“Slugfest”

Non-fic­tion by Reed Tucker (DA CAPO PRESS)

Sun.Star Cebu Weekend - - Books - Re­view: Michael Hill

Marvel is ar­guably king of the comics world now. But it used to be a bot­tom feeder, pump­ing out unin­spired ti­tles that ex­ploited pop­u­lar trends — ro­mance, mon­sters, what­ever. Ri­val DC, the home of Su­per­man and Bat­man, was the clear leader in the field.

That changed start­ing in 1961. A comic-biz lifer named Stan Lee took a dif­fer­ent ap­proach when com­ing up with an an­swer to DC’s pop­u­lar Jus­tice League su­per­hero team. With the Fan­tas­tic Four, Lee be­gan script­ing char­ac­ters for Marvel who had feet of clay in their thigh-high boots.

Heroes like Spi­der Man, Iron Man and the Hulk wor­ried about money, get­ting dates and be­ing dif­fer­ent. They talked like neu­rotics and wise guys. And they were drawn in a dra­mat­i­cally over-the-top style, most no­tably by Jack Kirby. Char­ac­ters throw­ing a punch looked like they were hurl­ing a javelin.

Marvel’s as­cen­dency started a decades-long bat­tle with DC. “Slugfest” au­thor Reed Tucker calls the com­pet­ing com­pa­nies “the Coke and Pepsi of Span­dex,” and their long strug­gle for supremacy played out first in candy stores, then spe­cialty comic shops and fi­nally on the big screen.

In the early years, Marvel cre­ators were like the cool kids to DC’s stuffy, es­tab­lish­ment types. Marvel staffers would joke that DC heroes were so blandly sim­i­lar that you could swap the word bal­loons among them and no one would no­tice. Ex­ec­u­tives at DC looked down their noses at the up­starts, un­til they couldn’t any­more be­cause they were get­ting clob­bered at the news­stand.

Then they started copy­ing their com­peti­tor.

The in­ter­ven­ing decades were marked by the two com­pa­nies poach­ing artists and writ­ers from each other, swip­ing comic con­cepts and of­ten act­ing petty about the whole thing. When DC re­vived an old char­ac­ter named Cap­tain Marvel in 1972, Marvel as­serted its le­gal rights to that name based on its own char­ac­ter. DC had to call its new comic book “Shazam!”

The story of Marvel’s David top­pling DC’s Go­liath is a fun one, and Tucker tells it well. He packs it with anec­dotes and in­sights from the ed­i­tors, writ­ers, artists and as­sis­tants who were there. If the story loses its zing af­ter a while, it’s only be­cause the early buc­ca­neer spirit was smoth­ered by in­creas­ing cor­po­ra­ti­za­tion. To­day, Marvel En­ter­tain­ment is part of the Walt Dis­ney Co. and DC En­ter­tain­ment is part of Warner Bros.

Turns out, the great­est power comic heroes have is that they are cash cows for movie and TV pro­duc­ers. Even a mi­nor char­ac­ter like Ant Man can get his own movie. Tucker notes that the genre took in $1.9 bil­lion in 2016, al­most 17 per­cent of the movie mar­ket share.

With money from a global mar­ket at stake, movies with both DC and Marvel char­ac­ters tend to be based on the hero archetypes per­fected decades ago: the solemn one, the cheeky one, the in­ter­nally tor­tured one.

Some­times, you could al­most swap out script lines among the dif­fer­ent stu­dios’ heroes and no one would no­tice.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Philippines

© PressReader. All rights reserved.