We've discussed whether or not there's a rivalry between DC and Marvel (there's not), and what it means for superheroes going forward (it means nothing). Kevin Feige recently downplayed the topic as well, citing what's good for the DCEU is also good for the MCU, but if you go way back, to a time when Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, and The Avengers had just exploded onto the comic book scene, unseating Batman, Superman, and the Justice League of America from their positions at the top of the industry...a certain legendary creator decided to stir the pot and stoke the flames of competition, but in a uniquely humorous, good-natured way.
According to THR, Marvel's editor/head writer at the time, Stan Lee, frequently took shots at his distinguished competition, to play up Marvel's growing power in comics -- that's right folks, Stan Lee is the original troll! Back in the late '70s Marvel was dominating comic books with their innovative approach to character-focused stories about working-class heroes like struggling high-school student Peter Parker, starving artist Steve Rogers, and down-on-his-luck scientist Bruce Banner. DC, by contrast, emphasized plot and spectacle rather than exploring the inner lives of Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Green Lantern.
Lee, in a 1977 interview, said that DC was out-of-touch with what people expected from a comic book character:
"They've been trying to catch up. They're doing the best they can, bless their innocent little hearts. We used to have a lot of fun with them when we started outselling them."
Lee began his career during WWII in the Signal Corps, writing military manuals and training films. After the war he toiled for nearly two decades at Timely and Atlas comics, making Western, romance, horror, and detective comics, which were essentially illustrated versions of the old pulp magazines. Lee nearly left the industry in disgust due to the repetitive and tedious nature of the work, but as a last act of defiance he published Fantastic Four #1, as a counterpoint to DC's mega-popular Justice League of America, and the rest (as they say) is history.
Within a decade Marvel blasted past DC in sales and pop culture awareness. Lee and his team of creators (including: Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and John Romita Sr.) were revolutionizing the medium, and gleefully going after DC at the newstand and over the water cooler. No stranger to hyperbole, Lee even suggested that DC was so desperate for a competitive edge that they began to dissect and study everything Marvel was doing:
"They studied our books, and they'd say, 'You know, I noticed they use a lot of red on their covers. Maybe that's it,' and they would start putting a lot of red on their covers. The minute we would learn of that, we would take all the red off our covers, and our books still sold better, and that would drive them crazy."
Stan Lee's debut of Marvel Superheroes in 1961.
The spirit of this interview is very positive and Lee was clearly having a bit of fun. Most of us probably weren't alive during these early days of DC vs. Marvel, so it's great to get a little insight into what was going on and how comic books were made. It's also important to remember that way, way, way before the Internet and videogames, comic books were THE pop culture boom everyone was talking about in America.
Are you surprised to read these DC vs. Marvel comments from a young-ish Stan Lee? Let us know in the comments down below!
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