Sunday, October 08, 2006

DC vs Marvel: My Half of the Population

(I'm going to address this over here because it is almost completely off-topic from the original post, and I don't want to interrupt his comments conversation with my own concerns *ahem* again.)

While discussing why Marvel gets more criticism about LGBT character treatment than DC does, Dorian points out something else:
Just as a counterpoint, we seem to be having the inherent misogyny conversation about DC far more often than it comes up with Marvel.

Now, I know that the majority of Feminist, Comics, and Feminist Comics blogs I farm for When Fangirls Attack are DC. That's because I'm primarily a DC reader. I know there's a huge and vocal contingent of DC fans discussing how female characters are treated.

But I am wondering why now. Is it an effect of the blog community demographic? More DC blogs than Marvel blogs, so more discussion about misogyny at DC than at Marvel. Is it because less Feminists read Marvel? I'm not sure that's true, because I know more than one fan who reads primarily about Marvel but blogs about women at DC more often. Does Marvel treat its female characters better? Not that I've seen.

Or is just that the conversation feeds itself, and the issues being brought up are associated with DC, so people address DC more often in response?

So, I'm curious. I know why I blog DC more often, because I read only two or three Marvel books and one of them is inching towards the drop pile (the other two I put on the pile, and often put off reading them for weeks at a time). In the meantime, I'm just picking up more and more DC. But I do blog Marvel when the occasion to rant or rave presents itself. I'd like to know, though, from everyone else who blogs about women at DC instead of women at Marvel -- Why?


  1. Y'know, I've actually gravitated toward DC and away from Marvel as my feminist tendencies have developed. I don't think the latter causes the former, but they do have the same root. I went to college, I matured, I learned a hell of a lot, and I started wanting more intelligent stories.

    For the past decade, DC has done a lot better about giving me those stories than Marvel has. Don't get me wrong, two years ago I wouldn't even consider picking up a DC title. But when I finally did... There are three Marvel books I like now. Four when White Tiger starts. And I read all of those because of the writers, not the title. I don't know how many DC comics I read. A lot. DC is just better about giving me what I want as a feminist and an adult woman.

    If none of that makes sense, it's because I read Written World before I have food or caffeine. I need my smart fix first thing in the morning.

  2. I'm not sure, but didn't Gail Simone's "Women in Refrigerators" list cite more DC characters who had been mistreated over Marvel characters?

    On the other hand, DC has a number of strong leading ladies, including Manhunter, the Birds of Prey, and of course, Wonder Woman. I don't read Marvel so I can't really compare them.

  3. There are women at Marvel?

    I kid, I kid. Really, I think it's much the same as why there are more DC blogs than Marvel ones. Marvel Comics as a whole are geared toward and appeal primarily to teenagers. The focus at Marvel is on teen angst and teen themes, and I think that's part of why their books about young heroes (Runaways, Gravity, Young Avengers) are among their best.

    Meanwhile, DC appeals to the other ends of the spectrum--the very young, and the more mature. The little kids know Batman and Superman and Wonder Woman and the Teen Titans, they go through that teenage phase where maybe Batman is cool, but Superman's a loser, and then evolve into people who want a little more than angst-angst-angst from their comics. Maybe they become the sort of people who think that talking gorillas are the best thing ever. Or maybe they become lit majors who love the mythological aspects of the DCU. But eventually, it seems like DC is home to a more literary set, while Marvel's readers prefer to duke it out on the Bendis board and Millarworld and Byrne Robotics.

    Broad generalizations, to be sure, and I know they don't apply to everyone, but that seems to be my experience. And that's probably a lot of why there are more discussions of feminism and DC comics--because the people reading DC comics tend more to be the type who will discuss the philosophical aspects of funnybooks.

    Besides that, Marvel is a boys' club, and it shows even in the writing. Maybe there's just an overall better treatment of women at DC.

  4. That's very interesting. I just realized the only female comic character I talk about on a regular basis is from DC. And I've been a Marvel Man since birth. I wonder why that is?

