Now every reader of Superhero comics once and then has probably asked himself, why does this or that hero not just kill the villain and be done with it? Most recently there was a debate about the Spectre, but I guess it's what both universes have in common: they have heroes who do not kill. Asides from the simple answer that their stories would be over, which is a bit too simplistic, there are various story-based reasons.
First, we have heroes who have a very personal reason not to kill, rooted in their biography. Heroes like Spiderman or Batman don't kill because some of their family were killed and those are usually very passionately against guns in particular. Then we have those boyscout heroes who don't kill because they feel they are role models. Everyone is looking at them as good example. Heroes like Captain America or Superman are like then. Last, we have heroes you would say they just don't have the guts in them. They are super, but then people like you and me who just could not do it; guys like Kyle Rayner, Jaime Rayes, Hulkling or Wiccan... they are people like we (I hope
)who just have not killer in us. Which leaves only that handful odd heroes who DO kill, guys like the Punisher or Wolverine, who, strange enough, usually have a big fan community. But that’s not surprise, since people kinda love the bad guy. They loved Rorschach despite him being a psycho-nut. They loved Vader in the old trilogy days way more than any of the goody-good guys. But that is pretty much where the things in common end.
The big difference between DC and Marvel is the social and political scope. DC has none. With a few exceptions.
Take politics. I guess about most Marvel heroes you could guess what they would vote. You have an idea what the political view of most Marvel heroes is. At DC, with the exception of the notorious left wing liberal Green Arrow you likely have no clue what the political ideas of any of the DC heroes are. What they stand for in terms of everyday moral and ideology. They are kind blank in terms of political people. Where characters like Captain America went through the entire development from right wing conservative "hawk" to left wing, liberalist, anti-corporate-America and back to the middle again, none of the DC heroes has made ANY reflection towards any political issue. Now the thing where that really get bizarre IMVPO is, not so much the heroes themselves. I mean, ok, why should a hero not try to stay neutral, granted. But the really bizarre thing in the DC universe for me is, that total story-neutrality of the "public".
Let's face it. If ANY of those super events hero comics are frequently plagued with, would happen in our REAL world, there would at LEAST be massive public debates about the role of heroes as vigilantes! Can you imagine something like Blackest Night happens in America and there is NOT a huge debate about whether heroes should be banned or controlled by the government? About special forces under governmental control being installed to fight supercriminals? I dunno, but for sure *SOMETHING* would go on in public and political circles. In DC the public never seems to be part of the story for anything but being either victims running or spectators gaping in awe. Here is where Marvel went a different way. We have the Superhuman Registration Act, the resulting Civil War and Dark Reign. We have people about the Siege of Asgard in the public taking sides and caring beyond merely being spectator. Now you may like it one way or the other, that’s like taste in eating and I am not saying one is better. But for me it became highly implausible in DC why the public just accepts ALL this hilarious ongoings.
I mean if any society would let a guy like the Joker run free over and over and over again, there WOULD be some debate, some change in laws and something going on. But society would NOT just shrug it off and leave things as they are! I mean, to turn it back to the beginning: the strange thing is not that heroes don't kill nutcases like the Joker, the really strange thing is, that society and politics don't seem to care or change laws. Or build a goddamn PRISON THAT WORKS and not sent him to Arkham the 1000th time, knowing full well it doesn’t hold him. I mean, for story reasons you cant change the world all the time. Insofar we just have to accept a certain element of illogical parts that just don't make sense. Like a public, silent audience of normal people who accept madness as it is. But not all the time. It is where for my taste the DC universe is strangely elevated away from the real world. It's a bit like Jedi in the old trilogy VS Jedi in the new trilogy. In the old one, I always could believe something as Jedi COULD exist, with a small leap of hippie esoteric, things Luke did maybe could be real. What Jedi did in the new movies was SO unreal, it was just that: fancy that could never happen. I mean Obi-Wan leaped those 50 meters up JUST SO. I mean, it’s not their powers, which make the heroes unreal; it’s their social elevation, their total separation from any social or political results of their doing in DC.
