Deconstructing the Marvel vs. DC “Dilemma”

It’s a common practice.  You meet someone and discover he or she reads comic books.  You ask about which of the big two publishers, Marvel Comics or DC Comics, he or she prefers.  If you agree, you have a lot to talk about.  If you don’t, you have even more.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  But the idea of one company being inherently “better” than the other, and the idea that you have to pick a side, is flawed, and when people take it too seriously, they cheat themselves out of a lot of good stuff.

There are two major points I’d like to make in this argument.  The first is that despite appearances, Marvel and DC aren’t all that different.  Sure, they feature separate shared universes of characters, which is important.  I personally have generally found that DC’s characters are written on a more iconic, archetypal level, while Marvel’s are designed to be more flawed and relatable.  There are exceptions, of course; Captain America is pretty damn iconic, and I’ve always found the Flash (the third Flash specifically, Wally West) to be pretty easy to identify with.  But the real truth of the mainstream superhero comics industry is that it’s not a very large club, and everyone knows everyone and does everything.  The guys who are essentially running DC right now, Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, were doing work for Marvel about ten and fifteen years ago respectively.  Grant Morrison, who is currently reinventing Superman in the pages of Action Comics, helmed X-Men right around when the movies were coming out.  Sure, there are guys who have the bravado and luxury right now of swearing to only write for one publisher, like Brian Michael Bendis at Marvel, but realistically, most writers, pencilers, inkers, colorists, letterers and anyone else involved are going to take good work where they can find it.  It’s important to find creators you like writing good stories about characters you care about, and just follow those.  You wouldn’t swear off J.K. Rowling’s next book series just because it wasn’t about Hogwarts, would you?

(As a side note, this is also why I stopped caring about continuity so much.  Keeping track of what stories “count” is a pretty sorry way to be entertained.  If you don’t like the direction a new creative team is taking a book, don’t bother.  Jump back on when someone good does something good with it.)

The other point is larger in scope.  There’s more out there in the wide world of sequential art than Marvel Comics and DC Comics.  They may be some of the biggest and best known publishers, but there are myriad other companies of various sizes printing all kinds of stuff.  Companies like Image, Dark Horse and Devil’s Due do some stuff similar to the big two, but the also run everything from Westerns to horror.  Oni Press and First Second print “alternative” comics, which ironically include genres popular in pretty much every other form of media, like spy fiction or romantic comedies.  The internet has allowed for an insane proliferation of webcomics of all forms and styles, most of which are free to read.  Japanese manga is a ridiculously varied industry, and translated volumes and collections of titles line the walls of pretty much every comic shop in the nation.  Deciding to open up to both Marvel and DC, but only those two, is like being willing to eat at McDonald’s and Burger King but no other restaurant worldwide.

(The super pessimistic mirror of this is that Marvel and DC are both subsidiaries of some of the largest entertainment media corporations in the world, and they don’t give a damn whether you’re buying their stuff exclusively.  Comics is still a business, and making money is the bottom line.  Indie stuff is a better way of allowing creators to tell the stories they want to tell, and ensuring that they’re the ones primarily profiting off of their work.)

Neither Marvel nor DC!

Just… read a lot of comics, is i guess what I’m trying to say.  It’s perfectly fine to have favorite characters or a preference for one company or another.  I was a big Marvel guy during my early teens, but lately I have more of a DC focus.  I also had a crazy manga phase in high school.  I’m sure the pendulum will continue to swing back and forth.  But if I limited myself to just DC, I would’ve missed Matt Fraction’s phenomenal run on Iron Man, and if I just read mainstream stuff I wouldn’t have read his absolutely amazing indie spy-fi series Casanova.  There’s so much good stuff out there, and there’s no reason not to experience all of it.

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