After months of anticipation, DC Universe is here. The new streaming service, billed as a kind of one-stop shop for all things DC Comics, is finally available to fans weeks ahead of the premiere of its first piece of original scripted programming, Titans. But did DC Universe launch with a big bang or a whimper?
If you're thinking about forking over the cash to sign up for DC Universe, you're probably wondering if you'll get your money's worth (and if you've already signed up, chances are you're still probably wondering the same thing). Perhaps you're still not quite sure what the whole service has to offer you right now outside of the promised future original programming. Well, that's where we come in.
Whether you're a new user looking for ways to dive in, a fan on the fence, or a beginner superhero fan wondering if the service is for you, here's our quick user guide to all things DC Universe to help you get the most out of the service.
The best news right from the start is that there's no real organizational mystery to the core DC Universe layout. Everything is placed into easy-to-understand categories -- Movies & TV, Comic Books, Community, News, Encyclopedia, and Shop -- and there's also a search function that seems to serve you fairly well if you're after something specific (provided the site has that specific thing, of course). Ease of use doesn't seem to be a major issue here.
The design of the place is also, thankfully, rather simple. If you want to watch a superhero movie, you're two clicks away from doing exactly that, and reading a comic book is just as easy. As long as the site has what you want and you're not experiencing some kind of internet speed issue, everything seems to be fairly smooth. With all of that in mind, let's take a look at the site's individual sections, what they offer, and their benefits and drawbacks.
MOVIES & TV
This is why most people are picking up DC Universe, or at least why DC Entertainment thinks most people are picking it up. It's also, happily, where you're most likely to get your money's worth out of the service with speed and ease right now, even before DC adds exclusive original programming like Titans, Doom Patrol, Swamp Thing, and Stargirl.
While DC Universe is supposed to contain all of the various multitudes of DC Comics-based properties, rights issues unfortunately mean the service does not contain everything you could possibly hope to watch. The various CW TV series inspired by DC Comics, like Arrow and The Flash, still have their streaming rights at Netflix, for example, and the most recent DC Extended Universe films (including Wonder Woman) have their streaming tied up at places like HBO. So for the moment, those properties are out. That said, there is a lot to watch here already.
Like what? Well, the centerpiece of the collection right now is the newly-restored high definition release of Batman: The Animated Series, which offers a gorgeous new rendering of the classic '90s series that both new and old fans will watch with glee. Then, there are the other gems that you've quite possibly had a hard time tracking down elsewhere online, like Super Friends and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. You can even watch George Reeves' Superman TV series on the service. Whether you're just a fan who likes superheroes or a superfan who needs to watch it all, this is a place where you can cross a lot of titles off your list, and it's all easy to find and to stream. If the original programming is up to snuff, then DC Universe has a very good shot at being something that lasts.
For years, comics readers have been begging DC to launch something like its own version of Marvel Unlimited, the competition's subscription archival reading service that allows users to peruse just about any Marvel comic they want from the '60s until about six months ago (with a few omissions) for a single monthly fee. Sadly, DC Universe is not "Marvel Unlimited for DC," but then again, Marvel Unlimited does not have a streaming video component either.
For its comics reader, DC Universe is taking a more curated approach aimed at helping fans find comics that also fit in with the various viewing options available on the site, the idea being that you can watch Titans and then click over and read a bunch of Teen Titans comics that shed more light on the characters you just got to know through the show. That's a good idea for integration, but unfortunately, at the moment the comics section falls short of what it could be.
It should be noted that the service already features a note in its comics section letting users know that the full DC digital library will be up on the site for sale in October, meaning that you'll still be able to read many comics included with the service, and then purchase the rest in-house to your heart's content. So, there's a lot of room to grow here. What can be frustrating about the comics section right now, though, is that there doesn't seem to be any particular rhyme or reason for why a lot of it is there. Some stories, like the Golden Age introductions of Batman and Superman, are no-brainers, but others -- like Crisis on Infinite Earths, the most famous and influential DC Comics event of all time -- are only partially available. If you're a fan who's new to DC Comics, and you're hoping to read as many of the "essential" stories as possible, it's almost worse than if they were all were just missing. Some stories are there, and then there are plenty that are only partially available, leaving you frustrated by this tease.