  5. Tom, talking gorillas are the best thing ever.

  6. I kind of disagree with you completely, Tom. Marvel's themes may appeal to teenagers, but saying that they are geared toward teen angst and that DC is geared toward maturity hearkens back to the old Marvel Zombie/DC Fanboy wars of 1861.

    Also, (and I apologize if I'm putting words into your mouth here) implying that DC readers are somehow more literate, upscale, or intelligent than Marvel readers is way more condescending and insulting than you probably thought it'd be.

    I read Marvel blogs and DC blogs, though I hadn't really thought of there being a distinction between the two. My blog is Marvel-focused because that's the universe that I feel the most. 4l is a fun blog, and the guy I write with likes to write about fun and funny things. Are we less mature because we focus on entertaining more so than informing?

    I don't think so. I can discourse on the more philosophical facts of funnybooks, and I definitely enjoy doing so. It's just a matter of finding time to do so. I've got a number of posts regarding race in comics and fandom cooking in my head, I just don't have time to write them. I can't help but take it kind of personally, though I'm certain you didn't mean it that way, when you say that "people reading DC comics tend more to be the type who will discuss the philosophical aspects of funnybooks."

    Both companies have their pluses and minuses. DC is big on legacy and cosmic things. Marvel has been more current-events/real-life/street level from the start, even including the FF. Both have areas where they need to improve, but typing one as more immature than the other isn't cool, duder. The questions regarding civil liberties that have been brought up by Civil War (in the satellite books, at least, the main book is dreadful) or the debate between responsibility and free will brought up by Spider-Man is just as valid as the relation between man and God that Superman brings into play. I could talk about Kabuki for days, but Sandman left me flat. For others, it's the opposite. One company is not more highbrow/immature than the other.

    Besides that, Marvel is a boys' club, and it shows even in the writing. Maybe there's just an overall better treatment of women at DC.

    Marvel is a boys' club, and DC treats women better, but most of the feminist criticism regarding abuse of women is aimed at DC Comics, I thought? I don't know if I agree with that, but I've derailed enough, I guess. For the record, though, talking gorillas are the best thing ever and I, something of a Marvel Zombie, feel that Marvel needs more than just Ken Hale. I wish that Marvel's joking comments about Marvel Apes had come true.

    Regarding Ragnell's actual post, I've only got a couple ideas. DC hit the, I guess feminist comicoblogospherodomohedronitron airwaves in a big way due to Identity Crisis, War Games, and other books. Marvel hasn't had that kind of hugely adverse reaction to its latest big name stories that I've seen. They don't have a Spoiler, per se.

    I'm not saying that the stories are flawless or blameless, it's just that they either haven't been as egregious or haven't gotten the same notice, which is kind of funny, since Marvel consistently outsells DC.

    My other idea is that since this push sorta started with DC, your idea about the conversation feeding itself is right. People can point and go "Jean Loring, Spoiler, X, Y, Z" since there's already precedent to be found. With Marvel, you've got less of a trail of breadcrumbs, I think.

    I dunno. I always saw Marvel has having more "strong female characters" than DC, I guess in part because I know more Marvel than DC, so your question is an interesting/puzzling one.

  7. I didn't mean to be insulting, I'm just going from my own experience. I'm not alone among the geeks I hang out with in having gone from loving the DC characters as a kid, to loving the Marvel Universe as a preteen, to heading back to DC as an adult. I don't mean to imply that DC readers are more intelligent, upscale, etc. than Marvel readers, though I see that I rather crudely didn't make that clear. I realized that I was making broad generalizations, the kind that always fall apart on an individual level, and was careful to mention that fact.

    But, and this is simply anecdotal, it seems to me that if you were to poll the whole of Marvel and DC readers, you'd probably find that more teens/young adults are picking up Marvel, while more kids and older adults are picking up DC. And I'm pretty sure that that's what Marvel wants you to believe, if Joe Quesada's comments and the content of Marville are any indication.

    There's no denying that there are vast differences between the two universes. On the whole, I think Marvel's is more pessimistic, in contrast to DC's generally bright outlook. Marvel spends a lot of its efforts on real-world allegory, as you mentioned with Civil War, while DC has embraced the utterly fantastic. I don't think it's a stretch to say that such wildly different approaches to comic storytelling would attract different types of readers.

