For the last decade, comic book adaptations have been gracing our screens large and small, changing the film industry and launching the careers of some of the most famous film stars of this generation. It isn’t just film stars getting their big break in comic book movies, however; musicians have been launched into the mainstream by both Marvel and DC, both of whom seem to be holding the torch for a more progressive entertainment industry.
Soundtracks in both Marvel and DC films have been dominated by an eclectic mix of artists. DC’s Suicide Squad featured tracks from dream pop princess Grimes to indie rock band Twenty One Pilots. The success of the film has propelled these artists into the mainstream, and it has allowed the films to remain relevant in a world in which pop culture is changing more rapidly than ever. Examples of this are rife across a range of unexpected sectors too, with the online casino provider William Hill even hosting a Suicide Squad slot game that features an exclusive jackpot. Although the music from the film doesn’t feature, Spotify has a number of Suicide Squad related playlists, containing the music from all of the DC films.
The renaissance of the comic book movie came in the late 2000s, after a dark decade of fairly dodgy superhero films (who can forget George Clooney in the title role of Batman Forever…). The new age of the comic book movie was heralded with Iron Man, starring Robert Downey Jr. The film was much darker than comic book films that had come before, and although it was edging in the right direction, it was still scored by a traditional action film composer and placed itself comfortably within the action genre.
Marvel’s second film in the new franchise was Hulk, which began to break the action film mould for the production company, with a soundtrack composed by Craig Armstrong, who had previously created arrangements for British trip-hop band Massive Attack. Although many were sceptical of Armstrong’s talents (he had never created a score for an action film before), this was a clear, successful move into a direction which would place superhero films front and centre of global pop culture.
The difference between DC and Marvel lies in the way in which they create music for their films. Whilst DC tends to use new arrangements of readily available tracks, Marvel continues to opt for original music scored by those who wouldn’t often make music for action films. For instance, Black Panther is scored by Ludwig Göransson, right-hand man to Donald Glover, a.k.a Childish Gambino.
During the research process for Black Panther, Göransson travelled around Africa and recorded with Senegalese pop artist Baaba Maal before returning to the United States to score a soundtrack, which featured the likes of Kendrick Lamar and The Weeknd. Critics of the Black Panther score originally commented that the film sounded ‘too western’ to be set in the imagined state of Wakanda, but Göransson noted that his research showed that much of what we view to be a ‘Western’ sound had been co-opted from traditional African music. Lamar became a producer on an album that featured music from the film and also music inspired by Wakanda, giving rapper Khalid his big break, and featuring music from prominent black artists from across the globe.
Even though the Marvel and DC universes are often pitted against each other, both have very distinct styles which have allowed music artists to flourish in a genre that historically has not taken too many risks. The inventiveness of both production houses has led to collaborations across the industries, launching careers and reinventing what it means to create music for action films. Although they may be two considerably different universes, both advocate for a playful world which commends risk-taking and offers a chance to those who might not usually be given a shot in a saturated industry.