What's more, there's no real cross-integration among the titles right now. If you read Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, for example, the service will tell you that Miller wrote and drew it, but it doesn't allow you to click on Miller's name to see what else he wrote, and it also doesn't show you related comics under any kind of subsection. If you read a book and there's a sequel or companion series present, you have to find that information out for yourself. The comics section still has a lot of growing to do, though, so hopefully, this is something that will be fixed in the coming weeks and months.
Because this is supposed to be a fully integrated fan experience, DC Universe also has a Community function that enables users to customize their usernames, icons, and backgrounds and then interact with the rest of the fans on the service in a style similar to (but perhaps a little slicker than) the good old message board days. As a DC Universe user you can start new threads of discussion within various categories, like comments by other users, leave replies, and comment on the various streaming options. This, of course, opens the service up to a bunch of negativity and complaining (arguments about the validity of Heath Ledger's Joker have already sprung up over on The Dark Knight's page), but DC has also promised to keep the trolls out through moderation.
Right now, because the service is new and the Community option probably isn't the main thing drawing in new paying users, this section is perhaps not as robust as it one day could be. If you want to debate the merits of Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner as Green Lanterns, though, chances are you'll find someone willing to talk.
There's also, of course, a News section in the universe that will allow DC Entertainment to release information on various projects, while also keeping fans update on the latest in the comics world and offering plenty of giveaways to participate in. This is, basically, a glossy way to issue press releases directly to fans, but the service offers more than just your basic news article format.
The centerpiece of the News element right now is DC Daily, a weekday web series exploring the worlds of DC Comics through news updates, behind-the-scenes looks, and celebrity panels. The show is available in an abbreviated version on YouTube, but if you're subscribed to the Universe you get the whole thing, including trivia about Batman: The Animated Series, and celebrities and creators chatting about the various elements of The Dark Knight Returns white seated on a couch. Because this is a daily show, sometimes the offerings can be a little thin, but if you're really into all things DC, it's a nice little 15-minute check-in.
What sprawling portal to a world of various incarnations of superheroes would be complete without an encyclopedia to tie it all together? Of course DC Universe has its own version of this function, which offers in-depth looks at the histories of all of its many characters, with new articles being added all the time.
The good news here is that this is not a wiki. It's not fan-sourced, and it will presumably be constantly updated so that your confusion over post-Crisis, New 52, and Rebirth eras for various characters can be kept in check. The bad news is that this section is, for now, full of missed opportunities. There's not much cross-linking at this point between the various sections, so if an encyclopedia entry tells you a particular comic is important, there might not be any option for you to click a link that takes you right to that comic within the service. There is a "related content" tab for each entry that will take you to various comics, shows, and even Community entries for characters, but it's not as thorough as it could be yet. For now, keep the encyclopedia in the "Room for Improvement" category.
This is exactly what it appears to be, a chance for DC Entertainment to get additional cash from fans who are already DC Universe subscribers, and it functions exactly as you'd expect it to. The real draw here are the various DC Universe exclusives offered, including apparel, drinkware, phone cases, and a set of action figures from the Justice League animated series. Apart from that, there's not much to report here. It's an online shop and it does what an online shop is meant to do. It also functions somewhat separately from the rest of the service, so at the moment you don't have links to Batman action figures embedded in your browsing of Batman TV shows...at least, not yet.
Everyone's mileage will vary when it comes to DC Universe, of course, and the service is still very much in its infancy. We won't know for sure if it really works until more comics have been added and original programming starts streaming there, hopefully with more compatibility across various devices thrown in for good measure. For now, though, it's a fun and fairly hefty helping of DC superheroes that will keep you streaming and reading for days, especially if you're a new fan or a habitual rewatcher.