As someone who’s spend nearly forty years as a dedicated Marvel Comics reader I thought I’d share just a handful of reasons why I’m a card carrying member of the Mighty Marvel Marching Society.
I can still remember the first Marvel comic I ever bought: Amazing Spider-Man #142. I can even recall the first comic Jeff ever picked up too: Thor #243.
As small kids, both my brother and I would come home from school and watch the syndicated reruns of the late 1960s Spider-Man as well as The Marvel Superheroes so we were pretty well versed with a good number of the heroes and villains from the House of Ideas when we'd set off with our mom to the corner drugstore. I'm sure there are a lot of comic fans out there who remember those good old spinner racks of days gone by. With our fifty cents, or maybe a buck, we begin to buy as many of those four color adventures as we could get our mitts on.
With that our life-long love of comics was born!
Rarely, if ever, did you buy a Marvel comic and not have the cover reflect the action inside the book. Sure, that action may have ended up on the last few pages of the issue but for the most part what you saw is what you got.
In contrast, DC would show some crazy goings on like Batman and the Joker doing battle on the top of a giant baby doll's head and you'd think, "That's damn bizarre. I think I'll check this out," only to find nothing in the comic had anything to do with what you saw on the cover. Hell, the Joker might not even be in that issue!
Truthfully just about ever comic publisher these days, from the big two to the tiny independents, provide plenty of eye candy right up front - anything by Alex Ross is guaranteed to knock your socks off - so the cover argument may be a little moot these days. Yet, when I started buying comics it was always the Marvel issues on the rack which drew your eye.
I'm certainly not going to say I don't like the current batch of movies coming from DC/Warner Bros as Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy was an instant classic and they did fine work with Man of Steel. Yet Marvel just seems to have their finger better placed on the pulse of fandom.
Obviously, Marvel didn't always have the upper hand film-wise as I can still remember some of the downright horrible dreck which had the company's stamp. Dolph Lundgren as the Punisher? Oh please! There was a reason the Roger Corman Fantastic Four was buried for so many years. Just awful! The last two FF flicks? Not so hot either...
With the establishment of Marvel Studios, the movies arriving are a whole lot more hit than miss with huge crowd pleasers like The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy two of the highlights. As we eventually see other properties like Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and the X-Men probably return to the fold the sky should be the limit as far as the Marvel movie pantheon.
From the very beginning of comic's Silver Age Marvel heroes have always stood very far apart from their DC brethren.
While most other comic publishers were endowing their heroes with super abilities from birth, Marvel presented characters who came to their powers through a variety of incidents; mainly by accident. Here we had a radical departure from the same old, same old by reading about alter egos who dealt with many of the same issues as the comic reader.
Peter Parker struggled with the everyday issues of being an awkward high school teenager; the Fantastic Four bickered and argued like most close knit families; the X-Men fight against fear and ostracization because they're much different than anyone else. Marvel didn't stock their stable of superheroes simply with billionaire playboys or alien super beings but a wide swath of personality types.
Add to these facts Marvel also provides much more ethnic diversity with their characters.
While DC's 1985 Crisis on Infinite Earths is considered by many to be the first mega crossover, Marvel always seems to have bigger and more exciting events. Crisis is pretty cool, and you can't go wrong with the George Perez art, but DC concocted the crossover more to clean up what had became a near mind bending number of alternate universes (or Earths) in which their stories were taking place and thus turning off potential new readers. You had Earth 1, Earth 2, Earth 4, Earth S, Earth X, Hollow Earth, Middle Earth... You name it and they had an Earth for it. I'm just kidding on the last two Earths though... And for those who think Crisis on Infinite Earths was the first big crossover? Marvel preceded that with TWO events: Contest of Champions in 1982 and Secret Wars in 1984.
Love them or hate them crossover events are here to stay and Marvel presents some of the biggest and baddest. Granted, due to the big two needing to return to the status quo, more often than not changes don't stick forever but huge Marvel events are more aimed at telling exciting stories while DC's are usually house cleaning efforts.
…and so do the Marvel heroes. Daredevil doesn’t operate out of Metropolis; the Fantastic Four’s Baxter Building isn’t in Gotham; Captain America didn’t fight on foreign soil to protect the freedoms of the citizens of Keystone City. While there are plenty of fictional places in the world of Marvel (Latveria and Wakanda are a couple examples) much of the terrestrial action occurs in real places, populated by real people. It’s not unusual for a reader to come across a reference to current events or a personality in pop culture while enjoying an issue from the House of Ideas.
Hell, DC can’t even decide where Metropolis and Gotham City really are; sometimes they’re hundreds of miles apart and at other times the cities are across a bay from each other.
Marvel tends to blow right past DC in terms of villains. The Joker can be an interesting baddie, when written well, and Batman and Superman have some interesting nemesis like Lex Luthor, Doomsday, and Darkseid but once you move past this quintet the pickings become pretty slim.
Match the above with such evil luminaries as Doctor Doom, Magneto, Red Skull, Thanos, Loki, Ultron, and a laundry list of other worthy foes for the Marvel heroes. Even Spider-Man’s long-time adversaries like the Green Goblin, Scorpion, Kraven the Hunter, or Mysterio – although much weaker power-wise compared to DC’s line up of villains - are more interesting than anyone rolled out in an issue of Flash or Green Arrow.
Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Chris Clairemont, Joe Simon, Jim Sterenko, John Romita Sr., Gene Conlan, and Peter David.
Okay, for those who’d like more than an ‘nuff, other ways Marvel changed the entire landscape of comics was in regards to the artists and writers they hired. Not only did the publisher bring artists who were producing eye popping images, such as Jack “King” Kirby and Steve Ditko, but also used writers who completely flipped the script on comic writing. Gone were the days of readers having no real incentive to pick up issue after issue month after month; you just HAD to grab the next Spider-Man installment not only to see how the web slinger’s latest battle would end but even if only to read about how Peter Parker’s love life was progressing.
While Marvel was producing classic storylines, DC was still cranking out completely unrelated stories by the ton.
I challenge anyone to name a larger game changer in the comic book industry than Stan Lee. Just checking off some of the characters he created is like reading a hall of fame lineup of superheroes: Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Daredevil, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, and the names go on and on. Not only did Lee create (or co-create) these modern myth makers but also wrote a majority of storylines which have gone on to become timeless classics of comicdom.
While Lee might paint some of the Silver Age years with a coat of whitewash, there’s no doubt no single person catapulted comic books into respectable pop culture than Stan “The Man.”
I find Lee to be an inspiration and my son considers him one of his heroes. This is not only due to past accomplishments but because Lee, in his 90s, is still going strong as one of the great ambassadors of the fun and excitement of reading comics. I bet a lot of us a quarter or half Lee’s age wish we had so much energy!
Come on Sherman, let’s jump in the Wayback Machine to 1961. After the great debacle of the war against comic books in the mid-1950s, dozens of publishers had gone belly up while Marvel held on by a thread by releasing an ever changing (and thoroughly interchangeable) line up of western, romance, and toothless monster titles. Even the head of the class, DC Comics, found their big three of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman were seeing only a minuscule fraction of the sales numbers of the 1940s.
In other words, comics were deader than Caesar.
Then 1961 brought the first issue of the Fantastic Four and the comic book world was never the same. Under Stan Lee’s guidance Marvel followed up on the success of the FF with Iron Man, Daredevil, the Hulk, and - with what no doubt put the stamp on the “Marvel Way” for years to come – Spider-Man.