ORIGINALLY POSTED ON 11/31/09
The other ‘Bots and I were discussing comics the other day, and we got to discussing the whole “Marvel vs. DC” thing, which is kind of like an even lower-brow version of the old “Ford vs. Chevy” argument. It’s every bit as irrelevant, and yet it strangely does seem to tell you something about the person, based on which one they choose. (I’m a Ford man myself. As a brief aside, I’m quite proud of Ford as a Republican in that they refused the government bail out, *and* they’ve managed to turn a profit recently. That said, they build a crappy car, I’m on my third transmission and the thing is only six years old, and this is the SECOND Ford that I’ve had identical problems with, so this is probably my last one. They build crappy cars, and I’m done with them. So: Ford or Chevy, which one do I choose? From now on out, I choose Honda.)
R2’s take on it was that in Marvel, superpowers are regarded as a curse, whereas in DC they’re regarded as a blessing, and therefore which universe you prefer might have to do with how you feel about your own gifts and talents. Republibot 1.0 felt that Marvel was more angsty so as to better appeal to the self-important “No one is as sensitive nor as smart as me” crowd of moody teens who self-select themselves out of normal peer society.
I think they’re both right, and I don’t think there’s only one answer. For me, more than anything else, I think what turns me off about Marvel is their insistence that crappy lurid art like this http://farm1.static.flickr.com/229/473679576_879bb0c191_o.jpg and this http://farm1.static.flickr.com/247/460443321_ed75321b56_o.jpg and this http://farm1.static.flickr.com/174/447937350_687200a28e_o.jpg are somehow supposed to be somehow brilliant, subtle, and economical. When this style occasionally shows up in the DC universe - pretty much anything involving Darkseid or the Kirbyverse creations - I dislike it there, too, so I’m not playing favorites, really, I just find the style to be embarrassingly anti-aesthetic. Then there’s that bewildering and labyrinthine internal continuity (“This issue of The Fantastic Four takes place between pages 4 and 5 of The Mighty Thor, issue # 179, which will be on sale three months from now”) and a bunch of other little things that annoy me, but which are really just quibbles.
There are some really great Marvel characters, of course. I loved Iron Man before Iron Man was cool, I always loved the whole Nick Fury/Shield thing, and I’ll be the first to admit that Checkmate - the DC ripoff of SHIELD - doesn’t work nearly as well, even though it’s quite a bit more logical. I’m not slamming Marvel per se, but there remain for me a zillion tiny annoyances that detract from my enjoyment of Marvel comics, even with the characters I like.
I mean, admit it: Yes, Iron Man is cool, but is he cool because he’s part of the Marvel universe, or in spite of it? Are you content to see him saddled with characters who continually yammer off things like “It’s Clobberin’ Time!” and “By Odin’s Spork!,” or can you admit that he’d be even cooler if he were in the DC universe, hanging around with people who are maybe a little bit less whiney, and a little more serious about their jobs? G’wan, admit it. The reverse isn’t really true, though: If you take a cool DC character - Green Lantern, let’s say - and you drop him in to the Marvel universe, he kind of begins to suck. I’m talking about Quasar, of course
No surprises here, I’m a cliché: a Ford-driving Republican who prefers DC.
Understand, though, that I’m not assuming a moral dimension to all this, and I don’t like people who do so. Fundamentally, we’re talking about an artistic preference. In the end, it’s got no more of a moral aspect than which style of music you prefer: Some people like rock, some people hate it; some people like rap, some people hate it; some people like country, others hate it; some people like Folk, and others…well, you get the idea. Me: I love Rock, Rap, and Country, but I despise Folk with the white hot passion of a thousand burning suns. More than that, Folkie’s disingenuous evangelical assertions that folk is somehow “Just like” country fills me with the urge to punch them repeatedly in the throat. Likewise the assertion that Rap or Country is somehow inferior and artistically invalid to [insert pretentious crap here] annoys the purple hell out of me because invariably it’s just some nitwit trying to make his/her own limited tastes and experience seem broader by putting people down.
I’m not about that.
