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.

So much red...
So much red...
Agreed, DC.
Agreed, DC.

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?!

Just try to pick apart that image for me, I dare you..
Just try to pick apart that image for me, I dare you..

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.

Explanation of this continuity mess provided by!
Explanation of this continuity mess provided by!
No you aren't wanted.
No you aren't wanted.
You aren't my Ollie!
You aren't my Ollie!

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.

* * *

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!)

Why oh why are you wearing armor, Clark?
Why oh why are you wearing armor, Clark?

Comments 14 comments

Geekdom profile image

Geekdom 3 years ago

Interesting analysis. Yes, the Crisis stories were a mess . I actually wrote a hub about all the reboots DC has done to help others and myself understand exactly what has happened to these heroes and the world they live in. I think you are a little harsh with putting blame on DC. I agree with most of what you say but I feel both Marvel and DC are trapped in this struggle to keep characters and stories current while also maintaining some kind of continuity.

ghintz profile image

ghintz 3 years ago Author

Geekdom: I get what you're saying... and with the threat of going under as a company, I can get the stress that DC is feeling. I just felt the need to get the point across about how unhappy the New 52 has made the majority of DC's loyal following, especially since DC is doing their best to ignore us.

Marvel has been able to keep their story lines relatively straightforward and isolate their "alternative world" to an almost-entirely disconnected series of comics. It just seems like DC just doesn't think before they make many of these major decisions. They're like excited kids who see something shiny in the road and leap in front of oncoming traffic.

Jayfort 3 years ago

DC's explanation of Crisis on Infinite Earths is that the Multiverse made it too difficult for readers to get into DC Comics. I never had difficulty with the Multiverse, but I found that many editors and writers at DC did as THEY couldn't keep things straight in their minds once E. Nelson Bridwell passed away. Bridwell was the unofficial database/historian the editors/writers would turn to when writing a story to ensure they didn't "cross" worlds, so to speak.

I've always been a huge fan of DC Comics (since 1965) but since the New 52's debut I've stopped buying DC Comics (with the rare exception of Showcase Presents b/w anthologies). I no longer agree with the company's approach to their characters and their longtime fans.

For a while, I got in Dynamite's comics based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars series and Kevin Smith's revival of the Six Million Dollar Man (The Bionic Man/The Bionic Woman). But, I've recently lost all interest in monthly comics.

For me, comics are about escapism and great storytelling. If I want dark, gritty realism, I can pick up a newspaper or turn on the television. I have enough dark, gritty realism in my life. I want larger than life characters of strong moral values who can help me blot out the world for a little bit, provide some relaxation, and (perhaps) inspire some positive vibes.

I'm glad to hear there are other people out there who aren't happy with DC's new direction. I'd heard a few voices from the wilderness but it seems like the number of voices are growing and getting louder!

As for Warner Bros/DC Comics, their leadership, and their current readership, here's some advice:

1) Change for change sake isn't always a good thing.

2) When you've changed a character enough that it's no longer recognizable, then you might as well change the character's name as well. The new "Superman" is anything but...

3) Diversity (racial/gender/sexuality) is important in real life. If diversity is important enough in the comics, create a NEW character that fits the diversity you are seeking, don't change an existing character's diversity just to get buy in.

4) Don't trash the longtime fans! We kept these characters alive for decades with our support ($$$$$). Robert A. Heinlein used to tell people that he competed for their beer money. If the readers liked what he wrote, they would spend their beer money on it. If they didn't, they'd buy beer. Other than the odd Showcase Presents, DC is NOT getting ANY of my money. Why should I subsidize something I no longer like! (On the other hand, I'm giving my dollars to my local comic shop owner by buying Silver Age comics. None of that goes to DC!)

5) Ditch the decompressed storytelling. It's a waste of time and money. If you can't tell a story in a single comic book anymore, then you're not a writer. Maybe if you had been telling good stories with good art, people would have buying more comics!

6) Get your comics/tv series/movie franchises on track in terms of character and continuity. Look at Marvel's approach. MOS will be the first "Superman" movie I will not see in decades. Your loss, not mine.

ghintz profile image

ghintz 3 years ago Author

Fabulous response, Jayfort. And so true about diversity in comics. Marvel and DC have both had their failings with that.

Jayfort 3 years ago

Thank you, G.

