Monday, November 19, 2007

This Diva, This Monster!

People, including some very recent commenters on this blog, sometimes seem puzzled by the fact that I like one company's superhero comics books and not the other's. Some people are so confounded that they actually deny that it's possible, or insist that I'm acting purely out of arbitrary prejudice.

And, things being the way they are, it's possible they are entirely right.

But, in my mind of minds, I don't think so.

First of all, I want to assert that my, ahem, "prejudice" is not based on quality. It has nothing to do with whether one company's stories are well-written or not. If someone doesn't like Brussels sprouts or donuts, it's generally not because of the quality of the sprouts or the donuts; it's the nature of the taste itself they do not care for. I'm willing to stipulate that there are lots of high-quality, well-written Marvel stories. Heck, I'm even willing to stipulate (regardless of whether it's true) that there are a higher share of Marvel's stories that are high-quality, well-written ones than DC's are. After all, DC's been churning out crappy stories longer than Marvel has!

Quality is not the issue. It's kind.

Despite the fact that I write a blog about superhero comic books, I could easily make the case that there are no such things, that "the superhero genre", per se, is itself a fiction. We can classify "superhero" as the decorations on a cake, the dustjacket of a book, a mere spandex costume slipped on an improbably athletic body. The outside is what attracts us to it, but it's what inside that actually counts.

Following this line of thinking, leads us to ask, "What is inside the 'superhero' offerings of DC and Marvel?" And that is where my theory explains why I think my comic book preferences are matters of taste rather than prejudice.

As I'm sure you all know, DC's strongest literary roots are in the detective pulps, or pulpish characters. A lot of their early stories were in that vein, their authors were steeped in that style, and when capes and cowls became the new order, DC created superheroes who were, in essence, detectives or vigilantes decorated with costumes and powers.

The heart of DC's style is the crime story. A bad guy is trying to commit, or has committed, a crime, and a detective or vigilante is trying to stop or apprehend him. Oh, sure, you can dress it up with power rings and plastic cat arrows, but those are decorations on the cake. And, of course, not every single story is a crime story. But anything else, like a human interest story, is usually more of a scenic stop on the main road of Crime Storyway than it is an actual detour, and those characters that do detour too far off the main road usually wind up at a dead end (those of you so inclined are encouraged to list examples!).

I like crime/detective stories. While they can involve and invoke strong human emotions (and, at their best, do), they are most essentially intellectual challenges based in the plot. What is the villain planning? How will the hero defeat this plan? Even when the "villain" is Lois Lane hoping to expose Superman's secret identity, the "hero's" job is to stop her and make her look like a fool, the kernel remains the same.

It's important in such a story to have a clear idea who the good guy is and who the bad guy is. Sometimes the hero is a bright and shiny Doc Savage, but sometimes he's a darker hero, like in a gangster movie or film noir. The good guy can break just as many laws as the bad guy does, but the difference is still clear: the bad guy is just breaking laws for his own benefit, and the good guys is breaking the law for the (ostensible) benefit of society. The hero, if not an actual authority figure, is an operative on behalf of society's authority.

That's pretty much DC comics in a nutshell. It's not just a weird coincidence that the very name of the company comes from "Detective Comics". And it's not just a weird coincidence -- or a prejudice -- that I like their stuff because of that.

Marvel's superhero comics are the result of decorating a very different set of core genres, that are emotional, not intellectual: the Monster story and the Teen Romance story. That only makes sense, since those were the stock in trade of the company and many of its writers when the "Marvel Age" began. Marvel's heroes are, on the whole, "misunderstood monsters" or misunderstood centers of a whirlwind of romantic and familial obligation and conflict. I consider this so evident as not to bore you with obvious examples (although I encourage you to offer them up yourself!), but it's interesting that many of its strongest characters result from a merger of the two kinds of stories (e.g., the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Spider-Man). They are reluctant protagonists, and their principal antagonists are authority figures, an unsympathetic world, those closest to them, and, of course, one another.

Witness Teen Drama Dazzler, the runaway, defying her father's wishes so that her special talents can be truly appreciated and used to further herself. Dazzler, who gets full-page spreads trying on clothes while she discusses her family problems with her friend. Dazzler, who is successively entangled romantically with a Handsome Doctor Named Paul, a Young Hottie named Johnnie Storm, a Perfect Angel named Warren, et al. For pity's sake, her absent mother is disguised as her best friend's vocal coach, and might as well have been named Pip's Convict.

