Sunday, July 08, 2007

A couple weeks back, i read a review of the new Fantastic Four movie, and in it the reviewer started comparing the success of DC properties in movies versus Marvel properties in movies. IMO the reviewer used some pretty lame reasoning, and so I wrote this response. I haven't posted it earlier b/c I forgot that I wrote it. I just found it while cleaning out my inbox.

The answer may lie in the nature of each company's heroes. When Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko created many of Marvel's iconic heroes in the 1960s, their innovation was to give their characters great humanity along with great power.

"They took superheroes and made them more realistic," says Midtown Comics' Gladstone. "They gave their characters real traits, had them living in real cities - most in New York City. They had tremendous flaws and problems that you and I would face every day: getting to work on time, having a cold or flu, having a sick aunt."

This argument always bugs me. For one, it's stuck in the Silver Age. DC long ago added "realistic" problems to its older heroes, and its newer ones have had them from the get-go. Then there's the whole issue of what "realistic" means in regards to characters who routinely disregard the laws of physics. And, how much "realism" readers really want in them.

And what does basing the characters in fictional depictions of real cities vs. fictional cities have to do with it? As a kid in Arkansas reading Marvel & DC, i can assure you that NYC had no more authenticity in my reality than Gotham or Metropolis. Also, i've always liked how the completely make-believe cities can be crafted to reflect their hero(es). It's a good storytelling device, IMO.

"I do believe that what moviegoing audiences respond to is what the comic-book audience and the Marvel audience has responded to for decades. And that's relatable characters," says Kevin Feige, executive producer of "Fantastic Four" and most of the other Marvel movies. "There's a reason these characters have endured for 20, 30, 40 years. There are emotional elements that people connect with. The Marvel characters are infinitely more than their exterior design. They have an emotional core."

And what's so relatable about the Fantastic Four? Aside from the Thing and his "i'm a monster" dilemma, none of the Four are any kind of everyman character. Reed is a super scientist (whose inventions aren't very "realistic"). Johnny is some kind of thrill-seeking playboy. And Sue, she's in love with Reed, and she's really pretty. (Yes, i know that the Storm siblings have been more developed in the comics over the years, but i'm talking here about their appeal to a general, mass audience, not comics afficianados.) Again, only the Thing suffers a real downside to his powers. The others are able to go on with their pursuits, with the superhero gig added on.

IMO, these Marvel v. DC comparisons aren't really about company vs. company or universe vs. universe, but Superman vs. Spiderman. Spidey is all the things people attribute to Marvel generally. Supes is (in large) everything people attribute to DC generally. They are not, however, the sum total of everything each publisher puts out.

The FF could fit quite well into the DCU. (Kirby did a book very similar to early FF--Challengers of the Unknown--at DC before co-creating the FF at Marvel.) Wolfman and Perez's New Teen Titans could fit in the MU. Captain America could be DCU. Batman could be MU. Is there anything about Galactus and his heralds that wouldn't work in the DCU? Or about Darkseid and his minions that wouldn't work in the MU?

Call me a defensive DC fan if you want, but IMO these distinctions are over-generalized, out of date, and assume things about the readership that aren't necessarily so.