This week on Most Heroic, we’ll be exploring the differences between Marvel heroes and DC heroes, and what makes each group worthy of the term. The two companies are of course defined by each other to a very large extent, because they both offer some different views of the world and how people interact with each other.
Back during the early days of comic books, when superheroes like Superman and Batman first started appearing, the stories and characters that made up the books were much more simplistic, because back in those days the material really was meant for children. It was a very different time. The only real characteristic that the heroes had was the fact that they were the good guys. Of course they acted as noble and upstanding as heroes should, but they were very cardboard compared to today’s more realistic characters. They were meant to serve as role models more than anything, so we didn’t see any of the individual personalities or character flaws in any of them for a long time. They were written this way so the reader could imagine themselves as the characters. This point of view and philosophy on storytelling lasted for decades.
In the early 1960’s, Marvel Comics started offering an alternative to the DC products with the stories that Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and Steve Ditko were producing. They started giving their characters clearly defined personalities and flaws along with weaknesses, both physical and emotional. Thor’s human civilian guise was Dr. Donald Blake, who was lame, meaning he couldn’t walk. Daredevil was blind. Iron Man had a weak heart. Ben Grimm suffered from the depression of being turned into a rocklike monster. The X-Men had to serve and protect a world that hated and feared them. The list goes on and on. This approach paid off extraordinarily well. Readers responded to the new characters who weren’t unnaturally perfect specimens of humanity, and they appreciated having heroes who more closely represented themselves.
DC realized the benefits to the new approach, and started to flesh out their characters more, but with a bit of a twist. They gave their heroes more developed personalities and made them more relatable, but they still made sure that their heroes were clearly heroic. Taking cues from some of Marvel’s relationships, they started introducing some more complex relationships between heroes.
For instance, Green Arrow became a modern day Robin Hood, dedicated to helping the poor and downtrodden members of society, often reminding the other members of the Justice League to be more involved in social justice and solve the problems of crime by helping improve the lives of the citizens. However, his more liberal political views alienated him from some of the other heroes, particularly Hawkman and the Flash. This made for some good drama between the members of the League, the same way that it had for the Avengers when Hawkeye and Captain America disagreed on their own heroic policies.
To fully show the differences between the two companies we’re look at their signature heroes, which in Marvel’s case would undoubtedly be Spider-Man. There’s a very big reason that Spider-Man is one of the three most popular, significant, and influential superheroes in the world, and that’s because he’s meant to represent the everyman. When Stan Lee and Steve Ditko first created Peter Parker, the character was a teenager who didn’t have a lot of friends, was bullied in school for being a science nerd, and never seemed to have things really go his way. After his own selfish action led to the death of his beloved uncle Ben, Peter swore to use his powers to help others before himself. Even though Spider-Man was a hero, he still had to fight against a lot. He almost never has enough money, his social life is a bit of a mess, the man he works for slanders his reputation, and he’s lost plenty of friends loved ones over the years. However, in some ways that’s what makes Spider-Man Marvel’s best hero. He always fights the good fight and strives to always do the right thing, because he knows all too well what happens when people are too passive.
DC’s signature hero could be more debatable, but in my eyes, it’s gotta be Superman. After all, he is the archetype that every other superhero is partially based on. Ever since the early days, he’s been portrayed as one of the most honorable and respected heroes in the DC Universe, and for good reason. The morals and philosophies that he learned from his adopted parents stuck with him throughout his entire life, and he refuses to break his moral code, even when it would be very convenient to do so. He may be powerful enough to easily conquer the world and declare himself a god, but he instead chooses to live among the people of his adopted planet as both an equal and a protector. Superman has been criticized a great deal by fans who don’t truly understand the character, but there’s a reason that he’s endured for seventy-five years. He is meant to represent the best of humanity, and he gives mankind hope for the future.
These days both Marvel and DC provide quality writing and characterization for all their heroes and villains, but they both still retain a bit of their individual flavors from their early days. Marvel continues to write their heroes so the reader can relate to them, and DC continues to write theirs so the reader can be inspired by the role models. Personally, I want to be inspired by my heroes, and that’s why I’m a DC guy.
Which style of hero do you prefer? Do you favor the more relatable heroes from Marvel, or do you like the guys over at DC? Feel free to chime in down in the comments below!