Nov 09 2010

Differences Between Marvel and DC Comics

Published by at 12:15 am under The Comic Book Industry

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

Caveat: Both companies have thousands of characters, so obviously there will be exceptions to every generalization. That said, here are some general differences between the two.

 

1.  Marvel characters usually come from relatively ordinary backgrounds.  For example, Spider-Man, Captain America and most of the X-Men had largely unremarkable lives before developing superpowers.  In contrast, the three most prominent DC characters are a billionaire playboy/ninja, an extraterrestrial, and an Amazon princess that may be a CEO.

 

2.  DC usually uses more epic superpowers.  For example, Superman doesn’t just have eye-beams or incredible strength or incredible speed or the ability to fly, but all of those and more.   In contrast, a lot of Marvel characters get just one (think Cyclops, the Hulk, Quicksilver, Angel, etc).  Most Marvel characters usually have somewhat more ordinary capabilities.  (The Sentry is a notable exception for Marvel).

 

3. DC characters were usually created earlier. Most of Marvel’s main characters date to the 1960s and 1970s, whereas most of DC’s date back to the late 1930s and 1940s.

  • This is one reason Marvel has characters named [Modifier] Man/Woman/Boy/Lad: Iron Man, Spiderman and the Invisible Woman vs. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Aqua Lad, Hawkgirl and Hawkman, etc.
  • Many major DC characters were introduced before superhero teams became commonplace*.

 

4. DC uses more magic/mythology, and it affects the main characters more.  For example, at least 12 of the episodes of Justice League/JLU feature magic.  In contrast, the lives and adventures of Marvel characters (particularly the main ones) are farther removed from magic/mythology.  A few Marvel characters like Dr. Strange, Dr. Doom and Mephisto sometimes bring magic into otherwise nonmagical stories, but Marvel stories (particularly its movies) are usually more purely science-fiction.

 

5. Marvel usually focuses on light science fiction, whereas DC sometimes reaches for high sci-fi and/or fantasy and/or really out-there stuff. For example, the most strange stuff in Marvel’s Armored Adventures is a dragon (Fin Fang Foom) and a psychopathic science experiment (MODOK). In contrast, the first season of Justice League had (deep breath) an alien invasion, a war with Atlantis, a sorcerer blackmailing Amazons to release Hades from Tartarus, extraterrestrial slave traders, Gorilla Grodd attacking Gorilla City, a demon assisting the League to defeat a sorceress, a criminal outfit called the Injustice Gang, the League transported to a parallel comic book universe, and an immortal ex-caveman going back in time to help the Nazis win WWII. That was one season.

 

6.  Marvel movies are somewhat better on average. Since 2000, Marvel’s movies have averaged 60% on Rotten Tomatoes and DC/WB’s movies have averaged 47%. My theory here is that the movie teams working on Marvel franchises have generally done a better job giving characters memorable and likable personalities, whereas DC/WB’s non-Nolan efforts have struggled there (e.g. Superman was a peeping tom and deadbeat dad in Superman Returns, Green Lantern was a man-child, and the Catwoman movie was so bad that I wrote a book about it). In contrast, Marvel characters sometimes do objectionable things, but generally execute it with enough style that the character comes across as more likable than not (e.g. Thor’s coffee scene, virtually any Tony Stark scene, Peter Parker letting the robber go, etc).

 

7.  *Many prominent Marvel characters were designed for teams (the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, most of the Avengers, etc).  In contrast, many prominent DC characters–particularly those introduced before the JSA’s creation in 1940–were introduced as loners or partners rather than teammates.  Characters that are built for a team usually have fewer, simpler powers, because there isn’t as much space for each character.  Additionally, writers designing a team can delegate powers and capabilities to different characters–for example, Reed Richards handles science, Ben Grimm is a pilot and the Invisible Woman does most of the team’s stealth work, but Batman usually does all of that himself.

 

8.  Most Marvel characters have powers/capabilities that are easier to explain. For example, “Storm controls the weather and can fly” vs. “Superman is supertough, fast, has eye-rays, ice breath, incredible senses, the ability to fly, and can (at times) go back in time and erase memories.”  “The Thing is supertough” vs. “Wonderwoman is supertough, can fly, and can force honesty.”  Spiderman is an agile webslinger that can sense danger.  Batman is a master detective, ninja, martial artist, gadgeteer and scientist that makes NASCAR look like go-karts.

