Thursday, July 17, 2008

DC vs Marvel

Over at the Permanent Damage blog by Steven Grant, he talks a bit about the differences between DC & Marvel. To sum it up, he basically says DC caters to Golden-Age fans whereas Marvel created everything new and catered to fans who wanted that (and ultimately, to the Silver-Age once they had an established status quo). He touches on something that I do believe is important and I had written about it before when talking about the ending of the Golden-Age and the start of the Silver-Age

I think what Grant says has some merit. But, in focusing on catering to fandom and character creating, his argument is ultimately weakened. If the creation of the Silver-age Flash and Green Lantern was setting up for catering to GA fans, how does it truly differentiate what Marvel did with Namor, the Human Torch and Captain America which he seems to dismiss as not really counting? What about their own Silver-Age revision of Ka-Zar? How does DC creating the Freedom Fighters and All-Story titles catering to the GA fans but not Marvel giving Captain America his own book or starting THE INVADERS, the first true GA continuity driven book? And, the lack of staying power for all those GA focused books? And, what about all those characters and concepts that DC trotted out at the same time, way before they decided to launch a new JSA or Freedom Fighters books? How is Miller's handling of Black Canary an example of doing something "new" if the Silver Age revamps were not? Miller's handling of BC and the DCU in general is like Marvel's Ultimate line, existing not as really doing something new but as reflections of the mainstream line. Much of the resonance of those titles are only because the originals exist to serve as counterpoint to.

I'd word it a bit differently. It's not that DC really stuck going after Golden-age fans of the GA characters as Grant posits. It's that they were stuck with that type of storytelling and editorial base and style. They did some rudimentary updates in their character revamps, a little streamlining, but it was still very conservative, very much in the Heinlein mode of science fiction. It's part of why I posited that the start of the Silver-Age really was FANTASTIC FOUR #1. The characters were new, but the approach to characters and storytelling were not. Because DC had never gotten away from superheroes. Superman, Batman & Wonder Woman still had their own books; Robin, Green Arrow, and Aquaman had steadily appeared in the anthology titles; and we had other proto Silver-Age superheroes in Martian Manhunter and Captain Comet. It's not that the Flash and Green Lantern had 1940s roots, but that their superhero storytelling itself was still there.

Marvel pretty much had to create their superhero market ground up. Unlike DC, they only had 3 successful properties from the 40s and none continued into the 60s. Stan Lee had been scripting monster comics for years now. Kirby and Ditko had been part of that. Their superheroes and storylines of Spider-man, Fantastic Four, Hulk and Thor reflected the type of writing he had been doing for the last decade just as the style of DC reflected theirs. As such, their science-fiction model was not the good science of Heinlein, but a morally ambivalent science, of man puttering around with cosmic forces beyond his scope.

Lee wanted to be a novelist and so wrote what he would want to read. He was hamstringed by this point of spending decades writing the purple prose of comics, but his writing had more heart and real human condition to it. Whereas Mort Wiesinger and Schwartz were more plot-centric, their stories old-fashioned science fiction that didn't grow with the times, Lee's works reflected the times outside the window which made his stories more relevant. The FF and a space race, Namor's people killed by atomic testing, fears of Communism. He looked at what was going on in the world and wrote about that, only in superhero form. Their one hero that was pretty much in the DC mode: Ant-man/Giant-man. Lee pioneered the ideas of continuity across company titles and ongoing soap-opera sensibilities, something DC was very slow in adapting.

And, his loose writing style allowed two of the most creative artists ever in the business push the envelopes in their styles and storytelling. A great synthesis in creating and storytelling. DC had Gil Kane, an incredible artist able to push the envelopes of the genres as well, but to do so, he had to go outside of the company to create things like Savage and Blackmark. By the 70s they managed to get Kirby and Ditko over to do some books. Without Stan Lee giving their visions humanity, purple though it may be, their works at DC didn't resonate. Plus, by that time they had become a bit old-fashioned as more realistic art styles were in-vogue. Further cementing the notion that DC was old-fashioned where Marvel was bold and new despite some of their bolder and more creative outings.

