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Is Marvel Better than DC?

Written by Scott Meridew

As I’m sure most of you know, I bloody hate DC! Wait… you didn’t know that? Haven’t you read my other articles on this site? You haven’t? Well, great. Okay, so… I hate DC. Yeah. I always have and I always will. The only problem is that whenever I talk about it, people always ask me a really annoying question: “Why?”. And I always give them the same astute and intelligent answer: “Shut up and leave me alone.”. But today, I’m going to lay all my reasons bare. I will unveil the true rationale on why DC is pure garbage on an ice cream cone. The reason is… Marvel is just better. Right that’s it, I’m off. Bye.

Okay, okay, I’ll go into more detail. But before I do, I would like to point out that, whilst I will be comparing Marvel and DC exclusively, there are other companies out there that are just as good as Marvel, maybe even better in some respects. Companies like Dark Horse, IDW, Vertigo, Image and others are definitely worth your time. But, given their historic rivalry, I am going to focus on Marvel and DC. Now that’s out of the way, let’s get to the nitty-gritty of what makes Marvel superior: the characters.

Now I’m not saying that Marvel hasn’t come up with some bad characters over the years, but I think it’s important to look at the different approaches that the two companies have to creating a character. And to do this, we need to go waaaaaaay back to the early days of comics, the forties to the fifties. And, in fairness to DC, most comics, including Marvel, had the same way of making a character. That is to say, not having an actual character, but a gimmick that LOOKED like a character. For the most part, they were pretty interchangeable: there was no difference between the personalities of Captain America and Superman. They were bland and boring, and the only difference between them all were the powers themselves. And then, as often happens in the media when there is nothing creative going on, a lone figure stepped out of the shadows and said “Hey, how about we try something different?” That figure was Stan Lee.

He envisioned a world in which teenagers were superheroes and not just sidekicks. He saw women as just as strong and capable as men, often more so. He saw social outcasts fighting against inequality and bigotry. In short, he dared to be different. And he struggled, as all great artists do, to make people accept his ideas. The comic book industry would not be the same without him. And I’m not saying that DC didn’t have some talented people in-house. It’s just that, at the time, none of them tried to be different. None of them took that they were doing, or the people that were reading what they were doing, seriously. And that was the beginning of Marvel’s rise to excellence. But what did DC do? Did they try to create new characters to reflect the changing of the times. No. At least, not to any great extent.

Which brings me to my next point: the changing of the times. Marvel has evolved since 1961, and so has their characters and the world they inhabit. But whilst Peter Parker and Tony Stark have changed since then, the essence of who they are, of their characters, still remain. DC meanwhile have changed very little. Sure, they have made a few alterations; I’m not going to pretend that they’re still stuck in the Golden Age. But in the cases where giant leaps have been made, they’ve often gone too far. Let’s look at their most popular characters, Batman and Superman. Batman has changed a lot over the years. Gone is the campy, happy-go0lucky Batman of yesteryear, and instead we have a gritty, dark and dull-as-ditch-water guy who can’t get over his parent’s death. Now, one the one hand, it’s good that DC took the character a bit more seriously, but in trying to make him more serious, they turned him into a one-dimensional character. There’s no reason why he can’t be dark and moody, but he can’t be JUST dark and moody. It’s boring! Conversely, of course, there’s Superman. When he first debuted he was a Boy Scout who stood for truth, justice and the American way. And now, seventy five years later… he’s STILL a boy scout who stands for truth, justice and the American way (in the case of Superman Returns, they can’t even bring themselves to say the last part). The character hasn’t evolved in significantly at all. And I’m not saying that they need to make him dark like Batman. Hell, they don’t need to completely alter his personality in any radical way really. Just build upon his existing traits and thereby make him more rounded as a character.

 

 

Then there’s the “real world” reasons why DC fails in comparison to Marvel. Again, I’m not saying that Marvel has never made a bad decision, but DC really do take the cake! DC regularly restart their own canon, as most of you know, most recently with the total overhaul of the New 52. So you could get really invested in a character and their story over the years, only for all that history to be wiped away in an instant. That would piss me off! And then there’s awful story choices that actually have negative consequences throughout the comic book industry as a whole! Remember The Death of Superman? They made the supremely brave move of killing off the Last Son of Krypton only to bring him back to life before we even had time to miss him. Not only did the fans HATE this, but it meant that any writer could kill any character and it would be alright. Before this, characters were rarely killed, and once they died, they STAYED DEAD! After DoS, any character could be killed for quick and cheap dramatic weight, only to be brought back to life whenever it was convenient. DC have since made innumerable poor decisions ranging from making Starfire into a sex doll to making a contest asking fans to draw Harley Quinn committing suicide.

