Saturday, April 02, 2005


Disturbing Comics

So what the hell’s up with DC Comics these days?

First, I think it’s time to come right out and say something: ever since Crisis On Infinite Earths in 1986, most of DC’s output has been crap. Leaving aside the confusing and contradictory retconned origins of major characters (leaving us with about sixteen differing backstories for Hawkman), a great deal of their output, even though it’s been by some reasonably talented creators, has been confusing, depressing, or insulting.

The fun, freewheeling old DCU disappeared. There used to be epic, star-spanning tales of adventure, that span by so quick that you didn’t have time to ponder the gaps in logic. But post-crisis, everything became a mess of tangled continuity and creators fucking with beloved characters for no apparent reason. Green Arrow died, for no readily apparent reason. Instead of the superintelligent android Brainiac, we get a circus performer possessed by an alien telepath (or something—it’s not really worth it to look it up). We have to settle for Kyle Raynor as an earthbound Green Lantern, since Hal Jordan—a great character, in a clever premise with limitless possibilities—turned evil and nearly destroyed the universe trying to restore his destroyed hometown.

(I’ve cut a long passage here, that went into further detail about some of DC’s missteps during this time. It’s of little interest to those of us not marinated in DC continuity—you lucky bastards—but if you have any interest I may post it as sort of a sub-rant)

By the mid-90s, the “grim n’ gritty” phase that Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns had ushered in was finally ending; rather than endlessly deconstructing superheroes simply for the shock of turning benevolent mentors into Nazi sex demons, comics like Astro City and Supreme were starting to sincerely reexamine the history of the genre, and what exactly made it fun in the first place. Supreme, in fact, was the work of Alan Moore himself, as if doing penance for the damage his influence had on comics.

The turnaround for DC began, if I may offer an opinion, when they put Grant Morrison on Justice League.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the version of the Justice League that had been around through the late 80s and early 90s was certainly enjoyable, with writers Keith Giffen and JM DeMatteis turning out a sort of running superhero sitcom (‘BWAHAHAHA!”). But, I’m sorry, when your highest profile character is Blue Beetle, you shouldn’t be calling yourself the Justice League.

No, the Justice League is supposed to be DC’s big guns, your Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Greens Lantern and Arrow, and a revolving slate of DC staples, in stories that shake universes. And that’s what Morrison gave us. Infant universes growing in petri dishes. Luthor and the Joker starting a new Injustice Gang. An alternate future where Darkseid rules the Earth, where the Atom kills him by frying his brain from the inside. THAT’s what I want from DC; you can leave the jumbled continuity and angsty pseudodrama to Marvel, thanks.

For a lot of people, the DCU has been feeling reenergized, with writers like Geoff Johns reinvigorating the Flash’s rogues gallery (he always had some of the best villains), and Kevin Smith (yay!) resurrecting Green Arrow in a way that managed to be entertaining and logical, while still positively dripping with DCU-goodness. And they’re currently in the process of restoring Hal Jordan as the “one, true” Green Lantern (as long as you don’t count Alan Scott, John Stewart, Guy Gardner, Gnort, or…geez, never mind).

There seems to be a genuine effort by DC to get back to a reasonable facsimile of their pre-Crisis identity. While this is a good thing in theory, some of their efforts are starting to make a lot of people rather nervous.

The trouble began with last summer’s miniseries Identity Crisis. Yes, the choice of words in the title was intentional.

The plot kicked off with the murder of Sue Dibny, the wife of Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man (not to be confused with Plastic Man, Elastic Lad, Mr. Fantastic, or either version of Elasti-Girl). It was a classic “locked-room” murder mystery, and was proving unsolvable, despite the fact that it was being investigated by the world’s greatest detective, a man with x-ray vision, a man who could shrink to the size of an atom, and at least one bona fide god.

Through the investigation we learned, with more yadda yadda, that several years ago, certain members of the Justice League had telepathically altered several villains. Dr. Light getting to be too much of a threat? Neuter him and let the Teen Titans have their way with him. Worse, when Batman found out…they futzed with his brain too.

The good part of the story was the way it depicted the DCU as a community, where all the heroes knew (and had opinions) of each other. It showed the pecking order (Superman, Batman, and everyone else), the shared history, and some great interactions between the characters.

The bad part was the actual story, beginning with Sue’s brutal murder, flashing back to her attempted rape by Dr. Light (leading to his mindfuck), and ending with a lame explanation that Jean Loring, the ex-wife of the Atom, dunnit, in hopes of forcing a reconciliation. To sum up: rape, murder, mindfucks, and a long-beloved supporting character going kill-crazy. Did we learn nothing from the fall of Hal Jordan?

NEXT: Once again, it’s all Judd Winick’s fault.

Copyright 2004 Rich Bowen

I want the sub-rant! This is great! It's like the Cliff Notes version of the DCU. ;)
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