The return of legends and icons. Shiny new suits of armor and rekindled friendships. Fists planted firmly on hips and square jaws held high, gazing into a bright new horizon. Both the Marvel and DC universes have gone through some pretty major changes in the past year or so: the threat levels have risen to astronomical levels and despite seeing the good guys come through with flying colors, new challenges remain. Their latest company-wide events, Brightest Day and The Heroic Age, seem to suggest that we’ll be seeing a return to the morals and viewpoints of ye olden days.
With both companies coming off of some major events (and kicking off new ones), this seems like an appropriate time to do something of a “State of the Union” for Marvel and DC. This is part one of an epic two-part Comicscape event in which we’ll do a little of the ol’ compare and contrast between the Big Two, taking a look at where they’ve been in the recent past and try to determine whether they’re actually moving toward the future or if they remain hopelessly locked in a giant hamster wheel. This week, we’ll look at DC and next week, Marvel.
A few years ago, it seemed like DC was ready to embrace brighter days. Identity Crisis had retconned the halcyon days of the Silver Age into a creepy place full of rape and brainwashing. Wonder Woman had killed Maxwell Lord and nobody trusted Batman. But after Infinite Crisis, it seemed as though DC was going to go through with the notion of a “heroic age” a few years before it was even a gleam in Marvel’s eye. The story contrasted the nature of today’s darker heroes with the more noble heroes of yesteryear.
By the time Infinite Crisis wrapped up, the Trinity was working as a team, Batman was on hiatus in order to work out his anger management issues and Wonder Woman had her invisible jet back. The Justice League and Justice Society relaunched with new #1’s and they even put the “of America” at the end of their names again. Hal Jordan had already returned and hints of Barry Allen’s comeback were being dropped all over the place. DC even replaced it’s old bullet logo with a shiny new one featuring a shooting star. Yes, it seemed as though things were in motion and everything was moving toward the light.
We’re not really sure if DC ever truly intended to make things brighter and shinier in the aftermath of Infinite Crisis, but it certainly did seem that way and it certainly didn’t happen. But even though the day might not have been brighter, it certainly was more colorful as DC realized that introducing non-white characters might be a good idea, seeing as how the world is made up of a whole lot of different types of people. Yeah, amazing concept, huh? Welcome to the 21st century, comic books!
Recognizing the fact that readers haven’t been interested in a new hero since Wolverine and the Punisher were introduced back in the 1970’s, DC took a few of their benchwarmers who had died or dissappeared in recent years and re-introduced them with minorities under the masks. A Chinese Atom, a black Firestorm and a Hispanic Blue Beetle were introduced to mixed results. While some readers were impressed with DC’s attempts at integration, others felt they were just placating minorities with their own version of Affirmative Action. Either way, we commend DC for at least giving it a shot.
Of course, we all know what happened after Infinite Crisis: DC’s continuity got even more confusing (past, present and futures), we found out that Batman’s mom and dad threw coke-binge key parties back in the ‘70s, Bruce and Bart died, Barry didn’t, Wally got relegated to second banana, Roy lost his kid and his arm and Hal Jordan became the hottest thing since sliced bread. We have gotten a few new ideas in the form of Batman’s son and the emotional spectrum, but for the most part, it’s a lot of the same old, same old.
Not much has changed in terms of the general tone of DC’s stories. There’s just as much death, dismemberment and gore as there ever was and there are just as many anti-heroes as there are heroes. The forward momentum that DC seemed to be considering with a kinder, gentler Batman was nipped in the bud (though we did get a nicer Bats in the form of Dick Grayson) and that new Flash was killed off post-haste. While the “cops” of the DCU have returned in the form of Hal and Barry, it seems like the stories rely just as much on nostalgia as they do an actual sense of heroism. And all those minority heroes? Well, Ronnie Raymond (the old, white Firestorm that nobody cared about until he died and was replaced) is back, Blue Beetle was cancelled (though he did find a home on the Teen Titans) and Ryan Choi is dead while the old boring whitebread Atom is back.
Some of it is due to a lack of interest and a lot of it is due to poor management. Fans might not have been ready to embrace a new Flash, but if the book wouldn’t have sucked as bad as it did, they might’ve been a bit more accepting. The same goes for Firestorm and Atom – some readers will call DC racist for the way they’ve shuffled minority characters out of the spotlight recently, but we think it has more to do with shortsightedness. Maybe if the two of them (along with characters like Kyle Rayner, John Stewart and a whole bunch of others) had been promoted better and DC hadn’t been so willing to drop everything in favor of Geoff Johns’ obsession with the Silver Age, we’d see new legacies created and some real progress made.
We at Comicscape do our best to see both sides of the argument. On one hand, it’s true that the foundation of the DC Universe was born on the backs of guys like Hal Jordan and Barry Allen so it’s kind of hearwarming to see them back. And we’ll freely admit that we love seeing heroes be heroes rather than raging vigilantes armed with tactile nuclear weapons and blades sprouting out of every oriface. But even though the old guard has returned, it doesn’t always mean that the philosopies of the old days have returned with them; only the illusion and the rose-colored memories. The books aren’t really any different than they were a few years ago; they’ve just got a really talented writer like Geoff Johns at the helm of the big ones. So what’s the point, other than to satisfy the whims of some (insanely talented) fanboys-turned-writers with Silver Age fetishes?
The same goes for DC’s so-called progression. While they like to tout themselves as a company founded on legacies, they seem to be missing the point: my father teaching me how to work on cars and then watching as I take over the family business when he retires… that’s a legacy. But if my father remained eternally 45 and we worked on cars together while I grew older and had children of my own who eventually learned the trade from us… that’s not a legacy; that’s ridiculous, even in the world of flying men and women. If DC is going to be a company that embraces legacies and the passing of the torch, then wouldn’t it make more sense to actually pass the torch once in a while rather than let nostalgic fanboys hold it in a Silver Aged death grip?
We’d like to point out that there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of this stuff. We’ve actually really enjoyed seeing the old school Super Friends return in stories that are reminiscent of the kinds of tales we grew up with. But it does seem a bit unnecessary and counter-intuitive. Why not carry on with the newly established heroes like Wally West and Kyle Rayner, and bring Hal and Barry back in flashback or out-of-continuity tales? Rather than dropping the untested black Firestorm in favor of the white one that everyone remembers, why not put a more talented creative team on the book? Do you really think a Grant Morrison-penned Atom featuring Ryan Choi wouldn’t sell? Do you think fans wouldn’t be interested in Bart Allen as the Flash if Geoff Johns was writing it?
Sound off, Maniacs! We’ve barely scraped the surface today… what do you think about DC’s current direction and the return of the Silver Age? Good, bad or ugly? All three? And be sure to come back next week, true believers, when we take a look at Marvel’s Heroic Age.