Marvel and DC, companies that started out as comic publishers, are now renowned for their superhero stories that have become an important element of modern culture. Be it the Justice League or the Avengers, a simple mention should be enough for most to be able to identify the names of the well-known superheroes. Through the years, both companies expanded into the film industry, crowding the cinemas with eager spectators. Marvel’s ‘Avengers: End Game’ was even able to make into the top 3 most watched movies of all time worldwide. Although Marvel's success in the film industry is evident, DC’s comics were more popular for a very long time. The characters created by DC set the standards for all superheroes. For this reason, the debate with regards to which one is better is still ongoing.
The comics were initially created as individual stories and profiles for each character, ‘cross hero arcs’ were the result of marketing strategies. DC’s comics originated first, having its precursor published in the National Allied Publications. In 1935 Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster began creating Superman, which would later on take center stage by setting the stands for all the superheroes that followed. Both, Superman and Batman, are great examples of stories with backgrounds that lay the foundation by shaping the personalities and abilities of the characters. Up until today the backgrounds of DC characters in comics are still regarded as more detailed and more impactful when it comes to character development than those of Marvel. Marvel, on the other hand, had a later start in 1939 with its first two most notable heroes being the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner. It was only when Stan Lee created the Spider-man series that the real competition between Marvel and DC began. Marvel’s success was a given, nevertheless the stories still lacked the edge that DC had when it came to backgrounds. When the companies expanded into the film industry, the gap between Marvel and DC grew even larger.
Although Marvel only acquired its current standing after Disney took over, a couple of movies which include Hulk (2003) the Incredible Hulk (2008) and Fantastic Four (2005) were released beforehand. Nowadays, when the topic in question is Marvel movies, Avengers: End Game is usually what comes to mind, this is probably because of the incredible strategy applied by Disney. Given that Marvel did not have the upperhand when it came to background development of each character, Disney used the special effects, which were then well developed in order to add the extra push that was needed for the company to become what it is today. The stories highlighted the special abilities of each character and their personalities when interacting with others, rather than having a greater focus on how their backgrounds shaped them. Oftentimes, the past of
characters were gradually revealed throughout a series, instead of being concentrated in the first movie, which caused viewers to know less about the environment characters lived in and how that shaped them, yet it also led to growing curiosity. In opposition to Marvel, DC’s characters did not require such elaborate special effects and the refined foundation for interaction between heroes, given that DC’s focus was on the backgrounds and character arcs. Nevertheless, as a consequence of time constraints, when converting the content in the comics into movies, the characters lost some of their essence. Although it is a less debated topic, DC movie directors failed to use the shared background of characters to captivate the audience the way Marvel did. Each movie led to another, they all had underlying connections that caused fans of a given character to be interested in other characters they usually wouldn't be. DC did not portray the heroes as a team, but focused on each of them individually, creating some discord between DC fans. Batman fans weren’t necessarily Superman’s fans, given that there were no hooks that attracted spectators from one movie to be interested in the other.
DC’s superheroes are for the most part born with their special abilities, examples include: Aquaman, Wonder Woman and Superman, yet Marvel’s heroes predominantly gain their abilities after undergoing impactful experiences, for instance: Iron man, Hulk and Captain America. Although both companies produce superhero stories, they are able to give spectators different experiences. Marvel’s characters are very powerful, yet they all have weaknesses, whether it is Hulk’s double personality, or Iron man’s egocentric perspective on life, the characters appear more humane. DC on the other hand, portrays their characters as divine beings who have little to no room for improvement. Superman is illustrated as the ideal person, who’s only weakness is the kryptonite. Batman is painted as the perfect citizen, someone who embodies all values that society should have. By showing that the superheroes also have common weaknesses, to which most can relate, Marvel is able to create a more meaningful connection with the audience, consequently making their movies more popular amongst superhero fans.
DC previously had the upper hand when it came to character backgrounds, yet Marvel was able to better translate character arcs into movies, creating an atmosphere that showed the entire character development, from the start, leading up to their transformation/realization of their role as heroes. For instance, Thor has 3 movies that focus on his story as a hero, still throughout those movies there are various references of what may lead up to future events sometimes involving other characters as well. In the latest Thor movie ‘Ragnarok’ the last scenes show happenings that lead up to the plot of ‘Avengers: endgame’. By appropriating the strategy previously employed by DC, Marvel was able to offer their spectators the full experience of watching a Marvel movie, something that goes beyond the central plot, little details that are common in the audience’s everyday lives. Furthermore, it can also be inferred that due to carefully embedded connections between the movies, Marvel was able to raise its popularity, thus having the possibility to expand its boundaries by creating more heroes and cross hero movies. DC nevertheless has underdeveloped plots that are limited to the basic structure of movies and novels: ‘Beginning’, ‘climax’ and ‘conclusion’. An example to that is the Wonder Woman series: ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Wonder Woman 1984’. The first movie has a clear ending, which suggests that the sequel won’t be tied together to the prior movie, in fact, the first and the second movie share little connections with regards to the plot, they can be interpreted as separate movies that are centered around the same character, but are not interconnected.
In order to deepen this analysis, one could consider the cross hero arcs. While DC created the Justice League, Marvel created the Avengers. It is evident that those two cross hero acrs are the trump cards of each company, however the value attributed to the Avengers is much greater than that attributed to the Justice League, result of the hooks created by the directors between all of Marvel’s character arcs and of the lack of that same strategy in DC’s movies. If other cross hero acrs from each company were analyzed, for instance Guardians of the Galaxy, and Suicide Squad, the gap between the two companies would become more evident, proving that the individual stories created by Marvel in movies are more appealing to spectators. If taken into account that both plots explore the idea of an anti-hero, or rather the portrayal of villains who became heroes, Marvel is better able to explore that concept, and this is because of how each character is illustrated, as well as how the events that took place in the lives of each of those individuals, were constructed by the producers to lead to that specific event. In Guardians of the Galaxy, not only is there more development of each character as an individual, eg. Peter Quill, whom spectators follow the trajectory before becoming a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy, throughout the formation of the squad, and finally when the group is formally established, but all of the individual stories are also designed so that it would be inevitable for those characters not to work as a team, in the case of the Guardians of the Galaxy, they were all chasing after the orb, that is, they shared a common goal. When it comes to DC’s suicide squad, there is less information regarding the individual character and how they came to be in their current position, while HarleQuin is the exception, there is little development of the explanation to why she and the others end up working together, beyond the fact that they are all prisoners, selected by the government because they could be discarded, and their goal is imposed by others, rather than being an acquired mutual interest.
In summary, although DC had a great advantage in comics when it came to background stories and how the characters were shaped throughout the arc, Marvel was able to capitalize on its strongpoints using marketing strategies that mainly consisted of linking all movies together, consequently increasing the number of spectators interested in all stories. Not only did Marvel create significant links, but the use of special effects in the first character arcs also caused those to be regarded by the public as more eye-catching and elaborate than DC movies. Marvel was able to expand on the idea that superheroes also have flaws, making it so that spectators could relate to the character, consequently creating a deeper connection between its movies and the audience. By incorporating the strategy previously applied by DC, elaborating on character development, Marvel was able to create an even better momentum, now not only were the characters well developed, but their individual movies had links that referred to sequels, or character acrs of other super heroes. This process facilitated the translation of cross hero acrs from comics and into the film industry. As a result Marvel’s popularity skyrocketed, providing a confident answer for the question posed in the introduction: ‘Which one is better, Marvel or DC?’.