Comparing Marvel to DC is like comparing a red apple to a green apple. Some people like red apples and some people like green apples. These people are called nitpicky, no-life geek-a-zoids and/or whatever YOUR name happens to be.
Focusing solely on the comic book franchises of the two companies (comparisons to movies and video games aside), each company continues on grand traditions and have each helped forge pop culture as we know it today.
DC really kicked comic books into high gear by starting the Silver Age.
Marvel really kicked comic books into high gear by taking advantage of the Silver Age (not sexually).
DC created hundreds of new characters while revamping old ones.
Marvel created hundreds of new characters, the likes of which we had never seen before.
DC took comic stories in interesting new directions.
Marvel already did that from day one.
If only you could mix & match...oh, wait, they eventually did!
Once you got your head around who was in which universe, you pretty much "get it". You immediately start to wonder "What if A met B and they fought, who would win?". At this point, of course, you're most likely 10 years old and the names of the writers, artists and editors don't mean squat to you. Well, you should be ashamed of yourself (especially when you find yourself all tingly down there when Psylocke shows up). These are the people who create every image, every storyline and somewhere in there, the editor also does something of some kind.
DC and Marvel's rivalry has been a relatively friendly one, with very little tension between companies (Marvel has often referred to DC as the "Distinguished Competition"). Competition is good and both companies realize that. One just hates when the other is more successful at something (Marvel *cough* and their *cough* movies *cough*, while DC movies *cough* suck balls that make them cough *cough* up pubic hairballs *cough*).
Thanks to animated series' and blockbuster films, the characters are much more well-known now than in recent decades. Each company's characters have settled into their place in history and our hearts.
DC is packed with icons:
....where Marvel is certainly seen as much more down-to-earth:
(not that wet boobs in a tank top ever hurt anybody)
A recent trend Marvel seems to be good at is to get a consistent writer (or creative team) on a series and keep them there. For example, Brian Micheal Bendis and Mark Bagley did a record-setting 111 issue run on Ultimate Spider-Man.
With totally unique, never-seen-before stories.
A benefit to having one writer on a series would mostly be that he or she is not likely to contradict themselves, or forget their own foreshadowing from previous books.
Marvel is making good use of their rich library of characters by splitting up many into numerous team books like "Avengers", "New Avengers", "Avengers Academy", "Young Avengers" and the fantastic "Secret Avengers". They are pretty close to changing their company name from "Marvel" to "Avengers" from the looks of it.
Major events, like "Secret Invasion" and "Siege" have long-running effects and characters are changed with, mostly, improved results.
Have you ever shit your pants? Have you ever shit your pants so much that, even on an uneducated observation, anyone would say you "oversaturated" your pants with shit? Well, Marvel seems to think they have the largest pair of pants in the world. It takes a whole lot of shit to saturate pants that big and they are working very hard to make sure that happens. Must be a pants/shit insurance scam.
Just like shit, I'm hilarious in small doses!
Marvel jumps on a trend faster than Quicksilver jerks off. With a Deadpool movie supposedly in the works, Marvel has decided we need 4 Deadpool ongoing series' with no less than about 10 mini-series (of varying issue numbers). To compare, Spider-Man has one regular continuity book (Amazing Spider-Man), Daredevil has only one as well.
The Avengers, as mentioned before, has been a huge help in continuing the storylines of many of the recent major crossovers. Take "Secret Invasion", with so much going on, it couldn't be crammed into an 8-issue mini-series so much of the story crossed over to multiple titles, especially "Avengers". However, this makes a simple story arc play out over the course of 1-2 years, as opposed to a simple "crossover event" of the olden days.
"With this power I decree: all future crossovers will suck balls!"
Some more recent fuck-ups for Marvel include:
Spider-Man revealing his identity during "Civil War". Heroes were being forced to unmask or get arrested. Peter likes to be honest, right? After making the announcement, fans cried foul but Marvel insisted they would stick to their alteration and Peter was now forced to live the rest of his days publicly known as Spider-Man and it was not going to be retracted or written out of continuity! A year later, it was written out of continuity. Making a deal with the devil, Peter gave up his love "essence", or whatever the fuck you want to call it, for Mary Jane to save Aunt May's life (would she just die, already? Oh wait, she did, and they brought her back). Mephisto (devil) also mentioned he would, as an added bonus, restore Peter's secret identity as it was a simple thing to do. Simple enough indeed, if the editors didn't come back a year later and put through a 2 month 'flashback' story about how Peter got his identity problem fixed with Doctor Strange and Iron Man's help. Remember that part earlier about writers forgetting their own plotlines and foreshadowing?
