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DC Universe: Brighter Days

Is DC Comics taking two steps torward or two steps back?

By Chad Derdowski     June 02, 2010
Source: Mania


Comicscape: Barry Allen is once again THE FLASH
© Mania

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.

 

Dark Days Before Dawn

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.

 

Brighter Days?

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.

 

The Whys and Hows

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?

 

Elseworlds and What Ifs…

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.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

Showing items 1 - 10 of 42
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krakken 6/2/2010 1:36:04 AM

First.  whoo hooo.

Now to the topic at hand.  I'm surprised you didn't mention Superman.  DC has completely tanked this title.  The whole notion of what made superman special (a lone survior, extraordinary abilities that no one else had) has been obiliterated.  It started off with bullshit characters like power girl, connor kent, alt worlds other superman remaining on earth prime, and so on.  And has now gotten completely out of hand with the Kandorians.  

What started off as an interesting story has turned to utter non-sense with the kryptonian-earth war.  The fact that now its sooooo easy to kill these superpowered kryptonians, makes the whole crisis Superboy unstoppable rampage look silly.  Also, it makes Superman just a schmuck that can easily be taken down, but has just been lucky to survive.  Sloppy writing, sloppy planning, and just plain idiotic.  Stop the madness.

ponyboy76 6/2/2010 3:27:39 AM

First, I have always been a lot more of a Marvel reader apart from a few DC titles, Batman. It was only due to Blackest Night , that I started reading a  lot more DC. Now, I pick up almost every title that had to do with BN and now Brightest Day. So , DC's direction seemed to at least encourage new readership. Saying that though, maybe one of the reasons I never fully got into DC was their lack of diversity. I never understood how it was so easy for Marvel to do it, but D.C seems to struggle at it.

Now that I am reading more DC its really kind of weird to me how much Marvel and DC mirror eachother in events and content. Maybe its not a normal mirror but a funhouse one, but a mirror none the less. Like this Return of Bruce Wayne story just feels so much like Captain America Reborn in some respects.

I'll tell ya one thing though, DC has become a lot more violent then I remember. Between  The Rise of Arsenal story and thee new Titans : Villaina for Hire. People are being dropped like flies, whether they be superheroes or just bystanders.  D.C has upped the ante on the sex content too.  All these are things Marvel has done for years.

karas1 6/2/2010 5:11:35 AM

The Legion of Superheros is back!  That's the best part!

jedibanner 6/2/2010 6:13:24 AM

DC will always be second to Marvel, always was, always will. The reason I say this is, the mentallity of these companies are so opposed to one another it's clear Marvel has an advantage because they treat their world more realisticly compared to DC who is more ''what the world should be''. That edge implemented in Marvel gives DC a run for their money and it shows.

Sure both companies have crappy comics that comes out every month but, on average, even c-list heroes still do better then the DC c-listers.

DC did something good with Blackest night (or, they started well) and did bring lots of new readers in, especially after that hell inforno pile of crappolla menure infested tub of lard Final Crisis. And because of that, and the way BN was treated, many new readers left DC (and I'm one of them) because, it's just ain't good compared to what I'm used to (Marvel, Image, heck, even Avatar).

For years and years DC has had their hands tied because of the powers at WB who impose so many limits to the characters of DC, it's normal that the stories becomes repetetive and saturated.

I'm no fan of DC, they have potentials but, they will always be second to Marvel and that's the bottom line.

ChadDerdowski 6/2/2010 7:00:02 AM

I don't think that one is inherently better than the other - sometimes Marvel is firing on all cylinders, other times they're faltering and DC takes the lead.  I'm of the mind that Blackest Night was fantastic from beginning to end (all the way up until we realized that the last issue was just a commercial for Brightest Day).  But Siege?  The first three were fried gold but the final issue was one of the biggest turds the House of Ideas has ever dropped. 

I'm a big DC fan, but they alway strikes me as a company trying to find its identity.  Are they the home of legendary heroes and icons who shoot straight and save the day?  Or are they the home of brutally violent characters and situations?  Icons and legacies?  Groundbreaking new characters or outdated characters?  They try to be all of these, but it rarely seems to mesh well.

