Recently we spoke with David Brown, the host of Wondery's Business Wars, about his Podcast series which looks at the long running battle between Marvel and DC and the tricks used by both to get on top and stay there.
between Marvel and DC and the tricks used by both to get on top and stay there.
Was there a major driving factor that started the long standing war between Marvel and DC? Was there a pivital point where you feel the war began? DAVID BROWN: DC could’ve stopped Marvel back in 1962. Their veteran writers were swiping magazines and comics from an adjacent business office and bring books published from the companies that would soon become Marvel. But the DC publisher scoffs at the idea of even thumbing through the them, let alone considering absorbing the companies. Twenty-two years later, fledgling DC is coming to Marvel about a collaboration. To add on to that question, Do you feel the war ever reached a climax that it'll ever attain again? Or do we see the war continuing to ramp up even after all these years? DB: These things are often cyclical, and with these movies breaking records with every installment seemingly, I’d expect it to always be a rather passionate rivalry. The climax might have been the acts of espionage decades ago. Jack Kirby’s DC ideas were leaked by an inker to Marvel. DC accused Marvel of using the leak of “Doom Patrol” to create the X-Men, and vice versa with Marvel arguing Man-Thing was stolen by DC to develop Swamp Thing because the two co-creators of the monsters were roommates. At one point, DC flushed out an employee leaking intel to fan outlets and Marvel by creating a fake memo about a line of 500-page comics. At one point, DC even rejects Larry Lieber’s résumé because, as Stan Lee’s brother, they assume he’s a troll. Who were some of the major players in this rivalry? And what were some of the tactics used against one another? DB: The major players are the ones we’ve mostly all heard about: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Martin Goodman. Two that fans might not know that exist beyond the rivalry is EC Comics editor Bill Gaines and U.S. senator Estes Kefauver. There was a congressional inquiry in the 1950s on whether comics led to juvenile delinquency, and the two got in a heated argument. Has there ever been a clear leader in the war? Has it shifted between numerous eras? DB: It has definitely shifted with clear leaders at different points. It started with DC leading, and when Marvel nearly goes out of business in the 1950s, they have to use a distributor owned by DC that also widens the gap. Once Stan Lee creates a version of superhero that ran contrary to DC’s family-friendly heroes. I guess business is business whether its comic book or top secret weapon plans. What were some of the most surprising ways that the war took its toll on the employees and leadership at both DC and Marvel? DB: The most important person in the rivalry might be Jack Kirby, and he almost had to pay a physical toll. At one point when Marvel learns Kirby is planning to leave for DC, three menacing members of Marvel publisher Martin Goodman’s family surround Kirby and physically bully and intimidate him into finishing the current issue of Captain America before leaving. What was the darkest time for both Marvel and DC and was their a turning point that you can point to where things began to turn around? DB: It might have been in 1971 as Marvel is close to surpassing them in sales. They both collude to raise prices a dime to 25 cents, but a month after the change, Marvel drops their price to 20 cents. So when Marvel inevitably surpasses DC in sales, Marvel’s publisher treats the staff to a dinner across the street from DC’s offices. Do you think fans of either/both Marvel or DC have benefited or ultimately been hurt by the war between the two superhero powerhouses? DB: I would say they have generally benefitted as the competition drove them to create comics that have led to this superhero boom and a movie like Avengers: Infinity War. However, fans were certainly hurt too at times, specifically in the 1950s when DC, through its owned distributor, limits Marvel to only eight titles per year. I feel that comics and movies based on comic book characters are bigger now than ever. What do you think the future holds for both Marvel and DC and ultimately how does the war continue to evolve and change based on that? DB: It is hard to say, but I know I will be watching – just like everyone else!