    And perhaps I'm conflating editorial practices with overall feel. Joe Quesada is immature, though less so now than he was when Bill Jemas was with the company. And the in-comic potshots that Marvel has taken at DC (Straczynski's newscast critique, the brutal death of Teri Kidder, Marville) have stunk of sour grapes. Furthermore, it seems that Marvel has more of a tendency to be embarrassed by its silliness, to try to sweep it under the rug so as to continue looking 'cool' (see: the brutal treatment of Speedball, the brooding FF, etc.) while DC embraces and elevates theirs. In the DCU, characters like Speedball and Sleepwalker would be superstars, or at least frequent guest stars and miniseries-foci. Even though characters like Razorback and Captain Ultra have gotten some action in recent years, it's always in just-out-of-mainstream books like She-Hulk and The Thing. DC went and made the Elongated Man and Booster Gold centerpieces (albeit dark-and-brooding centerpieces, at least thus far) of a major event. In Marvel, they might have shown up in Marvel Team-Up.

    Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me that there's a difference in attitudes there, one which I associate with maturity, though I suppose this could be a case of different concepts of the same term. At Marvel, mature storytelling is equated with real-world allegory and social commentary. DC's idea of mature storytelling may retain the allegorical aspect, but rarely concerns itself with the real world; instead, it's about creating emotional gravitas and compelling drama within a world which is accepted a priori as being fantastic and unrealistic. Perhaps then my impressions of DC fans as a more literate bunch just comes from the tendency of DC stories to hide their allegory a little deeper.

    As far as my comment about the treatment of women, I suppose it was a little vague. The matter of the Marvel boys' club was discussed at some length months ago in response to some of Joe Q's comments (and Gail Simone's responses). Besides that, it seems to me that DC tends to have more female-focused titles or stories, and generally that there are more female characters getting spotlight and exposure at DC than at Marvel. If that is the case, and not simply a matter of sampling bias, then DC has more bad stories about women as a matter of proportions and odds.

    Or, it could be that DC's just made a string of bad choices with female characters recently, much as Marvel has with their homosexual cast. After all, for every Sue Dibny and Spoiler, there's a Black Cat (a la the Evil that Men Do) and Scarlet Witch. For every Judd Winick, there's a Joss Whedon. Maybe the refrigerator pendulum swings both ways.

  8. Huh. We've got almost exactly opposite perspectives on the Marvel/DC thing. I've been a Marvel fan since childhood and stuck with it, barring the usual stretch of giving up all comics for girls/social life/whatever in middle/high school.

    To me, I always found DC to be the emotionally oppressive Dad Comics that Grant Morrison talks about at the end of Flex Mentallo "What kind of bitter adolescent boy confuses pessimism with realism?" and all that. DC's books, save for Robin, Flash, and the Young Justice crew most times, seemed (and sometimes still seem) kind of joyless to me. The JSA was a comic about old people and the kids who dressed up like old people, the Green Lanterns were space police, Superman was Superdad, that kind of thing.

    I will give that htere is a certain feel to the two universes. Marvel has always seemed more street-level and personal to me, even in cosmic books. That's kind of why I call the new Blue Beetle and Firestorm Marvel comics in DC clothing. They're good, very good actually, but they don't feel like DC comics to me. DC is more Superman than Clark Kent, more Batman than Bruce Wayne, if that makes sense. More fantastic than human.

    It's weird that you feel that way about Marvel and its mid-tier characters. I felt just the opposite. While DC was killing off the JLI and its mid-tier to show that Jean Loring and Superboy Prime were worthwhile villains, Marvel was putting out New Warriors, She-Hulk, the Marvel Romance titles, Marvel Team-Up, Marvel Monsters, and half a dozen other mini-events. Shoot, Jubilee had a series-turned-miniseries what, a couple years ago? I always saw Marvel as being willing to show that its mid-tier can and do work, which is why Luke Cage and Spider-Woman are on the Avengers (Beyond Bendis liking both characters, I mean) and Cannonball exists at all (sorry Guthrie fans!).

