Is Batman a Marvel character trapped in the DC Universe?

by Jeremy DeFatta

Happy new book day, everyone! Today, I want to examine (in general) Batman’s character development over the years. This will at once be generalized but multi-layered, and is inspired by a comment I’ve seen making the rounds of the hundreds of self-certified comics news outlets around the internet: that Batman is more like a Marvel character, and is effectively trapped in the DC universe.

That said, we need to define what differentiates a Marvel character from a DC character and how Batman might be more like one than the other.

Traditionally, Marvel characters are seen as more realistic and relatable on a human level; they are not the perfect, archetypal god-figures of the Golden Age of DC Comics. They have imperfections and doubts; they make mistakes. Some might argue that whenever a DC character demonstrates an insecurity or fails at something, the writers are effectively emulating Marvel. I’m not so sure this is the case.

Further, DC characters seem too perfect and hokey for some readers. Such fans might cite that Superman is too much of a Boy Scout, for example.

There’s always an edge, some worn-in grime, attached to Marvel characters, whereas DC characters always seem a little too clean and wholesome. Marvel’s characters, it can be argued, often go through more hardship in their development, rendering crime fighters that are not naïve when it comes to the realization that they may have to take lives in order to safeguard the public good.

So, where does Batman fit into all of this?

To say that either of the big two comics companies has a monopoly on any form of characterization is problematic, and possibly outright foolish. Where some fans might look at Wolverine cutting an opponent’s hands off as edgy and cool in a recent Marvel story, others may be compelled to bring up that Batman, in his original appearances in Detective Comics in the late 30s and early 40s, carried a gun and would often throw criminals off of rooftops.

Holding onto the idea of character development, though, this seems to imply that Batman has undergone more and better growth than his fellow DC characters. This is certainly true if Batman is the only character at DC you regularly follow or have any interest in reading.

I’ll be the first to admit I am a huge Batman fan, but I recognize that he isn’t the be-all, end-all of DC. And for those fans who might argue that Marvel is better at putting together morally complex, sympathetic villains (Dr. Doom and Magneto are awesome, after all), I challenge them to read Sinestro, Lex Luthor, or even the Joker (and many, many others) in greater depth.

In short, this has been a bit of a rant about the topic I started out with. I’d like to challenge fans to not fall into the natural sense of discrimination that fanboy tendencies sometimes lead to—be open-minded and willing to try out new things. Be willing to accept that the things you do not personally enjoy still have value. I recognize competing fandoms, but they need not divide us. We’re all nerds here, and we should be proud of it.

My comics picks for this week:

Avengers #27

Guardians of the Galaxy #13

Hawkeye #18

Uncanny Avengers #18.1

Forever Evil #7

Serenity: Leaves on the Wind #3

Let me know your thoughts on this matter below, and don’t forget to support your local comic shops! As always, tweet me @quaintjeremy.

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29 thoughts on “Is Batman a Marvel character trapped in the DC Universe?

  1. I’ve honestly never heard this argument–and it seems laughably simplistic. It’s not as though the hero’s failure or faults originated with Marvel.

    I think the changes in Superman and in how we tell his story have been huge, too, and I think it’s less because of Marvel’s influence on DC and more because of the changes in culture and how we both create and perceive our heroes.

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  2. I’m right there with you. The big problem that arises, though, stems from the fanboy/fangirl mentality. There are fans–a loud and obnoxious minority–who only ever see one version of a character.

    Therefore, Superman is always George Reeves in the 1950s, or Batman is always the Frank Miller version. These versions of the character are completely incompatible, bit do get crosses in people’s minds.

    That said, DC carries the extra stigma of the Golden Age that Marvel only dealt with peripherally. While some of their characters originated in the Golden Age (Captain America, Namor, the original Human Torch who killed Hitler in the comics, etc), Marvel as a brand was born in the Silver Age. Many fans (the first line of critics) consider the Silver Age the true birthplace of modern comics.