Daredevil: the Man Without Fear changed to Black Panther: Man Without Fear. Daredevil is a gritty, well-selling book. Too many trees are dying needlessly to print it. Marvel has a fantastic solution: take Daredevil out of his book and replace him with Captain Nobody Give a Shit About. Problem solved. You're welcome, Earth.
$3.99 price is here to stay. Comic prices have been going up faster than inflation the past few decades and readers have steered clear of getting caught collection new monthly titles. DC has announced price cuts starting in 2011 to all their books, which I guess took Marvel by surprise. They are only releasing new, upcoming series for the new $2.99 price and all $3.99 titles will remain $3.99. I guess our kids will be DC fans then!
This one page with extremely original dialogue cost us 20 cents we'll never get back.
As mentioned above, DC was first to take crucial steps in lowering their pricing. They respect the fans enough to charge less for some, often, shitty stories.
But what do they do right, you ask? They're really big on their legacy. For example, DC has owned the term "crisis" ever since their universe-changing "Crisis on Infinite Earths" story from 1986. The past decade has seen them have cross-over events called "Identity Crisis", "Infinite Crisis" and "Final Crisis", to mixed reviews. A "crisis" event is purely DC and readers know it. Each of these mentioned storylines was it's own individual tale but certainly helped the DC Universe feel more cohesive. After decades of rushed stories where each character lived in their own series, dealing with their own problems, it was a nice change to have events continually bringing all the characters together (Marvel has done this for years much more fluently).
She wants someone hung.
Series that highlight the DC legacy:
JSA: no book highlights the legacy that heroes create better than JSA. The book is full of heroes from WWII and their young counterparts who they inspired. It hangs heavily on scenes that start with "Out of my way, Gramps" and continue with "Wait, you don't know what you're getting into!" over and over and over again.
Year One(s). DC regularly updates their own history with slight alterations (for example, Catwoman, before she was Catwoman, used to be a cock-sucking tramp and now that just never happened and you must have dreamt it). It is often done with cosmic storylines that require the re-booting of the entire universe for the good guys to win. Because sometimes it's just that simple. The only reason that this is something that they do "right" is that it regularly justifies the characters remaining in their perpetual 30's.
DC's roster is full of nothing but god-like characters who basically set comics as we know them into motion with the Silver Age. As much as they take great care of their legacies, they also like to shit all over them. The worst thing you can do to a character you've spent decades proving undestroyable? Destroy them! Killing characters off is such a short-sighted way to sell comics it isn't even funny.
"I'm willing to sacrifice my life for a bit to defeat you, monster!"
Not that Marvel is any better for killing people and bringing them back but when you set all your characters up to be such heroic icons, allowing them to be killed at all defeats the purpose. Superman is invulnerable, so how do they kill him? He gets beaten to death. It took a solid year of roundtable writers to come up with that idea.
...and then die. But then come back. And are heroes.
The DC Universe is constantly being bombarded with attacks to the space-time continuum and universe-altering destruction. With so much cosmic warfare going on, you think you'd leave it to the gods. However, DC loves nothing more than throwing Batman into every story arc possible. Fighting evil world-destroying overlords with the power to shatter galaxies? A well-placed batarang will shuffle his deck!
"Hupp! Take that, God!"
Comics are meant to have grand diversity so people looking for detective stories can depend on Batman for dark, gritty, street level crime stories while Superman punches mountain-sized monsters (and then, as is his way, apologizes for hitting quite so hard as he did). Batman was kidnapped and killed by Darkseid in a story called "Final Crisis", in which Batman also killed Darkseid (who has already died and come back more than once himself) but shooting him with a gun that kills gods. Not only does Batman never use a gun but I don't think Batman is really in the business of killing, either. Let alone killing gods. With a gun.