  9. Yeah, the pessimism/realism thing is the vibe I've always gotten from the Marvel books. Everyone hates the X-Men and Spider-Man, and most everyone else has to deal with the "my powers are a curse!" phenomenon. Hulk, Thing, Spidey, Reed, Iron Man, every last X-Man...all afflicted with more neuroses than Freud's filing cabinet. My favorite Marvel comics have been the ones where the optimism shines through--Spider-Man's happy-go-lucky wisecracking even against the most dire odds, the Thing's cheerful demeanor despite his terrible looks, that sort of thing.

    And I'll absolutely agree that DC tends to be more fantastic than human. Heck, even the old Firestorm was a Marvel character in DC clothing, essentially Flash Thompson with superpowers. And Nova and Quasar were DC characters somehow dropped into the Marvel universe.

    With regards to Marvel's mid-tier, it seems like part of the point of those miniseries has been to use the crazy silver-agey stuff without it impeding on the "realism" of the main universe. New Warriors was a commentary on the reality TV show phenomenon (something which really didn't fit with the established team, and something which X-Statix started as but quickly got away from), Marvel Team-Up didn't focus on the third-string characters until "League of Losers" rolled around; sure there were the short appearances from Nova and Moon Knight and Sleepwalker, but the main figures were Spider-Man, Wolverine, the FF, Captain America, and other members of the legion of oft-exposed characters. While it's nice to see lower-tier characters like Spider-Woman and Luke Cage getting spots on the New Avengers, the Avengers in my mind have always been made mostly of less-popular characters. Thor, Cap, and Iron Man might make it into every iteration, but then you had people like Hawkeye, Wasp, Giant Man, Vision, and others who would never grace a lunchbox or t-shirt. Now, aside from Spider-Woman and Luke Cage, and rising star Sentry, you've got popularity powerhouses like Spider-Man and Wolverine alongside mainstays like Cap and Iron Man. Recently, it's seemed to me that Runaways and She-Hulk have been the books that really play with Marvel's universe, with the crazy stuff that's available to them, and those have consistently been my favorite Marvel books as a consequence.

    So, right. Seems like we're coming at the same stuff from wildly different perspectives, and I feel bad for hijacking Ragnell's comment section, so if it's okay, I'd like to call a truce. I'd hate to develop bad blood with 1/2 of the team behind 4thletter, and especially on someone else's blog.

  10. Personally, I'm about 60/40 in favor of Marvel books vs. DC in terms of my pocketbook. One of the things that generally appeals to be about the Marvel books is the somewhat cliche "Marvel takes place in the real world." I am just looking for good stories and art, and tend to gravitate to Marvel over DC. But I am still liberal about trying out DC titles (Manhunter just kicks ass) and seeing the talent over there too. Interestingly, my most recent post on my blog was about a DC female character. Go figure.

  11. Part of the problem for me is the whole "event continuity" thing. It irritates me at DC, but I'm interested in enough of the characters to follow the event. With Marvel I might only be reading one or two titles, so to have an event come along every 8 issues or so and disrupt the story flow by tying it into some event that mainly focusses on a lot of characters whose stories I am not following and have no interest in is just a pain in the ass.

    Is it more difficult to read Marvel comics in isolation than it is DC? I have no clue. I don't have any real evidence, but as an outsider to Marvel I have a sense of a much tighter continuity between individual titles than DC and that puts me off where I might be interested in picking up an individual title.

    Of course the last thing I really liked at Marvel was New Warriors. So it's hard for me to work up much enthusiasm for a title even if I enjoy it, for fear they'll be the next sacrifice to the god of crossovers.

  12. Why are there not as many blogs reporting on sexism at Marvel?

    Probably for the same reason you don't see a whole lot of reporters working on "How Wet Is The Ocean?"


    Granting that both companies started out with "the token girl" on most of their superhero teams, DC started trying to rectify the problem soooner - allowing Wonder Woman to be more independent and less "I'd marry Steve Trevor if I didn't have to fight for Justice" and turning Black Canary and Green Arrow into equal partners rather than just boyfriend/girlfriend, for instance.

