By: Jonathan Bryant
For many of us, the battle for superiority between DC Comics and Marvel Comics has waged since time immemorial.
Feelings have been hurt.
Friends have been lost.
At some point, the Superman vs. Hulk argument gets thrown around.
The end result is nearly always the same—forums and the like become a figurative battlefield littered with rage and nerd sweat.
Lately, though, the tide has begun to turn in Marvel’s favor for several reasons.
DC is a good deal older than Marvel (at least the Marvel incarnation we are familiar with, starting with “Fantastic Four” in 1961). As such, DC characters are often seen—and written—as modern-day legends… even the human characters (especially in Batman’s case).
By comparison, Marvel’s characters are a bit more grounded in reality, or at least have one prominent theme that most readers/viewers can identify with.
Even in the face of world eaters, Phoenix Forces and Dr. Doom, the majority of Marvel characters are notorious for echoing some singular theme. Spider-Man’s tale is one of responsibility; the X-Men often parallel discrimination, etc.
DC characters, on the other hand, are often written as infallible deities. It’s only in rare occasions that writers are able to accomplish both (see: Grant Morrison’s “All-Star Superman”).
This identity crisis has made the transition to the silver screen, where Marvel has seen great success and DC… has Nolan’s Batman trilogy.
And “Green Lantern.”
Who could forget zero-time Oscar nominee Megan Fox’s role as Lilah in 2010’s “Jonah Hex?”
That’s what I thought.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe took a brilliant approach in building on a singular, cohesive story over multiple films by crossing over common characters and major plot points into one monster of a finale last May with “The Avengers.” The results speak for themselves.
If DC truly plans to release a film featuring the members of the Justice League in 2015, a similar approach might be necessary.
But perhaps the one area where Marvel’s supremacy truly shows is where it all began—the comics.
Back in August 2011, DC Comics relaunched its entire line of comics and debuted 52 new ongoing series in what was known as the “New 52.”
Although the effort was met with both critical and commercial success at the time, the publisher has met several criticisms in the months following, including a lack of female presence both on the pages of comics and in creator positions.
Female audiences are probably having a better reading experience at Marvel these days, if only due to the fact that many of DC’s most beloved female characters—such as the previous Batgirls Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain—have yet to be accounted for.
Meanwhile, Marvel has standout titles with lead female roles such as “Captain Marvel,” “Journey into Mystery,” “Red She-Hulk,” “The Fearless Defenders” and the new all-female book simply called “X-Men.”
DC has also been plagued with cancellations and creative team changes. Tasked with the difficult chore of maintaining 52 ongoing series, several of them have gotten the ax due to poor sales or editorial conflicts.
Most distressingly of all, though, is DC’s trouble with establishing past events for its new universe. Even concerning the publisher’s current bread and butter, Batman, continuity issues abound.
Even worse is that several DC writers have referenced previous events from older stories without making it clear which ones are canon.
Did Superman once die in a battle against Doomsday?
Did Dick Grayson ever lead a team of Titans?
Could the events of “Batman: Hush” still happen if Catwoman doesn’t know Batman’s identity?
Marvel’s own 2012 relaunch initiative, Marvel NOW!, largely sidestepped this issue by not wiping the slate clean of previous events, but instead providing a convenient jump-on point for new readers while shuffling creative teams around for fresh stories.
One could argue that the two situations are incomparable due to each one’s respective goals. The New 52 set out to clean up years of convoluted plot points (and inadvertently ended up creating quite a few) whereas Marvel NOW! leaves the universe’s history largely intact.
Still, no one can deny DC’s importance in the world of comics. Even the pseudo-ill-conceived New 52 was a monumental achievement for the industry, paving the way for Marvel to follow up with its own relaunch in the first place.
It’s at times like these when industry rivals are directly influenced by each other that companies tend to produce their best works.
At the end of the day, it’s at times like these when the true victors are the consumers.
And really, isn’t that the only thing that matters?