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!

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By Mark Julian - 9/21/2011

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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GodzillaKart - 9/21/2011, 6:11 AM
Very well written, perceptive, and historically correct.

@demonhunter15: Did you read the article?
Shaman - 9/21/2011, 6:14 AM
Looking back at all the comics i've read through the years, i've always found DC heroes to be "cooler" or say... more appealing to me, but i do have to give the award of best all-time storytelling to Marvel. However elseworlds/stand alone GNs don't count. I'm talking ongoing series mainly. DC has always had better stand alone stuff than Marvel IMHO.
MarkJulian - 9/21/2011, 6:17 AM
@Shaman As a DC reader, you agree or disagree that the DC characters are becoming more Marvel thanks to "the new 52"?
MarkJulian - 9/21/2011, 6:19 AM
@Intruder I thought the same thing but after reading a few issues I think DC has the Marvel formula down-pact and that could be dangerous for the House of Ideas when you apply that to popular characters and titles like Superman, Wonder Woman, Justice League, etc.
RorMachine - 9/21/2011, 6:25 AM
I agree that back in the day..not even as far back as he is talking about..Marvel were putting out better stuff character and story wise but as GC says it's become more about the writers now than anything else. I find that DC now tend to have better writers than Marvel..even though they do all switch around, just the core stable I prefer. But I love both. Marvel haven't had anything great recently thou aside from X-Force and Daredevil imo, DC have been killing it. But that will all flip over again.
Shaman - 9/21/2011, 6:26 AM
GraphicCity- I'll have to say that DC seems to be taking a step in the RIGHT direction (which has rightfully been labelled as Marvel's) but i'm getting the same vibe as Intruder. I just don't see this as being a permanent change. If they're still going strong with their change of heart and ways after five years, THEN i'll be pleasantly surprised. But it takes more than a few #1's to blow my skirt up ;)
Doctorwho22 - 9/21/2011, 6:30 AM
good article, well put together. I hope that there will be some changes in the marvel universe soon, like introducing new characters and actually keeping people who die dead. Same goes for DC, i just want a comic death to have a certain finality to it.
Kayo - 9/21/2011, 6:34 AM
just like artifact, never forgotten, always remembered and treasured. History meant to be told.
HankAce - 9/21/2011, 6:36 AM
The biggest difference is Marvel is that Marvel isn't afraid to piss people off. They write good stories and they don't care what anyone thinks. Whereas DC is always trying to please the fans. This is why we get retarded stories with Batman defeating Superman and similar stuff.

When Iron Man (immensely popular at the time!) went up against Thor (still relatively a non-major character) Marvel spared no expense in illustrating that Thor would win in a hear-beat. They didn't care about fan boys protesting or the popular opinion. Thor's the stronger character so he wins. Unlike DC who always makes sure the popular character wins...
comicb00kguy - 9/21/2011, 6:39 AM
If you go back to Marvel's Silver Age stuff, it was distinctly different, just as Martin points out. When I was getting into comics, that characterization appealed to me. They felt more like real people than DC's heroes, who were almost exactly alike and had no real personalities to them.

