I want to thank y’all for answering my survey about DC Comic characters. For those of you that haven’t, I’d still be appreciative if you did so now. Not a big deal, but I’ve found the results to be interesting. I put in some really easy ones (Batman, Superman) and some more obscure ones (Blue Beetle and the extremely obscure Triumph) as a sort of control, figuring that if you don’t know Batman’s origin you’re atypically disinterested and if you do know Triumph’s you’re as big a DC geek as I am (thus far none of you are). I’m trying to get a gauge for how well people outside of those extremes know their superheroes for a thought experiment on how comic books might be re-launched with a more casual customer in mind.

Anyhow, on the subject of comic books, today I was thinking about the biggest foul-ups that DC comics has made in terms of storylines and whatnot. These are small compared to the much larger mistakes that I believe DC and Marvel have made, but these are things that frustrated me as a fan and contributed to my disengaging from the comic book world a few years ago.

  1. Hawkman – When I make a wrong turn, I absolutely hate the prospect of turning back. I will wander around for hours to avoid a simple U-turn. So I understand why DC so royally screwed up one of their better-known properties to the point that the company couldn’t even use him for years at a time for fear of having to explain what, precisely, the hell happened. Then, each time they did try to revitalize the character, rather than just create a new one from scratch they’ve added new layers to explaining who the character is. I don’t know where it is that comic book creators get the idea that readers want to spend issue after issue simply explaining the character’s identity. Here is a rundown of the character’s ever-evolving origin. It’s 4,557 words. Generally speaking, I like the fact that DC has a flexible attitude towards continuity and doesn’t let continuity get in the way of a good story. I like the fact that they go back and update things and fix things because they often make things a lot more smooth in the process. The thing is that revisions should simplify and add clarity. It should not add headaches and it should never make a character unusable.
  2. Wonder Woman – If they got too entangled in Hawkman’s origin, for Wonder Woman they went in the other direction. They declared that every previous issue of Wonder Woman never happened. They could have done a reboot the same way that they did with Superman wherein a lot of his history was wiped out of continuity but at least there was a history that could be rewritten or refitted with the new origin, but instead they simply declared that there has never been a Wonder Woman before. Oh… then they got entangled, having a time-travel story where Wonder Woman’s mother went back in time and filled the spot of the Wonder Woman that previously never existed but now always did, which wipes out a significant portion of the New Wonder Woman’s history.
  3. Green Lantern Hal Jordan – This one is often cited as one of The Worst Things Ever, but I think everybody else got it completely wrong. A long story short Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern, saw his home city destroyed and went crazy and tried so hard to put it all back together (by rearranging time and destroying history for a better present… sound familiar?) he essentially became a villain. Everyone else hates it, but I think it’s great (though I admit that the execution wasn’t super). Jordan was never really a stand-out character and this, in my view, made him relatively unique in the echelon of heroes… the hero who became a villain because he kept trying to make everything right. Because everyone hated it, though, they kept trying to go back and fix things. They gave him a heroic send-off. Then they turned Hal Jordan into a different hero in a role for which he was entirely unsuited. Then at about the time that the new Green Lantern finally came into his own and became popular, they said… ahhh, forget it, we’ll just make him Green Lantern again… making the whole endeavor look as stupid as their critics claimed it to be.
  4. Killing off the Charlton characters – Back when they were inserted into the DC Universe, the Charlton characters were VIPs. A series inspired by them, The Watchmen, became one of the most widely acclaimed comic books in the history of comic books (and assigned reading in some college English classes, though alas none I was ever a part of). Blue Beetle, The Question, Captain Atom, and Thunderbolt all got their own solo serials and Peacemaker got a miniseries. The last couple years, though, they seem to be going to great pains to do away with the few that are left. Captain Atom isn’t Captain Atom anymore, Thunderbolt is no longer owned by DC, and Blue Beetle and The Question are dead. These were some of my favorite characters and now they’re gone. The death of Blue Beetle was actually the news I needed to hear to convince me not to start collecting again.
  5. Unkilling Jason Todd – It’s standard fare to bring superheroes back from the dead, but there were two that were supposed to stay dead: Barry Allen (The Flash) and Jason Todd (the second Robin). Jason Todd (like Hal Jordan and Barry Allen, in my opinion) is worth more dead than alive. Todd stood as Bruce Wayne’s biggest failure. The boy who was never allowed to grow up because Bruce Wayne allowed him to become Robin. Now he’s just another character who will guest star every now and then, probably vacillate between being a good guy and an anti-hero, and blah blah blah. For death to mean anything, a character has to stand a chance of staying dead. Not always, but at least some of the time.

Category: Theater

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