Wednesday, August 5, 2009

DC vs. Marvel

I wouldn't call myself a Marvel person or a DC person. I tend to read what sounds good, whether mainstream or independent, superhero or literary. I look for writers and artists whose prior work I have enjoyed, and I try to pick up books that have been well-received by the reviewers and critics that I respect.

But I have noticed that, for whatever reason, I read far more Marvel than DC books. I'm beginning to think that it comes down to an ingrained difference between the two companies in their entire outlook on storytelling, their worldview. Marvel's worldview simply appeals to me more.

This morning I wondered what would be each company's most iconic comic book cover from the past thirty years. These are the two that instantly came to my mind:



Maybe you can quibble with my choices, but I think both covers are recognized as among the most iconic covers of the past several decades.

Simply by looking at these two covers, what can we learn about the storytelling outlook of the two companies?

  • Plot-driven
  • Melodramatic
  • Unhappy
  • Death
  • Cosmic
  • Involvement of zillions of characters
  • Emphasis on what has happened in the past

  • Character-driven
  • Fun
  • Happy
  • Lively
  • Down-to-earth
  • Focus on single character
  • Emphasis on what will happen in the future
Honestly, I think that is a fairly accurate picture of the output of these two companies. And looking at these two lists, I think it's pretty clear why I gravitate toward Marvel's books.

What do you think? Is this correct? Any other differences in storytelling outlook that you can name? Did I pick the wrong covers?


  1. I love every comic book with Superman. He's my favorite superhero, since I was a child:)

  2. You don't say, Superman...

    I grew up a Marvel kid and have somewhat morphed into a DC 20-something adult. I think Marvel has the reputation of being more character driven, but look at the last few years... Civil War, World War Hulk, House Of M, Secret Invasion, etc. Jesus. And I would disagree that DC uses "death "as a plot device anymore than Marvel (or, maybe I should just say Bendis). I think the main thing Marvel has over DC is a streamlined continuity. But then again, look at what they did with Spider-Man and the whole "One More Day" fiasco.

    I'm gonna post my choices for the two "iconic" covers for Marvel/DC maybe later tonight. Great post!

  3. Superman - I have a lot of affection for Superman too, mostly from watching the movies when I was a kid. And I should say that not all DC stories fit into the description above, of course -- All Star Superman being one example. Thanks for the comment!

    Rick - I probably am going by reputation more than reality here, but on the other hand, Civil War was fairly character-driven, if you ask me (everyone choosing sides and all that), and World War Hulk involved a lot of character-driven stuff (being set off by the choices of the heroes to send Hulk off-planet, the Hulk's choices once he came back, etc.). At the same time, wouldn't you say that Blackest Night meets every one of the qualities that I listed above about DC's output?

  4. I started out reading Marvel & Comico, and never delved into the DC side of things; in later years I've sampled some of DC's offerings which I've enjoyed like Manhunter & Birds of Prey; comparing these to my Marvel mainstays I would very much agree with your assertion.

    On the outside very similar packages, but the content of one errs to the side of misery whereas the other has much more of an abundance of humour.

    And I've certainly tended towards the humour side of things too.

    Regarding the covers, it's difficult for me to comment on DC. For Marvel, I would always be biased towards renderings of the Phoenix effect but I guess the actual cover I would choose due to its wide repercussions in the mutant mythos is that of Uncanny X-Men 141.

  5. "Character driven", to me, is the idea that a character "led" the story in a particular direction. Civil War (and really all of these "events", Marvel and DC alike) was really the result of a room of full of writers and editors coming up with "big idea" first, how it will effect the characters second. Let's just take "Civil War"... probably the one I'm most familiar with. Was Spider-Man unmasking a move that really was true to his character? No. They tried to explain it away and it came off lame and totally unconvincing. But it sure made for big news (and a great drawing at the end of Civil War #2 by McNiven, I might add). Would Iron Man really be such a dick in this situation, just because some grieving Mom spat on him? No. Would Mr. Fantastic build a prison in the Negative Zone for his friends/other heroes, and think it was worth losing his wife over? No. The list goes on. I'm not saying it wasn't a kick-ass story. But calling it more "character driven" than say, a Final Crisis or a Blackest Night, seems to ring a little false to me. Actually, I think you could argue the most "character driven" story of late was Batman R.I.P.. Sure, it was a another "death" story, but it kind of subverted a lot of the typical things you'd expect from a superhero "death", was a huge risk for DC, and was very much tailed for Batman and seemed incredibly rooted in his history and psychology.

    I'm not really all that familiar with Blackest Night, so I have no clue. I think the only thing I really would question is labeling a lot of DC stuff as "unhappy" or that they focus on "death" too much. There is a ton of DC stuff out there that is just as upbeat and poppy as your sunniest Spider-Man story. Again, I think this is a rep thing they've kind of been branded with over the years, but Marvel, especially lately with Bendis at the helm, seems to be having less of a problem with pulling the plug on more and more characters as the years go on here.

  6. I started out as a hardcore Marvel Zombie until about 1989 when the Batman movie came out. After that, I expanded my horizons, and as I continued to mature into adulthood, I gravitated more towards DC titles and characters every passing year. Why? I'm not sure. The pendulum swings every few years or so, I guess.

    More in relation to your post, I think you do both publishers a disservice by trying to sum up their overall output with two covers from the 1980s and a list of themes that may or may not be relevant.

    What about Marvel's ouput in the last handful of years has been fun, happy, or lively: Avengers Disassembled, House of M, Civil War, Spider-man's "Back in Black" and "One More Day", Secret Invasion, Dark Reign?

    Certainly, DC's output has been no less dark, but hopefully, Blackest Night will tie everything together and give us something different to look forward to in the DC universe.

  7. I began to suggest this or this
    for Marvel and this this or this for DC, but then I realized they all basically fit your ideas about Marvel and DC. Good post!