Friday, October 05, 2012

DC Comics Is Missing Something...

So I supposed what I should do is introduce myself before I aim my gun of truth and fire into the heart of DC Comics with all of the abandon of a character erased from continuity. They call me Shawn. I have loved comics since I was five years old. Sadly, most of the mainstream comics I read from Marvel and DC nowadays disappoint me, and either I am getting old and jaded (which is entirely possible), both companies have adopted movie franchise recognition and sales gimmicks over stories, or a little bit of both.

I write reviews for Cosmic Comix, read here, and though I sometimes write a critical review, oftentimes I tend to only review books I really like. I am a big believer that whining and complaining about comics does not lead people to good books. With that in mind, however, it does not mean that my inner Fanboy does not need an outlet to cheer, to cry like a little bitch, or to spit fire and brimstone from my curled, angry lips. I would like to thank the other writers on this site for giving me space to do one or all of those things.

Where were we? Oh yes, DC Comics. Growing up Spider-Man was probably my first favorite superhero; nevertheless, it was not long before my love carried over to Batman, Superman, Flash, Green Lantern, and others. Spider-Man notwithstanding, I considered myself a DC Comics fan first and foremost. There are probably many different reasons for this, but ultimately it was because at the time DC was taking more chances with their characters. Wally West was the Flash. Kyle Rayner was Green Lantern. Tim Drake was the greatest Robin ever and he had his own title. And of course there was Starman.

Some might not remember the era of Marvel Comics before Joe Quesada’s tenure as Editor-In-Chief, but I do. Sure both companies had their share of ridiculous stories, and not every book was a winner. The important part of the equation was that DC Comics had something that set it apart at the time. DC Comics had magic. It is a magic that the DC52 sorely lacks, and once upon a time it made all the difference for this reader right here. What was this magic? I can sum it all up in one word: LEGACY.

Before we go further I want to clarify that I am probably reading a few more DC Comics now than I was two years ago. The DC52 was not the worst thing to ever happen to the publisher. Financially it was a success. There are some excellent books that came out of it as a result. I love I, Vampire, Batwoman, Wonder Woman, and Animal Man. I like Batman, Nightwing, Suicide Squad, Swamp Thing, and Birds of Prey. And they did give me a year’s worth of The Shade by James Robinson and some excellent artists. There is no doubt that DC Comics floundered for a bit there creatively and the DC52 allowed a jump on point and accessibility.

A year into DC’s endeavor it has become quite clear to me that this new Superhero line of comics suffers from a lack of DC Magic; they suffer from a lack of Legacy. And I honestly do not understand how the powers-that-be at DC Comics can claim to love the DC characters and not recognize the problem I see dancing naked in front of me.

DC Comics used to have a Legacy for their heroes to live up to. Now sometimes this was a legacy that was only hinted at and other times the publisher wore it on its sleeve. Even when Flash and Green Lantern were updated from Jay Garrick and Alan Scott to Barry Allen and Hal Jordan there was an undercurrent of legacy the characters possessed.

It did not matter if it was new characters talking on the mantle of older heroes or heroes reinventing themselves because the legacy of the DCU always shined through each and every title. It could be Tim Drake taking over the mantle of Robin and making it his own or Hawkman redoing his origin for the billionth time, it could be bad or good, but a reader could feel the legacy.

When John Byrne reinvented Superman and did away with much of the Golden Age and Silver Age baggage the character might have been more streamlined and modern, but he was still recognizable and the character’s legacy still carried over in spirit. In the current DC52 universe DC thinks the character’s legacy is being an alien. Byrne made Superman more human, but that harkened back to the character’s original appearance. Although Grant Morrison attempted to modernize that concept, the Superman books have quickly devolved into something that does not honor Superman’s legacy. It is almost a generic characterization of the trademark of the character than honoring the character himself.

Probably the best mainstream superhero series from DC Comics in the last fifteen to twenty years (set in continuity, Planetary does not count) is Starman. James Robinson, Tony Harris, and others took a lukewarm hero from DC’s history and modernized him while always paying tribute not just to the older Starman, but all of DC’s Golden Age heroes.

I consider Wally West to be the best Flash because not only was he the most relatable of the bunch, but his whole character was built around the Flash legacy DC Comics has always had. At first he was a bit of a jerk trying to live in the shadow of Barry (who was a much better character when he was dead, existing as a symbol to all heroes of making the ultimate sacrifice rather than as CSI Barry Allen) and under Mark Waid became the greatest hero in the DCU. He was a hero whose whole character arc was interwoven with honoring DC’s long history.

The reason I am pointing this out is that DC made a huge error in their relaunch. Putting a five-year timeline in place and forcing Superman to be the first Superhero limits the entire line of their mainstream books. It makes the Batman chronological history a joke (four Robins in five years), and even if certain stories still “happened”, it limits the legacy for these characters to live up to.