Dazzler's life (and pretty much the life of any major Marvel character) is a cross between a Dickens novel and Degrassi The Next Generation. Just like in Degrassi, Marvel's characterization has to be fluid enough (for which read "inconsistent") that the Stable Friend in one episode can be the Scary Mess in another episode (making things like Civil War possible).

The only conflicts that truly matter are between these characters. "Villains", such as they are, are only activating mechanisms for personal crisis and conflict between "heroes" (and the villains themselves are often just other "misunderstood monsters/teenagers"). This is why Marvel's villains aren't the robust icons that DC's are. DC's villains are the real story; in Marvel, they aren't. In DC stories, the hero faces a threat to society. In Marvel, it's more likely that society itself is the threat to the hero or if there is an individual threat, it's usually directed at the hero himself or his loved ones.

Naturally, as a mutant, Dazzler also qualifies as a Misunderstood Monster. Just ask her; hey, Dazz, are you a menace? Are you a monster?

This Diva, This Monster!

These observations certainly aren't original or unique. An Absorbascommenter mentioned them just the other day as established facts! But some cases are never made permanently and must be re-asserted for new times and new audiences, and the nature of the essential differences between the core of the DCU and the Marvel Universe seems to be one of them.

Here's a topic for discussion, in light of all this:

Identity Crisis, the Tornado's Path, and the Lightning Saga. Know why so many DC readers (me included) hated them? They were Marvel stories written using DC characters... .

52 comments:

Harvey Jerkwater said...

I've never quite formulated it this way, but yeah, that sounds right. Excellent formulation.

My taste for traditional Marvel over traditional DC is rooted in the same taste issue -- while I can appreciate the plot-centric crime story structure of classical DC, they usually don't move me or reach me. Bad Marvel has ridiculous soapy histrionics; bad DC has soulless mechanical storytelling. I'm more forgiving of the former than the latter in my funnybooks.

I didn't read "Tornado's Path" or "Lightning Saga," but I did read "IC," and I think you're right, provided you add one word. They were bad Marvel stories. They took the worst excesses of Marvel and glommed 'em onto the big names in DC. "IC" is a veritable cringe-induction engine. Gack.

Neil said...

Once again you hit the nail on the head of why I prefer DC comics over other companies.

Which is not to say that I don't enjoy an occasional book by another company, it's just that given the choice, I'll always make mine DC.

Bryan said...

I think looking at DC and Marvel's big crossover events show the difference between the two universes. At DC the two most famous crossover events are Crisis on Infinite Earths and Infinite Crisis. Both of them are huge time and space spanning events involving the very fabric of the universe itself. At Marvel we have Secret War and Civil War. Both of them involved two groups fighting one another and really, whichever side wins doesn't change the nature of the cosmos or the universe and the very existence of live isn't at stake. DC has bigger things at stake. Marvel has more personal.

Wrye said...

I also think of it in termns of science fiction; DC's roots are in the old 30's pulpy style Flash Gordon stuff, while Marvel's influeces are the more cerebral 60's Sci Fi.

But here's one for you, Scip: I always thought that the JLDetroit's main failure to connect with audiences was that it was an attempt to use a Marvel (street-level, urbanized) approach to the JLA and that it ultimately failed because of the disconnect. I even think that if Vibe, Gypsy, et al. had been used on any other DC team (The Outsiders or the Totans, say) they'd have stood a much better chance of sticking as fan favorites in their first incarmnation. What say you?

Allan said...

As much as I may agree with your argument, I do feel the need to defend the much-unfairly-maligned Identity Crisis which--as the book that actually got me started buying comics again--is a title whose negative reputation, in my opinion, bears no relation to its actual worth.

Speaking as someone who came to IC without the baggage of superhero fandom breaking his back (with Neil Gaiman's Sandman and Alan Moore's Watchmen being the only comics I touched between my 14th and 29th years) and who could care less about whether or not certain characters were used inappropriately or if the subject of rape was acceptable in a so-called "All Ages" comic, Meltzer's miniseries excited me in ways I had seldom experienced in any medium. Reading that first issue, which I came upon purely by accident, propelled me to return to my nearest comic book store a month later to find out what happened next. It didn't take me long before I started picking up other comics during those trips and inevitably my monthly trips turned into weekly ones.

