Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

Tedd Riccio is a comic book aficionado chock full of useful comic history knowledge. So why not tap into that knowledge for the betterment of you, the reader? Appearing weekly is a column by newly appointed Assistant Editor Tedd (just Tedd will be fine). This column is called “Hank McCoy (Before the Fur),” so be sure to keep your eyes open for his unique insights into comics. There’s something about DC comics.


I don’t always know how to express it. My love for both of the towering giants of the comic industry (Marvel and DC) runs deep. But there’s just something pure about their style. For the most part, DC comics tend to be about those things that comics HAVE been about for seventy years- crime-fighting, investigative journalism, mad scientists, secret identities, super-powers that have a bizarre specific weakness, cheesy names, sidekicks, and casts of supporting characters that are all named using one scheme of alliteration (Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, Lana Lane, etc.).

But that is not to say DC is cheesy these days. No, quite the opposite. I mean, while the eighties were sporting DC labels that seemed most appropriate for light discussion at a middle school parents meeting, the nineties gave way to DC making some big moves and character revisions. Marvel characters always seem like they live in the present- their clothes, their interests, the way they handle their relationships…it always feels "new." "modern." But I’ll give DC this- even though their characters look and feel a bit different these days, they’ve still got this sort of classic, 1930’s pulp action thing going on. There’s the obvious: Gotham City- big dark alleyways, guys in trenchcoats… But beyond that- it’s just what you see the characters do and go through.

Yes, many of them have God-like powers. But it’s the style of the action that’s different. In Marvel, seeing the criss-cross of super-powers in knock-down drag out super-hero fights is entertaining. To the untrained eye, DC can look like it has less flair. But you, the reader, are with a character during the action- and what’s being tested isn’t the magnitude of their power. It’s how well they can outthink their opponent, how much they can tailor the use of their power to a specific situation all that jazz. Sure, Flash is fast, but can he think fast when Mirror Master is throwing all sorts of crazy optical illusions at him? Wonder Woman is pretty ridiculously strong- but when she’s got a sword in her hand and she’s fighting Artemis, than she’s just that: a woman with a sword fighting another woman.

A lot of times in DC comics, the action of the fight IS the action- sometimes a Batman comic will climax with two or three pages of silent panels of one or more characters just…fighting. The characters are all a little more human in this sense. There’s rarely a hex spell that mysteriously and unexpectedly interacts with a power to open an inter-dimensional doorway, or anything bizarre like that (although yes, this does happen). It isn’t the powers getting tested- it’s the person using them.

DC heroes are…well, heroes. Like the way you thought they were growing up. Sometimes maybe even a little too perfect. But human. And…GOOD. Like, actively striving to DO GOOD. It isn’t that their isn’t ambivalence about the nature of right and wrong in DC, but the characters aren’t (usually) ambivalent about their place in the world. Marvel characters are frequently struggling with feeling isolated, dangerous to the people around them, under-appreciated, misunderstood, and…depressed.

Growing up I thought I liked X-men because I could relate to the characters feeling so angsty all the time.

But I gotta wonder- would I have been so angsty if I read less X-men comics?

Usually, it’s a question of character, willpower, emotion that’s driving the story.

There are questions like that in DC too. But it’s what the character’s DO, not what they decide about their self-esteem, that wins or loses a fight (although yes, this does happen. I know.). Indiana Jones, James Bond, Buck Rogers, and Sherlock Holmes come to mind. You weren’t interested in how the character was going to come to grips with their very hard life- you were interested in seeing how they were going to outsmart, outlast, and outfight the bad guys despite the desperate odds. So yeah, it’s a little less soap-opera and a little bit more Hollywood movie.

If I was going to compliment DC on another quality, I’d say it’s that they take their time and do things right (usually). It’s ironic that DC has gone down in infamy for killing off Superman and bringing him back to life. Because really DC has NOTHING on Marvel as far as breaching the boundary between life and death goes. When DC changes a character, when they write a story…it tends to have a very clear beginning and end. There are a lot of DC books that you can pick up and read, cover to cover, without having to collect and read the zillion other cross-referenced materials that supplement it. When the fans called in and killed Jason Todd off, the writers stuck with it (until recently) (I know, I know, but bear with me here). When Batman broke his back, when someone (Bane) finally BEAT him, he changed. When Dick Grayson ‘graduated’ to super-hero status, he stopped acting like a side-kick. Hal Jordan is maybe the best example of what I’m talking about here- if you read Green Lantern through the nineties into The Final Night, you really UNDERSTAND how and why that character is changing. It wasn’t just overnight. It was a carefully crafted, well told story.

You’d be surprised how many hardcore Hal Jordan fans are out there by the way. There are people who insist he’s the greatest comic book character ever created, to a degree that they seem physically agitated if you reject their assumption. There’s a good reason for this and Emerald Twilight and The Final Night speak for themselves. But I digress.

Could I have written a laundry list of the things that are fantastic about Marvel Comics? Most certainly. But I stick my neck out there sometimes because I feel like people just don’t always see DC the way they do Marvel. And maybe part of that is just what I’m talking about- they are careful. Marvel has cranked out, what, twelve movies in the last seven years?

And DC has done…two? One of which has been great? The other…maybe not what all the fans wanted, but pretty good?

The Dark Knight may be one of the greatest super-hero movies ever made.

If you don’t agree with me I may become physically agitated.

I mean, seriously. It looks amazing. Sure, it could suck. But it’s kind of hard to go wrong, with the cast, the characters, and DC’s style, all outlined above.

I end the first part of this discourse, here.