Marvel vs DC: It's a Real 'Slugfest'

Slugfest offers a fascinating look behind the scenes, detailing the treachery and real-life good vs. evil scenarios being played out between the twin giants of comics, DC and Marvel.

Everyone likes taking sides: Democrat or Republican; Beatles or Stones; White Sox or Cubs; facts or alternative facts. Well, perhaps that last one is a bad example, but you get the idea. This is the underlying debate at the heart of Reed Tucker's Slugfest: Inside the 50-Year Battle Between Marvel and DC. For more than half a century, comic books fans have allied themselves with either Marvel or DC as their preferred purveyor of costumed superheroes. It's a line that, as Tucker points out, goes all the way to the top, with those vying for power taking a hardline stance -- albeit a surprisingly malleable one, as we soon learn -- and settling on one or the other.

Slugfest: Inside the Epic, 50-year Battle between Marvel and DC

Reed Tucker

(Da Capo)

October 2017

It's this latter concept that proves to be one of the more fascinating elements of the book. For just as long as they have been in competition, both have offered a "grass is always greener" comparison, making for more than a few cross pollinations and ship-jumping, the most famous of which being Marvel's resident story mill Jack Kirby -- he who helped turn Marvel into the super power it would become -- being poached by DC. But at all levels of the corporate hierarchy -- it is a business, after all, as Tucker shows time and again -- writers and editors, inkers and suits were engaged in a constant back and forth, generally depending on who was in charge at the time and whether or not their particular style of management was tolerable or stiflingly iron-fisted, change for the better (rarely the worse) being anathema.

Indeed, the battles being waged behind the scenes were very nearly as interesting as those filling the pages of comic books from both publishers. From Stan Lee's internal memos chiding the stodgy, conservative DC approach to Carmine Infantino's ill-fated tenure at DC (spoiler alert: they didn't end up on the best of terms) to the subterfuge on the part of the artists inserting in-jokes and (not so) gentle ribbing of the competition both aesthetically and stylistically. As Marvel began to overtake DC in the mid-to-late-'60s, the latter began scrambling to make up the lost ground it never foresaw, thus losing to the rebellious upstarts, while the former adopted a cavalier attitude that very nearly proved to be its undoing. All of this during some of the most socially and culturally tumultuous years the United States has ever seen.

That the existence of each was integral to the survival of the other is not lost on either camp, the often heated rivalry prompting writers and artists to take their work to the next level, particularly when infusing the offices with young talent. These are some of the more fascinating stories, with young comics fans going from just that to story contributors to artists to often the head of the whole shebang, as in the case of Jim Shooter who began writing for DC at 13 and, a little over a decade later, was appointed editor-in-chief at Marvel. It's a clear example of the fans taking control of the industry, for better or worse, and dictating its direction rather than the stodgy old-timers who were just happy to get a paycheck while biding their time until something more serious came calling.

This latter scenario is essentially how Stan Lee ended up the head of Marvel, having written hundreds of stories and titles on spec that went nowhere before he allowed his imagination to dictate the direction of the comics industry rather than prevailing pop cultural trends. In this, Marvel was and remains the rebellious young upstart hell-bent on taking down the DC establishment with their more envelope-pushing approach to characters, character development and story arcs.

But really, the heart of Slugfest is the constant back-and-forth, poaching and trashing of the competition, both literally and figuratively. From the Silver Age through the Bronze Age and into the 21st century, the war between the two publishers has run both hot and cold, generally in the years surrounding any major changeover (Kirby's departure from Marvel, Shooter's appointment as editor-in-chief, et. al.) These are the years in which Tucker's narrative thrives. Yet the sheer volume of names of artists, editors, writers and more jumping back and forth between DC and Marvel can become a bit overwhelming, the names melding into one another to the point of becoming – for all but the most ardent followers of either Marvel or DC – an amalgam that underscores the constant changeover and the artists' and writers' love of the medium, often regardless of the name on the mast head.

Regardless, Tucker keeps the text light and compelling enough to overlook the surfeit of names and faces thrown at the reader. As Slugfest shows, the battles being fought behind the scenes could be just as interesting and engaging as those being acted out within the books' panels. Whether you're a Marvel fan or a DC loyalist, Slugfest: Inside the Epic 50-Year Battle Between Marvel and DC is a highly enjoyable look behind the scenes at one of the great matchups in the world of publishing.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

This film suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

Keep reading... Show less

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.