What then did I find so exciting in this work? In truth it wasn't the Marvelesque melodrama you (probably correctly) accuse it of possessing, but a combination of its unusual tension (the sequence featuring the death of Tim Drake's father remains the most heart-stopping I have ever encountered in the comic book medium) and the kinetic thrill that came from sharing in an experience that obviously excited both the writer and artist. Ignoring all of the irrelevant (to me) fanboy criticisms, I will always defend IC because it truly electrified me as a work of literature.

I won't disagree that Meltzer's work on JLA wasn't without its flaws, but his crime I feel was one of too much ambition, while McDuffies' is not having enough. Meltzer was attempting to produce an epic work, but didn't have the time to see his vision through to completion, which he should have recognized from the beginning. No doubt this is why McDuffie's work is celebrated as a welcome return to the status quo, but it is this precise lack of ambition that has rendered it dull to my eyes and cleared away any enthusiasm I once had for the project.

One of the best of the many theses you've expounded on during the run of this blog is that DC readers read the words to the detriment of the images, while Marvel readers focus on the images to the detriment of the words. There is much merit in this and it better than anything explains why I still insist that Identity Crisis is a great and important work, even if I am the only person to think so.

Man, my comments are always way too long, aren't they?

acespot said...

Man, to follow these guys is tough.

So I'll be brief.

Yes, all three of those DC stories were shit. And I don't mean THE shit, I mean utterly useless deforesting dreck.

But Marvel stories? I don't know about that.

Do a column on this claim to back it up. I look forward to reading it.

The Fortress Keeper said...

I wouldn't say IC, Tornado's Path and Lightning Saga were Marvel stories so much as Bendis "stories" - i.e. quips broken up by random bits of extreme violence.

I am enough of an old-school Marvel fan to insist the two aren't necessarily synonymous.

Dave said...

Wait a minute... Identity Crisis wasn't a detective story? I seem to recall someone being murdered, and lots of stupid splash pages of colorful tights people poking around warehouses and apartments and stuff looking for clues.

Granted, it wasn't exactly successful as a detective story. I don't think that was caused by a lack of investigation and analysis in the narrative. The motivations of the characters -- the dramatic, "soapy" bits -- were implausible and poorly realized enough to make the super-heroic elements of the story seem silly instead of fantastic.

In short, Identity Crisis managed to suck both ways simultaneously. It was a dumb detective story with wonky characterization; the motives of all participants were carefully trimmed to fit the Procrustean bed of an ultra-trite murder mystery with superficial flourishes of pseudo-noir.

L. David Wheeler said...

Interesting analysis -- my main quibble would be that Dr. Doom qualifies as every bit as iconic and real-deal a villain as, say, Luthor, Darkseid or the Joker. Though I'll admit he may be a grand exception.

plok said...

What a perfect title this post has. I'm jealous.

I think Meltzer also offers us the worst Marvel story, in his JLA #0...like the X-Men's softball games, only without even the softball to cling to when things get drearily over-familiar, and stay that way for what seems like hours on end. Blecch...

suedenim said...

The "Crime Stories" difference is an interesting one that I hadn't really thought about before specifically.

One thing you see a *lot* in Marvel Comics, from the earliest Silver Age stories to this day: stories where the villain's *primary* motivation is simply to defeat Iron Man, or the Fantastic Four, or whomever, either for revenge or to establish a reputation. Often, they don't even bother with any other crime - defeating the hero is enough.

Whereas in DC you might see the same general motive, but it's usually within a criminal scheme of some sort: "I'll show the Flash I'm the Big Man... by defeating him while I steal millions of dollars from the Third National Bank of Central City!!"

It's a fairly subtle distinction, but a legitimate one, I think, and one that ultimately leads to Marvel's mutant titles becoming an incomprehensible mishmash that's more like an ongoing rumble between two mutant street gangs than anything to do with the larger society.

Scipio said...

"I always thought that the JLDetroit's main failure to connect with audiences was that it was an attempt to use a Marvel (street-level, urbanized) approach to the JLA and that it ultimately failed because of the disconnect."

