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DC Universe Streaming Service Review

September 17, 2018 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
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DC Universe Streaming Service Review  

Everyone’s going streaming these days, it seems. As the business model for distribution drifts more and more away from terrestrial methods to online platforms, an interesting change has followed suit. Content creators, no longer tied to the infrastructure required to broadcast content in film theaters or to television-owning homes, have struck out on their own. Content creator streaming services are taking center stage as CBS All-Access, HBO Go, Legendary Digital’s Project Alpha, and YouTube compete with the likes of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.

While that has made things a bit of a golden era in terms of choice, it has also led to consumers having to choose which content they would rather watch. Even the most dedicated entertainment watcher can’t (or probably shouldn’t, at least) own and regularly use subscriptions to every service. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to figure out which services to choose for the content you enjoy.

This is the landscape that DC Universe has made it’s much-hyped debut into. The service, first announced in April of last year before being given a name this past May, hopes to make its mark by offering content that comic book fans will want to dive into, both in terms of back content and the upcoming original series like Titans, the animated Harley Quinn, Swamp Thing and more. Spending some time with the service since its launch on Saturday makes it evident that while DC Universe isn’t yet a Justice League version of Netflix, it’s off to a pretty good start makes a good case for justifying the $7.99 a month (or $74.99 a year).

The Movies

Most people will be coming to DC Universe looking for one thing: video content. That’s not terribly surprising, as ths service has mostly been marketed in the build-up based on its back catalog and upcoming original content. While the service doesn’t currently offer anything like the depth of content that services like Hulu or Netflix have, it does have a pretty solid selection of films available considering the available catalog. Most of the films are of the animated variety and include the DC Animated Universe entries — impressively, including three of their 2018 offerings Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, Batman Ninja and The Death of Superman. The latter of those films released less than two months ago, so it is a very encouraging sign regarding how quickly the animated films may end up showing up after release.

The live-action offering is a touch sparser. As of now, none of the DC Extended Universe films are available — no Man of Steel, no Wonder Woman, no Justice League. Instead, the catalog goes further back to give us the Tim Burton Batman films, the Christopher Reeve Supermans and the first two films of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Other films are expected to be released later, with content to be updated monthly. So while that may not seem like a lot, it is a solid backbone from which to build and should keep bingers busy to start with.

In addition to the live-action films, there are a series of specials and documentaries available. These include the excellent 2009 Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics, the 1987 ABC TV movie adaptation of The Spirit, and 2008’s Batman Unmasked: The Psychology of the Dark Knight. There is also DC Universe Presents, a ten-episode series of four to five minute shorts presenting background on the likes of Tim Burton’s Batman, the birth of the New Teen Titans comic and Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern: Rebirth.

The Television Shows

While the movie content is somewhat light and more of a base to build off than anything else, the TV content is where things start to shine. While the current DC shows on The CW aren’t available (likely due to licensing agreements), there are a ton of other options. The live-action content is the lighter side, but a big appeal will be the 1975 Wonder Woman series and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Both shows have their full runs, including the 1975 TV movie pilot for Wonder Woman. And both have been remastered to HD for the service. Also available are the likes of the 1990 The Flash series, NBC’s Constantine and the one-and-done Birds of Prey series.

What most fans will be looking for are the animated series though, and they won’t be disappointed. Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League Unlimited — they’re all here. The service also has Batman Beyond, Static Shock, the 2003 Teen Titans series and even the 1941 Max Fleischer Superman cartoons. For those who want to catch up on Young Justice before the new season premieres on DC Universe next year, the two existing seasons are present as well.

Again, it’s not everything that DC could make available here. And that’s not surprising, as there’s a lot of content that likely needs to be cleared of other licensing before it becomes available. But short of Smallville, all the back catalog of live-action content you could want is here, and the animated stuff contains all the highlights people could want.

As far as new content, we won’t be getting a ton of that until Titans launches on October 12th. In the meantime, the service has DC Daily, a half-hour series offering news, interviews and discussion of DC content. It’s exactly what you might think of it, a series designed to hype DC’s product line. The first episode is mostly promotional fluff, but it’s also surprisingly enjoyable as the full swath of hosts hype the DC Universe launch and talk their favorite Batmans, Batman villains and more in honor of Batman Day. We can thank the fact that the hosts are very engaging, running the gamut from geek favorite John Barrowman and Geek & Sundry’s Hector Navarro to Harley Quinn Smith (the daughter of Kevin Smith), former Green Lantern writer Sam Humphries and anchor Tiffany Smith. New episodes are airing five days a week, and while there’s every chance the show might eventually get too grating it’s off to a decent start.