    Now, Wonder Woman has been indpendent of Steve Trevor for a generation or so. Dinah stands on her own as a heroine and is part of a whole team of like-minded heroines that don't need to be some male character's supporting cast. (Oracle, Huntress, etc.) Throw in Manhunter and countless other examples and it's obvious that the general attitude among most DC writers is that you CAN have women - real women - doing heroic things without having to be attached at the hip to a male character.

    By contrast, never really had any female characters who headlined their own book or any female heroines who weren't part of a bigger team until the 70's. Marvel also never really changed their early female characters that much.

    Janet Van Dyne? Even if she's running her own fashion design firm - she's still a shopping obsessed debutante and you won't see her without Hank Pym.

    Jean Grey - eventually got out of the "want to be a model" stage in the Stan Lee days but she'll forever be the X-Men mommy, when she's alive. And even when she was around, it was rarely without Scott Summers.

    Susan Richards - despite now being granted an IQ higher than a postage stamp - never really stopped being a housewife. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I'm just saying that there wasn't much attempt at a progression in her case.

    (Ironically, Marvel's recent seperating her from her husband has been the most out-of-character moment from Sue in anything ever - but that's a whole other argument)

    Not that Marvel didn't try to fix things with new characters - though none of their line of 70's feminist characters (Shanna The She Devil, Night Nurse, The Cat) lasted long. Ms. Marvel, who came along toward the end of the 70's, faired SOMEWHAT better -though she's perhaps the best posterchild for a character the editors didn't know what to do with EVER. And then there was Spider-Woman and She-Hulk... do I really have to explain what is wrong with them?

    And now? Well, The Cat (later Hellcat) is dead.

    Night Nurse shows up occasionally as the medic for the hero community which is cool, but not really a SUPERHERO job.

    Shanna got married off to Kaz-Ar and only showed up for a time doing cameros during HIS Cameos in X-Men. The Frank Cho series using her name had NO relationship to the character (and thank goodness for that!)

    The original Spider-Woman is back but she was pretty much stuck being the token woman/eye-candy on the New Avengers. Now... I'm not sure where she is since Civil War started.

    She-Hulk has her own title, which is one of the few Marvel books I'll even touch anymore. It has Greg Horn covers but they almost seem to be parodies OF most Greg Horn covers.

    And Ms. Marvel? Well, she has her own series again AND is apparently in New Avengers but if I had a dollar for every complaint about how the back of her costume seems to be in "wedgie" position in every single appearance she makes...

    Actually, that seems to be a pretty big complaint about Marvel - the only established female characters who headlined their own book in the last few years were females in scanty/tight costumes. (Mystique in her leather pants, Emma Frost, Ms. Marvel, Shanna)Even if the story wasn't about them IN the scanty costumes (i.e. Emma Frost having those Emma in white leather Greg Horn covers despite the story being about Emma as a shy, quiet teenage girl BEFORE her powers kicked in)

    This, I think, is why there's more complaints about things like three women being decapitated in three DC books while there has been (from what I've seen) relatively few complaints about anything happening in Marvel Comics lately. We EXPECT better of DC so when it happens, we're afraid that it is going to change.

    By contrast, the way Marvel has been the last few years, it's no shock when something stupid happens like - oh, I don't know - the most powerful, strong-willed, ebon-skinned godddess in the universe gets married to a guy with no powers and immediately becomes a submissive wilting flower. So nobody feels the need to complain because it's like teaching a pig to sing - it only wastes your time and annoys the pig.

  13. Is it that DC includes more love interests for their heroes than Marvel, thus leading to more girlfriends who can be stuffed in refrigerators?

    Female characters at Marvel tend to be either significant team members (and thus unlikely to be killed off), or trivial short-term props whose death wouldn't be significant enough to bother with.

  14. I would say that DC has more female characters recognized in general popculture. Wonder Woman and Supergirl (even Catwoman occasionally) are all characters that you'll sometimes see on random accessories on teen and pre-teen accessories. In contrast, there's no equivalent female character (or symbol) for any Marvel characters.

  15. Racy, I think DC has more characters recognizable in general pop culture, period. Recently, I've been introducing my wife to comics and after giving her a good sampling of what I personally consider to be the good stuff (tastes being what they are, this is stuff like Bone , NausicaƤ, and Usagi Yojimbo), I am now easing her into the frightnening realm of super-hero comics. My first order of business was to find out with which characters she was familiar.