    That’s a roundabout history lesson to basically say people compare 1970s Wolverine or 1960s Spider-Man with 1930s and 40s Superman far too often. I mean, 1960s Superman was crazy good in a lot of ways. If only more fans had respect for history. Kids today. 😛

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  3. I think there are tonal differences in the two companies, but trying to argue a point like this is, well, pointless. You can find specific instances wherein ANY DC character acts more “realistically,” and I’m sure Marvel folks have their moments of loftiness. We could argue trends, but not specifics.

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  4. Very true. I’d be interested in starting some sort of project to look at the differences in Jack Kirby’s creations in both Marvel and DC to see how different and/or similar just his work made the two companies. It could start with Marvel’s Eternals and DC’s New Gods. I think it would be best to start with the outright godly figures given Kirby’s belief in comics as a new American mythology.

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  5. And I’m now realizing some of my recommendations for this week are inaccurate. We’re getting to the time in the year when the big companies have trouble living up to the publication schedules they’ve set for themselves. DC especially is bad about this. That being the case, sub Sandman: Overture #2 for Forever Evil #7.

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  9. I enjoyed your Batman analysis, I’m a Batman fan from way back, and also a DC comics fan from way back, so I don’t know if I can be unbiased in regards to Batman being a Marvel character trapped in a DC World.

    It’s true Batman was more grittier and realistic in his debut, but I don’t know if that’s specific to Marvel, it’s more to do with the pulp-vigilante tradition he came from. But I like the idea as a lens to examine differences in Silver Age Marvel comics and DC.

    Some years ago, there was a mashup of DC and Marvel comics into the Amalgam Universe stories, which were fun one-offs. The Wolverine/Batman mashup Dark Claw was fantastic, largely for the villain: the Hyena, a brilliant combination of the Joker and Sabretooth.

    (But that’s just a tangent, I was inspired by your reference to Wolverine above.)

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  12. I have always believed that DC heroes are more iconic. There’s not many places in the world that don’t recognize Supermans big S. Or the Batmans bat signal in the night sky.Yeah you could argue that Spidermans and maybe the punisher have popular call signs, but not many from Marvel. I have always believed that marvel has anti heroes. They do good deeds but people take it the wrong way. While DC heroes were stopping crooks,putting out fires, get cats out of trees.
    Now this is something that i been wanting to say for years. Batman and Captain America are the same. Batman is prepared to do what ever it takes for justice. Captain A. is the fighting spirit of America. He will not quit until justice is served. The only way they would ever fight would be if thousands had to die for millions to live. Batman would push the button. Capt. would fight him for another way.Batman would win because he fight dirty.

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  16. I love batman for many reasons. Not much of a Marvel fan, really, but I can agree they are far more gritty than the average DC hero. What keeps making me a DC a girl, though, is that DC gives their villains much more depth and complexity than Marvel does. While Marvel creates some interesting bad guys on the surface, they are missing that in-depth story that DC villains own so well. Marvel villains tend to either be a flash in the pan or are generalized as the misunderstood everyman that fell into horrible circumstances. Not knocking this at all. However, when it comes to TRUE psychopaths, sociopaths, and villains that just want to see the world burn for their own cheap entertainment, DC is king. Awesome article.

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    • Thanks very much! This is our most-read post. People have been finding it on Google every day of the week for months (long story, but we got really lucky with this one).

      I kinda-sorta agree about the DC, but don’t actually follow the comics enough to say that myself.

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  17. I’ve wondered this on occasion also. For the most part, DC’s superheroes have historically been people that humanity looks up to, while Marvel’s superheroes are polarizing to the universe’s population. Batman is the most notable exception to DC’s norm, but Marvel isn’t without their exceptions either. He could probably function in the Marvel Universe provided he has at least one iconic villain, but DC needs it’s exception to the rule, just like Marvel needs its Captain America to be someone its citizens look up to.

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