and DC will pull the plug on them and put up something different. The comics section was (and to a large degree still is) Batman-heavy upon launch, although as of this writing, DC has posted all the Death of Superman books from the late 80s, as well as the Man of Steel run from 1991.
The niftiest part of the comic book service is the built-in comic book reader, which allows viewers to read the comics a page at a time or a panel at a time – zooming in, if you so choose, to check out the artwork. I have to admit, seeing comic books blown up onto a large-screen TV using my Roku is pretty fun, but there’s a glitch in DC’s system that sometimes causes the panel-by-panel view to jump to the last panel of the next page, rather than the first.
Of course, DC Universe is going to eventually sink or swim depending on what exclusive material it can provide to subscribers. Upon launch, the only exclusive show is a daily news/discussion program called DC Daily, which covers each day’s news in the DC world, along with creator/talent interviews as well as a daily discussion between the show’s hosts (of which there are currently way too many, though some of them don’t appear every day) about a comic, movie, or TV show currently available on DC Universe.
On October 12, DC Universe will start its first exclusive live-action series, Titans, featuring Robin (a.k.a. Dick Grayson), Starfire, Raven, and Beast Boy. The current plan for these new series is to premiere an episode per week, like a traditional TV series, rather than drop them all at once the way Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime do with their shows. Future series that will be rolled out in the coming months include the animated Young Justice: Outsiders and Harley Quinn, plus live-action series of Doom Patrol, Swamp Thing, and Stargirl. A planned Metropolis series is also in the works. T original idea for that one is being totally revamped, so it will most likely be the last of these announced series that fans will see.
One of the big reasons I signed up for DC Universe was to be able to find and get to know other DC fans I shared common interests with. That’s currently impossible, despite all the press DC has been pumping out saying otherwise. Is it too hard to ask that a forum work like, I don’t know… EVERY OTHER FORUM ON THE INTERNET?!
Other Odds & Ends
In addition to all of the above, DC Universe also includes a daily news section (for text-written stories), contests to enter, an Encyclopedia section where you can get the rundown on some of DC’s greatest heroes and villains (it’s far from complete right now), and a shopping section that features merchandise only available to members of DC Universe.
The real verdict on DC Universe will come later this year/early next year, once it’s been given a chance to work out all the issues and have a few exclusive series in rotation. The big question is if it will address the above problems or not. As far as a service for streaming content (which is still currently on the thin side), DC Universe works just fine. It’s all the stuff that is mostly unique to a service like this – specifically the comic book section and the forum community – where the most work needs to take place.
My advice? Unless you’re a die-hard fan who can’t wait (in which case, you’re probably already signed up for a full 15 months like myself), I’d hold off until at least the holiday season to jump into DC Universe. Right now, it still feels very much like it launched with a Beta Version and is relying on paying customers to point out all the issues. That’s not the way to build a customer base, but if the problems can be worked out and the service can really deliver on the exclusive programming, this could turn into something special.