A Marvel Guy, or a DC Guy? My Friday kind of spiraled out of control; I had the day off, I took my broken computer into the Apple Store to get told my hard drive was dead and they'd replace it for me for free, I went to Ma Peche (A Momofuku restaurant, which, if you've been paying attention from a certain angle, you know I have a culinary hard on for), and then went to the NYC Museum of Natural History, which was awesome. After that, my girlfriend had to go on to meet up with her friends to see that execrable movie Twilight Saga: Eclipse, so I went comic shopping, and promptly fell down the rabbit hole.
Eventually, I found myself in the comic shop I've been looking for all my life, the type of comic shop I would have killed to have growing up, a comic shop on 14th and 7th known as Time Machine, which doesn't seem the best for actually picking up the newest comics every week, but seems the place to go to fill in all the holes in your collection over the years.
A few brief words about me and comics. I collected comics as a kid, even during high school when the pressure to "grow up" was at its worst. I went to college, and made friends with a couple of comic book readers, and continued and grew while going to school. Once I got a real job, the $20-30 a week it takes to be a comic book reader doesn't seem crazy in the slightest, and I continued. Sometime in the last three or four years, I decided to quit buying weekly comics, and only collect things in trade paperback form, or if I can buy it in one big go, rather than issue by issue, month by month. This is a good way to operate, except when things don't come out in trade paperback form*. Enter the NYC shop Time Machine.
* "Trade paperback" is the term for collections of individual issues. They're normally released in collections that include between four and 8 issues, sometimes more if in hardcover form, and include a half a year to a year's worth of published comics. They tend to come out between six months and a year after the individual issues were published, if you're lucky, and if the publisher thinks the comics are worth being collected.
Time Machine has an incredible selection of back-issues. I mentioned casually that I was having trouble finding an out of print trade paperback which collected the mid-90s work of a popular writer by the name of Garth Ennis, and the clerk pulled out a short box (short boxes contain about 300 issues of comcs) devoted solely to that title. In that box were multiple copies of each of the 60 issues of the comic in question. I went, in the course of a day, from owning 8 issues of that run of the comic, to owning the complete run. It was an experience I've never had at a comic shop in my life.
During my time flipping through the back issues, a mildly Aspergerie type customer sidled up next to me. I was in the DC section of the store, and he flipped through some other back issues, and said, trying to make conversation, "It's good to meet another DC guy." First of all, we hadn't actually met. Second of all, I'm not a DC guy, and so that's what I said. "Actually, I'm a Marvel guy at heart." This is, in retrospect, not exactly true (for those that care, I am probably best described as a Vertigo guy, but let's ignore that for now), but I wasn't expecting to have to justify myself at all, so I went back to the big conflict. He stammered a little bit, mentioned a couple of Marvel comics he didn't hate, and then stopped talking to me.
Marvel vs. DC is the most fundamental comic book conflict in the industry, as fundamental as Christianity vs. Islam, and with those type of subtle but important differences that leave non-believers baffled and fanatics inflamed. The two companies might just seem like brands to you, but they each have a very different ethos behind them.
Marvel is, simply, an industry of misfits. If you can think of a loser hero, that's Marvel. DC has the more fascist heroes, but also the more morally pure ones. Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, the Flash, and people like this are the DC heroes. They may have issues and conflicts, but they are strong characters who impose their will on the world. By contrast, Marvel characters tend to be outcasts. The X-Men, Spider-Man, Iron Man, The Hulk, the Fantastic Four--these are characters who try to do the right thing, even though they are hated and feared.
Marvel characters tend to be losers, or at least on the run. The X-Men spent years hiding in the Australian Outback after faking their own death. Spider-Man lives with his aunt in Queens for awhile. Even Captain America spent some time on the road as "Nomad," a virtuous anti-anti-hero character, like Easy Rider without the drugs. Marvel characters are much less constitutionally able to trying to take over the world--they often have to struggle to pay rent or keep out of jail. As such, Marvel characters tend to be the characters you identify with the most; DC characters might be the type of people you wanted to be when you grew up. Marvel characters were pretty much who you already were.
Since I don't really read superhero stuff anymore, I don't care about this all that much, or at least, not as much as I used to. But I still identify with the losers, and the downtrodden, and the ones who are hiding who they are, rather than the gods among men that walk through the DC universe. I like the moral ambiguity of Marvel. I'm still a Vertigo man at heart--I like the swearing and the sex and the gods and the demons, but if forced to choose, I will still make mine Marvel.