Sunday, August 21, 2011

DC vs Marvel and How It Relates To Writing (pt 3): Vision

Comic books are one of the few purely American inventions. Along with jazz. And rabid consumerism. But comic books are my favorite. Really, I love comic books. Just the idea of them. Unfortunately, they are far too expensive to collect anymore. At least in a way that allows you to follow the stories the way the big 2 (Marvel and DC) want you to follow them. Or, maybe, it's just that I love all of them and can't stop myself. Well... except that I did. As I said, they are way too expensive to collect, anymore; although, there was a time... But I digress...

DC Comics started out as National Allied Publications in 1934. Detective Comics, the series that would eventually give DC Comics its name, debuted in 1937. Without Batman. It was what it sounded like: an anthology series of detective stories. But the world of comic books changed forever in 1938 with the introduction of Superman in Action Comics #1. The age of the super hero had begun.

And they couldn't stop there. Superman was such a smash hit that they wanted another super hero, so National hired Bob Kane to create one. The result, with the help of Bill Finger, was the Bat-Man who debuted as the world's greatest detective in Detective Comics #27 in 1939. A whole slew of characters spewed forth in the next couple of years: the Flash, Wonder Woman, and the Green Lantern to name a few.

Although these characters did sometimes interact with each other, as Batman and Superman did in World's Finest and many of the other characters did in Justice Society of America, really, each character was completely independent of each other and, often, the cross-over stories ended up contradicting each other or the character's individual titles. Continuity wasn't important. Each issue was a self-contained entity not to be bothered by the existence of other issues.

Marvel Comics started in 1939 as Timely Comics. Their first series was actually called Marvel Comics and introduced the first Human Torch, an android, and Namor the Sub-Mariner. Captain America Comics came along in 1941, but there were many other heroes and titles sandwiched in there. Timely became Atlas in 1951 as super heroes fell out of fashion in the midst of the McCarthy hearings.

As McCarthyism ended, DC powered a resurgence in super hero comic books centered around the Flash, Green Lantern and the Justice League of America. However, things were still status quo in the super hero world. No continuity. No concern for what was happening in other titles. Often conflicting origin stories for the same character. But all of that was about to change...

Stan Lee had been working at Timely almost since the beginning. He had a new vision for super heroes, a vision of a cohesive world in which the heroes interacted and faced real problems. Like adolescence. And bills. Marvel Comics was launched in June, 1961, and, although the Fantastic Four was not the first issue to sport the Marvel Comics logo, it followed not long after in November. The Fantastic Four introduced what would become known as the Marvel Universe and change the way comic books were written forever.

The important thing to notice, here, is that Stan Lee had a vision for Marvel Comics. He had a particular story that he wanted to tell. Not the individual stories in the issues of the various series that sprang from his imagination, but an overall story of a world in which super heroes existed. DC had never had a vision. DC, if you will, was nothing more than an anthology of stories, some of them great, but each story was isolated and could be taken out of the whole without affecting it. Marvel, on  the other hand, became one vast epic in multiple volumes all hinged on each other. You couldn't just decide to yank something out, because everything else built on what had gone before. Stan Lee had introduced continuity into comic books.

DC has been playing catch up ever since. They still don't have it right. Just this month, they have begun a re-launch of all of their titles with issue #1 trying to establish the DC Universe as a cohesive whole. This is something like the 3rd or 4th time they've tried this (I've lost count). The issue, here, is a lack of vision. The only vision is to compete with Marvel who has dominated the comics world since their inception as Marvel Comics. There is no vision to the over arching story, only to competing. Or, to put it more simply, to make money.

Let's jump to the movies. When Marvel began their production company, Marvel Studios, with Iron Man, they did it with a vision. Sure, they wanted to make money, to be successful, but the vision wasn't about the money. The vision was to make movies that existed within a cohesive universe. A movie universe where the characters would interact and depend on each other much like Marvel Comics started out in 1961. In establishing this vision, they have been able to construct excellent movies with excellent stories that are building on each other and telling a much broader-scoped story. Warner Brothers, as with DC, has attempted to just make blockbuster movies. They have no vision. Because they have no vision, what we get are movies like Green Lantern and Superman Returns. With Marvel, with vision, we get Iron Man and Captain America.

I'm not saying that DC doesn't have some good characters and hasn't had some good stories. And Warner Brothers has managed to produce the Nolan Batman films; however, overall, DC remains less interesting than Marvel because of their lack of vision to the story and to the world. Granted, DC never had a Stan Lee. Never had someone with a vision that introduced the characters and tied them all together, but it doesn't seem to me to be a far leap of logic to understand what Stan did and to replicate it. After five decades of trying, though, they  have failed to do this.

All of this comes down to one point: vision is important. In fact, I would say that vision is close to all important. Your vision. The vision of the writer. The vision of the writer to know what it is s/he is trying to do and the story s/he is trying to tell. Without vision, you end up with a collection of stories that just don't work together. In a novel, that just doesn't work.

