Admittedly, I’ve always been terrible at rivalries. I’m a Bears fan who grew up as a Packers fan. I’m a Cubs fan who remains entirely ambivalent about the White Sox. When waiters ask “Is Pepsi Ok?” after I order a Coke, I tend to say things like “Yep.”
The same trend has always applied for Marvel and DC Comics. I’ve always been more of a Marvel fan, but that’s really more a result of time-invested than deep and unwavering preference. At the end of the day, I just like good comics. Despite an obsessive dedication to Marvel continuity over the life of Comic Book Herald, my pull list these days is about 70% DC.
Nonetheless, one area I’m increasingly fascinated by is comic book history, and especially the behind-the-page dynamics between Marvel and DC Comics. The relationships between the Big 2 define many aspects of comic book history as a whole, and shape so much of what matters to us in superhero comics in 2017.
Just this past week the DC and Marvel “rivalry” took a major leap, with the news that longtime Marvel Comics writer Brian Michael Bendis would be leaving for an exclusive contract with DC Comics. It’s genuinely shocking news given Bendis’ immersion in all things Marvel since 2000.
Although not quite as dramatic, the news brings to mind Jack Kirby leaving Marvel for DC at the turn of the 1970’s, which is just one of the chapters included in the excellent Slugfest: Inside the Epic, 50-year Battle between Marvel and DC by Reed Tucker.
Much like the most obvious comparison, Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, Tucker’s Slugfest dives deep into the world of publishers, creators, and influencers who shaped the course of superhero comics. It’s extensively researched look into how DC became the biggest publisher in superhero comics, and how Marvel Comics did the unthinkable in supplanting the publisher in the 60’s.
There are a number of excellent pieces of trivia I didn’t know coming out of this book. For starters, did you know DC Comics owned the publishing arm of Marvel during their early 60’s origins, and essentially benefited from the company’s profits? And that this was the reason Marvel couldn’t expand their number of comic titles until their success became too much to ignore?
Likewise, Tucker dives into some creative genesis debates, such as the claim that Stan Lee stole Arnold Drake’s premise for the Doom Patrol and turned it into the Uncanny X-Men (alongside Jack Kirby of course). Tales of inter-company spies abound, with accounts of justifiable editorial paranoia shaping the behavior of the publishers for much of their early rivalry.
All in all, if you like comic book history, or are invested in the Marvel vs DC wars for comic book supremacy, I recommend checking out Slugfest: Inside the Epic, 50-year Battle between Marvel and DC. It’s a really fun read for comic fans, and one of my favorite reads this year.