Oh, heavens, yes. As I think I stated in some of my early JLD posts, the JLD was an attempt to recast the JLA as the Avengers, with predictable results.

Scipio said...

"Wait a minute... Identity Crisis wasn't a detective story?"

No. It pretended to be a murder mystery, but was actually a Marvel-style heroes-in-ideological- conflict story in disguise. Hence the ridiculous throwaway "solution" to the mystery.

Scipio said...

"What a perfect title this post has. I'm jealous."

Actually, it refers to me, not to Dazzler.

Scipio said...

One of the best of the many theses you've expounded on during the run of this blog is that DC readers read the words to the detriment of the images, while Marvel readers focus on the images to the detriment of the words. There is much merit in this and it better than anything explains why I still insist that Identity Crisis is a great and important work, even if I am the only person to think so.

Wait... you mean you liked it because it was pretty?

Scipio said...

I wouldn't say IC, Tornado's Path and Lightning Saga were Marvel stories so much as Bendis "stories" - i.e. quips broken up by random bits of extreme violence.

Heh. But I stand by my assertion of their generic Marvelness. In a DC story, the point is the plot, and if characterization is revealed along the way, so much the better. In a Marvel story, characterization is the point, and if a plot is revealed along the way, so much the better.

The point in IC was the characters' conflict over the mind-altering. The 'murder mystery' was just a mechanism of bringing that about, and all the many villains in the piece were just red herrings. The 'villain' of the piece was a nearly forgotten hero's even more forgotten ex-wife.

The point in Tornado's Path was Tornado's explanation of his pseudohumanity. All the many villains thrown about were, again, red herrings in a plot that make next to no sense to the majority of readers, because it wasn't the focus of the writer.

The point in Lightning Saga was the (mostly groundless) character conflict between sets of heroes, the JSA, the JLA, and the LSH. Villains appeared, but had nothing to do with the plot at all (whatever that plot actually was).

The point in each tale is to reveal something about the characters and their relationships to one another, not to have them actually do or fight anything. Hence, the lack of action, the superfluous villains, the muddled plots, and the smell of fanfic, and the dissatisfied readers.

And the things they do do aren't exactly earth-shattering, call the JLA kinds of emergencies.

Discover and catch Jean Loring? Atom did that all by himself.

Stop Solomon Grundy from doing whatever he was goind? Oh, wait,I think he got away.

Wave good-bye as the Legion finishes its little science experiment? We never even learned essential plot matters, like who "hid" the Legionnaires or why, or even what they were actually doing here to begin with.

SallyP said...

Scipio, I bow down in reverence before your brilliance. I believe that it was this phrase, that summed it all up for me:

"...a cross between a Dicken's novel and Degrassi:the Next Generation."

It...it's just so PERFECT! Now, I must blush to admit this, but as a teen, I started with Marvel, and of course lapped up all the durm und strang with relish. As an adult however, I decided after picking up an issue of the old JLI, that DC was the place for me. If DC is drama, then Marvel is melodrama.

And finally, how in the world is Dazzler getting around the woods in a pair of glittery rollerskates? How tacky!

Doctor Polaris said...

Indeed, indeed. Witness the issue of Meltzer's JLA that "featured" my "replacement" then new "Doctor Polaris." Said imposter was mentioned on one page... And never seen.

The entire issue was not about a grand battle between the Justice League and a magnetically-powered maniac... It was about two people trapped under a building. It was about those two people talking to each other. Oh, a battle went. Something dramatic, no doubt. But we did not get to see it.

And I ask you: where's the fun in that?

Anonymous said...

I think the reason people didn't like the Tornado's Path and the Lighning Saga is more because they were terrible.

Scipio said...

Well, yes, Anonymous, that's true; but we find value in narrowing down exactly how and why they were terrible. There are many terrible stories; to help avoid them, we try to identify what problems lead the creation of such terrible stories.

It's a civic thing. We are not Marvel heroes, content to say, "This seemed terrible to me." We are DC heroes, trying to save society from further attacks by asking, "Why was this terrible?"

Scipio said...

Thank you, Sally. Your appreciation, as always, is appreciated.

"how in the world is Dazzler getting around the woods in a pair of glittery rollerskates?"

