How Marvel Got It Right
The next set of Marvel movies has been announced, and they’re clearly on a roll. The makers are staying with their B team – there are no signs of the Fantastic Four after two attempts to jump-start them, despite the fact that they once led the Marvel comics pack. Most of the other lycra-lookalikes in the pantheon have been denied their own films in favour of the first Marvel B-generation, which is probably good business sense because they have the most brand recognition.
With their broken panels, frustrated anti-heroes, sexily-outfitted gals and brick-busting sound effects, Marvel pulled in the kids who fancied themselves as tortured rebels. Marvel had an overwrought, druggy writing style and lurid art. Marvel was vulgar.
DC’s stern fundamentalist superheroes were framed in neatly boxed panels and could only ever be on the side of the establishment. Like good Christians they kept expanding the family, so that just when it looked like Superman could get away with having dead parents, he was lumbered with a super sister, a super dog, a super cat, a super horse and even Beppo the Super Monkey.
And his friends were stiffs. Jimmy Olsen wore a bowtie and Lois Lane had gran-hair. DC artists really liked drawing offices, and weren’t imaginative enough to come up with decent aliens. DC appealed to Conservatives. Lois was her own worst enemy. Given a signal watch, she summoned Superman from his busy schedule of saving whole universes because the heel had come off her shoe. One of the most revealing story titles was ‘Lois Lane, Hag!’
What Lois feared most was being ignored by men. Lana Lang didn’t fare much better. She overplayed her only card, unappealingly reminding Superman that she used to be his sweetheart, and was forced to suffer the knowledge that she would never get to power, like the Green Party. The only other rival for the Man of Steel’s affections was a mermaid, and that presented another set of physical problems. Sometimes she got her legs back, only to lose them before she could use them.
DC floundered after the liberation movement of the sixties. Suddenly nobody respected Superman anymore. Only Batman was allowed to freak out. You could sense that Marvel heroes had sex lives. Superman may have had big biceps but there was obviously nothing much going on in his pants. The genius of the DC Silver Age was to reflect the secret fears of children, and may explain much about falling comic sales among the over-confident teens of the present.
Marvel heroes and sidekicks inhabited the real world and were a bit trashy. Their values perfectly coincided with the multiplex mentality, which made even the B heroes perfect for cinema. After the disastrous ‘Green Lantern’ franchise-doomer, it will be hard to see the DC B heroes achieving fame against Marvel Avengers.
For DC, everything now rides on The Man Of Steel, but it’s hard to imagine his reinvention working. Marvel has the right ideas about what people want to see – and they’re sticking with them.
Of course, it helps that so much control fell to one Marvel man – Stan Lee, who even went to the effort of sending a personal video message to my partner a few months back. He’s a hand-on guy who is still the face of a huge company. DC feels like a slick corporation looking for big bucks, but with the exception of Batman, now reaching the end of his current noir incarnation, they’ve failed to find it. It’s a shame, because in many ways they have a better stable of superheroes. It’s a pity they don’t know what to do with them.