May 29, 2024


Sapiens Digital

DC Universe – Review 2020

I’ve enjoyed superhero stories from both major players in the comic book industry, but, in all honesty, I prefer DC to Marvel. No amount of bad Zack Snyder movies or MCU box office dominance can overcome the impact characters like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman have had on my life. So, DC Universe— a video streaming service, comic book reader, and online community dedicated to all things Justice League—should be right up my alley.

However, even as someone firmly in the target audience, I wasn’t left completely satisfied mostly due to some conspicuous absences in the collection. And with HBO Max set to have some of DC Universe’s most promising original shows as just one part of a broader library, you might be better off waiting for that service to launch.

What Can You Watch on DC Universe?

On Disney+, content starring Marvel comic book characters makes up a relatively small portion of the service’s offerings. DC Universe, on the other hand, is solely dedicated to superheroes. Considering DC owns some of the most enduring icons of the genre stretching back decades, that narrow focus still gives viewers a lot to choose from. In the year and a half since launch, DC Universe has built up an impressive back catalog of about 2,000 movies and episodes of television.

Some of the deep pulls might interest viewers purely on a pop culture history level. You can watch classic George Reeves Superman episodes from the 1950s or an abandoned pilot for a teen heartthrob Aquaman show. The animated material is where DC Universe really shines. From Batman: The Animated Series to Teen Titans to comedic DC Nation shorts to DC’s recent series of interconnected direct-to-video animated films, this is probably the finest collection of cape cartoons anywhere.

DC Universe library

DC Universe also has some surprisingly great original shows. Harley Quinn just wrapped up its first season, turning the Joker’s henchwoman into the spunky lead of a raunchy feminist cartoon sitcom. Folks were skeptical at first of the gritty Titans and its foul-mouthed Robin, but two seasons in, the flagship show has settled into a nice groove. Although it was canceled before its shortened season could even premiere, Swamp Thing brought an appropriately gothic horror tone to the misunderstood plant monster. And the mind-bending misadventures of the misfit superheroes in the Doom Patrol, starring name actors Brendan Fraser and Timothy Dalton, made for some of my absolute favorite television back in 2019.

Still, you can’t shake the sense that DC Universe is a little thin. Anime streaming services, such as Crunchyroll and VRV (both are also owned by Warner Media via Otter Media), may seem similarly niche, but anime is still a broader umbrella than superheroes from a single specific publisher. There are also some head-scratching omissions. The Flash, Supergirl, and other popular Arrowverse CW shows (shows which just wrapped up a Crisis TV crossover as impressive as anything in theaters) are nowhere to be found. I understand why WB might not throw Shazam! or Wonder Woman 1984 on the service just weeks after their premieres in theaters, but why do I need to turn to Netflix to watch Christopher Nolan’s legendary Dark Knight movies from over a decade ago? The service launched with a few Michael Keaton Batman movies, but those have since been removed, and we’re hoping that doesn’t happen to the landmark 1978 Richard Donner Superman movie, too.

Even the great original shows may not be DC Universe exclusives for much longer. We already know the second season of Doom Patrol is also coming to WarnerMedia’s larger upcoming streaming service HBO Max. We’re still a bit confused about how much these services will crossover since HBO Max is getting its own DC superhero show starring Green Lantern. So, questions of DC Universe’s redundancy remain. That said, new original shows are still in the works, such as Stargirl premiering in May.

Cost and Platforms

DC Universe costs $7.99 per month, or $74.99 per year, with a seven-day free trial. It’s slightly more expensive than Disney+, Apple TV+, or Hulu with ads, but in the same range. It’s also half as much as the upcoming HBO Max ($14.99 per month). This price difference may sway you to pick one service over the other if you only care about certain shows.

DC Universe comics

A DC Universe subscription also gives you access to nearly 23,000 digital comic books, appropriately sorted into categories for different series and storylines. While its shows are just a fraction of the streaming landscape, DC’s comics make up a significant portion of the most popular material. Granted, you won’t get the newest issues the moment they’re published, compared to a dedicated comic book subscription, such as Marvel Unlimited for $9.99 per month. But the library isn’t completely out of date. For example, so far issues of the ambitious (if misguided) DC/Watchmen crossover Doomsday Clock arrive online about a year after their print counterparts. Considering the price, the comic books add great value to an audience primed to appreciate them.

DC Universe is available on the web, iOS devices, Apple TV (4th generation and newer), Android phones and tablets, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Xbox One, and Kindle. PlayStation and Samsung TV apps are in the works. There’s no Nintendo Switch version, but that’s the case for most streaming services except for Hulu.

DC Universe on the Web

DC Universe web player

DC Universe’s website features the cool blue aesthetic the publisher typically uses to separate itself from its bright red rival. The dark background helps the colorful squares representing each movie and show really pop on the page. Taking the darkness to its logical conclusion, when you first set up your profile your default picture is a grumpy little Batman. From your profile page, you can use parental controls to set rating limits as well as check out your favorites and viewing history under “My DC.”

