It’s the oldest debate among the comic book faithful—which powerhouse publisher is better? Marvel or DC. It’s unlikely we’re going to truly settle anything here, but that’s not going to stop us from taking a stab at it. So without further ado, let’s get after it!
Their Place in History
Right out of the gate, you have to give DC Comics the highest of props. Without them we probably wouldn’t have much of a superhero genre at all. Other genres would have maybe done their thing, but it was because of Superman that DC Comics (and later Marvel) and superheroes are even a thing at all. The Big Blue Boy Scout started the whole party in 1939, and the world has never been the same since.
But while DC spent the first few decades dominating the comic book scene with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, it was Marvel creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby that brought new life into the superhero genre with their one-two (three-four-five-six-etc.?) punch of humanized creations in the 60’s that forever changed the game. Stan and Jack’s words and art laid the roadmap for decades of stories and characters (see below) that endure to this day. The duo also were largely responsibly for bringing comic books to the front and center of pop culture, transforming them from kiddie books to a legitimate part of literature and art.
Winner: DC Comics
Stable of Characters
Everyone has a deep cut favorite (holla Moon Knight fans!), but we are just stacking up the most popular of the popular that have moved comic books in various titles for decades. No teams here, no “who’s stronger” or “who would win in a fight” stuff, just the most noteworthy characters in each publisher’s arsenal (in no particular order) that has some recognition with the common man.
Did anyone contribute more to our hobby over the years than Stan Lee? Not just as a creator, who ranks up there with Walt Disney, but as a legit cheerleader and showman for comic books to the world at large. Stan “The Man” Lee was the guy that made comic books cool. But he wasn’t alone.
From Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Gene Colan, Len Wein, John Romita, John Byrne, Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Chris Claremont, and Neil Gaiman to the modern creators making their marks like Jason Aaron, Donny Cates, Adam Hughes, Tom King, J. Scott Campbell, Terry and Rachel Dodson, Frank Cho, Gabrielle Dell’Otto, Gail Simone, Skottie Young, Alex Ross, Jim Lee, Brian K. Vaughn, Amanda Connor, and hundreds and hundreds more, there have been some seriously talented people that have worked for both publishers.
There’s one that stands above the rest though, and that is really only identified with one publisher, the tie-breaker—the aforementioned Stan Lee with Marvel.
Pop Culture Impact
Thanks to video games, toys, movies, and television shows, today’s comic book fans have it all. But it wasn’t always this way. For decades comic books were just for kids. The occasional serial radio program, or movie might have popped up here and there, but it wasn’t until the 60’s (and really the past few decades), that comic books exploded from the printed page into pretty much every medium imaginable.
For DC Comics, their pop culture leaders are easily Superman and Batman. Their logos are on t-shirts all over the world, and their big screen debuts with Christopher Reeve and Michael Keaton were the major events of their day. Before that, Adam West was stoking the fires of Batmania and introducing 60’s TV viewers to the world of the Batmobile, utility belts, and the phrase ‘Holy [insert Bat-thing here], Batman!’ In the 70’s, Lynda Carter made a TV splash with her incarnation of Wonder Woman.
Today, DC’s animated films and TV series are among the best in the business. Video games like Arkham Asylum and DC Universe Online are major hits, and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is a modern classic.
For Marvel it’s been a longer road to pop culture saturation.
Despite being the hip, counter culture brand of the 60’s and 70’s (thanks to Stan Lee’s legendary showmanship), it’s only been the past couple of decades that have brought most of Marvel’s characters to the larger public consciousness. The Marvel Cinematic Universe aside, there was a Hulk live-action television series in the 70’s, a terrible Howard The Duck movie, a few Blade flicks in the 90’s, and that was about it for Marvel in the larger public eye.
From the beginning, Spider-Man has always easily been Marvel’s most popular character. Thanks to album covers, some Saturday morning cartoons, and t-shirts people had a vague awareness of their B-squad characters like the Silver Surfer and Howard The Duck. But real success at the cinema didn’t happen until Sam Rami’s Spider-Man and Fox’s X-Men franchises launched in the early 2000’s, introducing a larger audience to a larger Marvel world. By the time Robert Downey Jr. put on the Iron Man suit in 2008 and the Avengers fought the Battle of New York in 2013, Marvel characters and the pop culture landscape became basically inseparable.
Marvel still mostly struggles with television, but the rest of the pop culture world is their oyster today.
And The Winner Is …
We could cop out and tell you it’s a tie, but who wants that? At this point in time, we have to give the trophy to Marvel. Will they still be the top dog in five, ten years? Maybe, maybe not. In the 90’s (as they were going bankrupt) no one would have thought they would be where they are now, and DC would be the one playing catch-up, but here we are.
The only constant is change, especially in an ongoing battle of fandom that thrives on heroes and villains.