Comics / Spotlight

DC Comics: Losing Your Past to Find a Future.

By Koppy McFad
September 17, 2011 - 20:59

   DC Comics has gone forward to find a new audience but it struggles with leaving the old one behind.

The "new 52" of DC Comics appears to be a success with huge sales being reported. Perhaps DC Comics has achieved its objective and found a whole new audience who will read comic books on a regular basis. If so, they have made the most significant achievement in US comics since the 80s. Maybe even all the way to the 70s.

But while presenting a fresh new world, DC Comics still has not let go of the trappings of the old one. The new 52 consist almost exclusively of old names and characters-- rehashed and given new backgrounds-- but still, the same old names from the 70s, 80s and 90s. You would think that this re-boot would be a perfect time to introduce new characters and concepts. But instead, they rely on established brand names.

While boasting of diversity, the DC Comics line consists almost entirely of modern-day costumed adventurers-- some of them mercenaries, some monsters and some outright villains-- but almost all books focus colorfully costumed people who are fighting, running and shooting. Most of the books are set in the present day and there is only one token Western title (and even here, they had to relocate Jonah Hex to Gotham City just to establish some vague link to Batman.) No non-costumed detective dramas, no real space operas, no anthology titles, even the token "war" comic is connected to superheroes. Don't even think about looking for romance or comedy or even Harry Potter-like fantasy. The rule seems to be... 'it has to come in a costume.'

You would expect something like that from Marvel whose history basically consists of superheroes and nothing else. But DC Comics has always had a wider variety, featuring war, mystery, westerns, horror, romance, comedy, even gothic titles. Even in the late-1970s, barely half of their comics line were superheroes titles. And later, DC Comics would boldy go into these non-superheroic fields with imprints like VERTIGO and even failed experiments like MINX and DC FOCUS. The main DC Comics imprint also continued coming up with new material like the comedy title "SWEATSHOP" and the weird war stories like "THE LIGHT BRIGADE". They also kept their comic line for kids alive with the "Johnny DC" titles that WERE NOT just spin-offs from TV cartoons.

The new DC titles include drastic changes to some established characters that it begs the question: why didn't they just create completely new characters instead? Obviously, names like "Green Arrow" and "Justice League International" have some recognition. But when old readers open these books and find old characters completely changed, they will hardly be pleased.

Sometimes that works. If the reader is a follower of "Hawkman" regardless of the history of the man inside the beaked mask, then he will likely pick up the new SAVAGE HAWKMAN. The problem is with the old reader: the one who has been following these books not simply because they have a flashy hero but because they enjoy the character interaction. The ones who liked the friendship between Ray and Carter, the comedic romance of Guy Gardner and Ice, the heartache between Dick and Kory and Oliver Queen's struggle against the fatcats.

Suddenly, these old relationships are gone and we are suppose to be interested in these characters just because they share the names of our old favourites.

That would be like a popular sitcom, say: "Friends" suddenly replacing its cast with a new group of characters. These new characters could be more talented or funnier than the originals but the audience would not have the months (or years) of familiarity that they have with Ross, Rachel, Joey etc., and would not understand their relationships. They might be left wondering why they should continue following this cast of strangers at all. (Yes, some shows like "Three's Company" did succeed in replacing a huge part of their original cast but they never changed everything-- which is what DC has done.)

We get it. We know that DC Comics had to do something or risk seeing comic books becoming even further marginalised. But as the example of BATMAN and GREEN LANTERN has shown, they could revitalise a franchise while still retaining a lot of aspects from the good old days.

Was it really necessary to dump the whole Wolfman-Perez NEW TEEN TITANS run? Did J'onn J'onnz's history with the JLA have to be sacrificed just to bring in a popular minority character? Were all those decades of character development really holding Green Arrow back? Did the entire JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL/GENERATION LOST have to get thrown in the trash to bring this generic-looking bunch of international heroes? Clearly, comic book writers have enough creativity to explain why people can fly. Couldn't they make some adjustments to keep some of the old history in-continuity?

It must have been very liberating to many of the new writers to know that they would not be weighed down by things like the Clark-Lois marraige, 'Justice League Detroit' or the mod Wonder Woman. But in many cases, the writers seem to have intentionally wiped away the past to make sure it could not come back. They could have simply ignored these older stories like the sci-fi 'Batman' stories of the 1950s-early 1960s were ignored for decades. That way, these stories could still be brought back when someone comes along who can use them properly. But it is almost like DC Comics wanted to be sure the older stories would be forgotten.

And if they were really so intent on offering us something new-- then why didn't they offer something truly new: new characters, new situations, new genres aside from superheroes and quasi-superheroes? This would be a perfect time to show that comics isn't just superheroes. Or at least to introduce new superheroes whose names don't originate from a 1940s character.

Heck, they could have at least given us a revival of "ANGEL LOVE".

Last Updated: August 31, 2023 - 08:12

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