My DC also serves as a hub for your interactions with DC Universe’s enthusiastic community. DC Universe publishes news stories for fans to comment on, hosts message boards for general chats, and provides an encyclopedia to brush up on DC history before you get into nerd arguments. If you, like me, want to read a detailed biography of Aquaman nemesis Black Manta, you can. These features are highlighted on the top nav bar. Some of the original shows are aimed at the community first and foremost, providing behind the scenes looks at DC offices. The quality of these community shows don’t reach the level of their scripted brethren, though. If DC Daily feels like a YouTube show, that’s because it is.

The last major online section is the shop where you can buy the expected hoodies and Funko Pop toys. You’ll occasionally see promotions tied to a recent movie or show. For instance, now’s a great time to stock on Birds of Prey merchandise. I wished I could purchase Blu-rays of some of the movies that weren’t available to stream. Sadly, these aren’t available. The shop is also a seperate site, unlike CBS All Access which builds its store directly into the service.

DC Universe’s web page has a lot to fit in. Fortunately, when it comes to time to just watch a video, the experience doesn’t disappoint. Playback was smooth over my home Wi-Fi connection (60Mbps download) and the default player takes up a lot of the screen on its own. There’s no ten-second rewind button, but you can tweak the closed caption settings for easier reading. Select original shows, such as the third season of revived cult classic cartoon Young Justice, are available in 4K. Others are available in 1080p.

DC Universe on Mobile

I tested DC Universe’s mobile app on an iPhone 11 running iOS 13. This app makes the most vital sections (Movies & TV, Comics, My DC settings) constantly accessible in a bottom menu bar. The comic reader really shines on a portable device with its different options for scrolling through panels. And the community feels as immediate as any other social network you access through your phone. Other sections (such as News, Encyclopedia, and Shop) are just a tap way filed under “More.”

You can use one account on two different devices simultaneously, so one person can read a comic on their tablet while another watches a show on the TV. The mobile apps also support offline downloads. Note that you are limited to 25 videos on one device and two downloads per year for a single piece of content. This feature is essentially standard, though some video streaming services, such as Crunchyroll, lack this capability. However, for even half-hour episodes, download times can drag.

Accessibility and Parental Controls

You’d think that parents wouldn’t have to worry about keeping their kids safe on a streaming service starring Superman. But anyone who has followed DC for the past few decades knows the publisher loves to push its characters into violent, grim, and gritty territory. As a result, there’s a lot to watch on DC Universe that’s not appropriate for kids.

In the settings section, you can set up alerts that notify you if someone on your profile watches (or reads) content above a certain age rating. But the unfinished feature doesn’t actually block the content. You’ll just have to yell at your kid after the fact, if you catch them ogling Poison Ivy or Nightwing. You also can’t set up different accounts with different settings.

As for accessibility, you can adjust size, transparency, and color for subtitles and backgrounds while watching a show. Those settings persist when watching a different show. It’s just weird you have to start a video before making any changes.

DC Universe and VPN

As always, we recommend using a VPN to maintain your online privacy and thwart bad actors on the internet. However, seeing as they effectively change regions and circumvent different licensing deals, many streaming services don’t work when using a VPN. For example, Disney+ blocks them entirely. so no Marvel shows for you.

DC Universe fares a little better. On a test Windows device connected to a ProtonVPN server in Texas, I could stream just fine. But whenever I tried to move beyond the United States, I was greeted with a screen simply saying DC Universe was “coming soon.” There’s also no guarantee that any VPN will continue to work even when only choosing a US-based server.

Not an Injustice

DC Universe is made for committed fans of DC heroes. I can’t imagine regular folks being that jazzed for a live-action Swamp Thing show sight unseen. It’s for people who know and care about The Snyder Cut. That’s me! But while the catalog of original and legacy viewing material is quite impressive, as are extras like community gatherings and a truly massive comics archive, DC Universe isn’t quite comprehensive enough to fully justify its limited content scope.

Plus, HBO Max now threatens to scoop up DC Universe’s best original shows, much in the same way VRV bundles fellow anime streaming service Crunchyroll alongside broader material. We’ve yet to pick an Editors’ Choice in this category, and the very American DC Universe library doesn’t particularly overlap much with the Japan-centric competitors. However, if you’re interested in international shows, but still insist on watching cartoons in English, Funimation’s vast collection of dubbed anime content may be the best compromise.

If Marvel superheroes are more your speed (along with Star Wars, Pixar, and a host of other family friendly content) Disney+ is the better choice. Meanwhile, Netflix remains our Editors’ Choice for general audience, thanks to fantastic original shows for everyone. Hulu and YouTube TV also each earned an Editors’ Choice for affordable access to a broad range of live TV channels.

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