Warning: spoilers for Black Knight: Curse of the Ebony Blade #4 are ahead.
Marvel Comics and DC Comics are some of the biggest powerhouses in American comics, and across their more than half a century of business, they have acquired their own editorial distinctions from each other. On the whole, many of DC’s biggest heroes have a mythological component to them, while many of Marvel’s are ordinary people turned extraordinary by strange circumstances. While DC tends to embrace classic storytelling modes with characters like Superman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman, Marvel initially built its audience through everyman types like Spider-Man, redefining a sense of the heroic that felt distinct to the latter half of the twentieth century.
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These differences, however, haven’t remained static through time, as a new Black Knight: Curse of the Ebony Blade comic shows. In issue number four, Black Knight (Dane Whitman) explains how Camelot was created through magic by the wizard, Merlin, only for him to purge his own creation of its unsavory parts when a violent uprising disrupted its peace (written by Si Spurrier and Sergio Dávila, inks by Sean Parsons with Marc Deering, colors by Arif Prianto with Chris Sotomayor and Andrew Crossley, and letters by VC’s Cory Petit). Removing “everything that didn’t fit his myth” of Camelot as an idyllic place of heroism, Merlin retrofitted the kingdom with a sanitized identity that could then be safely passed on through Arthurian myths and legends.
Black Knight’s horrifying discovery of Merlin’s actions reveal another emergent difference between Marvel and DC Comics, with regards to their handling of mythological material. In DC Comics, myths usually embellish the existing universe, adding an extra dimension of adventure in a world that is otherwise mostly recognizable to readers. Marvel, however, has recently shown how figures with mythic qualities struggle to integrate themselves into the world today. The differences between Marvel and DC on this front are significant, because myths are foundational to how human society has understood itself and its values through time. The fantastical aspects of myths dramatize human experience in a way that is easy to understand within a traditional good versus evil framework. Superhero comics, which are already considered to be “the modern myth,” replicate this same process with a contemporary bent.
In Black Knight’s case, the revelation about Camelot’s dark past is symptomatic of Marvel’s approach towards myths as delusions, contrasting sharply with DC’s vision of myths as a hidden but truthful part of reality. Merlin’s destruction of Camelot’s gritty reality evidences a process in which myths are made to seem larger than life through the selective removal of their most objectionable qualities. Marvel’s myths are thus highly edited visions of reality, made to uphold an idealistic image. DC Comics, on the other hand, has welcomed mythological material as a dynamic aspect of their universe that evidences an exciting multiplicity of reality.
Myths Are Incompatible With Truth And Reality In Marvel Comics.
Black Knight’s brush with Camelot’s history is hardly the only instance where Marvel has espoused this approach towards myths. Another example came with the debut of their new UK-based team, The Union. Led by a sword-and-shield hero named Britannia, the team quickly fell apart when Britannia was killed off in their very first issue. Britannia’s introduction and subsequent death fit The Union’s themes relating to the persistence of myths related to British unity (particularly in the age of Brexit). While having Britannia on the team would have been nice, her death ultimately symbolized the impossibility for old-fashioned heroism to continue to thrive in the present day.
When viewed alongside Black Knight’s current series, Marvel’s approach towards mythological contexts indicates how many of the myths that exist in their universe were once dirty realities that have since been wiped of their truth. From this standpoint, it is easy to see why Britannia was killed so early on in The Union’s story–having such an antiquated character would have perpetuated a façade that the United Kingdom’s heroes have never had to evolve from. With their leader killed, The Union were awoken to the fact that their country no longer had a unifying factor, or myth, to bring them together in their greatest hour of need. The safety in unity that Britannia symbolized was ultimately shown to be a delusion.
In DC Comics’ Universe, Myths Are An Underlying Part of Reality.
In contrast to Marvel’s approach, DC has revised its mythic emphasis by incorporating elements into everyday life for its characters, most visible in Yara Flor, DC’s new Wonder Girl. In contrast to Diana Prince’s Wonder Woman, Yara Flor is not from Themyscira, but is instead the daughter of a river god from the Brazilian Amazon. The first issue of Wonder Girl delves into her story as she travels to Brazil in order to reconnect with her roots (written and illustrated by Joëlle Jones, colors by Jordie Bellaire, letters by Clayton Cowles). There, she is pulled into a waterfall, encountering a creature lurking in its depths.
Yara Flor’s story illustrates how Marvel and DC diverge in their treatment of myths and how they permeate characters’ lives. As opposed to Marvel, the mythical elements of Yara’s world exist as facets of a reality she never knew existed. Instead of being distilled parts of actual circumstances, like Camelot, the myths in Wonder Girl blend seamlessly with reality. Instead of being a deception, myths are truths hidden beneath the surface, waiting to be discovered.
The relationship that Marvel and DC’s universes have to mythological content reveals just one of the many areas where American comics’ biggest publishers diverge. Marvel takes a perhaps more self-aware approach with myths, as special attention is paid to how myths are carefully crafted to suit one’s needs, not unlike how superhero stories themselves are fabricated. On the other hand, DC offers a more optimistic view with Wonder Girl, as myths are evidence of an expansiveness within reality that is just waiting to be discovered.
Either way, the stories of Marvel and DC Comics have created some of the world’s most popular myths today. As both publishers show, there is no correct way for myths to be engaged with in fiction, leaving the possibilities endless for writers and artists in the future. For now, there is much fans can extrapolate from the two perspectives that Marvel Comics and DC Comics have about understanding the world around them.
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