It kills me to see people fighting over the two companies today, because now, there is little real difference in storytelling styles between them. As for this "new DC", when sales start to decline- and they will, following some initial curiosity about this 'new' direction, DC will bring back the old established universe again. I just wish that both of them would get back to the fundamentals of telling interesting stories about fantastic characters- a formula that worked well for many years, and sold a hell of a lot more books than they do now.
Shaman - 9/21/2011, 6:46 AM
For me, it's more a question of vibe than talent. The vibe is something pre-established from years of publishing that the talent has to follow. The only thing that stands apart from it are the stand alone stories i was talking about. The ongoing series have to follow the same vibe regardless who's following it. DC have just changed their whole show to fit a different vibe, similar to Marvel's. Now it's just a matter of keeping with it, which until i'm proven wrong, i don't feel they have the balls for. Then again, they've always had "balls" in order to keep Vertigo going strong and now deciding to incorporate it all in the same universe so we'll see.
BigTodd71 - 9/21/2011, 6:50 AM
@intruder do you really think DCNU will last a whole year I'll be suprised by 6 months
Kayo - 9/21/2011, 6:53 AM
so does this meant a cease fire between DC and to us Marvel fanboys?
Shaman - 9/21/2011, 6:55 AM
BigTodd71- Yeah, that actually sounds plausible. Only sales will tell.
MarkJulian - 9/21/2011, 6:59 AM
I think DC is moving in the right direction. From what I've gathered fans felt that DC characters had become so iconic that they couldn't relate. And judging by Marvel's statistical dominance over the last few years, relatability and grounding seem to be key to selling comics in today's modern age. If DC can also ground their characters in some realism and do so for an extended period of time, we'll essentially have two "Marvels" which will cause a change that the comic book industry is poised for. IMHO.
kriswone - 9/21/2011, 7:04 AM
DC FanGurls have got to be ticked off. _perfect_
Shaman - 9/21/2011, 7:05 AM
Intruder- Yeah, that's something that has always boggled my mind. They had the brilliant Vertigo line for all this time, but their DCU seemed like saturday morning cartoons. Why they couldn't dive into the vast and much more superior "middle ground" (as Marvel have always done) is truly beyond me. Oh don't get me wrong, they've had their "serious" stories here and there, but because of the stagnant vibe they've stuck with all these years, it made them seem less important than they should have been perceived as. And it's their own damn fault, really. Stand alone stories excluded though.
MarkJulian - 9/21/2011, 7:06 AM
@Nomis That is exactly my point. You need contrast and when they become so similar I respectfully believe that Marvel will change to create that contrast and give us something new.
MarkJulian - 9/21/2011, 7:08 AM
@Intruder I looked at "the new 52" as basically DC admitting defeat in all seriousness. So far it's working but it's still early. Right now, DC is going to win the monthly sales war for the first time in a long time.
AreTudaEDub - 9/21/2011, 7:09 AM
You know, I fell like DC and Marvel differ in the movie realm and need to take the same approach in the comics. I have seen EVERY Marvel movie and have noticed that thier best ones take a more commercial (broader audience) approach.

On the side of DC, (Specifically) Batman Begins, V for Vendetta, TDK, Superman Return had lots of weight. If DC can continue to use writers like Grant Morrison and Alan Moore I feel like they would work better as a Philosophical comic company. Concentrating on character on a personal level (ideologies, religion, faith).

Marvel have always been good at making characters that are metaphores to various social themes . (X-men = racism, Spider-man = adolesence, Captain America =Patriotism...etc).

KungFuKoala - 9/21/2011, 7:10 AM
We need to see some new characters (from both DC and Marvel) which capture the world's imagination, like Superman did back in the day.
Shaman - 9/21/2011, 7:34 AM
Intruder- "they have some pride in their history and tone"

THIS!!! A million times, THIS!!!

"Pride" is their achilles heal. They're actually proud of their history/tone which is the very thing they are today being criticised for. I guess it's the same damn pride that keeps them from making a brilliant DC movie-verse. They just don't seem to get the big picture. Sure TDK gave them a chunk of change, but it's nothing comapared to every single Blu-Ray/DVD sale of every single Marvel film prior to The Avengers' home release will give Marvel, just so everyone will watch all the linking chapters leading to the big kahuna. THAT'S the big picture. And just establishing that with much better known heroes such as Sups, Bats, WW and Flash, could utterly eclipse Marvel's bank. But they just don't see the big picture.

So even though this stunt IS a step in the right direction, "pride" is a nasty, conniving, vindictive, overbearing, possesive bitch! It simply can't be mearly "brushed off". It takes years, and that's how long their change will have to last to convince me. Granted i'm not grabbing the single issues, but i certainly will grab the GNs... IF they stick with it.
Shaman - 9/21/2011, 7:44 AM
grayfox117- I agree that change is definitely needed in both camps, DC keeping with their stunt past their popularity wave and Marvel toning down their "events". Hopefully for all of us fans, they both listen and learn.

In regards to events, they could be conceptualised better IMHO. Either have them be stand alone stories that don't ever affect ongoing series, or have every hero in their own ongoing series experience the event in their own way, WITHOUT having to follow a separate mini-series to understand what the hell is going on in everyone's ongoing series. It might be harder but i'm certain it's possible. I just hate gimmicks that make you have to buy "extra" books to get the whole story.
VictorHugo - 9/21/2011, 7:46 AM
Identification is good. I had a hard time thru university back at the time, and Spawn and Spiderman comics, plus Tomb Raider games helped me to survive.

But Inspiration is even better.
Recently "LOST", "Avatar The Last Airbender" and "JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED", inspired me and my wife through even rougher times ($$$).

Something about "Justice League" brought a spark in my wife. She loved Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter with a passion.