I believe the answer would be "fiercely", since that's how a diva does most things.

darknessatnoon said...

Intelligent reading of the generic underpinnings of each company. I have to say that the Tornado's Path and the Lightning Saga failed for different reasons than it being an attempt to "Marvel"ize the characters. Meltzer was resorting to a Henry James style of narration that one gets from reading too many "psychological novels."

Siskoid said...

Scip, you've done it again.

So I believe the current tally is:

DC-myth, Marvel-everyday life
DC-words, Marvel-pictures
DC-crime, Marvel-romance/monster
DC-plot, Marvel-characterization

Am I missing one?

Allan said...

Wait... you mean you liked it because it was pretty?

No, as shocking as it may seem, it was because I dug the words.

Scipio said...

"Meltzer was resorting to a Henry James style of narration that one gets from reading too many "psychological novels.""

Really? I'm not really familiar with the genre; interesting.

Josh said...

I am with Allen on this: I think Identity Crisis is unfairly maligned. Just like Allen, I was brought back to comics by IC; before I was picking up JLA trades and that was it. I get the point that it did contain high melodrama associated with Marvel, but as someone else pointed out, it was a detective story, and I thought it was a good one.

What is it that people don't like about it? I am not trying to be confrontational; I am curious because I was not reading blogs at the time IC came out. People say the characters were, um, acting out character, but I didn't see it. Dr Light's rape of Sue Dibny was horrifying, but Light is a villian, and villians do horrifying, disgusting things. Loring turned out to be the killer, but then again she has always been stone-cold and a little nuts. Is it because those involved in the mindwipe relinquished their pedestals? They stepped outside the straight and narrow, for sure, but if I were in their tights I don't think I would have acted much differently if it had been one of my friends.

The criticism of Meltzer's JLA run is well founded, though. That is pure bad melodrama. I was so disappointed, especially after IC because I expected better out of Meltzer.

All and all, though, great article. I do agree with the basic analysis of the Marvel v DC divide--better stated than I could have ever done. Bravo! It's what keeps me coming back (that and "Things that made me happy this week.")

Gyuss Baaltar said...

Scip, Secret War stands up to anything that DC was trying to put out at the time. It's a much better read than Crisis on Infinite Earths which even you admit was garbage.

David said...

I too was brought back to comics by IC, and I liked it a great deal. I think one of the flaws it has is that unlike a truly great detective story, the most astute reader wasn't quite given enough clues to solve the primary mystery before the answer is given.

That didn't stop me from enjoying it, however, and it did have the advantage of answering a lingering problem in superhero comics ("why do secret identites work?").

I think you're probably right, in broad strokes, about DC vs Marvel. However, how would you classify James Robinson's Starman from the 90's? That's clearly a character study: the moment where Knight and Superman interrupt their conversation to stop a crime and then immediately return to the conversation is a good example.

darknessatnoon said...

""Meltzer was resorting to a Henry James style of narration that one gets from reading too many "psychological novels.""

Really? I'm not really familiar with the genre; interesting."

The dialog was trying for that; the narration, however... It was just BAD. Really terrible. I can't even imagine the idea behind it other than getting the chance to color coordinate some caption boxes.

gene phillips said...

Scipio, I like your decision to parse out the DC/Marvel in terms of "kind" rather than the more familiar "degree."

However, I should point out that there are specimens of the "crime" genre that follow nearly the same narrative patterns as the sort of "monster" stories on which you say Marvel patterned itself. Give a look to the early gangster films of the sound era-- in essence, the films on which nearly everything afterward is patterned-- such as SCARFACE and PUBLIC ENEMY. These devious do-badders are not paper tigers to be torn up by a superior detective's ratiocinative skills. They are monsters who imperil society and must be destroyed, even if they're in some ways sympathetic.

As another poster suggested, DC also invested heavily in the space-opera theme, though I'd say it usually had more to do with John W. Campbell than with the romantic Flash Gordon. Even your "dirty adoptive Rannian" Adam Strange takes the highflown romance of John Carter and devotes himself to showing everyone how dust devils can get turned to glass in three easy steps.

So IMO:

DC= ratiocinative detective and SF stories

MARVEL= romantic SF and crime-melodramas

Scipio said...

