What Type of Super Hero Are You?
Superman lunchbox, 1954, THF145091
Comic book super heroes can now be found pretty much everywhere: movies, TV shows, handheld games, action figures, and other merchandise. For those of you unfamiliar with the universes and the multiverses, it’s easy to get confused about the plethora of super heroes that are out there today. But if you’re trying to make sense of it all, here’s the single most important thing you need to know. Is it a DC or a Marvel super hero?
To help you understand the differences between these two comic book companies’ approaches, here’s a little personality test. (If the embedded quiz below doesn't work for you, you can also access it here.)
To score your quiz, disregard the percentage provided and look at your total points. The lower your score (the closer you are to 6 points), the more you are like a DC super hero. The higher your score (the closer you are to 12 points), the more you are like a Marvel super hero. If you’re somewhere between 6 and 12 points, you possess both DC and Marvel super hero qualities.
Why are the super heroes of these companies so different? Because, right from their beginnings, DC and Marvel diverged radically in their approaches to super heroes, and these differences can still be discerned today.
Superman comic book, 1951 / THF141569
Superman, the first DC super hero, established the essential vocabulary for all DC super heroes to come—embodying courage, humility, steadfastness, and a natural sense of responsibility to helping others. Superman was the brainchild of two shy teenage boys, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Pooling their drawing and writing talents, they devised the story of a he-man they simply called “The Superman,” who crash-landed on earth from another planet. They realized that Superman needed to adopt a secret identity to keep his identity safe. Enter Clark Kent, a meek, mild-mannered reporter with a personality remarkably similar to the two boys who had created him. Clark Kent represented a regular, unassuming common man that people could relate to, while readers could happily fantasize about being as invincible as the larger-than-life Superman.
World’s Finest comic book starring Superman and Batman, 1967 / THF305328
Superman first appeared in Action comics in June 1938, at the very beginning of what would become DC comics. He was immediately so popular that he appeared in his own comic book the next year—marking the first time a super hero was featured in a comic book with his own name. His popularity led to many other super-characters, all different but all embodying the basic set of qualities that characterized a DC super hero.
Marvel’s Astonishing Tales comic book, featuring Guardians of the Galaxy (1975), a reprint of this group's original appearance in 1969. / THF305338
Although the origins of Marvel comics date back to 1939, Marvel super heroes as we know them today started in the early 1960s—the vision of long-time writer and editor Stan Lee, collaborating with several talented artists and other writers. Lee had long thought that typical super heroes were too perfect, that “the best stories of all … are the stories in which the characters seem to be real. You feel you know them, you understand them, you can relate to them.” The super heroes that Lee and his collaborators created—or revamped from earlier comic book stories—had relatable personalities, human flaws, and real-life problems. Their stories were purposely aimed at a new audience of older teenagers, wrestling with their own insecurities and feelings of alienation.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2099 comic book, introduced in 1992, was a futuristic reimagining of the original Amazing Spider-Man character created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1963. / THF305334
This formula, laid out with Fantastic Four in 1961, became the Marvel standard. Stories and characters often focused on alienated and even neurotic individuals with character flaws, inner struggles, and personal grudges. Endings weren’t always happy or satisfying. Super heroes didn’t always get along or leverage their powers to help others. In Marvel super heroes, readers recognized their own failings, struggles, and anxieties. As opposed to DC’s black-and-white world, the Marvel world was gray—more like the real world.
For a deeper dive into these topics, see "Battle of the Superheroes: DC vs. Marvel".
Donna R. Braden, Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford, is a long-time comic book fan.