For years fans have argued back and forth in comic book stores and movie theaters about which heroes are better. This classic argument is the core premise of HeroClix - can Batman beat up Captain America? Is Thor capable of taking on Superman? Even living the battles out in 3D hasn't been enough to satiate the appetites of players, and with every new set cries ring out declaring bias amongst game design. But is there any truth to the rumors?
Does WizKids intentionally slant one way or another?
To find out, we're going to take a look at three categories (Game Mechanics, Game Statistics, and Team Building Options) comparing universe to universe to see who really comes out on top.
Game Mechanics: Simply put, these are the bells and whistles that go above and beyond the core rules to keep the old players coming back for more and give the potentially new players something shiny to draw them in.
If only articulation were a category.
Giants: Marvel had the first giants commonly available (Giant Man in Mutant Mayhem) and while DC Quickly followed with Steel in Legacy, Marvel devoted an expansion set to include Giants with Fantastic Forces, while DC fans needed to qualify for a mail away incentive to get figures like Giganta and Atom Smasher. To date, 35 marvel figures have the Giant symbol, while 17 from DC have the combat ability printed on the dial. Winner: Marvel
I'm having Mogo for dinner.
Colossal Figures: Both games introduced Colossi early on, with Sentinels and Sinestro available in the debut sets. Marvel, however, has gone above and beyond with convention exclusives and mailaways including Galactus, Phoenix (both light and dark) and most recently, the Super Boosters and TRU exclusives. DC has had much less exposure, with 5 characters portrayed as colossi: the aforementioned Sinestro and Starro, the Spectre, Anti-Monitor, and Dr. Manhattan. Winner: Marvel
Kind of a 2 dimensional mechanic.
Transporters: Marvel had the first transporter figures as well with Fantastic Forces debuting the mechanic. DC's first (and at the time only) transporter was Mirror Master, who arrived two years after Fantastic Forces debuted in the Origin expansion. Six more transporters arrived with the carded Justice League set, and today there are currently 16 DC figures with the Transporter ability. When you take out the REV duplicates, Marvel shows a total of about 30 Transporters to date. Winner: Marvel
Make like a Banana and split!
Duos: Duos first appeared in Marvel's Avengers set with Cap and Bucky leading the Charge. Justice League gave us DC's first duo - and first new Mainstream TA in years (Hypertime) with the Big Barda and Mister Miracle duo. The most famous duo was the World's Finest, (also a brick figure) who has a dial that is largely criticised to be unplayable, but nonetheless caused a fervor in it's numbered limited edition status.
The success of the World's Finest lead to the first duo heavy set - DC's the Brave and the Bold. To date, DC has 31 duos under their banner, while Marvel has 22. DC also edges out Marvel with original duo sculpts, as Marvel's recent influx of duos have mostly been reprinted plastic. Winner: DC
Did someone say Banana?
Split and Merge: DC wins the duo wars - sort of. With duos like Jack and Ten, Lead and Tin, or even Trickster and Pied Piper DC has plenty of figures shoehorned onto one dial that can't split off into two separate dials. Somewhere Don Hall is weeping. Marvel only has 2 duo figures that can't split like a banana, and both of them have Dinosaurs on their bases. Winner: Marvel.
Marvel lawyers don't see any bias.
Alter Ego: DC's Brave and the Bold first introduced this "zero to hero" mechanic with the Trinity. Marvel, however, has made better use of the power with figures like Peter Parker, Norman Osborn or Rick Jones having multiple options to transform into. Marvel has an amazing 49 figures with the AE mechanic, while DC has 17, and 7 of those are Bruce Wayne/Batman. Winner: Marvel
Battlefield Promotion: Another mechanic that debuted with Brave and the Bold and will play a major role in the 10th anniversary sets Battlefield Promotion disappeared quickly from the maps. DC's Checkmate has two options for promotion, while Marvel's AVM Shield Agents have one option. Winner: DC
You've got male!
Special 3D Objects: Special 3D Objects have been around since the game's inception, available with the first map packs. 3D Objects returned with Hammer of Thor's Mjolnir and GSX gave Marvel Fans the Finger (or is it the Toe?) of Foom. DC however, has had more colorful options with Rainbow Lanterns and a pocket full of Kryptonite that introduces a wider variety of effects on the map than Marvel's offerings. Winner: DC.
Briefcase or Plastic Man?
Removable Elements: This is a slam dunk for Marvel who has seen Cap's Shield, Monkey Joe, and the Zodiac Key on the maps. Wolverine has a dunk tank, and Cap is chilling out like magician David Blaine, but DC fans have no equivalent time release or special object mechanic availble for now... Winner: Marvel
Didn't see that coming, didja?
Resource Dial: It's starting to look like DC is always the last kid to be picked at dodgeball and the last one on the block who finally gets a Super Nintendo (just as all the other kids are upgrading to an X-Box no less), and the resource dial is no different. DC fans will have their Bat-Belt-Buckle soon, but can it really compare to the bling of 6 gems on the glove of love? Winner: Marvel
With a total of 10 sub categories,
Marvel edges out DC 7-3 in Game Mechanics.
