While Marvel and DC may be keen to downplay the differences between the two comic book powerhouses, legendary artist Alex Ross reveals what sets them apart and why it isn't a bad thing.
Both the MCU and DCEU have clear differences in their filmmaking style, but it all ultimately stems from the origins of characters on the page. Marvel is responsible for the likes of Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor, while DC took a sometimes darker path with the likes of Batman and Superman.
Ross has spent over 30 years drawing for both Marvel and DC, but he finally revealed to EW what each of them brings to the table in terms of modern superhero storytelling:
"There’s certainly an argument to make for similarity of iconic status, but what’s always separated the two for me is Marvel’s material has always had a kinetic quality to it, particularly based on the design aesthetics of Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby. DC characters are not defined by a singular artistic voice influencing all the rest, but that’s what happened with Jack Kirby’s leadership of the entire Marvel brand. Everything is affected by what he led the charge of. That 10 years where he created the majority of those characters in the ’60s, that’s what every artist and writer has built their process upon, including the movies today. There’s a kinetic energy and a chaotic energy that embodies Marvel’s stuff."
The question arose when Ross was promoting his upcoming book Marvelocity: The Marvel Comics Art of Alex Ross, which offered him the chance to give a rare insight into the industry. His argument is that DC was/is always more rigid with its classic hero traits while Marvel tries to break the mold:
"DC is the foremost component of where the DNA of what makes a superhero came from. They did the very first superhero in Superman, and the first great embodiment of the dark superhero in Batman, and of course the first female superhero in Wonder Woman. All those key things are lined up by them, and they go in a nice descending ladder of importance with their Justice League. With Marvel it’s clear that Spider-Man is not the same kind of hero as Superman; Cap has similarities but he has differences as well and has been used in very interesting ways that stop him from being a clone of any DC counterpart. The Marvel characters are all over the place in terms of what makes them unique, and there’s a hip energy that’s been instilled in them since their creation. Every other superhero company follows the mold of having their heroes follow those archetypes that DC embodies, but Marvel broke away."
It is an interesting point to make when looking back at the history of comics. While the likes of Detective Comics and Action Comics were brought together to create the roster of heroes that fans see today, the likes of Stan Lee, Kirby, and Ditko were the overseers of Marvel's early days and stayed with the publisher for a long time. These days, anyone and everyone has written DC tales that take the characters on various different tangents, whereas the Marvel heroes and villains are more closely linked to their roots.
Ross has become synonymous with comics thanks to his realistic drawings of the biggest and best of both Marvel and DC, so if anyone has the right to pass judgment, it is him. Also, having been in the position of writing for both companies, he knows exactly what makes each of them tick and what they want from their writers and artists. People will always continue to point out the similarities between Green Arrow and Hawkeye, Catwoman and Black Cat, and Superman and Captain America, but both houses have influenced each other just as much over the years while carving their own unique path.
Although Ross may have a favorite when it comes to Marvel v DC, he isn't willing to put one above the other and reveal it to anyone. Just like many readers have their preferred titles or characters from both sides, Ross clearly enjoys a little bit of both. Ultimately, the argument of who does it best will continue to rage, but just like Ross, it is probably best not to get involved.