 

9. DC’s heroic personas sometimes get adopted by new people. For example, Robin, the Flash, Hawkgirl, Green Lantern, the Blue Beetle, Supergirl and Superboy have been different characters at different times.  Besides Marvel’s short-lived attempt to slot in Ben Reilly as Spiderman, you’d have to really dig for Marvel examples (like Johnny Ketch replacing Johnny Blaze as Ghost Rider from 1990-98).  Additionally, both companies have used a few short-term substitutes while the original character is getting over a temporary case of death, like Azrael-as-Batman and Bucky-as-Captain America, but it rarely has much long-term bearing on the story.

 

10.  Marvel usually uses real locations (notably New York City), whereas DC mostly uses fictional cities. Both publishers are located in New York City and it frequently shows.   (For example, “Gotham” was a nickname for NYC at the time Batman was introduced and Metropolis isn’t fooling anybody).

 

11. Workload/quality of coffee.  DC editors work on 4-8 series per month and Marvel editors work on maybe twice as many.  Mercifully, Marvel has better coffee.

 

 

What do you think?  What would you add or dispute?

46 responses so far

46 Responses to “Differences Between Marvel and DC Comics”

  1. ekimmakon 09 Nov 2010 at 1:57 am

    I always thought MODOK was a computer.
    Mental Organism Design Only for Killing

  2. Sean Higginson 09 Nov 2010 at 7:11 am

    I believe MODOK was originally a science experiment gone wrong. I think they updated the character in the cartoon for a different target audience.

    As for the rest of the list, I tend to agree. I prefer Marvel for their seemingly more “human” characters. However, I’m a little upset with how wish-washy they seem to have been: Killing characters in mass and then having them return and adding major milestones for characters and then hitting a killswitch because of the changes it made to the story (SPOILER: Spider-Man revealed his identity to the world during Civil War and then made a deal with Mephisto to have that particular moment in comic book history erased).

  3. B. Macon 09 Nov 2010 at 11:50 am

    Thanks for the help on MODOK’s origins, Sean and Ekimmak.

  4. Wikipedia Danon 09 Nov 2010 at 2:38 pm

    MODOK is actually a specially-designed cyborg who has a long-standing grudge against Captain America because of his being at the height of physical perfection. Whereas MODOK, on the other hand, is a giant head.

  5. Mr. Crowleyon 09 Nov 2010 at 2:43 pm

    Another difference is the fact that marvel embraces the dark age of comic books and 90′s anti heroes while DC tends to look towards the Silver age. Also recently Marvel has had some horribly thought out events and crossovers while DC has hadless, only Countdown and All Star Batman and Robin the boy wonder com to mind.

  6. B. Macon 09 Nov 2010 at 8:21 pm

    “Marvel has had some horribly thought out events and crossovers…” I’m still trying to get One More Day out of my mind. And OMD itself was probably caused by Spiderman outing himself to the world in Civil War.

    I think that events generally lead to pretty awful stories, but unfortunately also lead to increased sales.

  7. ShardReaperon 09 Nov 2010 at 8:48 pm

    You want horribly thought out events? Read ‘The Ultimates 3′ and ‘Ultimatum.’

  8. B. Macon 09 Nov 2010 at 9:19 pm

    NO. :-P

  9. Lighting Manon 09 Nov 2010 at 11:29 pm

    I liked Ultimatum…

    What?

    The overwrought art made great gerbil bedding. I broke like three scissors trying to cut the issue where Blob ate Wasp into pieces. Not cheap scissors either, like sharp ones. I eventually just tore it up by hands, and now I have to use these clumsy hooks to type.

  10. ekimmakon 09 Nov 2010 at 11:35 pm

    Well of course they’re terrible.

    It’s all a Nemesis plot.

    http://paragonwiki.com/wiki/Nemesis_(Archvillain)

  11. B. Macon 10 Nov 2010 at 8:31 am

    BLOB NOM NOM.

  12. Lighting Manon 10 Nov 2010 at 10:42 am

    Hank’s always eating people’s heads.

    He went to too many head-shrinkers and being a clever man, figured out a way to cut out the middle man.

