“I wish I had a better origin story involving being struck by lightning or getting stung by a radioactive scorpion,” says Reed Tucker at the beginning of our interview, but alas, that did not come to pass.
Instead, Reed Tucker came to explore the culture wars in DC and Marvel through much the same route many of us face daily—corporate work hounds doing the nine-to-five grind. His involved writing jingles for yogurt before switching over to a cushy job watching movies and writing about them for the New York Post. Tucker’s former writing credits include an unauthorized biography of the Osbournes. He comes to us to talk about his newest release, Slugfest.
Although you state you had no real favorites, I believe there are clear delineations in the either/or camp of readers between Marvel and DC. I admit I was exclusively Karen Berger DC back in the late 80s. Which did you prefer?
It took me well into adulthood to recognize editors’ names and to follow them in the same way you might follow a writer. I now realize I love pretty much everything Karen Berger did, especially Alan Moore’s 1980s Swamp Thing series. That one really pushed the boundaries in a good way. C’mon, there was an issue about a swamp monster having psychic sex with his human girlfriend by letting her eat a psychedelic tuber that grew on his body.
That said, I probably generally prefer Marvel, at least when it comes to the companies’ superhero universes. I just find Marvel’s characters more interesting. Beyond Batman, there’s no mainstream DC character that I find particularly compelling. I think one of the hardest jobs in the world must be the writer who, after 75 years, has to come up with new stories every other week for Superman. “Um, kryptonite again?”
Steven Seagle wrote a fabulous autobiographical graphic novel called It’s a Bird about just that problem. He landed the supposed dream assignment to write Superman and soon found that he had nothing to say. Seagle’s book, to me, is a million times more interesting than any Superman story I’ve ever read.
There is a section in the book in which you discuss the various plagiarism challenges that arose between the two companies. Justice League of America (JLA) and X-Men, the battle of ownership rights over Mister Marvel. What are your thoughts on the copycat charges lobbed by Arnold Drake against Stan Lee. Legitimate or purely coincidental?
Before I wrote the book, I would have said accidental plagiarism. Stan Lee was churning out so much material back then, I think there were probably times when he picked up ideas from other places and used them without knowing it. The industry was incredibly small in the ‘60s, and I believe it’s possible someone might have casually mentioned something about Arnold Drake’s Doom Patrol, and those ideas just seeped into Lee’s subconscious when he began writing the X-Men.
Now having written this book and having seen just how many times the two companies have produced similar ideas sheerly out of coincidence over the decades, I’m more apt to give Lee the benefit of the doubt. It really is eerie. I never thought the excuse of “certain ideas are just in the zeitgeist at the same time” really cut it, but now, I have no other explanation.
As recently as 2015, DC and Marvel produced big events simultaneously featuring nearly identical premises. And that came in an age of tighter security and NDAs. So, yeah. I guess I’ll have to go with coincidence.
You discussed how the two companies struck deals to maintain consistent pricing and format (never mind the double crossing that occurred on the Marvel side in terms of pricing) back in the 70s. How has this (or does it) influenced independents such as Image and Dark Horse?
Well, the price collusion between the companies was alleged. But it does seem awfully convenient that DC and Marvel would raise their prices the exact same amount at almost the exact same time. Their defense would be that price hikes are driven by increased costs, especially the price of paper.
DC and Marvel do set the prices in the market, although independent comics have always been a bit more expensive, because they have a smaller print runs and cost more per unit to print. In the 1980s, for example, a Marvel comic would cost 75 cents while an indie might be $1.50. Now, however, most periodical comics cost roughly the same. But the issue everyone in the industry is running up against is that the price has now crept so ridiculously high — between $4 and $5 for a single 32-page issue — that the price probably can’t rise that much more before most readers decide there’s no value there and abandon the hobby, leaving only the most diehard of the diehard consumers. I’m only half joking when I say that 20 years from now, I could see Batman having a circulation of 200 and costing $499 an issue.
DC and Marvel have both tried to get around increasing their prices amidst falling circulation by trying other ways of boosting profits, such as publishing titles twice a month instead of once, for instance.
Up until now, Marvel titles have largely dominated the cinematic wars. How does the success of this summer’s Wonder Woman change the dynamic in your opinion?
I don’t really think the success of Wonder Woman changes the balance of power much. If we’re being honest, it wasn’t a particularly good movie. I think it got a bit of a pass because it wasn’t an utter disaster like Batman v Superman, but was it as good as a Marvel movie? Nah. It also had the good fortune to feature a female superhero at a time when audiences were clamoring for one, and that really became the story of Wonder Woman. Just the fact that it existed was enough to sell tickets, regardless of the quality of the movie itself.
Does DC have a chance?
Uh, I guess DC has a chance in the same way the Cleveland Browns have a chance. But a good chance? I don’t think so.
DC’s problem in the movie world is the same problem it has had in publishing: How do you take these musty characters that were created in the 1930s and ‘40s and make them relevant to a modern audience? For an answer, DC and Warner Bros. turned to director Zack Snyder, and now they’ve been handcuffed by his vision for their universe — a vision that both critics and audiences seem to dislike. The studio has been quietly trying to back away from Snyder, allowing Joss Whedon to retool the upcoming Justice League, but there’s only so much anyone can do without simply starting over. And Warner Bros. won’t do that because of the embarrassment and because the studio has spin-off movies planned for years.