Marvel is for Heroes, DC is for Villains
Which stories do you like better? Embattled heroes embarking on a quest to defeat their internal struggles, or, compelling and captivating villains whose backstories are cause for intrigue?
This is the real Marvel vs. DC, as spoken by a tried and true veteran of no comic background knowledge, outside of some recent movies and pop culture references.
So if you’re serious about comics, this is your spoiler, don’t keep reading, because how I view superheroes and supervillains comes through a completely different lens.
I see superheroes in more of a generalized way, the way I think the general public would perceive them.
To put the way I see superheroes into practice, here’s a three word breakdown of the top tier heroes from Marvel and DC.
Batman: Dark, Joker, Vigilante
Superman: Heroic, Indestructible, Kryptonite
Iron Man: Arrogant, Self-Centered, Power Suit
Captain America: Leader, Nationalism, Moral
It’s a fun game to play. The themes of arrogance and the limitations of Iron Man technologically plays differently than Superman whom is an indestructible alien.
Marvel is for Heroes
Marvel’s heroes, especially in recent cinema, have become polarizing. The slow build of an internal struggle between superheroes highlight the fragility of the human condition.
Powers are great and all, but when emotions cause tension between Iron Man’s bravado and Captain America’s moral compass, the real conflict is internal. Not only can you see that in The Avengers, but it extends to each character’s personal story arc.
The Hulk’s goal is to avoid becoming a giant raging green monster leveling cities in a manner of minutes.
Spiderman’s most compelling foe, Venom, is the mirror anti-version of himself. (Though I would argue, we’ve never really gotten the breakthrough Spiderman film, that’s why he keeps getting repackaged.)
Thor’s story is a coming-of age story. His growth into becoming the rightful ruler of Asgard. Thor’s greatest weaknesses are his overflowing confidence, his blind trust, and being too immature to think things through before swinging his giant hammer.
Iron Man, who is often supplanted by Downey Jr.’s representation of Tony Stark, is possibly the most fascinating character of the core Avengers. Stark is a business mogul much in the same way Bruce Wayne is behind Batman. The most obvious difference is that Stark makes no secret out of his identity as Iron Man, and basically uses his status and stature to market his brand.
It’s really difficult to make a villain that’s more captivating than Tony Stark, because of the ego and gravitas Stark brings to the table. You can’t bring a Joker-like villain into an Iron Man movie because you lose time developing Stark.
It’s easy to see why Iron Man’s biggest conflict is an internal one, and it ends up wearing on Captain America, who is Marvel’s second-most fascinating character.
The case I’ve been developing with the Marvel characters is that their biggest villains/obstacles/conflicts tend to be with themselves or internal. Not just as a group, but each character personally faces their own demons.
So the curious case of Captain America as the All-American who begins fighting for America, and then begins to question, “What is he really fighting for? Who is he really fighting for?”
The lore of Marvel characters begin in their backstory, or the classic, “origin story.” A well-told origin story develops a connection with the audience to said character. But the origin story doesn’t complete the cycle, and that’s where developing effective builds and storylines that have lead into Avengers films and the Civil War film take shape.
The takeaway: The villains of Marvel films are not typically memorable because they’re not meant to be, which is the inverse of what we see in DC characters.
DC is for Villains
DC recently put out Suicide Squad, where we get to watch two of our favorite DC villains. Harley Quinn demands the attention and dominates the screen time, whilst the Joker lays in wait for his moment (Justice League film?) to usher DC into a movie franchise war with Marvel.
The only other villain worth caring about in Suicide Squad is Will Smith’s, Deadshot. I doubt he will see his own spinoff, though if you told me there would be a Deadshot film starring Will Smith, I would be game. Wouldn’t you?
DC is a little limited (no pun intended) on recent examples to call upon since they’re just beginning their blockbuster takeover at the cinema. Batman obviously has a head start with the Dark Knight trilogy and the myriad of films that came prior.
With Batman, you can take your pick. You start with the Joker and go down the list: Harley Quinn, Riddler, Penguin, Two Face, Scarecrow, Bane, Catwoman, Mr. Freeze.
And I know what you’re thinking, Mr. Freeze, that’s a good villain? And while it may be a little more difficult to buy, I wouldn’t doubt a good writer making Mr. Freeze a credible villain. Though it’s not likely to happen anytime soon.
The hierarchy of DC villains is very top heavy, but the top two are very important.
At the top, it’s the Joker and Lex Luthor.
As the archenemies of Batman and Superman, Joker and Luthor possess no superpower and rather rely on their cunning wit and mastery in manipulation. Their involvement in the plot drives the actions and motives of Superman and Batman.
As for the plethora of lesser baddies the DC heroes face, it’s almost guaranteed that the villain has a prominent role that deserves our attention.
The focus often is, “Why the villain became bad.” This part of the storyline drives our interest far beyond what makes Superman super and what makes Wonder Woman wondrous.
It breaks down like this:
DC: Will the superhero overcome this villain?
Marvel: Will the superhero overcome their self?
In DC, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc., might bring us into the theater, but a quality villain is why we stay. A quality villain will take the movie from average to good or great.
It’s not that there’s no focus on the Superman character or Batman character, but the depth and interest you can find in them doesn’t compare to the way Marvel has branded their characters thus far.
This doesn’t make Marvel better than DC, I’d rather watch DC for great villains, because I don’t really get that with Marvel.
What I’ve referenced isn’t meant to be an exhaustible list to say, “This is the only way DC and Marvel tell their stories.” It’s more of a suggestion of, this is a pattern the DC and Marvel universes take on.
In essence, this is a take I’ve heard touched on and I agreed with it, and wanted to develop further.
Those willing to comment how wrong I am are always appreciated.