I think the article also ignores or places too little value that DC did successfully re-position themselves in the 80's and made Marvel look like the old-hat between the relaunches of many of their core characters and books, the artistically daring of Frank Miller's DARK KNIGHT, Alan Moore's Swamp-Thing which lead in to Vertigo and Neal Gaiman's SANDMAN books, not to mention WATCHMEN. Indeed, part of the problem I see nowadays stems from that very success. They left behind the feeder market of having their mainstream books be for fans of traditional superheroics, books that weren't impenetrable due to in-bred continuity and outre storytelling. Books young readers could discover, that parents would recognize and buy for their kids. Instead, most of today's fans that are catered to are cultivated from that 80s market. And that's who they cater to with ALL their books. Now the marginalized book lines are not the Mature Readers and Vertigo line, but ones that are written and drawn down specifically for kids.

The problem is not necessarily continuity, least not the fact that both Marvel and DC have history and continuity. Those are strengths for storytelling. I will say that the problem the companies have is that they do cater a little too heavily towards continuity obsessive stories. But, it's sorta in a cannibalistic manner, linking themselves heavily to that history while simultaneously strip mining that history. New stories revisit the past and reflect past stories and events while at the same time destroying what went before. Indeed, the beauty of the Flash of 2 Worlds story was that it acknowledged the past, brought it into the fold of the new, but neither Flash invalidated the other. It allowed for the new and the old to co-exist, fertilizer for new stories in the future.

Slow week at the comic shop this week. Glanced through GODLAND, mainly to check out Scioli's artwork. His time spent on the title has helped him tremendously, he still shows signs of being heavily influenced by Kirby, but having to regularly draw things Kirby didn't, his style is growing into something of his own. It will be worth checking out regularly. Steranko, Keith Giffen, Barry Windsor-Smith all started out as being heavily influenced by Kirby before finding their own paths. Ladronn's cover work has shown him to be able to do more than ape Kirby. Here's hoping that Scioli finds his own path as well. The only thing that kept me from picking it up was I really didn't get into Joe Casey's writing style, the characters really failed at making me want to continue with them month in and out.

Green Arrow/Black Canary #10: A long fruitless fight scene between super-powered agents of the League of Assassins. The League must be lax in their standards as despite their powers against a mostly non-powered they cannot even take out a relative non-fighter nor teen-aged girl. Judd Winnick is unable to make any of the characters stand out or seem all that dangerous. From the start, Winnick seemed to want to make Green Arrow back into being a Batman clone with his own family of superheroes. He got his wish and it has turned the book into a team book without any grounding of believable civilian characters. Factor in the extra guest stars this month, there is little focus really on Black Canary and Green Arrow, the title's lead characters. Batman has his "family" but it's carried out over a host of books, not just one.

Winnick has never really been able to explore in detail the Black Canary and Green Arrow dynamic. The two seem to have gotten together and married just because fans and writers wanted it more than something that felt natural. Black Canary was better handled in BIRDS OF PREY where she had better chemistry with Barbara Gordon than she's been shown with Ollie, least in these pages.

Zorro #5: As usual, a good book and read. But, it is also increasingly obvious that the driving inspiration of this title is Isabel Allende's revisionist novel, more than any previous version of Zorro seen. In fact, Wagner hasn't really captured the swashbuckling swagger and fun from previous incarnations. The title is nothing more than a comic adaptation of Allende's novel, far more faithful than movie adaptations of comics and books usually are that don't pretend to be merely inspired by said work.

Francesco Francavilla's artwork manages to capture the feel and atmosphere perfectly, the colors and painted feel not overwhelming the pencils. To really get a feel of the ability of his pencils, one only needs look at the back cover and see how wonderful this would look in b/w and ink washes. Whew.

The front cover by Sook is also nice until you look at the face. Zorro looks old, serious and his face is largely lacking features with no lips and his nose and details around the eyes obliterated by the mask, it's almost as if he has some kind of death-head face ala Phantom of the Opera.

1 comment:

Chuck Wells said...

You nailed it right on the head, Cash. I agree with your more considered take on the Dc vs. Marvel dynamics, over Mr. Grants.