"Scip, Secret War stands up to anything that DC was trying to put out at the time. It's a much better read than Crisis on Infinite Earths which even you admit was garbage."

As I stated, Nate; quality is not the issue. Kind is the issue.

Bing Shalimar said...

So, is the Legion of Super-Heroes the exception that proves the rule? Because I can't think of single title, Marvel or DC, that was more of a Teen Romance than LSH. Sure it had its share of plot-driven mysteries, but at its core it's about a social club of Superboy-worshipping teens going steady with each other in the 30th Century.

Bing Shalimar said...

Come to think of it, the Legion would almost be tailor made for the subject of an overwrought, melodramatic... oh, wait, never mind.

plok said...

Siskoid, you forgot:

DC-tragedy, Marvel-opera.

Gyuss: aren't you overlooking the fact that Secret Wars was unspeakably awful?

Anonymous said...

The problem with Identity Crisis wasn't characterization. It wasn't the eeeeevil bad guys. It wasn't the tarnished heroes. It had all those things, and each is bad (I think so, anyway), but they weren't the bad part.

The problem was that the story doesn't hold together. The detective part is a bunch of bumbling morons jumping from red herring to red herring. The mindwipe part has nothing to do with the plot, but overwhelms the story. The mindwipe issue raises the issue of secret identities, but the culprit is someone who would've known all the identities anyway, secret or not.

Even Dr. Light's supposed motivation? He raped Sue once, so of course he must want to kill her? I clearly must have missed something, but that's the heroes' Master Plan. Go beat someone up because he once hurt the victim.

So it was seven issues of Brad saying, "nope--fooled you!" and an extended reveal of something that, frankly, isn't very interesting or narratively useful except that it makes heroes argue and fight.

Sorry, I'm overlooking one use: It apologizes for fun stories in the Silver Age. "Dr. Light? Sure, he's been a loser, and those stories are critical to continuity because he's really a super-bad-ass under a magic spell." Yawn.

Anonymous said...

In general you are right.
But in this moment you are way wrong.
Superman : he have a kid (not his , soap opera ), married (soapy).
Batman :he have a kid ,he hate himself ,etc. By far the marvel model.
Wonder Woman : there is so much soap opera there that i dont know where to begin.
And their series are based in the characters problems not the plot.
And if you see all the DC line they are not very far from the big three.

DC is trying to copy Marvel and doing it wrong.

Anonymous said...

"Dr Light's rape of Sue Dibny was horrifying, but Light is a villian, and villians do horrifying, disgusting things."

True, but that doesn't mean that every horrifying, disgusting thing makes for a story worth telling.

Also, as some have observed, take a look at any comic that the Dibnys have appeared in since the year 1980. Happy-go-lucky couple, pretty normal, keeping one foot in each world (mundane and superhero) with great style. Now superimpose what we now know on top of that, and it turns into a freakish display of dysfunction, where Ralph keeps allowing Sue to be attacked by supervillains.

"Is it because those involved in the mindwipe relinquished their pedestals? They stepped outside the straight and narrow, for sure, but if I were in their tights I don't think I would have acted much differently if it had been one of my friends."

I can mostly understand the mindwipes. But as "Civil War" over at Marvel has taught us, superheroics isn't logical to begin with, and when you start applying too many real world "practical" sensibilities it compromises the ability of the genre to hold together. No, there's not a government on earth that would tolerate superheroes running free. No, there's not a state in the union that would allow revolving door prisons like Arkham Asylum. No, there's no chance that Bruce Wayne would survive a single night of swinging from rooftop to rooftop, hitting his mark exactly right every time. All these things you accept and move on because they're necessary to enjoying superheroism -- and very often as well, you accept that superheroes are lucky enough to not have to "cross the line" in ways that the real world would force upon them.

That's my take on it anyway.

Dr. Manhattan said...

That was a splendid post.

I used to think the whole DC/Marvel opposition was fanboyism at its worse - but with time I grew to realize that there IS a difference, not necessarily of quality but of perspective between the two labels.

I couldn't articulate it - but the pulp/crime vs. monster/soap opposition makes sense to me.


I don't have much to add to the discussion. But I'll say this though: in my teens, I was a rabid fan of everything Marvel, and only read the occasional DC title.