  13. ShardReaperon 10 Nov 2010 at 11:19 am

    Before he got blown up himself. That said, Mark Millar’s Ultimate Comic Avengers line has some awesome stories.

  14. Sean Higginson 10 Nov 2010 at 12:14 pm

    So, are you guys saying that large, cross-over events are a bad idea? I’ve got several planned for the future of my stories and hope to do one a year.

  15. Mr. Crowleyon 10 Nov 2010 at 2:29 pm

    No, Crossover’s can be done right its just that when youve got more then one writer with different views (Civil War Im looking at you) or dont have a well thought out idea it usually goes horrible. With good enough writing a crossover can be done really well, its just that its usually very hard to do. Just a suggestion, try to keep it in one title or else noone will be able to follow because they didnt get the issue where things went down.

  16. B. Macon 10 Nov 2010 at 2:38 pm

    “So, are you guys saying that large, cross-over events are a bad idea?” I have no idea, actually.

    I can think of several reasons a small/independent publisher might be able to avoid the problems I’ve encountered in events by Marvel, DC and probably Image. For example, your event would probably be more coherent because it’s easier to work in a few characters (fewer than 15, I’d imagine) than perhaps 100+ Marvel or DC characters.

    Also, it’s easier to maintain coherence when you’re only dealing with one writer and a handful of characters rather than more than swaths of writers and hundreds of characters. One problem with the Civil War event was that it pulled Spiderman in a direction the Spider-Man team evidently wasn’t ready to work with: a Peter Parker outed to the public. That led to a goofy retcon, One More Day, where Spiderman regained his secret identity by making a deal with the Devil.

  17. ShardReaperon 10 Nov 2010 at 3:19 pm

    To add on to what B Mac’s saying, it doesn’t help if one character is done by different writers and artists. There’s no specific timeline that each different story has, so there are odds of continuity being broken. That said, if one person worked on a crossover story and kept it comprehensible, it could definitely work.

  18. Sean Higginson 11 Nov 2010 at 7:27 pm

    Well, all of my characters and stories will be written by me. The timeline will be planned out months in advance. And each title will operate seperately on my site, I’d preferer it obviously if people would read them all and get the full story, but when the time comes if you only want to read a particular hero’s part, you won’t be at a total loss.

  19. ShardReaperon 11 Nov 2010 at 7:30 pm

    @Sean good, that’s what keeps a crossover story from being so bloody incoherent. I’m interested to see what you come up with.

  20. Lucas Irineuon 13 Nov 2010 at 7:36 am

    Nice post but I will have to disagree with 6. Marvel has pretty much all the Greek and Norse gods as their characters. Thor and Hercules probably being the most famous ones, though the others are pretty big, and not just in those two’s comics. There’s also a bunch of other characters that use magic (Vodoo, T-Ray, just to name a few).

    Not too much of a DC fan, but as far as I remember most mythological/magical stories have something to do with Wonder Woman. Though I guess she is a more important character for DC than Doctor Strange is for Marvel. I mean, Dr. Strange is pretty big, but he’s not even close to being as well known as say, Spider Man, Wonder Woman, Batman, or Ironman.

  21. B. Macon 13 Nov 2010 at 11:19 am

    Yeah, I was a bit hesitant to go with #6 because of examples like Thor, Hercules and other related characters. However, I think that DC’s mythological characters usually affect their universe as a whole in a more prominent way. For example, the Amazons Attack! event used mythological characters rather prominently. In contrast, the main mythological event I can think of in Marvel is that Spiderman made a deal with Mephisto in One More Day.* While utterly ridiculous, I think the mythological elements in OMD was more like a plot device than (say) an Amazonian invasion the characters were constantly interacting with.

    *I vaguely remember Thor invading the world at one point, but my Google searches for stuff like “Thor invades” drowned in extraneous hits for Secret Invasion.

    Pretty much the only generalization up there that doesn’t have some exception is that DC’s coffee is extraordinarily bad, always. :-)

  22. Lighting Manon 13 Nov 2010 at 11:30 am

    I’d say Siege was pretty significant, but even there, the mythological characters only provided an epic battleground ground, not anything significant, I don’t think they’ve even mentioned The Sentry throwing it at Oklahoma since it ended.