Sorry if I ranted a bit but, as you can see, DC Comics and I are on the outs right now.

ghintz profile image

ghintz 3 years ago Author

Same here. I'm doing a not-so-silent boycott of their comics. Haven't bought a DC comic since they started the New 52, though when/if this ever gets "undone" I may pick up some of the better titles like Animal Man later.

Jayfort 3 years ago

Given that it took almost 15 years for DC to return to telling stories I liked after entering the Dark Ages of the 1990s, it's doubtful I'll get the opportunity to see them reverse the mess that is the New 52. I'm going to be 53 soon and there are far more better days behind me than ahead. I've been suckered by them before. I won't be again.

ghintz profile image

ghintz 3 years ago Author

I guess the bright side of New 52 is that it could always be worse and we could see the return of Azrael or worse from the 90s. :D

Anna 3 years ago

It's ironic that DC changed the universe to make it easier for new readers since I am a new reader and I find the old universe a lot more easier to understand not to mention more interesting and enjoyable.

Reagan 3 years ago

I prefer DC over Marvel but I flat out refuse to read New 52. Everything I loved about DC was destroyed with that reboot. So right now the only comics I buy are stuff from between 1996 and 2011. But besides New 52, I really hate how DC feels the need to be like Marvel. DC needs to revel in the fact that their heroes are legendary and powerful. Screw realism, go for epic and fantastical stories that really showcase the hero rather than try to make them overly flawed like Marvel's heroes.

I also loved DC for the escapism but not only are they trying to destroy their characters but I feel like they won't let us forget about politics either. If I wanted to deal with politics I'd pick up a newspaper or turn on CNN or something....

trusouldj profile image

trusouldj 2 years ago from Indiana

Interesting hub. I too wish that DC would realize their mistakes. I loved Green Arrow's extended family. Love that Batman has allies in his fight, except, why create his snot nosed son when he already had a daughter that was retconned into a different reality? By the way, other than seeing Barb back as Batgirl, I'm boycotting the New 52. I'm sure in about 10 or 20 years it'll revert back anyway.

Jayfort 2 years ago

Batman's daughter, Helena (Huntress) Wayne, was actually created back in the 1970s. She was the daughter of the Earth-2 Batman, who was a member of the JSA. After Crisis on Infinite Earths, Helena was retconned into being the daughter of a criminal who is atoning for his evil deeds.

Grendel007 2 years ago

There is nothing wrong with change provided it is good change. I don't see that. As a Batman fan I've pretty much forgone the comics since LOTDK got screwed up. But really, for me, Batman (and Superman) already have legends far bigger than DC anyway

Tyler 2 years ago

I completely understand all of your frustration with the New 52, but honestly, I kinda like it. Is it perfect? Heck no. But there is plenty I can get on board with and writers have been doing some interesting things.

For example, I like Superman. I do. He doesn't come off as a jerk, just a guy with a backbone and conviction. While i adored old Superman, i hated how he had basically become a fence sitter, and i don't like what I would refer to as "Christopher Reeves Syndrome", where Clark was some bumbling klutz and a bit of a dark in a non-endearing way. No offense to Mr. Reeves, as he did a very good job, but that's just not my thing. The Superman personality from the animated series from the DCAU, that's more like it. He fought for the little guy, was tough, powerful (but not too powerful), had conviction and a backbone, wasn't afraid to punch a villain in the mouth when necessary, noble, kind, and heroic, as well as still a bit of an idealistic boy scout. New 52 Superman's general characterization is very much like that, though I don't blame you for feeling he's not the true Superman, as Scott Lobdell has all but butchered his Superman stories in the past in his concluded Superman and Action Comics runs, and George Perez, though very great, did a bad first few issues. Neither really understood the character. Now we have good writers like Greg Pak and Geoff Johns who are mainly running his books, and his stories are much better. Same with Green Arrow. Stucked at first, but then became great when Jeff Lemire and now the Arrow TV show writers each took the book after that first 16 or 17 issue first and horrible run...Many other books have been greatly improved, while those that were originally great stayed that way. I like Superman/Wonder Woman pairing. Yeah, i know, Clark/Lois forever, but Supes/WW does kinda make a lot of sense, and personally, I feel writers can just get more good stories out of it. At least they are taking advantage of the marriage no longer having happened and using it in interesting ways. I don't like that Flash was never with Iris though, and I don't like how they completely changed Wally's appearance.

