Marvel and DC have been competitors for decades now. Their rivalry has typically been friendly and good-natured, and occasionally it has also taken a more humorous turn. In a 1977 interview recently rediscovered by The Hollywood Reporter, Stan Lee talked about how Marvel began to troll DC after the “Distinguished Competition” attempted to emulate its success.
After explaining how Marvel’s approach to superheroes was more mature, Lee responded to a question about how his competition has been in the wake of Marvel’s success, joking that it was “miserable.”
“They’ve been trying to catch up,” he continued. “They’re doing the best they can, bless their innocent little hearts. We used to have a lot of fun with them when we started outselling them. And I know this because we have friends who work for that company and we’d get these reports. They’d start having conferences: how come Marvel’s selling so much better? They studied our books, and they’d say, ‘You know, I noticed they use a lot of red on their covers. Maybe that’s it.’ And they would start putting a lot of red on their covers. The minute we would learn of that, we would take all the red off our covers. And our books still sold better, and that would drive them crazy.”
DC’s attempt to emulate Marvel didn’t end there. Lee gave another example of how DC started copying the dialogue balloons on the covers of Marvel’s comics. In response, Marvel removed its dialogue balloons, which also, reportedly, drove the competition crazy.
Lee then went on to explain what Marvel did differently. “It never occurred to them that we take the work a little more seriously and maybe we have a little bit more of a sense of humor,” he said. “And maybe people don’t like things that are a little bit stuffy. They like things that are a little bit whimsical or humorous, but don’t you go telling that to DC. That’s just between us.”
While it’s not clear what covers or exact dates Lee might be referring to, the period in question is likely the mid-60s, when an immensely popular line — which included Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and The Avengers— resulted in skyrocketing sales and Marvel was finally able to overtake DC.