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Double Duty: DC Versus Marvel

Illustration by Andrew Robinson

When it was announced that Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron director Joss Whedon would be taking over Justice League from Zack Snyder it sent shockwaves throughout Geekdom. The defection of Whedon from Marvel Studios to DC represents one of those major movie cross-pollinations that rarely occur (though it’s going to happen again, and soon: despite recent rumblings to the contrary, as of this writing Whedon is still on board for a full-on movie adaptation of DC’s Batgirl next).

Usually this sort of movie cross-pollination happens on the level of supporting actors. There are galleries of prolific supporting performers whose names may not be as recognizable as their familiar faces and voices, but if you pay close enough attention, you’ll spot them as they pop up in just about every popular movie series of our time: from James Bond and the Pink Panther series to Star Wars and Indiana Jones; from Die Hard and The Matrix to Superman and X-Men; from Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings to Star Trek and Mission: Impossible.

Since the young days when I began to track the names of actors and directors and composers and so forth, I have always taken note of the frequent commingling between franchises, with performers and creative crew members alike often working together on multiple similar but competing productions. Movie geeks love to ponder over the cinematic links created by artists who participate in multiple franchises, but what’s going on over at DC and Marvel has taken movie cross-pollination to a whole new level.

As we float the following DC and Marvel movies, and to widen the playing field and keep it level, there shall be no inherent distinction between DC and Marvel pictures as to whether they are stand-alone movies or whether they are officially part of their respective “official movie universes.” We’ll mention it when appropriate, of course, but inclusion within either official “movie universe” is not a prerequisite.

In no particular order, here’s a rundown of the most prominent actors to pop up in multiple unrelated roles in Marvel and DC movies.


J.K. Simmons

MV: Daily Bugle Editor J. Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man trilogy (2002–2007)
DC: Commissioner Gordon in Justice League (2017)

I didn’t expect Simmons’ take on Gotham City’s most stalwart man in blue to be as funny or flashy as his loud-mouthed newspaper editor in Spider-Man, but if publicity photos of the Oscar-winning actor pumping serious iron in preparations for Justice League role are any indication, his Commissioner Gordon definitely isn’t someone to be trifled with. Maybe we’ll get to see some of that in future DC movies.

Zachary Levi

MV: Fandral, one of The Warriors Three in Thor: The Dark World (2013) and Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
DC: Captain Marvel, er, “Shazam,” in Shazam! (2019)

If you blinked, you may not have noticed the small part of Asgardian Fandral in 2011’s Thor was recast with Levi for the 2013 sequel. He shows up again in Thor: Ragnarok but barely registers amid the new movie’s glorious rainbow-hued glitterstorm. Future Thor movie cameos are not out of the question, but Levi will get prime face time in DC’s upcoming film adaptation of Shazam!—officially with exclamation point—in which he’ll portray Captain Marvel, the adult superhero who is conjured when young Billy Batson shouts out the magical acronym “S.H.A.Z.A.M.” The Byzantine legalities concerning conflicting authorship and ownership of the character “Captain Marvel” would make for a compelling behind-the-scenes drama in its own right, so I can’t wait to witness the confusion of the less-nerdy masses when Marvel’s female-superhero Captain Marvel movie and DC’s Captain Marvel movie Shazam! exist within the same pop-cultural landscape.


Josh Brolin

DC: Jonah Hex in Jonah Hex (2010)
MV: Big intergalactic bad guy Thanos in The Avengers, et al. (2014–?); Cable in Deadpool 2 (2018)

Thanos has been teased as a future MCU threat since 2012, but that’s not Brolin we see beneath the purple CGI the first time we glimpse the villain at the end of The Avengers. Brolin didn’t officially take over the role until his cameo in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy followed by another stinger in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. He’ll loom large over 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War. But there’s more: Brolin will face off against Ryan Reynolds as Cable in Deadpool 2, and while it’s highly unusual for an actor to do such prominent double duty within the same studio, it’s not unprecedented (see also Chris Evans for Marvel).

The logic is, technically, only one of Brolin’s (and Evans’) two Marvel roles exists within the officially branded “universe” so they could never conceivably bump into each other. Thinking about this too long will make you go cross-eyed, but anything to diminish the stigma of Jonah Hex would be a good thing as far as Brolin is concerned.


