The Origin Story Debate: DC vs. Marvel
So why did origin tales work for Marvel? Well, for the main reason we first argued Justice League wouldn’t need to follow Marvel’s plan: audiences are more familiar with Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman than they ever were with Thor, Black Widow, Captain America or Iron Man. For Marvel, an introduction was necessary. Not only to get audiences familiar with these characters, but out of a necessity to make their symbolic meaning clear to anyone not already steeped in decades of their mythology.
As our own Kofi Outlaw has explained in the past, Snyder’s claims of “purer archetypes” are founded in literary study, not fanboyism. Marvel’s characters, while perhaps not as “archetypal” as DC’s, are more likely to encapsulate elements of the human experience; Captain America embodies the scrawny kid with a good heart who becomes super strong, and turns against those who would bully others. Spider-Man is the nerdy kid who finally gets the girl, and Dr. Bruce Banner speaks for every introvert who ever longed to be powerful, and invincible.
They’re characters everyone can relate to, but to understand the symbols that each of them truly were, audiences needed to see them as weak, unwanted, and limited before they were granted their ‘hero’ status.
DC’s characters, on the other hand, are more easily identified; sure, they don’t encapsulate human experiences (how many interstellar space cops do you know?), but the do embody universal archetypes, myths, icons, or ideas. Superman: the demigod from a far-off land. Batman: grief and anger in the flesh. Wonder Woman: the warrior princess. Green Lantern: fearlessness, using courage as a weapon. And Flash: a man for whom time has no meaning.
Each of these characters has a deep and relatable history, but that doesn’t need to be shown for human beings to understand what ideas and wish-fulfillment they embody. Hal Jordan may be without fear, but only when that notion is tested are the best Green Lantern stories written. Flash can run faster than sound, but what happens when speed won’t help him? Wonder Woman can turn stone to dust, but knows little about the modern world and its people.
That’s the reason why you won’t find many origin stories among the most revered in DC’s catalogue: the best storytelling wasn’t concerned with how the people got to where they are, but what happened once they did.
Man of Steel and Batman Begins prove that sometimes, telling an origin story in bits and pieces, not laid out from beginning to end, can be an entertaining delivery method. And with the plethora of Marvel films set to be released in the coming years – all looking to follow a similar formula, if trends hold – differentiating themselves in any way is a wise move.
DC and Warner Bros. don’t have to start at the start to show why their characters are unique and iconic, so why not start at the most interesting point from a story perspective? As in, what happens when these archetypes meet for the first time in a Justice League movie?