With great power comes great whining and neuroses.
Not really the message I was looking for when I was nine. When I drew super-heroes in the margins of my note-books (eliciting the regular, painful ire of the nuns), they never had frownie-faces.
On the covers of DC comics, superheroes were always smiling.
And why wouldn't they be? To a kid, super-heroes were the expression of the adult I probably subconsciously knew I could never be. They were confident, able, righters-of-wrongs. Problems? Nothing a little heat-vision couldn't cure.
And most of them could fly. How cool was that? In the Legion Of Super-Heroes, my DC comic of choice, they even gave "flight rings" to the earth-bound teen heroes, so everybody could get a bird's eye view of the world, just like Superboy, Mon-El and Ultra-Boy.
I still wish I had a flight ring. I'd never have to get stuck in traffic or try to squeeze into a packed bus.
I was there for the birth of Marvel, and it wasn't all about existential angst back then either. Sure Tony Stark had health problems, but he also had repulsor rays. Peter Parker was bummed about his Uncle Ben, but he could give the bully Flash Thompson the wedgie of his life.
And there wasn't a single power in the Fantastic Four - Ben Grimm's skin condition aside - I wouldn't have traded my entire collection of Batman cards for.
DC and Marvel were mostly working the same side of the street for kids my age, with DC gangs like the Legion and the Justice League of America having somewhat more of a track record.
I will allow that Marvel had better comic sound effects like "THOOM!" "KRAAKK!" and "B-TANG!"
All of this, of course, took place in an alternate universe called the '60s, when the majority of comic book readers were school-age children. The concept of a society where the majority of comic book readers were adults was too bizarre to entertain.
But I started to see it coming as the '70s loomed. I'd heard Marvel's Silver Surfer was not just about a cosmic ray-powered superhero confined to Earth, but was something over which college kids smoked pot and pondered their alone-ness.
Meanwhile, DC superheroes continued to do what superheroes do. And when one died, it was either an "imaginary tale" (a narrative oxymoron peculiar to DC) or it was someone like Triplicate Girl, who simply lost the ability to turn into three girls (talk about popular!) and was henceforth known as Duo Damsel.
About the time I moved on to horror comics like Vampirella (no points for guessing the appeal there), DC started playing catch-up. Neal Adams inked a tale where Green Arrow's sidekick Speedy turned out to be a drug addict (first clue: his nickname was "Speedy.") The Dark Knight was to follow.
As nearly as I can tell, people read the Marvel-templated tales of woe for the same reason they read about celebrity divorces or watch primetime soaps about sad rich people. They want to believe advantage doesn't make a difference.
Are rich people happier than you and me? You bet!
Would having super-powers make you happy? Think about it the next time you're stuck in traffic. Then think about being a DC superhero and smile.
Never did I dream that my arguments on the playground at recess would somehow find their way into my job many, many years later. But I said it then and I'll say it now: Marvel is better than DC.
Or to put it in the vernacular of an eight-year-old: Spider-Man rules, Superman drools.
Can you point to Metropolis on a map? How about Gotham City? That, fundamentally, is why the Marvel Comics universe will always be more interesting than the distinguished competition's.
See, Stan Lee and the gang created their heroes to have real problems in the real world, even if those problems included stuff like being bitten by a radioactive spider or having the mean ol' Canadian government lace your bones with adamantium so you become an unbreakable killing machine.
DC heroes, on the other hand, are fanciful icons. Superman is literally the most recognizable fictional character on the face of the earth, as well as one of the most powerful characters in comics. And that's very entertaining. But I can't relate.
Both companies have gone slightly bonkers in the last couple of decades, to be sure. I
stopped reading comics regularly many years ago, and one day I thought it would be fun to get back into it, beginning with my beloved X-Men. But did I want to read New X-Men, or Uncanny X-Men? X-Treme X-Men, X-Force or Generation X? Or maybe one of the dozen solo spin-offs? It feels like Marvel's artists have traded their ink brushes for fire hoses.
And yes, this excess is starting to seep into other mediums. But before you pile on TV's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - a disappointment to Marvel and Joss Whedon fans alike - I say this: if saner heads had not prevailed at NBC, we'd have had that Wonder Woman series produced by David E. Kelley. And what's this about an upcoming TV show following Commissioner Gordon in his early days? A Batman series without Batman? At least you know Thor's going to pop up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. sooner or later.
Even if you somehow find Wolverine less interesting than Green Lantern - weirdo - you have to admit Marvel is doing the movie thing right. Spider-Man is on a good swing at Sony Pictures, Fox's new X-Men flick looks x-tra promising and the Disney juggernaut owns the superhero movie space like none before.
Look, I love Batman. Love him in the comics, love him in the movies. But Batman makes no sense in the DC universe. Constantly injecting the Caped Crusader - a smart but unstable guy who works out a lot and owns some cool gadgets - into storylines with an invulnerable flying boy scout seems forced and silly. But at least they're not making a movie about th"¦ oh wait.
Really, Batman is a Marvel character stuck in the overpowered, schizophrenic DC universe. He should ditch Gotham for the real New York and hang out with the Avengers - he'd only be, like, the second or third least-powerful person on the team. And if nothing else, he might get a post-credits scene on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Now that I would watch.