Iron Man vs. Batman. Superman vs. Spiderman. Wonder Woman vs. Captain Marvel. In schools, pubs, clubs, conventions and online chat rooms you’ve likely heard some arguments for both sides from die-hard fans. Whether you grew up with the faded colours of comics or the big screen films, it’s highly likely you have a preference for one or the other. But since both franchises are centered around their portrayal of superheroes and their villains, how come the two are portrayed as different? What’s helped this discussion last for the past eighty years?
Like every good superhero movie, a simple breakdown of their origins will help establish the backstory of these superhero behemoths. Detective Comics, as it was originally titled, released their #1 issue in 1935 and Marvel Comics (also under a different publishing title at the time) were quick to follow up with their first story in 1939. The first superheroes to grace the social interests were and are arguably the most famous examples: Batman on the cover of DC Comics #27 and Captain America from Captain America Comics #1. As the world changed while more famous and iconic characters became licensed, the acclaim of the two groups gradually snowballed and are still garnering attention even today.
“With great power comes great responsibility…”
Uncle Ben to Peter Parker, ‘Spider-Man vs. Wolverine’ #1 (1987)
Speaking as a team that grew up roughly 45 years after the supposed “Golden Age” of comics, we may not seem the strongest or most educated people to argue this topic. However, we’ve got the best chance of building a positive and informative discussion to show what the key differences are and why they matter so much to the many generations of comic book fans. With access to complete timelines of stories on our smartphones and entire film series uploaded to streaming services, it’s never been easier to get involved and find more interesting layers to your favourite heroes and even the villains too!
Therefore, it makes sense for this article to be written by two people: one who prefers Marvel and the other who prefers DC, so that a fair and genuine perspective of both sides can be given without causing (too many) arguments. And that’s what we’ve got! In one corner we have Ruby, defending the honour of DC Comics and in another corner there’s Alex, fighting for Marvel’s prestige. It should be noted we both like Marvel and DC, but we also have our own reasons and preferences.
Alex has always had a stronger stand for marvel because she feels that they offer a lot more than DC. She describes DC as “classic but outdated”, whereas Marvel is always bringing something new and fresh to the table. Along with the brilliant characters, outfits and storyline Alex also feels that Marvel brings more relatable stories to reality and have positive morals. In contrast to DC, having a very positive and motivational atmosphere draws viewers in, making them want to be involved in the history of Marvel.
Ruby, on the other hand, considers DC to be the stronger franchise because of their character portrayals intending to be more rooted in reality. There is less ‘spectacle’ to keep up with; most of the cast are portrayed as intelligent and skilled with technology, but are just humans fighting for different causes. Another aspect that has gotten stronger in the modern “Dark Era” of comic book stories is their moral ambiguity. Things are very rarely labelled as ‘good’ and ‘bad’; the readers and viewers are allowed to make their own decisions about who is in the right rather than being tld there is an assigned villain.
Examples of this include Joker (2019), a movie depicting some of the most infamous villain concepts in the life of a somewhat average guy. One could argue this movie shows us a sympathetic view of the Joker’s descent into villainy, as if it only takes one bad day to cause somebody to become as insane as the Joker. The flipside of this is the Watchmen graphic novel series originally penned in 1986, where the main cast consist of costumed superheroes trying to make the world a better place but even they are unable to decide what “better” really means.
“Never compromise. Not even in the face of Armageddon.”
Rorschach, Watchmen #1, 1986
Not every DC concept shares this idea; there is a lot of freedom and adaptability with how different authors and artists can portray the same character. However, Ruby considers these fantastical storylines using realistic characters to have a more attention-grabbing and lasting effect on the reader, as if they are a part of the story rather than just passively reading something on brightly coloured pages.
On the other side of the page, Alex enjoys the fact that the superhero abilities are not so obvious; the stories of Marvel have always been full of action and adventure but balanced out with plenty of comical moments. However they also push to show very real problems of their less real world through many pseudo-historical moments from the past and present. In addition, they continually show and fight for an inspirational future that we could create in the real world.