Some of the best modern characters are gone. Wally West, Donna Troy, Stephanie Brown, Cassandra Cain, and Renee Montoya’s Question are MIA. The five-year timeline almost makes it impossible for some, if not all of them, to be brought back in any recognizable form. Superboy, Kid Flash, Hawkman, Green Arrow, and most of the Wildstorm characters are shadows of their former selves. They do not even have their own great legacies to adhere to because their histories have been wiped or revamped to make them essentially different characters.

DC has neutered their Legacy with their characters in order to make the characters “accessible”, but I think they could have done that without removing the Legacy. The Golden Age heroes could have been “mystery men” and the world did not need to know they had superpowers. Superman could have been the first superhero as far as the public was concerned, but Batman could have been operating for ten years. He could have been an urban legend until five-years ago. You also could have implied a timeline without setting it in stone. Ambiguity works better.

You know if this had been a ground level reboot from the beginning I would have been a bit happier I think. It would have sucked, but it would have created less problems. There should not be massive continuity glitches twelve months in. And these characters should not feel so hollow. The lack of history, the lack of Legacy, makes many of the heroes of the DCU feel cheap now. There are still good characterizations and good books, but they are limited in supply. But even when the books struggled before the relaunch there was a sense of the history of the characters to pull them through. When the books struggle creatively now they do not even have that. What’s the point of a younger, “hipper” version of Green Arrow if he sucks? If you wanted to make Superman cooler and younger, why make him feel so alien and an outsider? Do they not know that Superman’s Legacy was that even though he was an alien he came across as more human than some of the human characters? He’s an example to live up to, not an emo outsider with alien battle armor.

I applaud DC for trying, but I cannot congratulate them for removing what, in my mind, was the most essential ingredient to what makes DC Comics work. I have no problems with change, but changing characters so they are unrecognizable, wiping others from existence, and not having the characters live up to what they were before is a bad recipe for the DCU as a whole.

It does not matter if I read five more DC books now, ten more books, or one book. DC feels really stagnate by their editorial timelines, their deletion of rich history, and ignoring the legacy of what made some of these characters cool to begin with. You can argue it was to get new readers onboard, but even streamlining your heroes does not mean killing what worked before.

I loved DC Comics’ Legacy. Without it many of these books are just going through the motions, and some just flat-out do not work anymore.

What a waste.



  1. Great point. The legacy is gone and what we think we know, we don't know if it is true or not.

  2. Yeah. The Legacy is gone both literally and figuratively. Makes me a little sad. It isn't just about wanting True Tim Drake, Wally West, Steph Brown, etc back. Its about wanting to feel the Legacy of these characters behind every story.

    You know the Flash writers wanted to bring Wally into the book and DC Powers That Be said No.

  3. Great post, Shawn and welcome aboard! It's nice to have someone I can actually run into occasionally on the blog again (like this past Wednesday).

    You're showing your youthful age (lucky you) with your timeline of favorite characters (filling the void left by Gwen and Greg). And I too view the post-Crisis (1985) DCU as the best relaunch ever (when I really jumped on board full-time).

    However, now that I'm really getting into the DC Silver Age (and Bronze age) and the wonderful Gardner Fox stories, I have to remind myself that there had to be a huge portion of their fanbase that were really upset over the shake-up. I'm still reading those pre-Crisis Flash issues of Barry Allen (the real one and I'll get back to talking about it one day Jim) and they're great and he WAS an awesome hero.

    I was very excited at the concept of a new universe to follow, but I've just about dropped out of everything except for Supergirl and World's Finest (and hope to sell the rest of my new52 issues on ebay soon as I won't EVER read those comics again). I guess DC was trying to spare everyone from rereading the origin stories again (except for Justice League of course), but you're right things just are not working together as a whole in most of the super-hero titles.

    You just have to read what you like, forget about legacy and continuity (from what happened before) and as Jim mentioned, follow the creators you really enjoy. I love the Flash, but couldn't get into the new version. Others may think it's great though.

    At least in your back issue boxes or trades, you can relive those old universes and pretend (ignoring the big shake-up events)that they still live on somewhere out there (that's what fan fiction can be all about).

  4. And yet the best New 52 book is Wonder Woman, which is not at all in touch with the legacy of the character, either. Well, it did have the #0 issue that played off the legacy of silliness that was the vast majority of the character's history, but the book doesn't tie into that history. On the other hand, it's very much in touch with a different legacy - Greek mythology. The main element to what I think is the success of the book is that Azzarello has a free hand. Wonder Woman being relegated to the outskirts, despite being 1 of the big 3, lets a writer create with considerably more freedom than what the authors of the Superman and Batman books appear to face. It's that kind of freedom that have Swamp Thing, Animal Man and Batwoman working better than most of the other titles, too. If DC wants to improve the perception of its lead titles (Justice League, Action, Detective, etc) it should look at these titles and let the creators create, keep continuity concerns to a minimum and avoid, at all costs, massive cross title "events".