Hey there! Welcome to a new segment that I’m trying out, called “VS”! In this segment, I take two things in pop culture that have usually been pitted against each other and give my perspective on the issues and controversies surrounding them. I will also include polls so that interested readers can take part in skirmish. I thought it would only be appropriate to start off with one of the greatest rivalries in nerd culture, DC vs. Marvel.
Part 1 will just be the first part of a history lesson about these two giants, as they both arose from rather humble beginnings.
So let’s begin at the beginning, with DC and Action Comics #1. DC Comics were first started up by entrepreneur Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson back in the 1930’s as a way to get an early lead in the upcoming market of comic books. At the time, comics were distributed as strips in newspapers and comic books were just a repackaging of those strips so that newspapers could increase their profits without publishing more material. Wheeler-Nicholson wanted to try revamping this by creating comic books with completely new content. He found Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two young, bright-eyed Jewish cartoonists with an idea for a superhero. Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Sound like anyone you’ve heard of before? Yes, they brought Superman to life. While everyone thought Siegel and Shuster were out of their mind, Wheeler-Nicholson took them on. He needed cheap material for his new comic books and they had a potential goldmine. Thus, Action Comics Issue #1 debuted the Man of Steel, Superman, and was Detective Comics Inc.’s fourth title.
If you feel like you’ve heard of Detective Comics before, that’s because you probably have. Action Comics #1 was released in 1938, but a year later, Detective Comics, which debuted in 1937, introduced Batman in issue #27. However, there were several differences between the two. When Superman debuted, he hit several major cultural points of the time. First was his origin story. Superman came from a world destroyed and landed on Earth in the home of a very stereotypical American family. He can no longer go back to his old world as it has been destroyed. His history aligned very nicely with that of the European immigrant after WW1, and that resonated with a lot of readers. Second was his alter ego, Clark Kent. Kent was a regular guy, and he made the supernatural phenomenon of Superman realistic, true and relatable to the general viewing public. Third was his upbringing. Superman, as a child, felt like a normal kid, just like any other normal kid. However, he had power within him that he did not fully understand, but would someday learn to control and use for good. This dream was endearing to the main readership of comics, children, and helped hook a large part of the demographic.
However, Batman’s appeal was different. His origin took the millionaire playboy type and pitted him against the street violence that depression-era readers were more than familiar with. However, this hero was just a man. The only thing that allowed him to rise above and become a force for justice was his sheer willpower. The ideal that one can stand against the tide of fate and change the course of their future to affect something larger than oneself drew readers to him, and making him just a mortal man was the proverbial cherry on top. Batman was introduced as an avenger of evil, just as ruthless and dark as the mobsters he attacks, and the readers ate it all up. With this, DC had two licenses to print money.
In the years the followed, comics began emerging as a huge market and competitors started popping up everywhere. In order to beat out the competition, everyone was trying to create new and interesting costumed superheroes and heroines. You had heroes like Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Flash and so on starting to appear. DC was by far the most successful of the publishers, but one competitor that stood out the most was Timely Comics, the label that would eventually be known as Marvel Comics. Timely’s heroes originated from more wilder and zanier ideas, which came in the shape of heroes like “The Sub-Mariner” and “The Human Torch”. It was early on in Timely’s history when a young intern joined with the radical idea to have the comics appeal to more adult audiences. His name was Stanley Martin Lieber or, as he would later be known, Stan Lee.
However, Stan’s idea was rejected as crazy, as the market for comics was just kids. In fact as time went on, everyone in the industry started featuring more kid-friendly material. One trend that started was the use of child sidekicks, that began with the introduction of Dick Grayson as the first Robin. Soon, everyone had a sidekick: Green Arrow had Speedy, Sandman had Sandy and so on. However, what really bucked this trend was Fawcett Publication’s invention, Captain Marvel, the hero was just a kid. Mild-mannered (’cause everyone is) Billy Batson need only say the word “Shazam!” to turn himself into Earth’s Mightiest Mortal, Captain Marvel. For a while, there was a legal battle between DC and Fawcett, which DC eventually won in 1953, as DC felt that Captain Marvel had too much in common with their own Superman. I won’t bore you with the details of that.
That’s it for the first part of the history lesson. Coming up next, the superheroes go to war!