Monday, September 15, 2014

Cosmic Realms: DC vs. Marvel

There was a thread that asked who had the better cosmic comics, DC or Marvel. You know, the Big Big Leagues, with the Darkseid and the Green Lantern Corps on one side and Thanos and, well, everyone on the other. Although I thought DC had the better potential name for a band, I went Marvel. Another poster provided the reason when he pointed out that there was a hypocrisy in that people were liking the cosmic while liking that Marvel kept things grounded.

Suffice to say that I didn't see it that way.

The one thing that Marvel has gotten right for a while is that they have a cohesive universe. It can adapt to just about anything, and if you scratch it you find that there is some depth to it. Once you get past the mages and mutants and guys in fancy armor, there's a lot of regular folks. If "Marvels" didn't sell that point, then "Damage Control" definitely did. Marvel could probably tell the stories of regular people for years and it would be fun. Sure, you'd see Spidey swing by and sometimes there would be stories of the super-hero groupies, but you know they exist in the Marvel Universe.

Put another way, they have down time. We've seen super-heroes play football, get married, have kids. We've seen teams settle a friendly rivalry with a baseball game. The bad guys keep switching sides as we get more of their stories, as we see why they are villains, and it has nothing to do some cosmic balance. It's really hard to not root for Thanos sometimes because we respect people that think big and do things for love, both of which describe the Mad Titan to a tee.

Marvel doesn't just tell stories. It lets us see what would happen if we gained powers and what we would do.

DC doesn't bother. Superman does't really revel in being a reporter. Sure the Kents keep him anchored, but it's easy to see him moving on from the Kents. Batman is a great hero, but you need to seriously suspend belief for him to work; he needs to learn to take some time off every so often. More to the point, he needs to reveal who he is to Lucious Fox, or whoever his vice-president, and leave Wayne Enterprises way behind; Bruce Wayne is merely a mask at this point. Few DC heroes have any real grounding elements; sure it's great escapism, but it just feels like so much sizzle rather an actual steak.

And this affects its cosmic stories.Marvel has developed its alien empires to the point that they tell their own stories, and having cosmic-level heroes make sense; with Galactus, Thanos, space pirates, and empires threatening to take over the universe you need someone with some serious power out there. Marvel's universe has been developed to the point that Earth need not be the focus of the story, and there have been entire comics that have avoided the planet. More to the point, if there is a problem in the Kree Empire, heroes go there rather the battle spilling over on to Earth.

On the other hand, DC's cosmos has been seriously underdeveloped. They fridge entire planets: Krypton was but the first example.You just know that if DC introduces planet it's going to end poorly for the planet, and that assumes it's not in the process of blowing up at the time. Past that, from a story perspective, there's no real reason for the story to be set on Lovely Terkla; it's just a set and may as well be a desert in Nevada. Worse, any so-called cosmic threats usually threaten Earth as well so the Earth heroes can do something about it. It's just hard to see DC doing a story that doesn't involve Earth.

So is there some contradiction in loving Marvel's cosmic stories and that it seems grounded? I don't think so, as one leads to the other. You can't have a truly cosmic story without there being a universe, and the more realistic that the universe is, the more grounded it it, the more you can throw it at. And that's an important lesson comickers need to learn. 

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