Well, if it’s funny, I guess I’m about that. I mean, I’m the first one to make fun of Vanilla Ice, and I’ve made more than my share of jokes about Christian Rock over the years, most of which is just dreadful. But I am mostly just trying to be funny about that, and I’m not dissing an entire genre because of the inherent goofiness that is Robbie Van Winkle or [laughing uncontrollably] Stryper, I’m just saying that those particular examples strike me as hilariously weak tea.
But there IS a reason that people don’t like stuff, and it’s always fascinating to know what that is. Lots of people don’t like country because they find the twangyness to be sonically displeasing (My reaction to Kenny G, by the way, who claims to be Jazz, but is actually a member of a subgenre I like to call "Sucky"), or the ethnic aspect of accents is a bit overwhelming, or they find some of the stories maudlin and too intimate. A surprising number of people don’t like country because it’s frequently damn funny, and you would not believe how many people do not like humor in songs. Weird. But the point is: these are things that we can point to and say “Ah, that’s why I don’t like it” or “Ah, that’s why I do.”
For myself, I think the difference between Marvel and DC comes down to Urban versus Suburban/Rural.
The Marvel Universe is, primarily, New York City. It’s a more-or-less realistic version of New York at that. It’s written by urban people for urban people, and deals with the million-and-one advantages and annoyances that come from living in a city. The fundamental mindset is different, the expectations, the hopes, the fears. I don’t want to say it’s “Jaded” because it isn’t fundamentally, but there is a reason why people from cities are frequently depicted as foppish and/or boorish. These kinds of stereotypes start for a reason.
The DC Universe is, primarily Rural and Suburban. Yea, most of it takes place in cities, but Gotham and Metropolis and Coast City and what have you are more like platonic ideals of cities than they are real places. They’re not places that seem terribly real, they’re more like places that just seem really cool and exotic from a distance. Superheroes represent fun and excitement and derring-do that everyone aspires to at some point in their life, before they wake up one morning and suddenly realize they suck. Even in the edgier heroes like Batman, the characters represent an idealized person that everyone would like to be, and the locations are more like places it seems it would be cool to hang out in, rather than an accurate depiction of urban life in the second half of the 20th century.
To put a finer point on it, Cities in DC represent places kids think it would be cool to go and life in, cities in Marvel represent places the reader is already taking for granted. DC cities are clearly movie sets, backlots, not real towns, if you follow my metaphor.
Furthermore: I think the supervillains in DC tend to represent the kinds of things that suburban kids would tend to fear, the nebulous fears of being away from home, alone, without support, with freaky people all around, rather than representing specific evils like racial discrimination, genocide, and political corruption, which, let's face it, no suburban kid gives a damn about.
All children have a primal fear of separation from their parents, everyone has nightmares about falling in to the possession of some bad person who wants to do nebulous-yet-evil tings to them. These aren’t fears of people so much as they are a kind of primal fear of an unnatural force that threatens us. And DC gives us that a lot more than Marvel does. Magneto has a complicated backstory that makes him a tragic, misguided, but ultimately noble character. Victor Von Doom has motivations and reasons for his actions. The wholescale sillyness that is Galactus is merely trying to survive, after all. These are characters, and characters can never scare us - nor satisfy us - the way monsters can. Conversely, DC gives us people like Joker, with his punk hair and freakish parody looks, and incomprehensible motivations. It’s no surprise the character was around for half a century before they gave him a concrete backstory - he didn’t need one - he’s just nuckin’ futs! He’s a primal force, chaos incarnate, he’s just as likely to do something that has no particular benefit to himself as he is to get all greedy and do a standard crime. He’s the living embodyment of what children fear, of the creepy guy down the street that your parents tell you to stay the hell away from, though you never really understand why.
A lot of people chide DC over their characters mostly being ciphers, of their locations being approximations, of their villains being unbelievably random; and these same people are likely to praise Marvel for having fully realized morally ambiguous characters, recognizable locations, but I feel they’re missing the point. The cipher-nature of DC is its appeal because the reader fills in those gaps with his own hopes and fears and sense of wonder.
Marvel shows the world more or less as it is, it’s a case of art attempting to imitate life. DC shows the world as we’d hope it could be, an example of art attempting to transform life.
Maybe I’m just too religious for my own good, but I’m always going to prefer the latter.