I’m going forward with the assumption that readers of my blog will have different levels of exposure to comics and their surrounding culture. So I’ll be doing some write-ups about the history and culture of comics.
Starting with Marvel vs. DC. What is it, and why does it exist? No not Marvel vs. Capcom, silly gamers. But seriously someone needs to make me this game:
*Giggles*. (I own no rights to this picture. I found it here: http://loyalkng.com/2009/05/27/marvel-dc-terminator-star-trek-transformers/).
Anyway, let’s get back on topic.
First of all Marvel and DC are the two leading comic companies in the United States. DC Comics is the oldest comic company (founded in 1934 as National Allied Publications). Marvel is the biggest, selling the most comics each year. DC comics owns the personalities of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Green Arrow, The Justice League, and Teen Titans, just to name a few. Marvel owns most of the men in tights you’ve been seeing on the big screen recently, for example, Spiderman, Iron Man, X-Men, Thor, The Hulk, Captain America, The Fantastic Four, and The Avengers.
Now some of you might just be thinking that this division of superheroes is the only thing that separates the two companies. I read Batman so I generally prefer DC, while you might read Spiderman and hang out in the Marvel section of the comic store. But there is more of a difference between Batman and Spiderman than one might think at first glance. Yes they are both superheroes, fight super villains and look good in tight pants. Sure Spidey shoots web and Batman has a gadget belt and a Bat Mobile, but is that the only difference?
DC, previously known as National, was started in 1934 and created the superhero movement in 1938 with the introduction of Superman in Action Comics #1, with Batman following a year later in 1939. These two superheroes have survived the ages and are two of the most well known characters in the world! Regardless of whether you read comics or not, I guarantee you recognize those names. Because these characters came out of the great depression and World War II era, they are written to be very idealized and fantastic. We’ll get back to this in a just a second.
Marvel, as we know it today, was started in 1961 with the release of Fantastic Four. Part of Marvel’s creative strategy was to take superheroes in a new direction. Marvel characters are often more down to earth, dealing with everyday issues, such as jobs and girl friends, alongside their duties of fighting crime. They live in real world cities, such as New York, Chicago and LA. Whereas DC portrays idealized and satirized characters to comment on our own reality, Marvel tries to place the superhero into our reality.
Let’s take a look.
Spiderman lives in New York City, has a job at newspaper publishing company, and dates Mary Jane Watson. The only difference between the guy on the street and Mr. Peter Parker is the fact that Pete’s a superhero. Spiderman struggles with the concept of living with superpowers and trying to live a normal life and we, the audience, are caught up in his web of philosophical questions and moral dilemmas. The whole thing’s very psychological.
Batman, in contrast, lives in fictional Gotham City, a creative take on Spidey’s New York. Bruce Wayne owns Wayne Industries, which pretty much owns all of Gothem. Less realistic. Even without superpowers, he’s pretty perfect. But if you really look at it, Batman isn’t written to be realistic, or to theorize about what it would be like for a regular Joe thrown into a hero role. Batman is the revenge archetype to a T. He’s a symbol and a metaphor. His arch nemesis, the Joker, is the personification of insanity. They're embodiments of ideas, not people.
As I said before, Batman and Superman were created before the start of World War II during the end of the Great Depression. This was a time when we wanted a great superhero to come save us. Someone to come down, punch Hitler in the jaw and save the world. (This could be one of the factors in why Superman is a bloody alien.) When there’s talk about going to war, you don’t want to think about having to fight the enemy yourself. You want to believe there’s someone powerful enough to do all the fighting for you.
Now this is all generalization, but for the most part DC comic characters are purely romanticized and out-of-this-world, while Marvel characters try to add a spark of reality to what we would deem a pretty fantastic existence. Now you see that these companies are more than a division of superheroes, they are two different takes on the superhero; two different ways of writing and creating characters and universes. Next time you talk to someone who only reads Marvel, or only reads DC, ask them why and see if they can come up with a reason. They might just say its because Spidey’s the man, but if they think about it, they might realize a more subconscious preference.
In this day and age, Marvel comes out on top. You see many more movies starring characters from the Marvel universe. TV shows such as Heroes, a modern take on X-Men, have become widely popular. Humanizing the superhero, that’s what interests us the most right now. We, as a culture, want to understand what it would be like if we woke up tomorrow with super powers. Archetypal heroes don’t cut it for us anymore. But there will always be a place for DC’s take on the hero. (Superman and Batman are so ingrained in our culture there will always be some sort of demand for them.) But maybe in a few years we won’t want to see ourselves in Marvel's take of the superman. We might want superheroes and all they stand for to go back to alternate dimensions that only vaguely remind us of the real world. Maybe.