    On the DC front:
    Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Batgirl (Barbara), the Flash, Lex Luthor, Robin, Lois Lane.

    On the Marvel front:

    And after some regressive hypnotherapy, she remembered both that there was a "big green guy" whom we decided was probably the Hulk (or maybe Swamp Thing?) and that she had heard the term "Captain America" in a song somewhere along the line.

    Also, we had just seen X-Men: The Movie, so she knew Wolverine had claws, but wouldn't know that the guy in yellow spandex with the "big black ears" was what he would normally look like.

  16. I don't know about anyone else, but if I blog about comics it's usually about DC because that's all I'm reading/following at the moment. I used to read Marvel when I was little in early to mid 90's, but I haven't read any Marvel in a long time. I'm just usually satisfied enough with the movies and animated series that I never felt the urge to. Perhaps I'll pick up some Marvel when I have a more steady income, but right now I just can't afford to follow both. So, I really can't say one way or another about how Marvel treats its female characters.

  17. I thought Katherine wrote a pretty good post about the differences between DC & Marvel and why she preferred Marvel.

    For my part, I always saw Marvel as going for a darker, messier, "edgier" feel than DC usually does. Marvel heroes are frequently misunderstood outcasts (e.g., Spider-man) or outright oppressed (esp. mutants), with some being outright antiheroes (the Punisher being the prime example); they tend to come from working-class roots or difficult childhoods; they usually have more screwed-up personal lives. Not that everything's wine & roses in the DCU, but there tends to be more of a "Never Never Land" quality to DC superheroes, I think in part because most of the major settings are fictional (Metropolis, Gotham, Smallville, etc.). Basically, Marvel heroes seem more likely to be dragged down by the mundane realities of daily life than their DC counterparts and I think that was deliberate on Stan Lee's part.

    Compare, say, Spider-man to Superman and Batman, arguably the most iconic male heroes of their respective companies. Spider-man's smart, but he's no freakin' supergenius like Bats. He's pretty powerful, but he's by no means in Superman's class. Peter loses his parents as a wee tyke, like Clark does, but then he loses his uncle as a teenager as well; he doesn't have the same foster family Clark does. And unlike Bruce, he doesn't come from wealth and privilege: just making ends meet as a young man is a challenge for him. Hell, Clark's just a reporter, but he seems to be able to afford a pretty sweet apartment in a major city.

    It just seems to me Peter spends as much time struggling with his personal and professional life as he does fighting Venom, while Clark and Bruce don't have such complications. Obviously, not every DC & Marvel hero follows this trend, but I think it's representative of each company's basic approach.

    I don't favor one company's metaverse over the other: just pointing out there are differences, in a "Coke vs Pepsi" sense. Nor am I particularly attached to individual characters. It's usually a question of what I'm in the mood for and what a particular creative team does.

    As for which company does a better job with female characters: honestly, I don't see either being much better than the other. DC does seem to have more prominent / iconic / recognizable female characters - most notably Wonder Woman - and they may have writers who do a better job with female characters than Marvel does at the moment, but that's a relatively mild difference of degree, IMHO.

  18. I personally like dc more as its superheroes have conflicting stories, but focus mainly on the aspect of the superhero part of their characters' lives. To me marvel humanizes their characters too much and focuses on their personal lives most of the time which leads to a cruddy story. They try to make their comics about people with conflicting lives who just happen to be superheroes. I'll compare two franchises the Spiderman, and the new batman not the stupid older ones. Spiderman's movies are always focusing on Peter's flaws so when the movies end you feel cheated, because there is little build about Spiderman as this persona is just a side story. The dark knight was amazing because it focuses mainly on the superhero (even though some would argue Batman isn't a superhero just a hero) so it stays with one main idea throughout the story. If the dark knight were to have focused on Bruce Wayne's love life and how difficult it is for him to juggle his personal life with his crime-fighting than the movie would stop being a superhero movie. In my opinion DC has better superheroes and tells better stories.