A debate that fires people up like politics or religion, DC vs. Marvel is a battle I see quite often. Typically it’s 50% joking around and 50% defending your position as though your soul is being attacked. It’s a strange combination of serious and not, but I am here today to settle the debate: DC is greater than Marvel.
With the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (yes that’s the official title), the DC cinematic universe is off to an official start. Technically 2013’s Man of Steel would have been the start, but at the time they didn’t know what future plans would be. Of course Marvel has been “world-building” since Iron Man in 2008.
But my case will not be based on the cinematic universe. Directors and studios can take movies however they want, and the quality of the film does not necessarily reflect the quality of the brand or the character itself. Marvel has had screw-ups like Howard the Duck, The Punisher (1989 and 2004), Daredevil, Spiderman 3, Iron Man 3, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, etc. And DC has tossed out some bombs like Catwoman, Steel, Batman and Robin, Green Lantern, Superman IV, Jonah Hex, etc.
Another reason I don’t want to factor in the movie universe is because it isn’t a level playing field, for better or for worse. Marvel has a studio that is involved in its movies directly. DC characters on film or television are produced by Warner Brothers. The dynamics are different and ever-changing. I want to get to the characters themselves. Specifically, I want to look at what they stand for, the philosophy behind them, and their potential for story.
The comic book world is vast and I have no interest in reaching to every superhero ever created. I’d like to choose several major characters from each side to explain why I feel DC is superior to Marvel.
Full disclosure, I have never read a single comic book in my life. I was a child in the 90’s and devoured superhero television. Batman: The Animated Series and Spiderman. Superman: The Animated Series and The X-Men. I liked them all!
I’m sure everyone will have their personal opinion on this and possibly differ, but from my perspective Spiderman represents the ultimate of what Marvel is about. Spiderman is the Marvel character that embodies why I don’t care for the Marvel-ethos. What he represents in these fictional stories is the juxtaposition of commonality with the fantastical. Peter Parker is always trying to balance the everyday-pressures of high school with the amazing world of being a hero with super powers.
My frustration with him is two-fold. First, why on earth would I want to be brought back to the frustrations and drama of high school? Those are emotions and experiences that as an adult I try to avoid. And you want to use this fantasy to bring me back into that? Second, what Spiderman does is take the fantastical and lowers it. Most people see this as a way of grounding the character and making him more relatable. But I’m well aware that I don’t live in a fantasy world, why bring it down to the normal? Why not let it expand and grow?
The allure of Spiderman is that you could be him. That immediately destroys the idea of an intellectual discussion and permanently imprints
him into a childish-realm. At his core, Spiderman must remain a child’s story because he asks you to believe something every adult knows is fiction. All other story-lines that bring out more sophisticated ideas are peripheral to the character and not essential.
So perhaps my point shouldn’t be that DC is greater than Marvel. Maybe my point is that Marvel will remain for children while DC leaves itself open to adults.
Now let’s look at arguably the most popular character for DC and maybe even the most popular superhero ever- Superman! Call me crazy, but when little kids tie a blanket around their neck and fly around, I doubt they are pretending to be Thor or Dr. Strange.
I’ve always been a Batman fan, but I can’t deny that Superman is the king of superheroes. As far as well-known heroes go, Superman was the first. Premiering in 1938, Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Right away what I find interesting is that these men were both Jewish, and created a character very much in line with the Moses narrative in the bible.
- Biological parents sending the child away to save his life.
- Found and raised by another family.
- Reconnecting with where he came from.
- Eventually becoming a kind of savior.
It comes as no surprise that Siegel and Shuster weren’t too pleased with how much the 1978 Richard Donner film Superman gave a much more Christ-like spin on the hero. Since then Superman has always been dabbling with the Jesus metaphors. Of course anyone familiar with New Testament theology will know that this makes complete sense. Many of the great Old Testament stories were meant as a picture of what Jesus of Nazareth would come and do. However I can certainly understand why two men of the Jewish faith may not see things my way.
Superman is often accused of being boring because he is too powerful. Too invincible! Allow me to give you another angle on this. Superman’s abilities are impressive, but the struggle is what to do with them. I think the Zach Snyder/Christopher Nolan Man of Steel showed how great this struggle can be. With all of that power, what does morality look like? You can do whatever you want, so why be virtuous? And why help people who are a different species than you; who sometimes hate and work against you? These are the interesting questions I find lacking in the Hulk. Or Iron Man.
“With great power comes great responsibility” is somewhat of an understatement when you are a god among men. How Superman interacts with human beings and why is a fascinating question.
And I can’t leave the DC side alone without touching on Batman. I said my thoughts on these characters wouldn’t rely on the cinematic universe, but let’s divert for a moment…
Iron Man was a fun movie! Captain America: Winter Soldier was an even better movie! The Dark Knight was a great film. Get what I mean? The Dark Knight transcended the comic book world and was undeniably the best of that world and a great film period.
Batman gives us the ability to explore ideas of revenge and justice. Where is that line? And do the means justify the ends? Batman stands out as a character who has no superpowers and yet stands shoulder to shoulder in the Justice League with beings who do. Batman is the smartest and possibly the only being (aside from Doomsday) who has the potential to kill Superman. I think the upcoming (and terribly named) Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will show why Batman is technically the weakest member of the Justice League and somehow the best.
And let’s get this straight, he takes on all villains with a no guns and no killing policy. Wow!
I do want to touch on some honorable mentions in the Marvel Universe. If I can give any credit to Marvel characters, it has to go to the X-Men. Individually they fall into the same category I put Spiderman into, but as a whole they embody the civil rights movement. I applaud their clear message of embracing “the other.”
I also think there is potential for Captain America, but only because of the times we live in. Never before has America had such a problem with its own government. We live in a time where there is a stark line between what America was and what it is. Captain America can really explore that concept in an interesting way. But in his inception he reflected more of a “Ra-Ra America” propaganda story. As I said before, Marvel characters do touch on interesting ideas sometimes, but they are peripheral.
Inherent in what the character is and where they came from, DC characters allow you to explore large philosophical concepts, if you so choose. No doubt fodder for endless college papers and insightful comic book fans. With DC you can choose to remain in the world of a Saturday morning cartoon, or dive into real conversations about religion, ethics and metaphysics, without straying from who the characters are. Marvel offers you fun and excitement at often times a juvenile level. They are enjoyable, and that’s the best I can say.
Right now my son enjoys The Avengers. When he grows up, we can start talking DC
Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @World_Re_Views, where we do mini-reviews and talk about worldview trends in movies and literature.
If you have questions about this post or would like to mercilessly battle it out over why I’m wrong and you’re right, leave a comment or email me at email@example.com.
This post was written by and reflects the views of Ryan. Tim is a Marvel guy, but I don’t hold it against him.