For the record, I’m not gonna bother acknowledging those crossover comics.
So the One Punch Man review sort of drew a crowd. Didn’t think anyone really cared about my opinions on the show given I’m not much of a shonen action guy, but whilst I’ll concede that not bothering to acknowledge that Saitama is supposed to be a satire of the common working man is grounds for arguing against my judgment that he’s a dull character, I have to take issue with when someone asks me to elaborate on my references to Marvel and DC in regards to saying why the characters were dull. First off, do I look like Hideo Kojima to you? Second, how can people not know by now why Marvel villains and DC heroes are giant snorefests?
Generally, I make references in my reviews in order to make it clear that I judge anime based on my own experiences and no one else’s (particularly the fans who seem to have it in their head that you can only compare anime to other anime). Plus, if you don’t know what I’m referencing, I’ll usually provide enough context so that you don’t need to know anything that a quick google search won’t fix, and you usually don’t need to even do said search to get the gist of what I’m getting at. With Marvel and DC, I didn’t see the point because even if you’re not into superheroes, I find it hard to believe that you don’t have baseline knowledge of Batman given how he’s everywhere. I think all of us have seen at least one Marvel movie and The Dark Knight Trilogy, and I think most of us agree that the latter easily triumphs whatever entry in the former you watch. But you know what? I do have some steam to blow off before my next review, so why I don’t tackle a subject that most people know, but few are willing to call attention to?
Let me list off some superhero films if we’re just paying attention to Marvel and DC: Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The Dark Knight, and Man of Steel. What do they all have in common? Well, they’re all movies I think are great. Man of Steel shares the same writer as The Dark Knight (and whilst he didn’t direct it, you could easily see Nolan’s prints on it) and the same director as Watchmen. Watchmen and V for Vendetta were both based on source material by the same author. And most importantly of all, they’re all DC – or at least related to DC. Not a single Marvel film is in that short list.
Why is that? Well let’s look more closely at Marvel and examine their traits. Now I’ve talked amongst people who enjoy Marvel’s output and they seem to like them because they think they’re great character pieces. And it’s true that I like Marvel’s heroes, and not just because I watched their stuff religiously as a kid. Spiderman is probably my favorite superhero of all-time and the films’ portrayal of the rest of the heroes from Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man to Chris Evan’s Captain America are likable folks who the films characterize to a good extent in terms of personality and what they represent. They’re all flawed individuals who deal with what life gives them in their own unique ways, and said ways don’t often work out to their benefit, not unlike our own. But no amount of likability in our main hero can make overlook the fact that their stories are total shit. Why? Because the conflict they always go through is total shit. Why? Because their villains SUUUUUCCCCKKKKK!
With the exception of X-Men and maybe the Blade films, Marvel has never been able to write good conflicts for their heroes. All their villains are just a bunch of animal or elemental gimmicks assigned to a random scientist or criminal who only know the hero because he stops them when they test it out, and even a good one like Magneto is limited by the fact that the only real person he has any chemistry with is Xavier. The most Green Goblin ever had with Spiderman was a difference in what kind of costume was appropriate to appear in public and don’t even get me started on Jeff Bridges in the first Iron Man movie whose only real contribution to the plot was making a “better” suit to test Stark’s. And even then, they’re way better than the villain in Ant-Man, who literally came out of nowhere just to have a battle of the bug powers with Paul Rudd. Even if you take into account that a good external conflict is not necessary as long as the internal one our hero has holds up well (like, say, Hellboy) A) that doesn’t hold up if the external conflict takes up a good chunk of the runtime and provides a majority of the fuel to said internal conflict B) Spiderman is the only one I’ve seen who’s been able to pull that sort of stuff off successfully (seriously, fuck Iron Man 2).
And before people bring up those Marvel Netflix shows, whilst they are connected to the MCU, they sort of exist in their own world – especially since all TV has to be character-focused these days if you want to get greenlit – and thus I don’t acknowledge them as credible evidence to deny my claims.
Contrast the MCU with those DC films I enjoy. Now I just want to make it clear that I’ve seen that awful Green Lantern movie so I know not everything that’s come from them has been all that great. And whilst one or two of them are decent, the protagonists in DC’s stuff are generally bland plot devices. But you know what the ones that are great like Watchmen and Man of Steel have? Engaging conflicts often led by villains you could actually take seriously because they make powerful contrasts to the heroes and liven up their dull lives. See, DC has the opposite problem of Marvel in that whilst they can give Batman the best villain lineup in the business, their attempts to give Batman some charm with a personal story and motivations for what he does utterly fail. And the kicker is that he’s actually not so bad off compared to his successor in Batman Beyond or Wonder Woman or pretty much anyone who’s not Static Shock from that universe. Again, I’m disregarding those TV shows like The Flash and Arrow, not helped by the fact that I haven’t watched them.
DC has never been able to do a good job at giving anyone from the Justice League the personal issues that made us care about Marvel’s good guys, and their attempts to try to fix that shows how fundamentally flawed their heroes are on a conceptual level in terms of personality. The number of times they made Superman fat or evil or just flat-out gay in the Silver Age in order to compensate for the fact that he’s an all-powerful being is just embarrassing. And making a teen self out of him and everyone else just so they could appeal to us just makes me lose all hope for humanity. Word of advice: just because you give a guy a reason for his actions doesn’t automatically make him fun to watch. Especially when you’ve got the Joker as a counterpoint. The guy practically never has a reason to be anything but chaos-incarnate, and yet he’s regarded as probably the best supervillain in all of history. Why? Because there are deep consequences to what he does that’d last for a long time if Batman wasn’t around to stop him, and he knows it even if he doesn’t really care whether they actually come to fruition or not.
When you make a story, it’s generally best to make the villain interesting over the protagonist because they’re the main reason the story exists in the first place and the latter is generally tolerable when he’s got a good chemistry with said constant evil force. Certainly helped to make Monster one of the most acclaimed anime around these parts. Conversely, a good protagonist has not and will never be able to make anything surrounding him lively because I don’t do stories that have no conflict or challenge in them. For all the complaints lashed out at Man of Steel, you cannot deny that Michael Shannon’s Zod tested Superman in terms of both physicality and mentality whilst having his own personal reasons for wanting to destroy the humans and even having said reasons affect Superman since he’s of the same race that Zod wants to revive. Pretty much everyone watches The Dark Knight for the Joker. And whilst I know a lot of people who like V mostly because he’s closer to a DC villain than a hero, I can’t recall anything he does in that film that isn’t related to taking down the fascist government. It makes for a more engaging watch than any of the big-budget Saturday morning cartoons that are those Avenger films at any rate.
DC’s villains are great because what they represent is great. Greater than anything even the Marvel heroes stand for because there’s a limit to how proactive a character can be when all he wants is to live a normal life. They want change. They want to rise above what society decides they should be. They’re not above playing cards with each other whilst discussing their individual diabolical plans. And they’d get away with it too if it wasn’t for Batman swooping in to punch them in the face and their inability to just shoot him when they’ve got him cornered. Hey, nobody’s perfect. But at least they’re closer to it than Marvel’s villains – and consequently their products – will ever be.
- Incidentally, yes I am hoping that Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is good enough to make the Batman v. Superman film worth watching. Because you can bet your ass these three wonder breads aren’t going to get the job done.
- Static Shock really was DC’s version of Spiderman, wasn’t it?
- If One Punch Man was supposed to have its villains be Marvel quality and its heroes be DC quality ironically, it needed to push the irony a lot harder than it actually did.
- I actually enjoy Tenma as a character, even though I think the series could have pushed him harder than it actually ended up doing.