Welcome to the second of my Official Geek Debates, where I throw my hat in the ring and make myself generally unpopular. What I want to do here is try and get closer to resolving some of the bigger issues in Geekdom and where better to start than with a face-off between those two juggernauts of the comic-book world…Marvel and DC.
Meeting Batman for the First Time
I started out on DC, predictably with Batman. Although I was cheerfully soaking up The Beano at the time (I think I was eight or nine), I saw the cover of a Batman comic and had to buy it. If I remember rightly, it showed Batman faced with a pile of fish, bearing the Joker’s trademark grin; the old scoundrel had been poisoningGotham’s water-supply.
From there, I discovered the Green Lantern, Green Arrow, JLA, the Flash and a whole host of other spandex-wearing heroes. They captured my imagination and I even had a little plastic, green ring which I used to pretend was my Lantern Ring. It actually squirted water, which I chucked some food colouring in, just to make it that bit more authentic. Bear in mind, this was the late Seventies; these heroes were lantern-jawed, colourful and with a moral compass that pointed inflexibly North.
And then I discovered Marvel.
You Wouldn’t Like Me when I’m Angry…
My hero was the Hulk. I think he is for a lot of Geeks; he’s the immeasurable rage we all felt in the face of bullying and the ultimate symbol of the misunderstood monster. And then I found Spiderman, Dr Strange, Adam Warlock, the Fantastic Four and my other favourite, the Man Thing. (As a side-note, I have an autograph from Nestor Redondo, who drew Man Thing for a time).
My obsession with the Hulk pretty much took over all my comic-reading. I read Rampage magazine when I could afford it, snapped up the re-releases of the original stories (back when he was grey) and subscribed to the Incredible Hulk Weekly. My romance with DC was forgotten – apart from the Batman, with whom I’d re-establish a relationship in my teens.
So, how come I ditched DC and what makes Marvel, in my eyes, the Comic Book King? After all, they’re both escapist stories about mega-muscled men and zeppelin-boobed women, dressed in questionable costumes with amazing powers, fighting similarly fashion-challenged being with a penchant for world domination. What’s the difference? Let’s have a look…
DC vs. Marvel
For my money, a lot of the differences are perceived, rather than actual – and they all stem from the way these comics started and what they were trying to do; they’ve both cast long shadows over themselves. DC started the ball rolling in the 1940’s and its most groundbreaking character was the blue-boy-scout, himself: Superman. Superman kind of set the template for DC; DC heroes were almost-mythical, legendary heroes, whose powers and feats were way beyond us mere mortals. In many ways, I’ve always thought this type of hero is our modern equivalent of the epic sagas of old; the Viking myths, the Greek legends and the Roman tales. DC heroes were almost god-like, bestriding the Earth and saving us humans from devastation so mind-blowing that there’s no way we could ever contemplate doing it.
Epic Sagas and Modern Gods
Just like Asgard andMount Olympus, DCheroes battled it out in fictional settings, such as Gotham and Metropolis, as though no Earthly city could bear the weight of their being. Sometimes they even zipped off to other planets or alternate dimensions, to go and have a bash at creature so mind-bendingly weird and evil that the Earth itself just couldn’t have handled it. DC created something like High Fantasy in panels, using pen and ink, and gave kids like me the hope that, one day, I might discover I was from Krypton and suddenly jump over the garage in a single bound.
Which did result in me falling off my Space Hopper more than once.
Bringing it Back to Perceived Reality
And then Marvel came along in the 1960’s. But its heroes were different. Where DC took the stance that these beings were heroes first and foremost, Marvel focussed on the lives of ordinary humans who were suddenly blessed or cursed with amazing abilities. These powers had consequences to their daily lives: Gwen Stacy died at the hands of the Green Goblin (or was it Spidey’s fault – another big debate), Betty Ross got caught up in her father’s vendetta against the Hulk and the X-Men found that society wasn’t able to tolerate their mutations. Instead of charging around, firing lasers out of their eyes, Marvel characters tended to wrestle with their powers, having to hide them from their loved ones and keep their identities a watertight secret. And none of them used a pair of glasses to hide their alter-egos.
Marvel spoke to me that much louder because becoming a superhero suddenly seemed infinitely more possible. All I had to do was get caught in the blast of a gamma-bomb or get bitten by a radioactive spider and I could charge around my town, righting wrongs and dispensing justice, Andy-style. My knowledge of science was nil but, at that point in my life, the fact that these heroes had once been real people like me, made the whole thing seem much more achievable. To the point that me and my brother once spent an entire afternoon running around our garden, picking up spiders and trying to get them to bite us and then seeing if we could run up the wall of our house.
If it had worked, I wouldn’t have the time to be writing this post.
It’s an old debate and there’s a whole lot of hoo-ha about the reboots, alternate universes and the way some characters have died-but-not-really and it’s split a world of comic fans. But, for my money, I can only rely on what comics meant to me when the world was a bigger and brighter place. For nine or ten year-old me, Marvel had it going on in spades and was responsible for my short-lived career as Devon’s only superhero, The Night Creeper.
But that’s another story (although I must thank my mum for making that mask…)