Chris Evans

MV: Human Torch/Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four (2005) and Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007); Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (2011–2018)

Compared to the dreadful trainwreck that is the new rebooted Fantastic 4, the two campy and clunky FFs from the mid-Aughts seem rather endearing in retrospect. As for Evans’ leading role gig, Cap is all but guaranteed to show up with the rest of the Avengers in Infinity War, but because Avengers 3 is the final film in Evan’s initial seven-picture deal, his future participation in the MCU remains up in the air. Evans has not yet jumped camps to make a DC film, but did co-star in DC Comics’ Vertigo brand film, The Losers.


Ryan Reynolds

DC: Hal Jordan/Green Lantern in Green Lantern (2011)
MV: Wade Wilson/Deadpool in Deadpool (2016) and Deadpool 2 (2018); not-the-same Wade Wilson/Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

I happen to think Green Lantern is much more worthy than its unkind reputation—there are some evident kinks that future sequels would probably have worked out, and Reynolds is likable enough in the part that I would enjoy seeing him come back for more.

Failing that, he’s got a sweet open-ended gig as Deadpool, even if his first onscreen incarnation of the character in 2009 is so bizarrely divergent from the ribald and gory version that took the world by storm in 2016.


Mark Strong

DC: Bad guy Sinestro in Green Lantern (2011); Rumored to play villainous Dr. Thaddeus Sivana in Shazam! (2019)

If Strong is cast in Shazam! he will be DC’s first double duty warrior. Though he’s yet to dip into the Marvel universe, his comic-book bona fides include the adaptations of Kick-Ass and Kingsman: The Secret Service and its sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle.


Danny Huston

MV: Stryker in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
DC: General Ludendorff in Wonder Woman (2017)

Huston makes for Marvel’s second-best Stryker in the otherwise forgettable X-Men Origins (that’s after Brian Cox as Stryker in 2003’s X2: X-Men United, and surely fandom unanimously agrees with me on this one). His despicable Nazi General Ludendorff spends most of Wonder Woman as the de-facto villain (before the true villain is revealed, that is) and as such he gets to chew up quite a bit of scenery.


Halle Berry

MV: Storm in X-Men, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2000–2014)
DC: Patience Phillips/Catwoman in Catwoman (2004)

As with Josh Brolin mentioned above, Halle Berry is probably very happy to have enough Marvel credits to make us forget about that one particular blunderous DC flick on her resumé (she also co-starred in The Losers with Evans).


Ben Affleck

MV: Matt Murdock/Daredevil in Daredevil (2003)
DC: Bruce Wayne/Batman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), Suicide Squad (2016), Justice League (2017)

The theatrical version of Daredevil is a bit of a mess, but the longer “R”-rated director’s cut is, surprisingly, so much better it’s a crime anyone ever cut it down to a PG-13 in the first place. The popular Netflix series has likely put the kibosh on any direct theatrical sequel to the Affleck version, but that’s just fine by me because Affleck makes for a solid Bruce Wayne/Batman: he’s older, world-weary, and more cynical than any previous movie version of the Caped Crusader.


Michael Keaton

DC: Bruce Wayne/Batman in Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992)
MV: Adrian Toomes/Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

The very notion of Best Batman Michael Keaton turning up in any Marvel movie was too good to hope for, so I took initial casting rumors for Spider-Man: Homecoming with a giant grain of salt. When news was confirmed that Keaton would indeed be playing the new film’s villain Vulture, geek brains the world over swelled and splattered with excitement.

A DC movie superhero portraying a Marvel movie bad guy?!

Dangerously cool. Keaton’s dark turn in the new Spidey flick is—pardon the pun—a marvel, with the seasoned star delivering a slow-burn performance full of charisma and menace in equal measure. As is often the case in Spider-Man lore, the antagonist is a tortured genius juggling palpable human demons, and Keaton wisely never slips into any of the rote hamminess that too often neuters superhero movie villains. He’s still the best cinematic Batman and Bruce Wayne, and since—mild spoiler alert—he lives to see Homecoming’s end-credits stinger, we can expect to see his character return in future Marvel movies.


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