Now everything is perfect, we fixed a hundred bugs in our lifes, and we thank DC for that.
VictorHugo - 9/21/2011, 7:52 AM

I agree with you, when i look at the art of José Luis García-López on DC, i shed a tear of happiness.
Shaman - 9/21/2011, 7:53 AM
Intruder- True, they seem to be changing a bit too drastically. Instead of throwing uncle Tom a whole new rapper wardrobe, they should maybe just try to keep aunt Diane sexy beyond her old age. Knowad i'm sayin' ;))

And yeah, Captain Marvel is definitely on my mind. But seriously, i've discussed this to hell and back plenty of times, that's one hero who needs a radical change from the 8 year old boy with the red sweat shirt that changes into a 1950's stereotype for masculinity. I mean, he REALLY needs to get up with the times even though his fans don't want that change. He's a hero that just doesn't get new kids onboard. He needs a makeover, get Tyra Banks on the phone! LOL :P

So i guess maybe the new 52 is better off without him until he tryumphically returns with his new groove.
nuck82 - 9/21/2011, 7:58 AM
yeah capt marvel one of my fav DC heros is M.I.A during this whole 52 crap, why does aquaman get a new line but not him? so with that dc fails.
Shaman - 9/21/2011, 8:01 AM
Oddly enough, i'd love for a "miles morales" to happen to the big red CHEESE. Maybe spice him up to a "queso" of sorts LOL
Shaman - 9/21/2011, 8:02 AM
Intruder- Yep! Campbell's a Turner ;)
MarkJulian - 9/21/2011, 8:15 AM
My guess is that Captain Marvel will be on Earth-2 w/ the JSA but that's just a hunch.
Shaman - 9/21/2011, 8:34 AM
MrEko- True, Moore made a better "character" out of the concept, but not a better "hero" imho. I'd definitely opt for the middle ground between the two here as well. I think a mix of both characters would be brilliant.

Nomis- If you have a link to that, i'd LOVE to read it! It's the first time i've heard of it :)

Intruder- Me too, man. Me too. :(

GraphicCity- See now, the JSA with the ol' corny big red cheese is actually a great idea to me! To actually have that difference of vibes in different worlds is fine by me. CM fits in a corny 50's spoof. But i sure hope Powergirl isn't part of it. I feel she fits better in the new DC than she ever did in JSA. Supergirl would have been a brilliant part of the JSA IMHO.

As for CM in the new DCu, i have my own idea of how he should be and it would make everyone pretty much hate me LOL
Shaman - 9/21/2011, 8:34 AM
MrEko- Ooooh! Can i have that?!?!? :))
SageMode - 9/21/2011, 8:37 AM
Marvel has always been more interesting to me because of their complexity and originality which was greatly different from DC's traditional superhero archetype.
parascythe - 9/21/2011, 8:51 AM
in the other part of the world, people know a lot of marvel characters than dc.and its not because they dont buy dc comics or what but it's how they market marvel characters, stories that's full of intrigue and a fluid connection in of the vast and complex Marvel Univ imho.
BigTodd71 - 9/21/2011, 8:59 AM
Some how the marvel family will be tied into bring back the status quo and a resurgence of magic in the dcu
brewtownpsych - 9/21/2011, 9:20 AM
I give marvel credit for creating a viable answer to DC's iconic characters from the golden age. And even tho marvel (and stan lee in particular) ripped off everything under the sun and more, the gradually built up from scratch and impressive stable of icons on their own right. Morever, in the seventies the characters were so much more deep and real worldly. The X-Men was a huge boon for Marvel but today the mutant thing has. Been worked to death so far its almost unreadable, tho I still try. Of course marvels movies have been hitting it out of the park w/ dollars (tho quality would be the subject to endless debate here) so that has been a recent boon. That being said, the DC 52 has been more good than bad and for me, their books are where its at, especally the darker ones. Either way, its all good for comic lovers.
REMY1 - 9/21/2011, 9:27 AM
Wait, this isnt about game of thrones? Lame lol
fadersdream - 9/21/2011, 9:35 AM
"especially now that DC is in the initial stages of a massive reconfiguration of the DCU"

Except that 52 is an effort to bring them back to where they were. Circular indeed.
batmanrises - 9/21/2011, 10:10 AM
Batman being a "Marvel" type character? Like Kirk Lazarus said "Pump yo brakes kid"...Batman predates Marvel and lost his parents way before Uncle Ben was ever thought of. He was and is Comics' most tragic figure. Nice try in an attempt at claiming Batman, Marvelites.
BigTodd71 - 9/21/2011, 10:18 AM
@batmanrises and batman ripped off zoro...which makes batman a mexican charecter
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