Now in my 30s, I don't read much superhero comics - but the few I do are all DC titles.

Anonymous said...

I'd suggest the strength of the Incredibles, a film I can watch over and over and not feel like I'm geeking out over comic heroes, is that it blends both styles together into one tight seamless story.

Anonymous said...

IC was also crap because (1) it picked the wrong "crazy lover" character--that should have been Carol Ferris; (2) it had the WORST fight scene ever--no way the JLA falls to a single mortal because that would be PATHETIC.

But the good in IC was that it raised a moral/ethical argument. It was that argument that carried DC for two years, into the Infinite Crisis storyline.

Unfortunately, by issue #4 DC had RAN from their story and turned it all into another generic "manipulative behind the scenes villain" story. It all became very UN-remarkable in a hurry...

Will said...

Just a note on Starman. Yes Jack Knight was a reluctant superhero in the beginning, but I believe the focus of the series was on Jack growing into the role.

He May have become Starman only after his father guilt-tripped him into, but by the second arc he was already beginning to think of himself as a hero. And certainly by the time of the first Nash-as-mist storyline all reluctance was gone. When he finally gave up the Starman identity it was only so that he could be a greater hero (in his - and my - eyes) by being a father to his children.

Compare his progression with , say, Peter Parker: Jack is forced into his role as Starman through the death of a loved one. He soon learns to accept his new role and then embraces it. He is unhesitant to go to space to find his girlfriends brother and proudly defends Opal against the madman Culp. He sacrifices his status and the role he has grown to love to assume greater responsibilities.
Peter Parker is forced into the role of Spider-Man through the death of a loved one. He then has a love/hate relationship with this role for forty years. From time to time he gives up being Spider-Man to escape responsibility.

In short (if that's possible at this point)Jack is a hero in the Superman model: "I have this power, so must use it for good."; whereas Spider-Man is more the classic Marvel archetype:"If only I didn't have this power, I could lead a normal life."

David said...

I think Identity Crisis failed at being a mystery or a detective story because of the things stated above. Like the fact that if you read Identity Crisis with little or no previous knowledge of Jean Loring she would seem to come out of left field as the killer. The whole mind wipe thing didn't bother be but except for the part that it upstaged the murder mystery which Identity Crisis was.

As a side note I think recently you can see continuity used as a crutch in many reveals in books. I think Brad Meltzer is a big culprit of this and his whole Tornado story in JLA read like a note whispering to fans, "See I know continuity and I'm clever with it." Unfortunately not everyone knows the past 60 years of continuity so the story comes off as a failure. That's like me writing a story and you not understanding why a certain character acted a certain way and I say, "Yeah well the scene that explains that happened in my head but I just didn't write it down." Sure this stuff has been written down in other stories but not the current one. And I don't mean to ream into just Meltzer for this. I think you see that in other books as well. Like Villains United reveal that there were two Luthors but one was Alex from COIE.

Hah my side note is longer than my actual note.

Mike Loughlin said...

In addition, I would say current DC = continuity obsession, to its detriment: current Marvel = continuity apathy, to its detriment. Not that good stuff doesn't come out of either company, but I don't need old stories "excused," to read a line-wide crossover to enjoy one comic, or anymore from-left-field characterization.

Good points, Scipio, and I am left wondering whether you or anyone else can point to a DC-style Marvel story. I'm trying to remember one, but I can't.

darknessatnoon said...

Where does the war story fit in? Captain America strikes me as a Marvel anomaly.

Anonymous said...

"Good points, Scipio, and I am left wondering whether you or anyone else can point to a DC-style Marvel story. I'm trying to remember one, but I can't."

I'll toss this out because it's related, but isn't what you're looking for. If anyone remembers Marvel's "New Universe", there was really only one title worth picking up: D.P.7. It was the adventures of seven normal folks of different backgrounds who attended a clinic to help cope with their new powers, discovered the clinic was corrupt, and went on the run together. Events spiraled off from there, and the comic was notable for how absolutely normal the characters were, without any superheroic pretensions as they tried to get on with their lives. Then a couple issues before the end of the series, they find themselves in Manhattan, and discover that there's a superpowered guy there who has put on tights and spends his nights prowling the back alleys in his own little war on crime. And damn if it doesn't seem like the weirdest, most alien thing a person might choose to do. Kudos to the author (Mark Gruenwald) for giving us a straight-up superhero and making it seem so completely unfamiliar -- and I am quite certain he is not making fun of DC-style heroes, just pulling a switcheroo on the reader because he can.