    Thor’s a mainstay, but he’s a mainstay like Martian Manhunter is a mainstay in D.C Comics, he’s never really done anything, he’s just kind of stuck around for long while.

    Verily, I think Thor is terrible.

  23. B. Macon 13 Nov 2010 at 11:59 am

    I agree that Thor is generally subpar, but I’m not sure if it’s anything about Thor in particular or just that I strongly dislike mythological characters mixed into non-fantasy universes. Beyond the usual genre-bending problems, though, I think Thor has a helluva-obnoxious voice, one of the most bizarre uses of aliens in an origin story, hard-to-read fonts, etc.

    One aspect I like a lot more about Hellboy and urban fantasy is that they’re more genre-consistent. Also, they’re usually a great deal more subtle with character voices.

  24. Lucas Irineuon 13 Nov 2010 at 8:20 pm

    I like how Marvel explains the origin of mythological characters.

    But yeah, Thor isn’t such a great character compared to others.

    Also, yeah, I think Siege was pretty big. And OMD was indeed just a plot device. Spiderman would’ve started sucking fast without it, so they had to think up something. Maybe not the best of ideas but it works.

  25. Paul A.on 14 Nov 2010 at 3:00 pm

    Something I think Marvel does better than DC is reflection of current events, if skewed for the sake of storyline. Marvel, particularly in the past ten years, has dealt with the global War on Terror, and the effects of that war here at home and abroad better than DC does. This is partially connected to point 3; if Marvel deals with real-world locations, it must deal with the changes made to the real-world (in some way).

    Consequently, Marvel’s characters reflect those changes more by behavior and action, rather than DC’s solution, which appears to be, “give the characters new costumes” or reboot entirely. If I recall correctly, Marvel very rarely does whole reboots, and for the most part, the basic costumes of their superheros have gone essentially unchanged – the notable exceptions being Iron Man (who changes based on suit upgrades; it’s conditional of his “superheroness”) and Luke Cage (because afros and puffy shirts make it hard to take a hero seriously).

  26. B. Macon 14 Nov 2010 at 8:35 pm

    I agree that Marvel is a bit less prone to doing whole reboots. Relatedly, I think DC is more likely to slot 2+ characters into the same identity/alias. The main Marvel example I can think of is the half-hearted and mercifully short-lived attempt to install a second Spiderman, Ben Reilly. In contrast, a few more DC identities have been assumed by several characters (such as the Flash, Robin, and Green Lantern*). Also, a few characters like Batman and Captain America have taken on substitutes while the original was getting over being dead, but I think it’s usually widely understood that these temporary fill-ins won’t have much, if any, long-term bearing on the series.

    *There have been tons of Green Lanterns, but here I’m talking mainly about characters that have served as a main character of the Green Lantern series. PS: Relatedly, I would highly recommend against naming a character after a rank or position that is used by many characters in-story.

  27. Trumwillon 16 Nov 2010 at 11:15 pm

    Relatedly, I think DC is more likely to slot 2+ characters into the same identity/alias.

    That was the big thing missing from the list, in my book. DC is huge into legacy while that’s not really Marvel’s thing. It does relate to the point that you made about DC’s characters being older. It presents problems for DC when it comes to movies and TV shows… which GL/Flash/Robin/etc do you use? Makes it more difficult to use the movies to introduce people to the comics (not that DC has made much of an effort at any rate).

    Another thing, which touches on a number of points you made: DC is big into icons while Marvel is more into characters. It goes to your point about Marvel characters being more relatable and less powerful, but I also view it as its own thing. It leads to different results because Marvel is willing to mess with the nature of their otherwise-iconic characters (changing Steve Rogers from uberpatriot to dissenter) while DC does not (keeping Superman a boy scout and a better guest star than lead character).

    (Disclosure: About 80% of my collection is DC, 10% Marvel, 10% other. I do keep tabs on both companies, though I stopped collecting a few years back.)

  28. Trumwillon 16 Nov 2010 at 11:16 pm

    I agree with the consensus here about crossovers. The biggest problem is that they become unwieldy. Keep things tight and they’re awesome. Even with different writers. But everyone has to be on board.

  29. Sean Higginson 17 Nov 2010 at 12:10 pm

    Well, as I stated earlier I won’t have to worry about other writers. The first three crossover’s have been planned for over a year already (and the first one won’t start until July).