History has shown Marvel is often first, or at least best at representing new mechanics possibly in part to sheer volume: Marvel produces more sets and thus has more time to get things right.
Game Statistics: Some players will swear up and down that DC packs more power onto their dials. True or False, right or wrong - this can entirely be subjective to the reviewer. However, the numbers don't lie and a quick search of the database reveals some interesting facts.
There's way too many facets to focus on so to start, we'll take a look at one of the greatest powers in the game - Hypersonic Speed, and we'll compare it, along with the greatest common damage output (5) to single based figures from both universes.
Hulk Smash puny 5 damage!
Hypersonic Speed: A search of the powers database reveals 91 Marvel figures have Hypersonic Speed printed on the dial. It's probably no surprise that DC, home of the Scarlet Speedster known as the Flash, is home to some of the fastest figures in the game with 127 results. Note, this doesn't account for any special powers that grant HSS, but provides a broad overview. It should also be noted that HSS wasn't a common power for Marvel to have, period. Marvel didn't start using HSS in abundance until around Mutant Mayhem/Armor Wars, while DC had been using it from their initial set: Hypertime. Winner: DC
Go ahead Chanos, make my day.
Damage Output: a search of the HCRealms Units section reveals 76 figures on the DC side of the fence with 5 or better damage on the dial. A search for Marvel produced 115 hits. Marvel actually goes above and beyond 5 damage with a few figures possessing a natural 6. Winner: Marvel
I said... DON'T TUG ON MY CAPE!
Speed and Damage combined: A search for Hypersonic Speed and natural 5 damage or greater proved to push DC over the top with 16 results, compared to Marvel's 8. Winner: DC
Creepy power or Power creepy?
It's hard to deny that DC turns the dials up to 11, and for good reason. The bulk of DC's characters were envisioned in a time when readers wanted their heroes to be better than they were. The world was a troubling place, with great depressions and world wars it was easy to get lost in a light drama that featured someone who was more than human and could overcome impossible odds with ease.
Flash forward thirty years to Stan Lee, who knew these were difficult characters for average readers to follow. This is why the dawn of the Silver Age features a number of less alien, less god-like, less playboy millionaire protagonists.
So, of course Gotham Riot Police deserve Invulnerable body armor - they're up against lunatics with rocket launchers on a daily basis. If I lived in Gotham I'd be driving a bullet proof car to work every day and wearing a kevlar track suit when out for my morning jog. Gothamites have been abandoned by the country, affected by a contagion, suffered earth quakes and alien invasions in a way that Marvel's Manhattan dwellers can only imagine.
Marvel can't do much to Manhattan because their key gimmick is "keeping it real." In DC, the villains blow up fictional towns like Bludhaven for kicks - the equivalent in Marvel would be nearly unthinkable. Not to say that Marvel doesn't have it's fair share of subterranean or deep space invaders, but more or less DC's citizens are used to the villains punching harder because the heroes are larger than life, and as such that much harder to take down.
With 3 categories in this section, DC edges out Marvel 2-1.
Team building options: Both companies have thousands of colorful characters to draw inspiration from, but is there one that does it better when it comes to creating game play options?
Team Abilities: For a long time, the two universes remained separate, with similar abilities available among them. Mystics & the PD TAs, for instance, started as DC only, while Marvel wouldn't have access to a stealth busting TA until Ultimates arrived.
A few TAs were changed through the years, most notably the Masters of Evil, which took a turn for the better, when compared to it's "sister" counterpart the Injustice League. Perhaps the greatest advantage Marvel had over DC was with ATAs - the Thunderbolts Feat gave any printed Avenger much better options until it was recently changed to activate off keywords. The JLA TA for all intents and purposes cost the same as the Avengers, yet offered so much less versatility. Winner: Marvel
My sunglasses help me see in the dark.
Keywords: Speaking of the JLA - it's nearly impossible for fans to make a comic accurate lineup with all the variant and offshoot Jay-Ell-Whatever keywords. Compare to the Avengers, which appear to have recently discarded incarnations of the team in favor of a giant blanket for all the teams except the Great Lakes and Initiatives. Winner: Marvel
Character Selection:Note: this section's numbers only takes into account sets up to Galactic Guardians and does not include movie franchise clix (Avengers, Green Lantern, Watchmen).
When you're talking new, never before made characters, which company has more options to chose from for team building purposes?
Marvel edges out DC with 10 full sized pre-card expansions Infinity Challenge through Supernova) and 9 "Modern Age" carded expansions (Avengers through Galactic Guardians) giving a lot more character options than DC which had 6 full sized pre-card expansions (Hypertime through Origin), and another 6 carded expansions (Justice League through Superman). This does not take into count reprint sets like Universe or sculpt reuse sets like Batman Alpha, nor does it take into account the collector's sets.