I don't know if I agree that Marvel promotes a more realistic world, jedibanner, but I do think they promote better.  Marvel always seems to have a clearcut direction (even if it's not true behind the scenes, it always seems that way)... the overall direction of the company doesn't seem to be in doubt while DC can't seem to find one.  Marvel's also got a hell of a marketing department.  I think this is the #1 thing that puts them in the lead in terms of sales and public perception.

But in terms of direction and dedication, let's compare the Sentry and Bart Allen.  Fans were skeptical of the Sentry, but Marvel kept pugging away, trying to find a place for him for... nearly a decade?  I can't remember when he first popped up.  When they finally realized that it wasn't working, they got rid of him.  Now take a look at Bart Allen as the Flash... it was poorly received, no doubt.  But rather than put a better creative team on the book or push the character a bit more and really give him a shot, it seemed as though DC just buckled under the pressure of the internet (or Geoff Johns?) and killed him.   Obviously, a lot of this is just assumption on my part, but it always seems as though DC does things in a much more haphazard fashion whereas Marvel at least gave the guy a shot... probably a lot more of a shot than he ever deserved, but they tried.  It seems that DC just gives up if a few fanboys complain.

I'm 100% sure that behind the scenes, Marvel is equally as haphazard and that DC is a lot more on the ball than I assume.  The difference is that we don't see it as much on our side of the fence.  Again, I attribute a fair amount of this to the marketing department, but it also seems like Marvel just has their sh*t together a bit more.

joeybaloney 6/2/2010 7:13:38 AM

Totally agree with you on the legacies topic. I grew up with Hal and Barry but grew to love Kyle and Wally more because of that sense of legacy & history. I've dropped Flash since Barry's return because his return really seems so pointless after all this time. I'd drop GL but damn that titles still good. Still, I would prefer to have Hal back as a conflicted Spectre or just outright dead. Batman is my second favorite hero of all time but I am having a great time with Dick under the cowl and Damian as Robin. I would have loved a decade of that instead of just a year or so.

I'm sure a big part of the decision to bring these dead characters back has to do with the Hollywood plans DC has in bringing Flash and Green Lantern and eventually JLA to the big screen and the desire to want each comic character to line up nice with each movie version to avoid confusion for the uninitiated. It would be nice if they could reward the old timer fans with some actual progress though.

 

CaptAmerica04 6/2/2010 7:18:29 AM

I agree totally with you, Chad, on the "nostalgia is nice, but forward progress is better"-theme.  Barry Allen is the original Flash - no doubt.  But he died, and died nobly.  He should've stayed dead and put a really good creative team on Flash to make Wally West THE Flash that this generation knows.  I don't know about Blue Beetle or Firestorm (I'm a Marvel guy primarily), but the concept of characters dying, but forever coming back is tired.

If you couldn't tell from my user handle, I'm kind of a fan of Capt. America.  LOL.  I was REALLY upset when Steve Rogers died, but when James Barnes took over SO well and really started to make his own name as the new Capt. America, I was thrilled.  I'm actually a little tweaked at how they turned Rogers' death into some time-warp nightmare that he's back from.  But at least they've left Barnes as Cap and given Rogers a new role as leader and guide in the Heroic Age.

I mention all this because I read an issue of "The Return of Bruce Wayne."  WTF?!?  A) Can DC NEVER do anything original unless it creates 9,000 alternate realities that confuse us all?  Bruce is traveling through time, just on a broader scale than Rogers' reliving his own life in an endless loop.  LAME!  B) The only character I WANT to come back is Bruce Wayne.  I don't like Dick Grayson as the new Batman.  But if Tim Drake had taken over and they had some better writers on "Batman" I might still be reading that title.

My point is that characters who die heroically should sometimes stay dead so that new legends can be made, legacies created, and the comic universes can evolve.  I don't want to be 75 years old, reading comics and sharing them with my grandkids and seeing that Clark, Diana, Bruce, Hal, Barry, and Oliver and still running around looking just as young and we're all supposed to just nod and accept that these characters are unaging and may only die for 12-15 issues.

Let's see some forward progress, DC, and a lot fewer confusing universes.

