5 Reasons Why DC Comics Just Can't Get It Right
Why DC's desperate attempts of late are utter failures.
Marvel or DC? It's a common question of preference, almost a required greeting, when one comic fan meets another. To say I like DC Comics is an understatement. I have always favored DC, but to explain why is not an easy matter. There's a real sense of awe that emanates from DC's heroes. They feel timeless, not simply because DC Comics has been around longer than Marvel (both companies are over fifty years old now afterall), but because they pay homage to the epic heroes of old. Of course, Marvel recognized that they could not match this sense of awe and instead established a more realistic world and heroes to counter DC with. Marvel does its job well most of the time, but as a nerd of antiquity, I will always show a preference for the classical archetypes that DC provides.
Despite my rosy-colored sentiment towards the company's characters, DC has dug themselves into a deeper and deeper hole of regretful decisions over the years, the creation of the New 52 being the magnum opus of this dismal collection of failure. Looking at attention grabs, reactionary decisions, and storyline and character alterations, I've compiled a list of the reasons why DC Comics has missed the mark as of late. When your friends tell you that you're idiotic for your disappointment in DC Comics, here is the list you can show them and save yourself a long, impassioned rant.
5. Excessive "Families"
The lineage of a hero-moniker passing from a mentor to an apprentice is one of the more charming aspects of DC. Wally West stepping up for Barry Allen as the Flash, the comradeship of Batman's parade of Robins -- you cannot deny that these relationships are the backbone of DC's heroes. But, when one realizes that "loner" Batman technically has an extended Bat-family of around a dozen heroes and that the Flash family is also around the same size, there's a point where it's just too much. These extensive families and their histories are something that unfortunately turn off many readers.
Sometimes, extended character deaths have weeded out this problem a bit, for instance Hal Jordon and Barry Allen. But then, if you take one writer who really likes a dead character, they can be easily brought back to life and retake their costume and title (I'm looking at you, Geoff Johns!). Unfortunately, DC has a bad way of handling the issue of sharing a mantle in these situations, unlike how cleverly Marvel handled Steve and Bucky sharing the Captain America mantle a few years back.
You may be thinking that this is was easily solved when DC switched to the New 52. In many cases, these families have been cut down in half in the New 52 universe, but that is because those family members cease to "exist" in the New 52. But at what cost? While we now have simpler families, they can barely even be called "families" at all. The relationships have lost their history and now characters exist merely to fill in slots. Those decades worth of connections have been completely lost, leaving an awkward relationship between mentors and proteges.
Is there a simple resolution then? I'd say keep the farthest-removed family members on the backburner and only bring them back into a story when they bring something to the table. And, when you retire a hero, let them freaking retire. Of course this excludes Bruce Wayne who can only take short breaks away from his cape and cowl.
4. The Multiverse
I'll be honest, crossover events are a muddled mess for both DC and Marvel. Both companies act like complete whores who require you to buy issues from numerous different titles to get the entire story in that crossover event.
But when you think of really confusing, one need not look farther than the "Crisis" events. Crisis on Infinite Earths, Infinite Crisis, and Countdown to Final Crisis... oh God, the parallel universes are making my head spin! Marvel has a regular universe and an Ultimate one. Done, simple. Try to explain to a non-reader how there's this one Huntress who is Batman's daughter but she's not the same Huntress from Birds of Prey... or just try to explain the many evil alternate Supermen out there. Quantum Physics and alternate timelines are fun but there is a limit to how many times you can replicate the same character. Hell, every time Clark Kent randomly gets a new origin story these days, they say it's Clark from Earth-### and leave it at that.
In the process of ending this bad trend and simplifying things in Infinite Crisis, multiple origin stories were just merged as they merged Earth-1 with primary Earth, and thus more character confusion! At present, DC readers are stuck with the entire DC universe being an alternate reality since almost every DC character was completely rebooted in the New 52 onto a new, different Earth-1. Good job DC, now we can't even go back home to our proper DC Earth... does anyone even know where the hell that would be anymore?!
3. Muddled Origin Stories and Retcons
A lot of this stems from the issue of the multiverses splitting and imploding and folding and whatever else on each other. So many different origins, so many alternative versions, so many things retconned as they were only true to one universe and not another (such as yellow being a weakness to Green Lanterns).
Seriously, just read the image below and realize it's one of a half-dozen revisions of the Hawkman origin.
2. The New 52 Death of Character
Oh where should I begin with these imposter characters?! The female characters alone have suffered so much. Starfire, for instance, was never the most brilliant or indepth character before the massive reboot, but in Red Hood and the Outlaws she has served as merely a sexual object. Her costume has become even more improbably minuscule and every image of her in the comics looks like a photo out of Playboy. Her dialogue consists of SEX, SEX, SEX. Catwoman too has lost some of the great development she has received in the last decade and now better resembles Frank Millar's All-Star Batman's Catwoman, one of her most noted scenes in early New 52 Batman being of her straddling Batman's manhood. Hyper-sexuality is now a character trait.
Almost all of the DC pantheon of characters have rebooted and started over as brand new heroes (other than Batman and Lantern Corps... which just kept going like usual in this new universe, sort of). It's a mockery for longtime fans to keep reading like nothing has happened to our beloved characters. It's akin to dressing up a random old lady like your grandmother and trying to love her like your blood relation. All we have now in DC are strangers wearing similar costumes to characters we've grown up with and learned to love. Or, in cases like Green Arrow, the doppelganger does not even share the most important physical feature of the original character! YES, I MOURN THE BEARD, DO NOT JUDGE ME.
1. The need to emulate Marvel
At the heart of many of these issues, and in my opinion, the main reason for the New 52 in the first place is jealousy over Marvel's success. Marvel has consistently beaten DC in the top ten comic issue sales for many years. And while DC has had great success with many of their animated franchises, they do not bring in the money that Marvel's movie franchises or comics sales do. In the desire to pull in Marvel's fans, DC has gone to great lengths to emulate Marvel, and in the process, have forgotten what makes DC great.
Gritty and realistic are words far more synonymous with Marvel than DC, so with the high sales of the "realistic" Nolan Batman trilogy, and Marvel shining as an example of how to do "realistic issues" right, the New 52 reboot has brought an unfamiliar realism to its heroes. And by realism, I mean lots more sex, armor-armor-armor, and inept heroes in a world where society dislikes them. The problem is, with DC we want to LIKE and ADMIRE our heroes. If I want a hero with flaws and troubles I'll read Hulk or Ant-man or Iron Man. Marvel has founded their company on this sort of character. Their "Earth" is full of angry, prejudiced citizens where this sort of flawed hero will face struggles that relate so on so on. But suddenly rebooting the DC franchise, having the Justice League come together and bicker almost identically to what was seen in the Avengers movie, just comes off as forced. Sure, they aren't all perfect heroes by any means.
In trying to move into the present (and future) of cape comics, DC almost hilariously has stepped backwards into the 90s by having Jim Lee do all of the redesigns. DC, you can never write a story that will justify putting Superman in armor, it is too ridiculous for words. DC was trying to fix something that really wasn't broken with the New 52. Blackest Night was a fun crossover romp and had pretty good sales. It was a crossover that never could have been accomplished without the core DC cast of characters and their histories. But just a couple of years later and this huge reboot happened. The most ironic aspect of the reboot is that the best titles of the New 52 are the ones that could have been written without rebooting the universe at all, such as Animal Man, Justice League Dark, and Swamp Thing.
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Until DC recognizes its strengths in the areas of lineage, characterization, classical archetype, and pure idealism, it is doomed to continue trying to "keep up" with the rest when really it should look back and cherish the past more (well, most of it at least!)