It’s an interesting contrast in talking about DC comics’ Silver Age heroes origins as opposed to Silver Age Marvel. Usually through magic, extraterrestrial involvement or nature, the DC pantheon were all beautiful god’s, fighting for justice, beloved by everyone. No doubt picking up the baton from the previous generations heroes in the Golden Age, the new heroes patrolled their fictional cities. They were also almost perfect people in every way.
With Marvel, it was usually a matter of various types of irradiation, creating monsters or freakish abilities in the heroes. The Marvel characters were much like real people, with real problems and worries who had to deal with their human frailties as well as learning to control their very dangerous powers. By and large, they were also easily distrusted by the populace of their home city, a very real New York. The whole set up was mostly a carry over from Marvel’s earlier days when its primary writer Stan Lee would pen monster comics in the ’50’s.
DC would feature Superman, the strongest guy on the planet, Batman, the world’s greatest detective, Flash, the fastest man alive and Green Lantern, who had the most powerful weapon in the universe and things were usually swell!
Marvel had the Fantastic Four, a group that got blasted by cosmic rays in outer space and consisted of a stretchy scientist, a meek blonde, a hot headed teen and a monster– all of whom would fight amongst themselves. Spider-man, bitten by a radioactive spider, was a teenager who had all the worries and problems of every other teen and then some, including a frail aunt with a serious heart condition. Bruce Banner got caught in the blast of a gamma ray powered H-bomb and became the monstrous Hulk. Weapons manufacturer Tony Stark was injured and taken prisoner by an enemy government and kept captive while forced to make weapons for his captors. All the while trying to create a device that would stop shrapnel from reaching his heart. Thus was born Ironman, a mighty, armored suit that liberated him and was also the only thing keeping him alive. The X-men, meanwhile, were mutants, who were feared and hated by the people they were sworn to protect.
DC — very clean, neat and tidy.
Marvel — very human, messy, real.
Some might say, “But Rick, what about comic characters outside of the big two?”
I say “Not interested”. I’m a mainstream guy.
And really, the paths taken by the big two are just very interesting to me. Two very different companies that used to be very very different but hugely successful. *And* they fed off each other. DC (National) was large and in charge from the late ’30’s to 1960. Marvel (Timely) publisher Martin Goodman heard about how much money DC was making off Justice League of America, so he told Stan Lee to come up with a superhero team. Stan worked up The Fantastic Four, hired Jack Kirby to bring the visuals to life on the page and thus began the Marvel Age of Comics. A house of ideas that was so different, so real, that became SO huge and popular, that DC eventually had to start following *their* example, and back and forth things went.
So DC begat Marvel, who begat a new DC and back and forth it went to this day.