Brushwood said...

Walt Simonson's Thor, specifically the Surtur arc seemed like a DC story - big mythology (obviously), clear heroes and villains, and a mystery to solve (what's the Dark Elf up to??) before the big battle. Plus the whole hero's journey with Beta Ray Bill. After that the focus was on romance and frogs, and I sort of lost interest lol.

bram said...

So, was Alan Moore's Swamp Thing a good Marvel story at DC?
Incidentally, I'd play Swamp Thing against Secret Wars if this was that sort of issue...

bram said...

Thinking about it further, Tony Stark was perhaps more like a DC character, self made billionaire who used his talents to defend his country, set up an international security agency and personally go out and risk his life for right. Possibly this is why later on someone made him an alcoholic...
Nick Fury (as originally conceived- goodness knows what's been done to him in the last 20 years...), both in his war service and as Director of Shield does not have a lot of soapy conflict.
The classic Lee idea of conflict is to have the character angsting about whether he should give up being Captain Americs, Thor, Spider-Man, a member of the Fantastic Four, etc. It's perhaps to DC's advantage that the "history" of the characters' does not have so many repetitive tropes, or at least more variety in them. Just imagine a DC universe where Bob Kanigher had written everything for the first ten years.
Much as I like Doctor Doom and wouldn't argue against David Wheeler's idea of him being iconic, he's a good example of what of what Scipio's saying. Off the top of my head he involves the FF in his first scheme for no good reason, other than to score off Reed and his second appearance is a straight revenge plot. I don't have immediate reference for third and fourth appearances, but there's a lot of obsessiveness there.

The pictures/words tendency is an interesting idea. I offer as a test is the Lee/ Buscema Silver Surfer series. I think much of it is gorgeously drawn, very much towards the top end of Silver Age art and still holding up very well. However, it's very, very dull, displaying many of the faults you discuss to a fairly absurd extent. Despite the pretty pictures it was a failure. Marvel couldn't sell it to their audience as the story was so weak.

Anonymous said...

"Thinking about it further, Tony Stark was perhaps more like a DC character, self made billionaire who used his talents to defend his country, set up an international security agency and personally go out and risk his life for right. Possibly this is why later on someone made him an alcoholic..."

There's more to Tony's story than that: he was a Cold War weapons builder who happened to be caught by one of his own land mines in Vietnamistan (or the Marvel equivalent thereof), was captured by the bad guys, and was forced to build them a weapon. Instead he built his armor and escaped, but had to wear his chestplate at all times as a pacemaker. And, I think it's fair to say that Iron Man spent at least as much time safeguarding Stark Enterprises as he did defending our nation's borders.

A lot of the colorful backstory gets forgotten because it's not at all current, but Tony was a pretty reluctant hero -- circumstances drove him to need to wear the armor, rather than Tony saying, "If I build some armor I can fight crime".

Daddy Will said...

Thanks for posting this. I love you forever. I have quoted it here in my blog:

http://mostlyroses.blogspot.com/2007/12/mystery-in-cyberspace-or-if-you-like.html

8r said...

The difference between Marvel and DC comics? That's easy.

DC's comics are transparently written to please an audience. Marvel's comics think they're documentaries.

That's why I read DC's Elseworlds stuff, but actually collect Marvel.

++++++

Anonymous said...

The very first response posted here, by "Harvey Jerkwater", perfectly encapsulates a key difference between DC and Marvel comic stories for the most part (IMHO).

"Bad Marvel has ridiculous soapy histrionics; bad DC has soulless mechanical storytelling."

I would say he's right, to the point that I would much rather read a bad Marvel comic story than a bad DC comic story. Bad DC stories embarrass me and make it difficult for me when I try to convince my friends to read DC.

However, I would much rather read a good DC comic story (in universe or out, such as Watchmen, or both, such as Gaiman's Sandman run) than a good Marvel comic story for similar reasons, as my tolerance for well-done melodrama is more limited than my enjoyment of fine storytelling.

Well put, Mr. Jerkwater!