Look at Iron Man. He is a rich guy, and consequently there is always this social/political ambivalence. He is hated by poor folks for being "one of the rich playboys" frequently. His own view changed over time back and fro. You have the feeling he stand in some real sort of world like a real guy in our world would be. If you take rich guys in DC (with the exception of Batman who is a class in itself and as such different), none of them has any real social reflection. Or Luke Cage, battling with his experiences in Harlem. Or Peter Parker, who is constantly broke and fighting to pay his rent. I won't say DC is totally empty of that, but it has more of a fig leaf thing, like Roy's addiction to heroine or so.
For instance, DC has no such thing as the X-Men. X-Men are THE classic political/social message group. Let's be honest: as heroes they suck. I mean most of them. Take a guy like Nightcrawler. What is interesting about him is, that he looks like the devil, was thus shunned and has his sensible heart, his faith, his experience with "normal" humans asf. That’s what makes him interesting: his character. As a mere hero without all that he would be quite boring. He teleports. *yawn* I mean, the special thing about the X-Men is, they are defined about their character way more than their powers. The X-Men stood for any kind of minority or conflict with different groups of society and as that they where a reflection of what moves real people. On the contrast powerful DC groups like, say, the Green Lanterns stand for... what? Order and police. That’s it. I mean, its not to say Kyle Rayner or Hal Jordan are not interesting characters. But they still remain a bit flat in comparison. They seem to be more moved by situational whims than a many decades spanning character development agenda.
My guess is, it is something that especially in recent years Marvel has done better than DC, and that is connecting the story telling. You may like or hate the entire Civil War-Dark Reign-Siege events, but they tied together all the various heroes and showed Marvel has a sorted and coordinated story and character development going on, where especially in recent years I have this feeling DC lacks this. Blackest Night did kinda tie things up, but it is yet too short to say the long-term events. When you follow JLA the last few years, I totally lost track simply of WTF was going on. It just seemed like random bad dudes stumbled in and out of the world, as did heroes. There wasn't ANY sense of the world-story or the character stories really getting in any real direction. It were just "things going on". In Marvel, I had this feeling of one long planned big thing connecting little things in something of HUGE puzzle being revealed bit by bit.
To say something good, one thing that DC is really great at however IMO is making villains. Strangely so, I find most of the coolest and iconic villains are all DC. In that the Marvel villains look strangely pale, and maybe that is the only backlash of the social and political connections of Marvel stories. DC villains are just uber nutcases. The Joker, Two-Face, such guys are just icons. They don't stand in the real world in any way. Still, in any real world setting, the police would have shot the Joker in some crime scene LONG ago.
I hope it doesn't come over as some DC bashing. In the end, it comes a lot down to what you like. Some prefer those elevated from reality settings like DC. I prefer more politically/socially connected stories. It's why V for Vendetta is cool but The Crow is just boring for me. Without some deeper background I loose interest easier. But I know some like it the other way. Still, what DC lacks these days is the story and character coherence, this feeling "things are developing along some line" which I did get from Marvel the last years. Only Blackest Night seems to have started this, and it remains to be seen if DC can keep this momentum which apparently has attracted a lot of readers back to DC, which just proves to me how much people like these kind of coherent development and character depth, which all the tragedies of Blackest Night caused. As less as I want an all-dark, grim and "realistic" setting like Watchmen, I don't so much care for totally elevated heroes. In any real world, a guy like Superman would be feared or at least suspected. In real, most people would see Superman the way Luthor does: as dangerous alien playing god, and no human looks could make REAL world humans think otherwise! Just imagine Superman would not look like a man, but say, like a squid. Like the Great Cthulhu. Same character, same powers, same way of acting, feeling and thinking as Supes. People would crucify him! DC just shys away from the question: why do humans in DC NOT react like we would?