ChadDerdowski 6/2/2010 7:28:13 AM

Hey, me again.  Man, this article could've been twice as long and it wouldn't have touched on everything.

Jedibanner - one thing you mentioned that I forgot to touch upon was the 2nd and 3rd tier characters.  Now, I'll give DC a lot of credit for raising the profiles of Zatanna, Oracle, Batwoman and... um... well, Zatanna, Oracle and Batwoman.  And a few years back, they made Robin a legit hero rather than simply a sidekick.

But go to your local Target or Wal-Mart and look in the T-shirt section.  Amidst the slew of Superman logos with tribal tattoo designs, you'll see Avengers t-shirts featuring Cap, Thor, Iron Man... and Luke Cage.  Marvel has done a great job of not just building up the benchwarmers in the eyes of comic fans, but also promoting them to the mainstream public.  Come on, DC - you've got WB behind you!  Figure it out.

Krakken - I guess I forgot to mention War of Supermen because I dropped the Super Family books a loooong time ago and I haven't looked back.  That whole World of New Krypton thing was embarrasingly bad, so I guess I've sort of blocked Superman out of my recent memory.

As far as all the legacy and icon stuff goes... as I said in the article, much as I've loved the rebirths and returns and I enjoy the characters, I'd rather see forward momentum.  I love continuity but I'm not hung up on it.  If somebody has a great Barry or Hal story to tell, just do a one-shot or mini that's out of continuity.  What's so wrong with that?  I love those characters and would love to see more of them, but DC could have their cake and eat it too...

dbrock06 6/2/2010 7:53:25 AM

Chad,  This was a great article. I have always been more of a Marvel than DC guy personally.  Whether it is the markeing of the characters, or the approach in the writing, I just always found myself more interested in what was going on in the Marvelverse.  

I agree with Captamerica04,  sometimes when a Character has such a Heroic death, we need to just let it be.  Bringing the character back just cheapens their sacrifice.  How many times does a character get to bite the bullit and then come back a year later.  Dick Graysen has been getting groomed to take over for Bruce, yet he is going to barely get a year / year and a half run in the cape/cowl.  I personally have been enjoying most of what I have been reading.  Give the character a chance.  It has been pointed out that DC is a little trigger happy and I could not agree more.

Chad.  I look Foward to your Marvel Article, I guess next week....sorry we have been using some of your articles for the Spinner Rack, but it, or something like it needs to come back.  We need a spot to discuss the weekly releases.  Keep up the good work. 

I would like to hear your thoughts in the X-men X-over.  so far I think it has been pretty good.  Would like to see how it ends but it really has been delivering and almost reads/ looks like an action movie.  It seems like all of the X-overs lately start with a bang and end with a whimper. (I think you wrote the article about the X-men x-overs prior to it's start if I am not mistaken.)

goldeneyez 6/2/2010 8:23:43 AM

I'm in the minority, but I didn't really care for Blackest Night, and honestly I've been pretty disappointed with both DC and Marvel for some time.  Brand New Day (Marvel / Spider-man) and Blackest night both represent  going back to the Silver Age, and if I wanted to read Silver Age comics I could always just pick up one of the many compilations that exist of those books from back then.

I agree DC has regressed as far as their minority heroes.

They one property they REALLY dropped the ball on was Static considering it was a popular cartoon and many of the kids that grew up watching those cartoons might have been adults with purchasing power that might be interested in stories involving that character.

They also never capitalized on the success of John Stewart in the DCAU.  For a time, arguably, more people associated Green Lantern with John Stewart than with Hal Jordan or Kyle Raymond.  Rather than use that momentum from the cartoon, John Stewart was always forced to the back of the bus metaphorically speaking.

At the same time, however, I can see the heads of DC not wanted to deal with the backlash of some very vocal fanboy backlash that cried bloody murder when DC changed some of their C-list characters races.  It probably drowned out the fans like myself who actually enjoyed some of the changes like Jason Rusch as Firestorm.  The beginning of that book was actually really interesting.  Some of the later stuff Dwayne McDuffie introduced like the Firestorm matrix being part of the Anti-life equation was interesting too.

It just seems like when DC was given opportunities as far as things related to minority characters they didn't capitalize be it for short sightedness, racism, or lack of imagination.

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