Books Su­per Petty

Slugfest takes read­ers inside the decades-long beef be­tween DC and Marvel comics

Newsweek International - - NEWSWEEK - BY CRAIGH BARBOZA @Bboy88


re­mem­ber school­yard bat­tles over which was bet­ter, Marvel or DC comics, or whether Hulk could whup Su­per­man. But the idea for a book about the cre­ators of his child­hood he­roes didn’t come un­til 2016, when Time Warner– owned DC En­ter­tain­ment threat­ened to re­lease its long-awaited su­per­hero movie Bat­man v. Su­per­man on the same day as the Dis­ney-owned Marvel Stu­dios block­buster Cap­tain Amer­ica: Civil War. The in­ter­net ex­ploded.

Tucker’s re­sult­ing Slugfest digs into decades of ri­valry be­tween these comic-book be­he­moths, be­gin­ning with DC in­vent­ing the su­per­hero in 1938, with Su­per­man, fol­lowed quickly by Marvel’s de­but of the Hu­man Torch in 1939. Com­pe­ti­tion deep­ened in the ’60s, when Marvel’s Stan Lee in­tro­duced the su­per­hero to the sort of real-world anx­i­eties col­lege stu­dents could re­late to. By the mid-’80s, with DC’S re­boot of Bat­man and the lim­ited re­lease of Watch­men, those worlds—on page and be­hind the scenes—got very dark in­deed.

We spoke to Tucker about Slugfest a month be­fore Marvel and DC face off in the­aters again, this time with Thor: Rag­narok and Jus­tice League.

Did your ap­pre­ci­a­tion for comics grow as you worked on the book?

Oh, for sure. It’s hard to con­vey how marginal­ized comic books have been for most of their ex­is­tence. They were con­sid­ered trash, dis­pos­able. In the ’50s, Con­gress held hear­ings about the detri­men­tal ef­fects of read­ing them. So it’s amaz­ing to me to see that comics are now [en­trenched] in main­stream cul­ture. Su­per­heroes dom­i­nate the box of­fice and Tv—which is even cra­zier when you con­sider many of the early

char­ac­ters were dashed off quickly by jour­ney­men writ­ers and artists who never imag­ined their work would sur­vive be­yond the month the is­sue was on news­stands. But they cre­ated some­thing so cool, so ap­peal­ing and com­pelling, that here we are decades later en­joy­ing this stuff, al­beit of­ten in me­dia out­side of comic books.

Even Martin Scors­ese is di­rect­ing a Joker ori­gin movie! What ac­counts for the pro­found ob­ses­sion we have with su­per­heroes?

Part of it is that su­per­heroes are treated in a ma­ture fash­ion on screen, whereas pre­vi­ously they were con­sid­ered kid­die fare. The head of DC in the ’70s, Jenette Kahn, used to pitch to Hol­ly­wood, only to be told su­per­hero movies wouldn’t ap­peal to any­one but chil­dren and men­tally stunted adults. Stu­dios laughed at a se­ri­ous Bat­man film. To­day’s stu­dio ex­ec­u­tives grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, after comics had be­come smarter and more so­phis­ti­cated. The bar was raised by Alan Moore’s Watch­men in 1986 and Frank Miller’s Bat­man: The Dark

Knight Re­turns that same year [both are DC]. First-rate vis­ual ef­fects help.

DC and Marvel are fiercely protective of their brands. What hap­pened when you ap­proached them about the book?

Very po­litely, they were hav­ing no part of it. I guess I un­der­stand, though the sub­ject’s not all that con­tro­ver­sial.

You still man­aged to in­ter­view 75 peo­ple, in­clud­ing Marvel’s Stan Lee and artist Neal Adams, who helped reimag­ine Bat­man as a vi­o­lent, brood­ing vig­i­lante. Is there any­one you would have liked to speak to that you didn’t?

Bill Je­mas. He was Marvel’s pres­i­dent in the early 2000s. He came from a job with the NBA and loved ri­val­ries, and he was de­ter­mined to ramp up the feud. It re­sulted in the ugli­est pe­riod in Marvel vs. DC’S his­tory. Je­mas even wrote a 2002 comics se­ries, Marville. Osten­si­bly, it was a par­ody of Su­per­man, but the sole rea­son was to bash the com­pe­ti­tion. The opening page in is­sue No. 1 reads, in part, “Marvel’s Dis­tin­guished Com­pe­ti­tion (DC Comics) is run by a man named Paul Le­vitz who fights a never-end­ing bat­tle to keep his busi­ness ob­scure.” It’s hard to be­lieve Marvel pub­lished that.

What else sur­prised you?

There were sev­eral in­stances of spy­ing over the years. The best was prob­a­bly in 1971, when DC sus­pected one of its em­ploy­ees was leak­ing se­crets to fanzines and Marvel. The head of DC launched an hon­est-to-god coun­teres­pi­onage op­er­a­tion, code-named Block­buster, in which he cre­ated a fake memo about the com­pany’s plans to pub­lish gi­gan­tic 500-page comics. He then left it in his out­box. Sure enough, the spy took the bait, and soon there was talk over at Marvel of do­ing 500-page comics.

Marvel and DC had cre­ative ways of un­der­min­ing each other. For ex­am­ple, Marvel in­tro­duced a char­ac­ter in 1964 called Won­der Man that ticked off DC, who thought it sounded too close to Won­der Woman. So Marvel agreed to kill off Won­der Man. Then DC un­veiled a hero called Power Girl just a few years after Marvel in­tro­duced Power Man, so Stan Lee ex­acted pay­back by re­viv­ing Won­der Man. One of the few times the companies col­lab­o­rated, weirdly enough, is on the trade­mark for the word su­per­hero. DC and Marvel filed jointly for own­er­ship and still sue peo­ple who try and use it.

There were also “tal­ent wars,” vy­ing for stars like Wolver­ine co-cre­ator Len Wein, who died last month.

Yes. Dur­ing the boom years—the late ’80s and early ’90s—some top writ­ers and artists were rak­ing in mil­lions. X-men writer Chris Clare­mont lit­er­ally bought a plane!

Be­fore they were ac­quired by con­glom­er­ates, the houses had very dis­tinct cul­tures. Where would you have wanted to work?

No con­test: Marvel. They’ve al­ways had a more laid-back cul­ture, with wrestling matches and silly string fights in the hall­ways. DC was but­ton-down. Some­body de­scribed the of­fices as out of Mad Men.

Marvel al­ways had a more laid-back cul­ture. DC was but­ton­down—some­body de­scribed the of­fices as out of Mad Men.

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