Friday, September 23, 2011

So, Who Got It Right?

Doug: Over the past week I've been reading and writing the review for our upcoming look at DC's Limited Collectors' Edition C-49, which reprints Adventure Comics #'s 369-370 from 1968. In issue #369, the Legion is faced with some organized crime-type thugs who take over Smallville. In the midst of the scene, the head goon says he has plans to take Metropolis next. Now, obviously it might seem a stretch to move from taking over a small town to a major American city. I was struck more with an issue of proximity -- if we are to believe that Smallville is in the middle of Kansas, as modern lore tells, and Metropolis is part of the Atlantic megalopolis, then it's a stretch to believe that such a plan would be on most baddie's radar screens.

Doug: So, today's question is this -- who has the better universe? Marvel, set squarely in the real world with heroes centered in real cities like Manhattan and Los Angeles, or DC, with the mythical realms of Metropolis, Gotham City, Star City, etc.? Does either scenario cause problems for the creators and/or the readers? As always, thanks in advance for your participation.

Doug: And come back next week, as the Bronze Age Babies celebrate teenagers in comics -- two issues of the Legion with an Open Forum in the middle! And for your additional weekend reading, Shooter has a post about Legion weddings (dated 9/22/11) for your perusal.


david_b said...

Hmm, interesting and totally subjective topic.. I'll take a gander.

When I think of Silver Age DC, I see a lot of it as the Carmen Infantino-world you saw in the early pages of Flash and Green Lantern. For as metropolitan as Metropolis and Gotham City seemed, they had their 'lakefront warehouses' where the villians hid, but the story-telling and graphics all seemed pretty sanitized in terms of realism. I'm not as big of DC reader as I was of Marvel, so I'm not going to have a real accurate argument here. I liked Perez adding a lot of 'street realism' even down to trash blowing by when he drew the Titans, and the O'Neil GL-GA sagas tried to force a lot of contemporary realism down throats, aside from the actual stories.

Marvel, as we all know, took the different route. While DC grew into realism post-Batman TV series, Marvel was already set in places like New York and Manhattan, where buildings were drawn pretty much as they actually are, allowing readers living in those areas much more realism. As for midwest readers like me.., Marvel brought me into a world that seemed more exciting and factual, like it was that 'one closer step' to reality.

I find the symbolic gestures of geographical realism taken by both companies to be pretty much hand-in-hand with the mystique of their central characters.., although I'm looking at 'general trends', obviously not suggesting any causal relationship..: As DC got 'more real' geographically, so did their esteemed, stalwart title characters, making them more dimensional while still maintaining readership. As I remarked in the Year-by-Year comparisons around '68, DC had the trickier road to travel.

Marvel was already there.

Doug said...

For me, the biggest "Doh!" moment was in the Superman/Spider-Man treasury when the guy from Metropolis went to New York City. Huh?


William said...

Marvel wins this one by a mile for me. It was really a brilliant move on Stan Lee's part to base his characters in actual cities instead of making up fictional ones. I feel that this was a major contributing factor to Marvel's initial success and continued dominance of the comic-book market over the years. I know that the fact that Marvel's characters existed in the "real" world was a big selling point for me when I was a kid. It made them much more accessible and relatable in my mind. (Heck, Spider-Man even ate at McDonald's once). When I was young I would imagine that if I was to visit NYC, I could look up and might see Spider-Man swinging overhead or the Human Torch or Iron Man streaking across the sky. It really made the Marvel Universe much cooler than DC, whose characters existed on a alternate Earth with fake cities that I could never hope to actually go to. It was like Superman and Batman, etc. lived on another planet altogether. It made DC seem much more fictional and fantastical, more like a fairy tale or some such.

And Doug, as for the the Marvel/DC crossover's, I believe those are pretty much considered "What-If" or "Elseworld" type stories. At least that's what I consider them to be, as they are never mentioned or folded into 'regular' continuity. That's how you can explain how Spider-Man and Superman and NYC and Metropolis can all exist on the same Earth. It's the best explanation I can come up with anyway.

Doug said...

Oh yeah, William -- I agree. I'm sure they take place on "Earth-XOver" or some such place.

Was it an issue in the JLA-Avengers crossover, too? Can't recall off the top of my head. I know there was discussion (outright animosity) between the two teams about their respective universes/cities.


Lemnoc said...

From a writer's standpoint, it must be much more easy and natural to write with the backdrop of a real place and, in particular, a backdrop where the writer actually lives.

