By its nature, the DCU has a more optimistic outlook on the world, and the Marvel U has a more pessimistic outlook….the DCU is Aaron Sorkin’s “The West Wing”–it’s not how government actually works, but it’s the way you wish that it worked, the way you’d like it to be–idealistic, passionate, energetic, spirited….But too often, DC seems to try to turn away from their core viewpoint, to make their characters darker or more dystopic or more downtrodden. And it just doesn’t play in the long run.
Judging from the comment-thread contretemps they always seem to touch off, everyone either loves or loves to hate Marvel Senior VP of Publishing Tom Brevoort’s publicly aired thoughts on DC Comics. Readers of Brevoort’s Formspring account appear to be no exception, judging from a recent question that asked Brevoort to expand upon his earlier notion that part of DC’s problem, as he perceives it, is their attempt to be more like Marvel rather than playing to their own strengths.
Brevoort’s response advances something akin to a Grand Unified Theory of the Big Two Shared Superhero Universes, in which Marvel is defined by its pessimism and DC by its optimism. DC fails, Brevoort argues, when in an attempt to mollify today’s cynical audience, it sexes up its superheroes by making them grim and gritty. (I couldn’t help but think of the phrase “brasher and more brooding” from today’s Superman press release.) I’m not sure the distinction is that clear. It seems to me that superheroes from any universe, or even those who stand on their own from Invincible to Hellboy, have a shared vocabulary of self-sacrifice, self-actualization, spectacle, action, and violent triumph over adversity; it’s tough for any of them to remain pessimistic for very long, lest they become something other than super heroes. At the same time, though, there’s something to be said of how far we can tolerate one universe or the other to be pushed in the grim’n’gritty direction; for one silly example off the top of my head, Spider-Man’s black costume “works” in a way that a similar makeover for Superman just wouldn’t, and Spidey’s arguably Marvel’s jolliest, noblest character.
What do you think? To be fair, Brevoort calls this theory just the start of a discussion he doesn’t have the space to do justice to on his Formspring. Is it a good start at that?