Not to step on any one's fingers or toes, okay, well, maybe some toes, but one of the most common things I see on other writer's blogs is how they've become stuck. S/he was writing along, listening to the voices in said writer's head, and, eventually, got to a place where s/he didn't know what was supposed to happen next. Inevitably, s/he resorts to going back and starting over, gutting, major re-writes, or just plain abandoning that project and switching to something else entirely. This seems a lot like what DC has been doing for several decades, now.

I might sound like I'm advocating for plotting, at this point, over pantsing, but I'm really not. I'm certainly not a plotter. I hate outlines. In school, I only ever did them after the fact because they had to be turned in. Except for those times when the outlines had to be turned in weeks in advance of the actual paper, and, then, I would just hate the entire process of making the outline first. Don't constrain me with those things, man!

However, I always write with a vision, a plan, of what I want to accomplish. Always. I do know where it is I want to go, even if I don't know the route I'm going to take. I'm not saying that my way is right or better or anything like that. However, as often as I read other people talking about getting "lost" in their stories, I have to wonder if it's because the writer didn't have some kind of vision when s/he was starting out.

Of course, the other issue I see is people that are writing with their only goal being to get published. The story is not the goal, just being published. That results in ripping and re-ripping any given manuscript apart at every stray word of any agent or publisher that comes along. This strikes me as being what Warner Brothers has done in trying to get a blockbuster super hero movie out (other than Batman). They're not focused on telling the story; they're focused on what they can do to make money.

As writers, I think the only thing we can do is tell our stories. That should be our vision. Once we have a story, it's great to work on getting it published, but if we're focused on just getting published... well, we may get published, but we'll end up washed away in the tide of all the other writers who just wanted to be published. No one will care. No one will remember. And, unfortunately, it might even be that no one will read. Just another book with its cover ripped off and sent back to be destroyed.

As much as I don't like Twilight, I have to say that Meyer did have vision. Her story came first. Ideas of publication only came after she had her stories. Maybe that's what all the people that have flocked to her books can see... her vision for her story. Because, really, that's what people want to see, the vision of the artist. Not the artist's attempt to duplicate someone else's vision.


  1. You are so right. And I'm not just saying that.

    I've never been able to put into words why I'm just not that into DC comics. But I love me a good Marvel world. You are right--it is all about the vision.

    Very interesting post.

    I'm a fellow campaigner in your YA group. Excited to see you around!

  2. Hello! Another campaigner popping by to join your blog :o)

  3. Hi! Fellow campaigner dropping in. I never realized the marked difference between the two worlds (really haven't read many of the comics), but I do have to say Batman is my favorite superhero. However, you are right- vision is quite important when writing. Thanks for the post-- I really learned a lot from it.

  4. I took a class on graphic novels my last semester of graduate school. AMAZING. I found a new love, but I'm looking for more titles. Great post :) <3 a fellow campaigner

  5. Also a campaigner dropping by to everyone's blogs. :)

  6. And yet another Campaigner. Nice to meet you!

  7. Hi, I just dropped in to say hello to a fellow campaigner but I really enjoyed your post. I have been guilty of being a DC a time or two, and thinking back, yes, it's because I didn't know where I was going!

    I loved learning about a bit more of the history, thank you.

  8. Whoa... I'm having a sort of surreal moment. None of my regulars have commented, only new people.
    >waves< Hello, new people! Thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoy your stay.
    Now, for some individual responses for those that need them:

    Heidi: I've tried to like DC. Really, I have. Except for a few exceptions, though, I just can't stay hooked into the DCU.

    Mary: Well, I'd say you should try some out, except don't. heh Well, maybe some graphic novels of some of the better series. Since you like Batman, you should check out Miller's Dark Knight.

    Kelley: Well, let me know what you've already read, and, maybe, I can suggest some things for you to try.

    Sarah: No problem on the history lesson. I could have gone on, but I was trying to keep it just to the topic. heh
    And here's to all of us being Marvels!

    Now, I need to drop by and visit all of you :)

  9. I'm not sure how I missed this post. Probably saw the title and thought I'd commented already.

    Anyway, I never was able to get into DC as a kid, or adult for that matter. I loved that Marvel shared a universe, although a little (or a lot) annoyed that they would do those crossover events so much that they forced you to buy way more titles than you wanted. I noticed it with the X titles first, but it spread to all of them before long. Hated, hated, hated it.

    Still do. They might get a few extra dollars from me by doing that in the short term, but it makes me way less likely to start buying something when I know it's going to be impossible to read the whole story without dishing out $100 a month for the next 6 months to get the whole thing.

    I know DC does that too. And that constant rebooting of their line... well, I actually don't care too much about that. I think they should all do that every 20 years or so. The continuity gets too screwy and no one can keep up with it all.

    Oh well, vision is good. I have started way to many stories with little more than a few characters and a premise and I've suffered mightily as a result. So, here's to having vision.

  10. You have the most interesting comment section! Anyway I gave you an award stop over and check it out.

  11. Rusty: Well, it was the third post in the series, so I can see how it may have been passed over. :P

    I hear you on the overly involved crossovers. I could tell you why that became such a problem, but it would take too long for just a comment response. That's really a whole post in itself. Yes, I know way too much about comic books. That comes from spending too much time in the industry.

    Jennifer: Thank you for the award! I'll get that posted here as soon as I can.

    Interesting is good! :)