    I would like to see new writers eventually but I’m not sure how I’d ever incorporate more into the world (I’m very big into continuity).

  30. Lucas Irineuon 17 Nov 2010 at 1:22 pm

    Man… I just found out that DC has a character named Captain Nazi. Captain. Friggin. Nazi. Those guys have no damn creativity. XD
    Well, had, I bet he’s really old. Still, they get no respect from me. Captain Nazi… Just… Wow.

  31. Sean Higginson 17 Nov 2010 at 1:38 pm

    How is Reichman? I like it and think it’s much better than “Captain Nazi” (or hehe, how about “Master Rayse”, hehe).

    It’s the character idea I have for the first publicized villain in my world. I like the ideas I’ve come up with, and really feel bad that the character has to surface during WWII because I can’t think up any ways to bring him to present time that don’t involve being frozen in a block of ice or trapped in a cave-in.

  32. B. Macon 17 Nov 2010 at 9:46 pm

    I was tentatively sketching out one of those ancient Nazi characters and was debating between a generic German name and something more outlandish. Maybe he tries introducing himself as something out of the Golden Age like Captain Reich but a politically incorrect protagonist slaps him with Jerriatric instead.

  33. B. Macon 17 Nov 2010 at 9:51 pm

    “I like the ideas I’ve come up with, and really feel bad that the character has to surface during WWII because I can’t think up any ways to bring him to present time that don’t involve being frozen in a block of ice or trapped in a cave-in.” Perhaps he’s a neo-Nazi or part of a Nazi revival project?

  34. Sean Higginson 17 Nov 2010 at 10:20 pm

    Hmmm…I actually think I like the idea of a revival project. It doesn’t jump out as something that will ultimately ring on another superhero story.

  35. ekimmakon 17 Nov 2010 at 11:34 pm

    City of Heroes used Reichsman. He’s one of Statesmans’ parallel dimension counterparts, and one of the toughest bosses EVER.

  36. Sean Higginson 18 Nov 2010 at 6:42 am

    Well, that sucks. I didn’t think of it myself, so if I do use the name with a completely different backstory will it look bad, or do I need to rename my character?

  37. B. Macon 18 Nov 2010 at 1:22 pm

    It’s a reasonably distinct name, so I think it would stick out if you used the same name they did. I would recommend tweaking the name. (Maybe Reichsguard?)

  38. Sean Higginson 18 Nov 2010 at 4:34 pm

    I’ll work on something…wish I was anywhere close to being able to trade mark my characters.

  39. ekimmakon 19 Nov 2010 at 3:21 am

    Why did I show up as annonymous?

  40. B. Macon 19 Nov 2010 at 10:04 am

    Sometimes, when I close down my internet browser, I have to log in again when I come back. Anyway, I’ve inserted your name into the comment.

  41. Paul A.on 06 Dec 2010 at 7:37 pm

    Go with Reichsadler. Gives him some sort of Nazi Eagle theme, especially if he flies or something. Also good to work costumes from.

  42. Superhero Legacyon 24 Jan 2011 at 1:42 pm

    I recently saw statistics regarding frequency of Marvel’s publications for each month throughout the year, and it remains to be a steady 30 issues per month since the 60′s. I’d like to see exactly how DC compares.

  43. B. Macon 24 Jan 2011 at 4:40 pm

    Comichron does a bestsellers list of the top 300 comics each month. Looking through that, I found that DC had 272 different issues hit the bestsellers list in the three months from October to December 2010. (I can send you a list, if you’d like). So that’s about 90 best-selling issues per month for the past few months.

    Two caveats. 1) A few of the issues that made the list in October were actually published in late September and a few issues that were published in late December will make the list in January. I’m guessing that those distortions will more or less cancel out. 2) The list only includes the top 300 comics in terms of sales, so any super-minor series will get left out. The real number is probably somewhat higher than 90 issues published a month.

    If you’d like, I can look at past years to see if the number has changed dramatically over time.

    PS: I didn’t run the numbers on Marvel, but it looked like they were substantially above 30 bestsellers per month–definitely more than 60 and very possibly higher than 90. I’m not familiar with the 30 issues per month figure or how it was tabulated, but maybe they only counted ongoing series.

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