George R.R. Martin Discusses The Early Differences Between Marvel And DC

Remember that post a few weeks back of George R.R. Martin's letter to Stan Lee back in the '60s? Well, recently George has shed new details about one his earliest published pieces of writing and it has to do with why he liked Marvel more than DC Comics. Plus my 2 cents!

Below, George R.R. Martin responds to why "the 16 year-old George R.R. Martin" liked Avengers #9 so much:

George R.R. Martin: I liked Wonder Man. And you know why? [Laughs] Now it’s coming back to me vividly! Wonder Man dies in that story. He’s a brand new character, he’s introduced, and he dies. It was very heartwrenching. I liked the character — it was a tragic, doomed character. I guess I’ve responded to tragic, doomed characters ever since I was a high-school kid.

John Hodgman: Especially those who might die at any minute.

George R.R. Martin: That’s right. Of course, being comic books, Wonder Man didn’t stay dead for long. He came back a year or two later and had a long run for many, many decades. But the fact that he was introduced and joined the Avengers and died all in that one issue had a great impact on me when I was a high-school kid.

John Hodgman: I imagine it was pretty surprising, in a comic book at that time, to see a whole story arc resolve tragically in that way in one issue.

George R.R. Martin: Yes. It’s hard to understand, I think, from the vantage point of 2011 exactly what was going on in comics back in the early ’60s. The Marvel comics that I was writing letters to were really revolutionary for the time. Stan Lee was doing some amazing work. Up until then, the dominant comic book had been the DC comics, which at that time were always very circular: Superman or Batman would have an adventure, and at the end of the adventure they would wind up exactly where they were, and then the next issue would follow the same pattern. Nothing ever changed for the DC characters.

The Marvel characters were constantly changing. Important things were happening. The lineup of the Avengers was constantly changing. People would quit and they would have fights and all of that, as opposed to DC, where everybody got along and it was all very nice, and of course all the heroes liked each other. None of this was happening. So really, Stan Lee introduced the whole concept of characterization [chuckles] to comic books, and conflict, and maybe even a touch of gray in some of the characters. And boy, looking back at it now, I can see that it probably was a bigger influence on my own work than I would have dreamed.

I think that what Martin says here succinctly defines the differences between Marvel comics and DC. At least in the early days . In modern times, I'm not so sure that this ideology still holds up, especially now that DC is in the initial stages of a massive reconfiguration of the DCU, where several iconic characters will have their history, personalities, and even physical appearance altered; it's becoming much harder to specifically pinpoint the differences between the two companies. Case in point, many readers have stated that the Clark Kent depicted in Action Comics #1 had a distinct Peter Parker vibe. And for several years now, fans have referred to Batman as the most "Marvel" of DC's characters and attribute his massive commercial success and fan appeal to that aspect of his character.

Going back to Martin's comments about how Marvel set themselves apart early on because of the conflict and tension amongst it's heroes, that notion has become outdated in the modern comic book world. Today, all of the heroes have conflicts and every superhero team from The Avengers to The Justice League suffers from infighting and inner team turmoil. What made that groundbreaking in the '60s, is now just unoriginal. Clouding the issue even more is the fact that writers and artists are frequently jumping back and forth between Marvel and DC, making it very hard to say that each publisher has a distinctive look or feel. With the relaunch of the DC Universe, what we're seeing is DC's attempt to shake off the iconographic status of several of their characters and inject some realism into their stories. All of their characters are becoming a little bit more "Marvel" and I think that's a positive thing. Not because I'm pro-Marvel (I'm more of a DC guy but I do read Cap and X-Men) but because when we reach a plateau where the two companies are telling eerily similar stories of "realism" and "rawness", I think it will force one of the companies (probably Marvel) to say, "Ok, we've become too similar, we need to take our company in a different direction." And I believe the comic book world drastically needs that to happen in the coming future. It's time for one of the two major companies to take that "step in a new direction" (again, feel free to disagree but "the New 52" is simply DC applying a Marvel ideology to their characters, it's a new idea for DC but nothing new in the overall comic book world) and promote growth and new ideas in a market that has grown complacent with repetitive Big Events that aren't so big, Major Character Deaths with Major Character Resurrection a few issues later, and Shocking Brutality which simply isn't that shocking anymore.

Unfortunately, I'm not one of DC's or Marvel's talented idea guys so I can't predict what this change will be nor do I have any ideas about what this change should be but as a fan I think we are owed something new and fresh and I believe the DCnU will be the vehicle that will bring us this change, not because it is the change but because it will lead to it.

Agree, disagree, want to add some thoughts about Image or Dark Horse to the discussion. Sound off in the comments section below. I would really like to read some viewpoints from you guys!

George R. R. Martin (born September 20, 1948), sometimes referred to as GRRM, is an American author and screenwriter of fantasy, horror, and science fiction. He is best known for his A Song of Ice and Fire series of epic fantasy novels, which HBO adapted into the dramatic series Game of Thrones. Martin was selected by Time magazine as one of the "2011 Time 100," a list of the "most influential people in the world."

Find me on Twitter: @All_Thats_Bueno
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