Scipio at the Absorbascon has gone on at great length about how the Marvel and DC Universes are different, but there is one aspect I don’t believe he’s talked about. To wit:
Why is the DC Universe full of museums, but the Marvel Universe isn’t?
Superman’s Fortress of Solitude in the Silver Age contained statues and exhibits of his past exploits, and Geoff Johns I believe has brought that back. Whatever headquarters the Justice League is using at the moment usually has a trophy room of some sort. The Batcave has, famously, the giant penny and the dinosaur, but also a bunch of other reminders of past cases. The Flash Museum is … well, it is a museum.
But you don’t get that in the Marvel Universe. The Fantastic Four and the Avengers probably store things they confiscate from supervillains, but it’s not organized and kept under glass with little plaques the way the JLA trophy room is. There’s no statues of the Fantastic Four’s pals in the Baxter Building, no exhibit in Avengers Mansion labeled “Blade of the original Swordsman, RIP.”
Now, there’s a simple explanation for this to some degree. Marvel heroes tend to be more street-level and are less likely to keep secret headquarters; if Peter Parker maintained a SPIDER-MAN HALL OF TROPHIES (BELONGING TO ME, PETER PARKER, WHO IS ALSO SPIDER-MAN), it might slightly arouse the suspicion of his roommate. And you can come up with in-story explanations for the DC museums; Superman keeps a memorial to his homeworld, Bruce Wayne thought a trophy room would keep up the spirits of a young Dick Grayson, and the JLA keeps all that crap because you never know when you could actually use a Gamma Gong.
But it seems like there ought to be some fundamental reason or reasons. Is DC’s intended audience a little brainier than Marvel’s? As a kid, I loved museums, and I still do (it’s why I’m interested in this subject in the first place), but I admit it is one of my nerdier attributes (and I say this as a person who is at this moment writing about the role of museums in superhero fiction). Marvel, on the other hand, is all about misfits tearin’ it up on the streets. Batman follows clues and Barry Allen uses scientific know-how to defeat his enemies; the Thing, by contrast, famously announces the specific time at which he intends to clobber someone (Answer: USUALLY RIGHT NOW).
But no. Surely a publisher whose most popular character got his powers because he attended a science demonstration after school instead of going out like the rest of the kids can’t be accused of anti-intellectualism. (I will say, however, that Marvel trying to skew a little older in the Silver Age may contribute, the older Marvelite having outgrown boyhood clubhouses, which is what most superhero headquarters ultimately represent.)
What else, then? It might seem to suggest that DC heroes are more sentimental than their Marvel counterparts (and by extension that DC as a company is more sentimental than Marvel), but that can’t be right, either; it doesn’t get much more sentimental than emblazoning “Stan Lee Presents” on your stories, after all.
And yet: perhaps it’s not sentimentalism, not exactly, that DC heroes have over Marvel, but rather a different set of priorities. Is it that DC heroes tend to measure their accomplishments using external signifiers (i.e. trophies and stuff), and that Marvel heroes measure their accomplishments in non-material ways?
DC’s Silver Age pantheon was largely full of professional men: reporters, cops, test pilots, captains of industry. Oftentimes, their jobs (both civilian and superheroic) interfered with their personal life, but to no great psychological detriment; Clark Kent may be a bit bummed that Lois Lane flips for Superman and not him, and Barry Allen gets chewed out by fiancée Iris West, but these seem to be minor irritants or inconveniences – certainly not sources for the kind of churning anguish Marvel superheroes felt about their loved ones.
At the risk of sounding inflammatory, might we accuse the Silver Age DC heroes of being somewhat materialistic? Job first, personal life second. Superman is, after all, merely disguised as Clark Kent (a source of great debate, but that is a matter for a whole ‘nother post, if anyone is interested in my take on it), and much has been made of the notion that Batman is the “true” self and Bruce Wayne is the “mask” (a matter I think is more complicated than this easy sound bite, but again, maybe we’ll get into this another time, if you’ll have me). It makes sense, then, that they might keep a bunch of mementos around to remind them of their professional accomplishments. They require some concrete evidence for validation.
In old comics, a hero will be given a plaque, say, “In gratitude to Superman for rescuing Boy Scout Troop 153 from space-bears.” This is something they can hold onto. At the end of the night, Batman can turn off the lights to his trophy room and say, “I accomplished these things, and there is the proof.” Ordinary people use conspicuous consumption to demonstrate what they’ve done; Batman has a giant penny and a deactivated mechanical dinosaur. And, of course, the DC heroes are notable when compared with their Marvel equivalents for their stability; and, as anyone who’s lived in one place for several years can attest, stability results in you accumulating a whole lot of stuff anyway.
The Marvel superheroes, on the other hand, are personal life first, professional life second; surely, Peter Parker was more concerned about what Betty Brant or Liz Allen thought of him than whether or not he was a model employee at the Daily Bugle. Matt Murdock was a successful attorney, but he seemed more concerned in the original comics with his pretty secretary Karen Page. Stephen Strange left his medical practice and rarely looks back. The X-Men have their mission (and their complicated interpersonal dynamics), and thus little time for trophies. Even workaholic Reed Richards is motivated by his own internal thirst for knowledge; why would he keep souvenirs of the past when there’s so much new stuff to be done?
And when their superheroic lives get in the way of their personal lives, you get anguish. Peter doesn’t chuckle knowingly to the audience about his Spider-Man activities coming between him and dates; it eats him up inside. Even if Peter did have a trophy room, one imagines Stan Lee providing thought balloons to the effect of, “All these mementoes and plaques … what do they matter if I can’t have … her??”
Now, before you protest, I don’t mean to get into a whole materialism-is-bad thing here, or that Marvel heroes are better than DC heroes. I’m just suggesting they may subscribe to two different philosophies. After all, DC’s Silver Agers seem considerably happier than Marvel’s; having a trophy room seems to work wonders for the JLA’s self-esteem, and who’s to say Daredevil wouldn’t be happier if he had some tangible reminder of all the lives he’s saved?
Most superhero fans, of course, read from both of the Big Two, but they usually have at least some slight preference one way or the other, if not an out-and-out favorite. So I ask you out there in internetland: do your own priorities affect your reading habits, even if it’s not conscious? Do professionals read DC and romantics read Marvel? (I’ll grant, with Marvel’s approach to superheroes becoming the industry standard, the line has blurred over the years.)
Or, conversely, do those of you who are married to your jobs secret long for the exquisite agony of the Marvel hero? And do those of you who resist being defined by your careers drift live vicariously through the material assurance Superman possesses that everything he’s done over the years has meant something?