The cons of DC are much more noticeable in comparison. While they are indeed iconic and have stood the test of time, there has been very little character development or progress for their characters. Every so often we are reminded of the tired old backstories, but the only thing that seems to change is how dark and gothic the visual style gets. DC has irrevocably helped to make a literal ‘Dark Age’ of comics as well as a figurative one.
This was pointed out in the LEGO Batman Movie by Alfred (Batman’s butler) about how in every one of his depictions he has been portrayed as dealing with gritty brooding trauma. By the end of the film things are better and the villain is defeated, but then in the next one he’s back to square one.
This sense of “character purity” can be seen across the entire roster of heroes and villains, for better or worse.While Marvel’s unrealistic characters have very human attributes and discussions, DC still seems to be mostly stuck in the past, afraid to do something new and change up the formula.
When it comes to Marvel’s portrayal of villains not all villains are necessarily just villains as throughout the stories we see more and more of who they really are and start to feel many emotions such as empathy when learning about not who they are but why they are who they are and what made them become who they are. As well as the way marvel evolves the characters and shows more and more of their lives throughout marvel they also still keep continuing to produce amazing movies that go into more deeper stories of the characters themselves which many viewers will agree is exciting and interesting.
We both want things to get better for our preferred franchises. If Marvel and DC played to their strengths, there would be another resurgence in the success of comic books and their respective movies. With DC, they went from box office bomb ‘Jonah Hex’ (anyone remember that?) in 2010 to grossing over 1 billion dollars in 2020 with Joker. DC’s strengths can be described as “old concepts but new ideas”. We don’t want to see the same Batman origin story for the 17th time, we want to see Batman taking on someone or something new!
Alex describes DC as very “one way” with how they do things as they are not going backwards but not forwards they are just sitting there in the middle. However Marvel continues to evolve and push forward even with it being said that ‘Endgame’ would be the last that was not fully true. There is a Black Widow movie being released in 2021, a Loki backstory in development and even brought out a Falcon and Winter Soldier series (which is AMAZING if you haven’t seen it yet you need to!). Marvel has proven over and over again that they are nowhere near “one way” or going outdated anytime soon. As Captain America said “I can do this all day” and so can the Marvel franchise.
Conversely, one of DC’s strengths is “less is more”; using a movie or comic to focus on one (maybe two) characters and let them have the story rather than putting a load of random heroes or villains in one room (looking at you, Suicide Squad). Perhaps DC could take the Marvel route and start doing more solo backstory movies in a similar vein to ‘Joker’, and Marvel could take the DC route of using less spectacle but more story.
So perhaps the title is incorrect. Maybe we shouldn’t argue “DC vs. Marvel”. It isn’t the ‘Golden Age’ anymore; the world has changed since then, which means comic books and their movies will change too. DC and Marvel have been gradually evolving since the first pages were published and they are still changing even today. Whether you prefer one or the other, they are both strong franchises that we can find a lot of joy and maybe even comfort in.
Only time will be able to determine what happens to the future of comic books and their beloved iconic casts, but for now it’s safe to say a little bit of friendly rivalry between the two isn’t a bad thing. Since people are still arguing about which is better 80+ years after the Golden Age began, maybe that is a testament to how amazing both Marvel and DC have been. And, like every iconic hero/villain pairing, there probably will be no definitive winner.
“I think you and I are destined to do this forever…”
Joker to Batman, The Dark Knight, 2008
Both Alex and Ruby would love to continue this discussion for hours with more obscure characters and personal insight, but they’ve condensed their strongest talking points into this article. No doubt everyone reading this would be able to offer their own points of view, so what do you think? Are there any reasons we haven’t mentioned here that help you decide a favourite? Whatever they may be, let’s keep the good-natured super argument burning strong for another 80 years!
“If you have an idea that you genuinely think is good, don’t let some idiot talk you out of it.” – Stan Lee, 2017