Depending on age this could be described as a rivalry between publishers or studios, you could be a fan of the comics or the movies or both but it’s highly unlikely that you aren’t on one of the sides of this great rivalry. “The Big two” were crosstown rivals in New York in this two-legged race of comic book retail shops where DC in fact had a head start of 5 years.
DC has the iconic Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Justice League to rival Marvel’s Spiderman, Avengers, Hulk and X-men but in true superhero movie style – let’s go to the origin stories.
It was back in the 1920s that Mickey Mouse comic strips were launched and newspaper comic strips were commonplace by then but it was Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster who introduced Superman and the long format adventure stories with panels and word balloons. Their concept was a one-liner – baby from another world growing up on Earth – the first Superhero – Superman the concept itself had a struggle of its own being rejected by multiple publishers. But once DC launched Superman and it became successful, began an era of rip-offs and spin-offs.
Out of all the knockoffs was Captain Marvel, now called Shazam which was such a blatant knockoff that even the cover page had him throwing the car exactly like Superman. Those who are familiar with the evolution of comics would know that DC originally had the characters Captain America, Hulk etc and in fact, DC decided to put all of them along with Aquaman together in the Justice League in the 60s hitting jackpot.
But then came Stan Lee, an aspiring writer in his 40s with no huge credits to his name. He happened to know the publisher of a magazine called Atlas. The publisher assigned Stand Lee & Jack Kirby to create a rip-off, they instead just reinvented the superhero world. They threw out the routine romance, good trumps bad plot, instead, they created a sci-fi version with mutations, cosmic exposure, visit to the moon and aliens thus creating more devious villains and more powerful superheroes. The Magazine of course later renamed itself to Marvel Comics.
And hence started the Rivalry between Marvel and DC starting a new era of patents, infringements and copyright filing in the world of comic books because believe it or not it all started as a form of imitation or as some would call flattery!
BATTLE LINES WERE DRAWN
It was the 40’s & 50’s, Marvel started out with Fantastic Four, then came Hulk and finally Avengers, Marvel was hitting the ball out of the park consistently. What was different about Marvel was the over the top dialogues by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s increasingly stylised art.
DC was also producing some of its best work at the time from Green Lantern, Flash, the sci-fi Batman and of course Superman. But if you put the DC mag next to the Marvel ones then it would seem that DC had not moved for 10 yrs whereas Marvel was exciting, the perils were more complex making Superman’s achievements seem like a damp squib. Marvel also credited its artists on all its comic-making. Stan lee the poster child of new-age Marvel comics, something DC failed to catch up on.
And Stan Lee played to the gallery, he publicly trashed “the distinguished competition” as being “Brand Ecch,” and insisted that Marvel’s comics were the ones that respected the readers’ intelligence, unlike those other guys. In fact, his diatribes got so bad that fans who liked both DC and Marvel wrote to him to stop, he responded by running a poll asking his readers if he should continue or stop. The next decade belonged to Marvel with characters visually defined in such detail that it was used as the reference for Spiderman homecoming in 2020, 50 years after it was published.
THEN CAME THE MOVIES
DC decided to poach Jack Kirby who was the reason for Fantastic Four’s success along with Steve Ditko who was the co-creator of Spiderman – both of them felt like Stan Lee was getting all the accolades for the Marvel success. In a short time, Kirby was able to create impactful work for DC but he was soon back at Marvel to create the now-famous ‘Eternals’. DC was eventually acquired by Warner Bros who by the ’80s wanted to create movies, meanwhile, Marvel almost went through bankruptcy because publishing comics wasn’t profitable anymore.
It was eventually in 2008 with the launch of Iron Man and its success leading to the acquisition of Marvel by Disney that moved the rivalry to movie screens for generations to come.
2008 was a magical year with the launch of Marvel Cinematic Universe/MCU and at the same time, The Dark Knight became the most-watched movie of all time. There are no two ways to the fact that Marvel has gone way past DC ever since.
But we haven’t seen the end of this rivalry yet, the fandom grows as we speak and there are many more universes that remain to be unfolded now with OTT as well in the mix.
The eager fan awaits!