The Comics

While it hasn’t been promoted as much as the video content, a big appeal to DC Universe comes in its comic book offerings. The comics reader is available on all the available devices, but seems built for mobile reading and functions quite well. The style is similar to the Marvel Unlimited app, and while it doesn’t have that service’s hundreds of thousands of comics (the current count is jsut under 2,500), it’s also less expensive than that service’s $9.99 among (and also isn’t just comics).

Currently, there is a large smattering of content across multiple issues. Many of the current Rebirth books only have their #1s, while classic comics are more prevalent. There are six issues of New Teen Titans for example, presumably so readers can get to know the characters before Titans. Several arcs of Batman’s pre-New 52 run are available including “Under the Hood,” “Year One” and “Year Two.” The entirety of Aquaman’s 1994 series is available, as well as all of Batman Eternal, Crisis on Infinite Earths, the first twenty-five issues of the original Suicide Squad and so on.

Intriguingly, atop the Browse Comics section is text that reads, “Can’t find what you’re looking for? The full DC Comics digital library will be available for purchase in October.” There aren’t details about what that means, but it is noted that the library “will refresh with new selections quarterly” and that each week will feature limited releases of “engagement titles” featuring essential storylines.

The short of it regading the comics is, this will not be a Marvel Unlimited kind of situation. So for those who want to keep up regularly on comics, this won’t necessarily be the way to do it. For those interested in the classic content, it makes a very nice addition to the video content that is taking center stage in the service.

The App

The content available on a streaming service is important, of course. But all of the content is useless if the app to handle it falls short. The DC Universe app takes on a wrinkle that other video services don’t by adding the comics reader in, increasing the chance that the experience will be a buggy proposition. Fortunately, that’s not the case here. While there are a few kinks to be worked out, for the most part the app works great.

Before getting too far into this, it must be noted that the platform possibility are somewhat limited. As of now, DC Universe is available on the Web, iOS devices, Android devices, Android TV, Apple TV, and Roku. That means no Xbox app and no Playstation 4 app, nor Amazon Fire. As is typical with services like this, DC promises that they “will add additional devices in the future.” But for now, they aren’t on the menu. The workaround is to use your console’s web browser to log in and access the service, though results may vary on thatr depending on device.

Additionally, there were a couple of launch bugs that caused login problems. Those have already been worked out and while there may be a few more to swat as the service comes out of beta, it is one of the smoother platform launches I’ve seen in recent memory.

The comics reader is very slick, smooth and easy to navigate. While it is optimized for mobile, it’s nicely functional on the web version as well. The Smart TV option works perfectly well also — in fact, much better than I would have expected. The only minor gripe to be had with the comics side of the app is that on the mobile version, you have to download the comic before you read it. It’s not a big deal, but it’s an extra tap and a wait for the comic to finish downloading before getting to the first page. That’s a minor annoyance at worst.

The streaming platform for the video content is smooth and works well, and includes a closed captions option for those who need it. There are a couple of wierd quirks — for example, if you watch a series in fullscreen mode, it will autoplay to the next episode but drop you out of fullscreen. But as of yet, there haven’t been any problems getting the content to play on any platform.

The service/app also includes a nice section known as the “Encyclopedia.” This section will be useful for people who aren’t familiar with more obscure characters, or who missed chunks of character history and need to get caught up. Major characters like Batman, Superman, Amanda Waller, Huntress, Batwoman, Harley Quinn and the like have an “Essential Storylines and History” section that — oddly — doesn’t connect to those comics in question which are available through the app. Still, it’s a nice little added feature.

The app also has a set of community features — forums and discussion boards. These are organized by “Watchtower” (DC Universe announcements), General Discussion, Comics, Other Media, Creators Corner, Fan Contributions (fan art and communities) and Miscellaneous. These are intriguing, but color me skeptical for now. Many services have tried these over the years and have eventually cut them loose because of the resources they require. Not even the DC Comics website has a forums section anymore. But if they can do something with it, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

The final score: review Good
The 411
The DC Universe service is off to a very solid, if not flawless, start in its launch. The service offers a nice cross-stitch of content for hardcore and casual DC fans alike, with classic series and films, several animated series and a light but promising comics selection. While their are notable gaps in the service's content currently and not much original content is yet available, there is plenty here to keep fans engaged until Titans bows next month and a few quirks with the mobile app and web experiences don't ruin what is a service with a lot of potential. DC Universe is at least worth launching the seven-day free trial, and may well become a staple of many fans' streaming service selections if DC plays its cards right.

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DC Universe, Jeremy Thomas