Same could be said for artists.

If Superboy had grown up in Topeka and moved to NYC, it is difficult to imagine the continuity error described as getting past the editors into print.

Edo Bosnar said...

I'm in the Marvel camp on this one; it just seemed more interesting that the stories were mostly taking place in real-world cities and other locales - although there was the problem of NYC having an immense super-human population, with its denizens having to deal with rather frequent superhero mash-ups and the related destruction on a pretty regular basis, kind of like bad weather.
The impression I got with DC is that each hero basically had to have his/her own mythical city to stomp around in without having to worry about bumping into other heroes, but most of these cities (Gotham, Star, Central, Coast, Midway... plus Metropolis) were just New York, or maybe Chicago, i.e. they were all immense, all had giant downtown areas with skyscrapers as far as the eye could see, all had either marine or river/lake ports with docks, etc. Kind of silly, and makes you wonder where all of them could be. And yes, Doug, this problem was addressed briefly in the JLA/Avengers crossover, as Superman did a scan of the MU Earth and concluded that its total surface area was somewhat smaller, explaining the lack of the all giant DCU cities...

bmcmolo said...

I've got to go with DC on this one. Not that I have a problem with Marvel's using real cities, just that I always liked the idea of DC's fake cities and how each book was associated with one.

J.A. Morris said...

I'll go with Marvel too, here's a little story that illustrates why:

I was in New York over the weekend, went to the Guggenheim Museum for the first time.

Later that day,during the train ride home, I read a tpb featuring Spider-Man and the Black Cat(reprints from the Bronze Age, of course). I'd read it before, but it had been a while.

Anyway, in one Black Cat is robbing art museums. One of the museums she robs is...the Guggenheim! How cool is that?

Inkstained Wretch said...

I'll give DC the edge here if for no other reason than the fact that it decided to spread its heroes out over the map by giving them their own cities.

I always thought it was weird that almost everybody in the Marvel universe seemed to live in New York City's 5 Boroughs. The number of superheroes and villians per square mile must have been staggering. I can only imagine what insurance most cost like in the Marvel universe!

Doug said...

Inkstained --

I never read the Damage Control mini-series, but I always thought it was a funny idea.

Great point!


ChrisPV said...

I'm going with DC because of how the fictional cities can really become characters in and of themselves. Say what you will about Tim Burton's Batman (and believe me, I've said plenty) Gotham is as much a part of the story as any of the humans. Same for Metropolis in some of the comics and, especially, in the DCAU. The fact that DC has a city that can be levelled by an earthquake and then totally written off by the government while, at more or less the same time, there's a flying alien mucking about in a literal city of tomorrow says a lot about how the universe operates.

Plus, there's freedom there. There will never be a No Man's Land in Marvel, solely because they have so much tied into the realism of having their characters in real places. You can't have real damage done, or if you do, it's always magically fixed by the next issue.

Redartz said...

Inkstained has a good point about Marvel's New York population density. I too always appreciated Marvel's placement within the recognizable bounds of our earth. Yet it does stretch the imagination to picture a sky crowded with more costumed characters than pigeons. Perhaps there is a future storyline therein; the emergence of superheroes in, say, Terre Haute Indiana.

J.A. Morris said...

I always wondered why Marvel didn't give us a story where a team of villains didn't come to their senses and move to another big city. Houston, Miami, Phoenix, Philadelphia come to mind. Huge metro areas, few superheroes, they make for nice places to build criminal empires.

dbutler16 said...

I've always preferred Marvel's universe, with the real cities. It's sort of nice to be able to attach a real place to what's going on. I always thought it was cool to see real building I recognize in the backgroud, though it does seem like 99% of the action in the Marvel universe takes place in New York City.

MattComix said...

I like both really.

david_b said...

J.A. makes a great point.. If the DC and Marvel Heroes can make it to the Cosmos and back, the villains hiding out around Peoria or Chicago shouldn't make much difference. Not to condone silly ideas (no, never...), but the Hawkeye-led MidWest Avengers I guess tried to run along this concept. Shame it didn't get too far, Mr. Shooter.

Thinking more about it with everyone's comments, I can see where it's cool to have some metropolitan town 'belong' to some hero. It certainly should make it easy for the villains to know where to strike, but I know for Silver Age DC fights, it was as much about the villain humiliating the hero with riddles as much as the committing the crime itself.

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