If you grew up a comics fan, chances are you were faced with one question pretty early on: What’s better, Marvel or DC? It was a big decision, like signing a mortgage at five years old. You were going to spend years investing and defending it, so you’d better pick wisely.
Of course, treating the subject like a binary is inherently silly. There’s no reason not to like both Marvel and DC. Plus, “better” is a purely subjective term—while one publisher’s output might not resonate with some people, others might find it to be the best thing ever.
But thanks to the pervasive popularity of all things superheroic—especially this year—that ancient debate has found new life. And though there are also plenty of comics publishers beyond Marvel and DC, these two are definitely out to dominate the pop cultural conversation in a way they never really have before.
So who wore it better in 2014: Marvel or DC? Let’s take a closer look.
TELEVISION. Arrow, The Flash, Constantine, Gotham—2014 was the year where DC Entertainment got aggressive about dominating the small screen. The quality of those shows, however, was definitely variable. Arrow was coming off of a fantastic second season. The Flash was great fun right out of the gate. Constantine was okay, though very different from the source material. And Gotham? Well… Gotham is definitely a show you can watch on television.
Marvel, on the other hand, only has Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.—which has improved by leaps and bounds to become a really fun television show. Still, it’s beaten by the Arrow/Flash one-two punch, as well as the sheer comedy that can be derived from Gotham’s worst episodes: “Spirit of the Goat,” anyone?
MOVIES: Marvel had Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, two of its best and highest-grossing films yet. DC didn’t have any movies inspired by its comics this year, but I will count The Lego Movie for having the best on-screen version of Batman since Kevin Conroy in Batman: The Animated Series.
ANNOUNCEMENTS: This is a tough one. As you may know, announcements are a big deal these days. So who did it better? We’ll go by two basic criteria—presentation and substance. How was the announcement made? And was that announcement actually exciting?
DC flubbed this one right from the start, loosing a press release that announced ten connected superhero movies over the next five years just because that’s what the competition is doing. The company asked the world to get excited about a list that promised to build upon the world begun in Man of Steel, a movie that has…problems. But then, as DC began to make good on those announcements, things got very interesting—Michelle MacLaren was tapped to direct Wonder Woman, and the Suicide Squad cast was revealed. For the first time, the slate was starting to look interesting.
Marvel, however, went full Apple, holding a special event in Los Angeles to whip fans into a frenzy over the studio’s Phase Three film slate. It worked. Black Panther starring Chadwick Boseman! Captain Marvel! Cap vs. Iron Man in Civil War! This was huge stuff, coming from a studio that was just finishing its second wave of incredibly successful films—in other words, there was a reason to be excited for everything.
COMICS. Sometimes, DC and Marvel make comics.
Over at DC, this year was a pretty chaotic affair, as the publisher has been in a continual state of tweaking and reshuffling its lineup ever since 2011’s New 52 initiative/reboot. While there have been bright spots—Charles Soule’s run on Swamp Thing, revitalized Superman books, The Multiversity, and the revamped Batman line—the publisher’s books as a whole still haven’t found a consistent groove. One would say that 2015 might be the year that it finally happens—but, well, Convergence might make it all for naught. Or it could be a rousing success. That’s DC’s output in a nutshell: plenty of bright spots surrounded by a lot of uncertainty if your book doesn’t have Batman on the cover.
Marvel, on the other hand, has managed to keep the momentum of the past couple years going full steam ahead. The publisher made waves with its Avengers NOW! announcements, which translated into some pretty great stories in books like All-New Captain America and Thor. This was also the year of Khamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel, and the star of one Marvel’s very best books.
While neither publisher has a perfect batting average, the odds of you walking into a comic shop and liking a book you randomly pulled off the shelf is higher with Marvel than with DC—thanks to the more idiosyncratic and creator-driven approach the publisher has taken of late. Marvel and DC are far from the only game in town when it comes to comics (and boy, what a year it has been for comics), but as long as we’re comparing the two, the winner is clear…for now.
This year, Marvel launched Marvel Universe Live!, an arena show with loud music and dirt bikes. We went to it. It hurt.
DC didn’t have an arena show this year.
Grand Champion of 2014: Marvel