What the DC Shake-Up Means to Me
By Ray C. Tate
In short, absolutely nothing.
Power Girl is the only ongoing DC comic book on my pull list, and despite Diane Nelson catalyzing a regime-change at DC, I suspect Power Girl's sole status will remain. Power Girl gives me everything I look for in a comic book. The title sports attractive artwork by Amanda Conner backed up with solid, professionally written stories by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti. The book spotlights a character that ironically has a history. The character cannot be replaced by any other character. Power Girl is Superman's cousin from Earth-Two. The character is the persona created by Paul Levitz and Wally Wood, shaped by such talents as Palmiotti, Conner and Gray.
DC editors and writers frequently confuse the costume with the character. Batman cannot just be anybody. Batman is not a brand. Batman is Bruce Wayne. Robin is Dick Grayson. These memes cannot be broken. When you suggest otherwise, you weaken the power of the creation. It's like saying that anybody can be Lois Lane, but that does not make sense. Anybody cannot be Lois Lane. Only Lois Lane can be Lois Lane. Lois Lane isn't a costume to be assumed by any female character. So, why is it perfectly acceptable to have one adult woman parasitize the visual nostalgia and one young formerly original hero appropriate the name of Batgirl? It would be simpler and more ethical to erase the events of The Killing Joke from the DC timeline, but the Powers That Be at DC have for at least a decade ignored Occam’s Razor. It's their one consistency, and I imagine that it will persist.
DC comics’ writers and editors conveniently forget that they are writing stories that occur in a shared universe. They only seem to vaguely remember when executing Big Stupid Events, and even then they try their very best to ignore the flagship heroes to focus on nonentities like dark Mary Marvel and Congorilla.
I first gave up on Batman comics when No Man's Land occurred because the writers conveniently forgot that Batman exists in the same universe as Superman. Dealing with earthquake-ravaged cities is a job for Superman, not Batman. Batman apparently had been struck in the head during the quake since he seemed oblivious to the fact that he is a member of the JLA, and he has a signal device inside the belt buckle of his utility belt.
Fan outcry produced a shoddy example of comic book writing that suggested that the JLA were too busy to help Batman because they were busy keeping Big. Yellow. Birds. out of Gotham. This book also served as one of the finest examples of contempt DC's Powers had for its readers. It would not be the last. For me, that issue was the proverbial straw, and over the years, I have not seen a single improvement in these super-hero hootenannies or the long-ranging storyarcs isolated to an individual's body of titles. The Black Lanterns for example are no threat to a universe that has a Superman, Supergirl, Power Girl and yes, even Krypto. All four Kryptonians should be able to dispense with these zombies in one or two issues.
Geoff Johns passionately eschews the term zombie, but that's irrelevant. The creatures arising from the dark are dead. They present no moral quandary. The Superman Family should simply be able to punch holes in the zombies' heads, or hold out their arms and fly at super-speed to decapitate them. The Black Lantern premise however is no better or worse than Our Worlds at War: its basis being empty suits of armor were a match for DC's heroes and that Superman liked to float over wreckage and weep.
The Powers That Be at DC simply do not realize that they are the custodians of America's pop mythology. They cannot realize this. Else, they would not dare propose a Justice League consisting of two former Teen Titans, Mon-El "and the rest." That's not the Justice League. That's just another cadre of nobodies. The only difference is that they have stolen the League's name. If anybody can be the Justice League, why not dub the Outsiders the Justice League? If you're saying that the actual heroes mean nothing, then why not comprise a League out of the Inferior Five? They would be just as good as those three, "the movie star, the Professor and Mary Ann." This is an example of turning characters into brands. The premise is that to make a League you need a Batman, an Amazon and somebody that can mimic Superman's powers. There is only one Batman. There is only one Wonder Woman, and there is only one Superman. They are the core of the League. Substitutes may satisfy the needs of a brand, but they will never make a League.
The regime change at DC means nothing for the quality of comic books if the new Powers fail to address the fundamental problems that have been crippling DC's stories for years. Lively action-packed artwork will fix comic books. Observing the potential of the characters will fix comic books. Adhering to the basic mechanics of writing will fix comic books.
Stories should be emboldened by stars embellished with rich, multi-faceted characterization. The dialogue should be economical yet potent. The characters should have purpose. They should serve roles. These roles should be tied into the histories of the characters. The character should be unique in some way. Wonder Woman for instance is "The World's Greatest Warrior." The stars are supposed to be heroes, and they should act that way. For example, in the Bronze Age, Supergirl and Power Girl, despite possessing the same powers, were distinguishable through their dialogue, their actions, their histories and their attitudes. They were both however extremely tough and effective. Whereas today, Supergirl's claim to fame is vulnerability and the ability to sob. Power Girl on the other hand lives up to her name.
Stories should be palatable to everybody not just a comic book reading audience. The art should be exciting. The tales should not last forever, nor should they dovetail into another saga eternal. In other words, each story should have a beginning, middle and an end. Face the facts. There is no threat that can stymie Batman, Superman or Wonder Woman, when properly written, for very long. Put the three together, and very little can faze them. Add a small army of backup characters like Green Lantern, the Flash, Hawkgirl and the Martian Manhunter, and you may have at best two issues of conflict.
Because of this conglomeration of good, comic books should issue an atmosphere of optimism. Philip Marlowe can be entangled by the corruption he faces, but a character like Batman is going to make a difference. Imagine a world where heroes and villains actually existed. Imagine this world with Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman defending it. These are the heroes that provide hope and resolution. They do not put together the pieces when the world falls apart. They prevent the world from breaking up in the first place. When the Powers at DC start realizing what forces they harbor, only then will DC comics change.
Will Diane Nelson alter the current lazy execution of DC's mightiest? I sincerely doubt it. If anything the lackluster writing and inane premises in modern comic books will infect other media. Simply awful ideas may start proliferating in Smallville. A cartoon series based on the morass of DC comics' hodge-podge continuity may metastasize across the airwaves. I have no hope. DC has over the years killed it, and I doubt the new regime will be able to resuscitate.
Selling the heroes like a brand is a lousy way to reintroduce them to the public. These heroes are more than just brands. They are almost flesh and blood. They are crystallized in our memories. For that reason, DC can publish an infinite number of comic books and create a ton of alternate media telling me that the Batman brand is Dick Grayson, I know otherwise. Batman is and always will be Bruce Wayne.
Comic panel credits:
"Deadly Treasure of Mars"
Superman Family #182
Jack C Harris; Mike Vosberg & Al Milgrom
"Our Friends, Our Enemies"
Justice League of America #190
Gerry Conway; Rich Buckler, Bob Smith, Larry Mahlstedt; Gene D'Angelo(c)
"Peril of the Planet Smashers"
World's Finest #208
Len Wein; Dick Dillin, Joe Giella, colorist unknown
"The Day of the Man-Beasts"
Wonder Woman #305
Dan Mishkin; Gene Colan, Frank McLaughlin(i), Carl Gafford(c)
"Assault on the Pentagon"
Batman Family #18
Bob Rozakis; Juan Oritz, Vince Colletta(i), Jerry Serpe(c)
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