Just as superheroes fight evildoers, Marvel fights DC. They battle with art, story, character, and imagination—and it's likely to go on forever. Some say that DC is better. After all, they're slightly older, they created Superman, and they also created Batman. As my colleague Eric Garneau put it, DC is master of the "larger than life" heroes. These are compelling arguments for the supremacy of DC.
But Marvel is better. It just is.
Here's the bottom line: Superheroes are human. In order for us (the readers) to relate, superheroes are just normal people with exceptional powers and a moral compass. They have human hearts, human minds, and human weaknesses. They are tempted by bad decisions. That's what makes a superhero (or any character, for that matter) engaging. They are social creatures, with friends and romances and dirty little secrets. They have egos, whether they like it or not. They have dreams and ambitions, and they hold grudges. A superhero is like the rest of us, just bigger, faster, and probably capable of flying.
Superman has none of these truly human elements. He's just a ridiculously handsome boy scout in pajamas. Spectacular? Yes. Iconic? Oh, yeah. But not interesting, because he's not really a person.
Batman? Struggling with the same guilt complex for 73 years. Otherwise, he's unwaveringly good. Don't get me wrong—Batman is a wonderful franchise. But not because of Batman. It's because of the villains. They should just re-title the series The Joker, and occasionally introduce Batman as a humorless antagonist.
Now take the X-Men: They're all mutants. Malformed people. The victims of environmental problems. Their supernatural abilities are like an affliction. Nobody understands them. And yet they carry themselves with dignity. They live in secret, not because they're avoiding celebrity status, but because everybody hates and fears them. And every single one of the X-Men defies expectation: Beast is a soft-spoken genius. Rogue is sexy and independent. Professor Xavier is wheelchair-bound AND a powerful leader. For all his sardonic bluster, Wolverine is sensitive and easily bruised. Magneto, the "villain"? A holocaust survivor. And that's like X-Men 101. The most basic layer of X-Men personalities.
What is Superman again? He's super. Batman? A deep-voiced rich guy with a tool belt. La-dee-da.
Let's take the next best example: The Avengers, the ultimate example of teamwork. Do they always get along? No. Do they always even like each other? Of course not. But they have to, because the fate of the world is at stake. They have diverse skills and backgrounds, and they grudgingly work together for the betterment of humanity. Same goes for the Fantastic Four.
What does the Flash do? He runs really fast. Alone. And never really seems bothered by that.
The closest DC knows to teamwork is the Justice League. Compared to the X-Men, the Justice League is like a weekend social club.
The loneliest Marvel hero is Spiderman, and you could argue that he's also the most DC-like. But as amazing as Spiderman is, he's not an easygoing newspaper reporter (Clark Kent), a spoiled industrialist (Bruce Wayne), a milquetoast forensics expert (Barry Allen), or the King of Atlantis (Aquaman). Peter Parker is a dorky freelance photographer. He stutters through the most banal conversation. He pines over a sweet girl Superman wouldn't even notice, unless she had a cat stuck in a tree. Everybody treats Peter like dirt. He's a normal orphaned nerd with conflicted feelings and a secret life. What could be more human than that?
Even the lamest Marvel character, the one with the least personality, is The Incredible Hulk. Bruce Banner, who is constantly on the run from people who want to exploit him. The Hulk, who is like an entire textbook on Freudian psychoanalysis rolled into a single green blob of muscle and rage. Nobody's going to project a giant "H" against the clouds and hope that the Hulk will show up and save them from petty crime. Nobody even wants The Hulk in the same time zone, incredible or otherwise. What's Kryptonite for The Hulk? Absolutely everything.
There's a reason DC keeps killing off its own characters: It's the only way to keep them interesting. Superman is making fans yawn? Take him down. Batman still sulking in the alleyways? Break his spine. Is The Flash slowing down? Make him... sacrifice himself... for the... [yawn] universe... [Zzzz]
Okay, counterargument: Where DC really excels is in adult-caliber graphic novels. Sandman, Preacher, V for Vendetta, etc.
But those are generally published by Vertigo, an imprint of DC. For regular, everyday, off-the-shelf comics and characters, Marvel has it beat.
And don't get us started on the movies.