As far as the costumes go, Jim Lee did some really good redesigns, but he honestly shouldn't have done all of the major ones. His Flash works. I like the idea of seeing lightning streaks on his uniform when he's in motion and have them fade when he's not doing a lot of fast movement. That was brilliant. His Aquaman was hardly changed at all except for maybe some superficial stuff to make his look feel more "royal". That works. Wonder Woman was cool, though I'd prefer she have pants...still, her current look works. I much prefer Cyborg's new look. Even Green Lantern looks pretty good. Superman and Batman on the other hand, while the basic design looks good, there's just too many unnecessary lines going on in his designs. So much so that he's one of the only artists who can draw everything as he designed it and make it look good...Superman can keep the red belt sans undies, even keep the collar, but some of the excess lines need to be removed and a tad more red needs to be there like on the gauntlets and the collar. The artists that tone down the armor lines make the design look it's best when Lee isn't the one drawing it. Same goes for Batman. Honestly, Greg Capullo has tweaked the Lee design so that it looks like he's wearing protective armor, but it still looks streamlined and classic. He took the original design, took the most prominent features, and streamlined it. Modernized it without taking away that classic Batman feel. His design for him in the monthly Batman series is absolutely fantastic.

Anyway, while I do like the New 52 in concept overall, and while I also feel they can and have already done a lot of good with it, the fact remains that DC still does need to fix some of their mistakes they made with the New 52. Luckily, the number of good books currently outweigh the bad, and DC are getting their act together. DC rushed the reboot, and it definitely showed over its first year of existence, excessive editorial demands, creative team issues, one too many premature book cancellations and all that. I mean, they've said they only planned for it for 6 months before they jumped head long into it. They also needed to establish what from old continuity still, at least in essence, in its most basic form, still happened in the rebooted timeline. DC wanted to clear up their timeline to allow writers to have as much creative freedom as they could ever want and allow them to reference past continuity whenever it felt convenient, while not necessarily being burdened by it. The problem with that approach was that now it's really confusing... How long was xyz character around? What still happened? Did Superman die or didn't he? (Geoff Johns, in his cirrent Superman run, finally established that, yes, he did die and come back in the past) DC needed to officially establish what events more or less still happened. They don't need to keep everything, just the major moments for the main characters and the DC as a whole. They can leave the rest empty to be filled in as time goes on, but they need a sense of history to these characters. I was never bothered to much by changed or clean slated heroes because I knew it offered new creative paths and since DC never said what still more or less happened, I figured these characters' past stories and connections aren't nonexistent so much as up for interpretation, so for me, as far as Superman goes for example, Birthright, Death of Superman, and a few other classic Superman moments all still happened in some form or another. For Batman, Year One, Long Halloween, Death in the Family, Killing Joke, Hush, No Man's Land, Knightfall, Under the Red Hood, the Black Mirror, and the main story beats of Grant Morrison's run prior to the reboot like Batman and Son and R.I.P. all happened in the reboot. It's not gone, you can just determine for yourself what did happen until a definitive list says one way or another. What has or has not happened in the past has become increasingly contradictory because writers can use whatever the heck they want and there's no one keeping track of what did or didn't happen... One thing I can say in defense of the New 52 that I can't say for the early post-Crisis years, is that unlike early post-Crisis prior to Zero Hour where it was actually quite confusing to follow what was going on in the actual stories themselves(Hawkman anyone?), is that while the past of the New 52 is confusing, it's not that hard to follow the actual stories being told in the New 52. Post-Crisis honestly couldn't say that. It was messier than the New 52 currently is. New 52 stories are pretty straightforward. The confusion only comes when the past is mentioned, but for all intents and purposes, we're told all we need to be told to understand the story at hand., so until DC decides to set their timeline straight, don't sweat over it. I get it, i want to know what happened or not, but as the stories being told aren't what's confusing, just go along for the ride and enjoy the stories being told now, because, despite the fact that there is some utter crap books and runs on books, there is absolutely some fantastic stories being told and the number of good books, books that are at worst entertaining and at best phenomenal, are increasingly outnumbering the bad ones. My advice would be to not throw the baby out with the bathwater, find something you can enjoy and read that, and simply enjoy the stories being told now until they can figure the past continuity, because we shouldn't get too hung up on the past if the stories currently told are still enjoyable in their own right.

Luckily, DC has a golden opportunity to fix what's still wrong with the New 52 with their upcoming Crisis event next year. The story Future's End just teased that what appears to be classic Brainiac has been collecting parts of old Earths, including an Earth that ressembles post-Crisis Earth, and is using New 52 Brainiac to destroy New 52 DCU Earth for him, or something like that. From the looks of things,

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