I’m mostly a “platform agnostic” when it comes to the discussion between Marvel and DC these days. When I was a kid, I was definitely more of a Marvel Comics reader very much enamored with Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. I interspersed that lineup with Batman and the Justice League of America. As I got older, I started reading Vertigo titles more often, so all-in-all, I tended to mix it up throughout the years.
While listening to The Comic Conspiracy podcast, I listened to the hosts answer a question about the differences between the two major publishing companies, but they didn’t touch on at the one solid difference (eschewing things like style and themes). As a young reader there was something about Marvel Comics in those early days that really struck me, and that was the geography. Yup, the initial home of the majority of the Marvel Universe characters was New York City.
While this may not be such a big deal for denizens of other parts of the United States or the rest of the world, for a boy growing up in N.J. close to the Big Apple, this connected the super hero fantasy to me in a way that stories set in completely fictionalized settings like Gotham City, Metropolis or Central City couldn’t.
Having the storylines take place in familiar locations, while still sticking to the fantastic escapism of the super-hero genre, really got to me. Nerdy little me grew up in a way not too different from nerdy little Peter Parker, in suburban neighborhoods with the ever-looming presence of Manhattan in the background.
Bruce Wayne was the son of a super-wealthy physician and industrialist who lived in a gothic mansion outside of a city not unlike New York (definitely not like me), and I’m certain I wouldn’t know where I could get a good bagel there. Heck, I wasn’t even sure if Gotham was on the East Coast of the United States for a very long time. Is Central City supposed to be in Illinois? New Mexico? Is Coast City like San Diego or Los Angeles? I like fictional cities, don’t get me wrong, but I’m certainly more intimately familiar with Philadelphia then, say, Minas Tirith.
When I wander around my local haunts in New York and New Jersey, I can really imagine these colorful characters zipping around me by flying or swinging or what have you. I can see Daredevil running from rooftop to rooftop in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan. I can imagine seeing the Baxter Building, home of the world famous Fantastic Four, rising next to the real-world landmark, Grand Central Station. I can imagine the Avengers walking in and out of the Frick Collection museum that Stan Lee supposedly used to model the Avengers Mansion. All the hype that Nintendo produced around its “AR” (augmented reality) feature in the 3DS handheld system, I can get that kind of entertainment with just my memories of comic books past and a stroll around Manhattan.
What’s even more fun is how Marvel Comics expanded beyond the borders of NYC and utilized other local, real world locations. The Castle of Count Nefaria placed on the Palisades cliffs of New Jersey, the suburban home in Leonia, NJ of the android, Vision, and his mutant wife, Scarlet Witch, and the X-Men learning at Charles Xavier’s School for the Gifted in North Salem, NY in Westchester County. Eventually the heroes and villains would even spread to locales like Los Angeles and Tokyo! It really made my childhood self feel like I was just reading about a parallel, yet closely realized, world.
So yeah, I DO love the old super hero comics, regardless of the publishing company involved. I like gritty stories, pure fantasy stories, space opera stories, etc., all of which both Marvel and DC offer in spades. But, in terms of connecting with my childhood and my roots as a kid from Jersey, I guess I’d have to say “make mine Marvel”.