I may disagree with Tom Brevoort on… well, a lot of things, but I loved this take on the difference between DC and Marvel’s particular universes from his Formspring account:
I don’t think I really have the space to do this topic justice here. But to try to make a start of it: there’s a fundamental difference in the way the Marvel Universe and the DC Universe are oriented. By its nature, the DCU has a more optimistic outlook on the world, and the Marvel U has a more pessimistic outlook. Now, that doesn’t mean that bad things don’t happen in the DCU and good things don’t happen in the Marvel U. But it does mean that the DCU is a place where people look up in the sky and admire Superman, whereas people look up and shake their fists in anger at Spider-Man.
But in a world of rampant cynicism, it’s easy to scoff at an optimistic outlook, and harder to make “sexy”, so DC seems to constantly try to make their world more pessimistic. But this clashes with the natures of most of their central characters–it’s an ill fit in the world of the Justice League. So it feels artificial, in the same way that you can only have an optimistic Heroic Age in the Marvel Universe for so long before things need to start coming apart again in some ways. To put it in other terms, the DCU is Aaron Sorkin’s “The West Wing”–it’s not how government actually works, but it’s the way you wish that it worked, the way you’d like it to be–idealistic, passionate, energetic, spirited. And so I wish that the DC hierarchy would spend more energy and effort embracing those qualities in their characters. Some of their key creators certainly do–Grant Morrison’s ALL-STAR SUPERMAN is a very optimistic work, for example, and that’s one of the reasons why it functions so well. And even something like DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, which is gritty as hell, is at its heart about a heroic ideal, a larger-than-life figure who rises up to champion the city in its time of need. But too often, DC seems to try to turn away from their core viewpoint, to make their characters darker or more dystopic or more downtrodden. And it just doesn’t play in the long run.
Later, someone asked him where Alan Moore’s DC work fits into this theory, and… well, he’s right again:
Well, Watchmen was published by DC, but it wasn’t a DC book, so it didn’t need to conform to the rules of the DCU. But Whatever Happened… is a story with a very strong optimistic viewpoint at the center of it–in the end, Superman chooses to eliminate his powers because he’s been forced to violate his own code and kill, despite the fact that such an action was justifiable within the context of the story. And thereafter, he finds greater personal satisfaction in simply being an ordinary human being who goes to work and does his job and comes home to his family. And, years later, Superman is still celebrated.
(I’d also argue that Watchmen has its optimism, albeit buried underneath a layer of cynicism so thick that it’s hard to see, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Now I find myself curious to see what Brevoort would do at DC, if ever given the chance…