This debate tears my heart to pieces. Each side is loaded with incredible content and characters. Billions of dollars have flown out of American hands in support of their toys, comic books, movies and cartoons. Still, it is a question that must be answered. Who is better: Marvel comics or DC comics?
After hours of coffee fueled by rants with my friends, I have decided that Marvel is superior based on its licensed content, abundance of fantastic characters and the overall quality of its universe.
For the uninitiated, Marvel and DC are the two largest publishers of comics over the last 70 years. DC was the first major publisher, but it was originally known as National Allied Publications in 1935. Their greatest acclaim comes from inventing the modern version of the superhero with Superman, who was followed quickly by Batman. Other notable characters include the Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and The Flash. For the purposes of this article, Vertigo comics, an imprint of DC comics, will be left out because they are not part of the DC universe.
Marvel comics have existed in one form or another since 1939, but Marvel was not a major player until 1961. That year, the legendary Stan Lee and Jack Kirby wrote the Fantastic Four. Soon after, Lee, Kirby and Steve Ditko became the veritable golden geese, creating Spiderman, Daredevil, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, the X-Men and the practice of yelling “Excelsior.”
Marvel’s characters undeniably beat DC in terms of quantity in high-end characters. You can count the number of DC A-list heroes on one hand before you start scrapping the bottom of the barrel for mistakes like Aquaman and the Wonder Twins. Marvel, on the other hand, seems to have an endless parade of fan favorites, each with their own unique qualities and interesting quirks that make them relatable to us all. Peter Parker struggles to pay the bills, the Hulk has anger issues and the X-Men are discriminated against every day.
DC and Marvel tie in terms of comic quality. DC has some of the most revolutionary and classic comic books in history, including “Batman: The Killing Joke,” which involves the Joker paralyzing Batgirl, and the “Dark Knight Returns,” in which an aging Bruce Wayne returns to his role as Batman. These stories were a lot more intense than other comics, and signified a step toward a darker, more serious tone in comic books than the happy-go-lucky plots of the past. Marvel currently pushes the boundaries of modern comics with events like Civil War, which consisted of the United States government instating a superhuman registration act, a modern spin on a post-Sept. 11 society, and critically-acclaimed titles like “Runaways” and “Astonishing X-Men.”
After two losses, how will our Marvel heroes survive this caped encounter? Licensed content comes to its rescue. Marvel’s movies have hands-down crushed DC in quality and performance. “The Dark Knight” stands as one of the best movies ever made of any genre, but not even that masterpiece can make amends for “Superman Returns” and a complete absence of a Wonder Woman, Green Lantern or recent Flash movie.
Meanwhile, Marvel has more than enough box-office clout. “Iron Man” was one of the biggest and best movies of the year. Spiderman is a record-setting blockbuster monster. Even its more minor characters, like Blade, have appeared out of nowhere and made testosterone-loaded action masterpieces.
Cartoons are a much closer call, but the edge barely goes to Marvel. The dark, gritty Batman show of our childhood was amazing, and the Justice League that followed was epic in scope and quality. Marvel wins out, however, only because it has managed to produce two generations of high quality cartoons based on their universe: “Spiderman: The Animated Series” when we were kids and “Spectacular Spiderman” as we grow into adults. In the last 15 years alone, Marvel has produced three high-quality X-Men shows.
Marvel has also set up an overall higher quality universe. Despite the fact that crossover events can be frustrating for your wallet, making each character interact with one another makes the world feel alive. My nerd vacation would be a trip to the Marvel Universe. Not only is it more interconnected, it is as close to our world as a story about people with razors coming out of their hands and light shooting out of their eyes could be. People react with racism and fear toward mutants the same way they have toward homosexuals and African-Americans in ours.
The result of increased realism and interconnectedness is a palpable world. DC does not bring this to the table. Crossovers are rare, the cities are fictional and the presidents are make-believe. DC characters feel like gods because they do not seem at all plausible. Marvel, on the other hand, makes me believe that if I look up, I could see a human spider hybrid swinging above my head.
DC loses mostly due to this deciding factor. DC’s comics are easier to approach, and its characters are epic, but Marvel simply runs a better business. More importantly, its world does not feel so different from our own, making it easier to connect to its work. The point of all stories is to engulf the listener, reader or watcher. Marvel’s universe achieves this, giving the edge it needs to beat DC.