Not only does DC have less sets, but some of their sets are the smallest. The most egregious example is Icons, which features upwards of 55 dials, but only introduced 3 new characters to the game: Blackfire, Terra, and Professor Zoom. Brave and the Bold was similarly a reduced size set that contained a number of already been made characters in the form of duos, sculpt variants for generics and introduced Alter Egos which devoted two figure slots to every AE character.
So how exactly do the numbers break down?
As one would guess, having nearly double the number of sets, Marvel has almost double the number of unique characters, with a total of nearly 750 options to build from. DC's number? Around 450*.
When narrowing the field down to post-Topps Neca reboot, the numbers drop to 230 new, never before clixed figures for Marvel to a paltry 96 for DC. Marvel fans are starting to feel a little backlash, with so many Avengers related remakes this year, but the fact remains the same - fans of Marvel still have more choices when it comes to team building. Winner: Marvel
Putting it all together:
While evidence shows DC to have a number of power house dials, fans can concede that there may be a good reason to see a stronger slant for the Distinguished Competition. However, the bias doesn't appear to be intentional by game design, as much as it appears to be comic accurate. If anything, time has shown that any bias that does exist serves Marvel first and foremost.
The sheer number of sets and figures available to a Marvel fan far outweigh the options available to DC, which is staggering when you consider DC was pumping out comic book heroes for several decades before Marvel tossed their upstart hat into the ring.
Still with Marvel winning 2 out of 3 categories it's fair to say there might be a bias - towards Marvel.
Why the disparity? Blame the choices for broadly designed DC theme sets and the reluctance to market anything without a Bat logo. Arkham Asylum followed up the Batman Alpha set, and was in turn followed by the Brave and the Bold, which had a high number of Batman related figures. B&tB was followed by another "blanket" set (DC 75) that painted with another broad brushstroke several "themes" (JSA, WoL). Superman was the first real "focused theme" set for DC since Crisis to not feature Bruce Wayne in some form.
Coming up DC fans can look forward to the Nu52 micro set which should inject some never been mades (Madame Xanadu, Constantine, Shade) alongside their easily recognizable heroes. It's also a good time to be a Bat-fan though even the staunchest Gotham supporters may be feeling some Bat-backlash by the end of the year after the Dark Knight movie set, and two Gotham themed sets this August. To course correct, DC could use a few more laser focused sets, similar to Marvel's Hammer of Thor, or Web of Spider-Man that feature the other members of DC's Pantheon like Wonder Woman, Flash or Green Lantern.
Thanks for reading. What do you think? Is there a Bias in game design towards Marvel or DC? Let us know by posting in the comments section below!
Last edited by anonym0use; 07/28/2012 at 11:19.
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*For the purposes of this article I tried to omit duplicate characters whenever possible if the power set called for it. For instance, Eddie Brock/Venom would count as a +1, as would Flash Thompson/Venom, and Mac Gargan/Venom (for a total of +3). Variant figures, like the six armed CT Spider-Man were omitted, but not the Spider-Man 2099 who was a completely different character from the 616 Peter Parker. Superman Blue counted as a +1, as did Superman Red, but SoD Superman or KC Superman were skipped over. The Hulk counted as one, and Mister Fixit another, and Maestro a third despite them all being Bruce Banner, etc.
My numbers aren't perfect and they get fuzzy when it comes to LEs (precarded LEs weren't quite as varied as today's inclusion of the likes of Glenn Talbot and the JLI's Ice II) , but they do represent a good ballpark estimate of team building choices.
For those interested in such arcana, here are the numbers I used to determine character selection. I freely admit that I did not spend a great deal of time weeding out every possible LE duplicate. Feel free to check my work and provide a more detailed list. As a whole the numbers I came up with should be pretty sound.
Excellent article! Possibly the most in depth one the whole site has een in months, if not a year or two. A really good retrospective.
I think it's pretty fair to say that DC has more concentrated power than Marvel: Marvel gets more sets and better tactical options, whereas DC's characters tend to be made quite strong each time around, since they come about so much more rarely and have to hold up for longer.
i think tat there is maybe an unintended bias towards marvel. this can be due to how the companies want thier product made and represented. i think there shouldve been an effort to produce an equal number of sets for each universe. with that being said, wizkids/neca should make a full 5 piece booster indy set and release some up to date or, god forbid, some original pieces that can mix up the pool of overmade characters from dc/marvel.
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I think the stats part should be looked into more, like 18 plus defense, 11 plus attack, I believe that it should have been 4 or more damage, and u should leave in the rev set because they r still different options that could be used at different point levels.different starting lines should be included as well like how 300/150 point supes is because like rev sets it creates more options overall
Amazing article, very well done. I am certainly impressed. I would hold out hope that this will stop people whining about DC being favored over Marvel (or really that either one is favored....the only difference is number of sets, and I suspect that is a licensing issue), but knowing what I do about these boards, I doubt that will ever happen.
I prefer DC, but find myself having trouble putting together playable DC teams. I play Marvel 75% of the time or more, at least recently, because the options Marvel gets vs. DC aren't even comparable. Hopefully that'll even out some with Justice League and the Batman sets.
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