Whenever a conversation drifts to Marvel versus DC, the subject of movies and television shows must be brought up. First let’s look at the films. Marvel wins right out of the gate because of one simple thing: they try different things. DC have made some good films over the years; a few of the Superman films come to mind, as do the majority of the Batman films. But that’s my point right there: they rarely do a movie outside of those characters, their comfort zone. When they do, it fails. Green Lantern, Steel, Catwoman and Jonah Hex are the only ones I can think of and they all failed abysmally. And before you ask, Watchmen and V for Vendetta, etc., don’t count: they were all created by visionaries who just happened to fall within DC’s purview. As such, for the most part, DC have fallen back on pushing Superman and Batman over and over again. Hey, DC! How about a film based on Sandman Mystery Theatre, huh?

And yes, DC do a lot of direct-to-DVD animated films, some of which are quite good, but nearly all of them focus on either Batman, Superman or the Justice League. Again, DC simply don’t try anything different. And once again, yes Marvel have failed in the film department in the past. But they never let it stop them trying new things. Or trying to fix things that failed before. Imagine if the only films Marvel made were Spider-Man and Iron Man related. How reductive would that be? Either you have to admit that DC simply doesn’t have the same range of characters or else they simply don’t know how to use them.

And then there’s television series. I’ll admit that DC and Marvel are more evenly matched. The Batman and Superman Animated series are classics and hold up even to this day. Whereas the Spider-Man and X-Men Animated series, whilst deservedly popular in their day, aren’t very good by today’s standard. Both sides had their fair share of triumphs and missteps. The only concession I will make is that DC are better at making live action shows. Shows like Arrow, the 90’s Flash series, Wonder Woman (NOT the recent pilot version), Lois and Clark and Smallville (ish) are hailed as good shows whereas Marvel’s shows range from good (The Incredible Hulk) to average (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D) to… well that’s about it. Still they’ve got a few upcoming series like Luke Cage and Daredevil on the way, so who knows?

So all in all, Marvel is not perfect. But it tries. Every day since 1961, Marvel has pushed boundaries and tried to be as innovative as possible and it shows in the quality of their characters and stories. This is the company that defied the Comics Code Authority in order to tell better stories. And DC, whilst sometimes striking gold simply… well let me explain using an analogy. Imagine two students, let’s call Marvel “Student A” and DC “Student B”. Student A is inventive and creative but sometimes doesn’t perform to expectations, yet always learns from their mistakes. Student B is diligent in handing in work, but it is always average and shows the bare minimum of effort was put in to it. Student A’s work has changed over time, showing increasing sophistication. Student B’s work has changed very little, there are a few examples of progress but it still feels like the work of a younger student. Student A is not afraid to take risks. Student B likes to play it safe. Student A is idealistic. Student B is compromising. Student A is considerate of others. Student B is not sensitive to others.

So, with that being said, which student would be your favorite?

 

But what do YOU think? Is Marvel the superior company or does DC get too much stick? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!

About the author

Scott Meridew

2 Comments

  • I had a chat today in the local comic shop trying to get the owner to read Maus and Blankets for a change.

    The chat centred on how, whilst fun at the time, new-52 batman books that I’d read really weren’t memorable. Even key plot points fade to the back of your mind. But true classics that make an effort to engage you can stick with you long term.

    Of course, my feeling is that marvel and dc are equally bland and lacking in true forward vision these days.

  • I agree that marvel is superior, but I think you are being unfair to dc.

    Superman used to have more personality when he was first created and represented the struggle of the lower classes. Something which is embarrassingly relevant today, but as you said they afraid to take risks and have made him bland for the sake of mass appeal.

    Tony stark on the other hand started out as a project to make a hero that people would hate, and it worked anyway. I think the lesson is to make your characters human and readers will accept them even if they don’t like them.

    That is why I prefer marvel. The make great characters that happen to be superheroes instead of making great superheroes that happen to be human.