For the 20th edition of Geek Life, I decided that I would talk about the things that finally got me to buy comics from DC. I grew up on Marvel and, to this day, still know far more about their characters and history than I do DC. It’s not like I never bought any DC Comics when I was a kid, it was simply that I wasn’t as much interested in those characters as I was Spider-Man or the Avengers. So, let’s see what got me interested enough in the “other guys” to give their books a read, shall we?
Crossing the Line to Check Out the Distinguished Competition
Let’s face it. Every industry has rivals. Sports, being perhaps the largest of all industries, is loaded with rivals whether it’s Yankees-Red Sox, Bears-Packers, or Celtics-Lakers. In the computer technology industry, it’s Apple and IBM. In the Cola Wars, it’s Coke and Pepsi. In the rivalry for your dollars, it’s Wal-Mart vs. just about everyone who owns a store. The big rivalry in comics has always been between Marvel and DC Comics.
Of course, DC was first. They invented the “superhero”. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and Green Lantern were all new gods. They were America’s contribution to popular culture and a shared mythology that would, a short while later, take the world by storm. Marvel came along later and reinvented the idea of the superhero. They gave the world a myriad of people just like us. Teenagers with great power and great responsibility. A family transformed by cosmic radiation. A group of mutants feared and hated by normal people, but still sworn to protect them. A Norse God with Daddy issues.
Really, the only Marvel characters who resembled anything grander than normal people, like those DC published, were the ones created during Marvel’s earliest days. Characters like Captain America, the original Human Torch, and Namor, the Sub-Mariner, fought Nazis alongside other superheroes from all over the world. They were created during the Golden Age of Comics and hold a bit of that same mythological status. They were still different than DC’s characters. Steve Rogers was a skinny kid who couldn’t join the army to help fight the Nazis and protect his beloved country. Science helped him become a strong sentinel of freedom. Namor was a mutant. He wasn’t quite human, but not quite Atlantean. The Human Torch was an android trying to learn to be human.. Marvel took a much more sci-fi slant to their characters, and, while they were still gods in their own right, they were like us. This would be a trend that would continue and it’s why I liked Marvel so much.
I was always somewhat aware of the DC characters and what was going on in their books. I knew the second Robin was killed by the Joker. I knew Superman was running into problems with Doomsday. I knew there were a ton of Green Lanterns running around, I just didn’t know Hal Jordan was killing a bunch of them. I knew Barry Allen had died. So, I didn’t have to do much more than go into a comic shop or flip through one at the newsstand to see what was going on. However, there was so much history and so many years of convoluted stories. It was hard for me to find a place to start and that made it even harder for me to want to start.
What’s funny is that my enjoyment of one writer’s take on a Marvel comic that led me to learn much more, and eventually read, DC Comics. It was Geoff Johns’ work on The Avengers just before he signed an exclusive contract with DC that hooked me. I already knew I appreciated the second-tier characters at DC more than Superman and Batman. Johns already built a great resume with his work on Flash. I always liked the Flash, so it was only natural for me to crossover into DC territory with Flash #201. So between Flash and learning more about the different characters or items that played into the Avengers/JLA crossover event, I found it incredibly easy to learn more about DC and, more importantly, one event in particular to jump right into.
The current DC Universe history really began with Crisis on Infinite Earths. It was still running when I first started collecting comics in the mid-80s, but because I had no idea what that was or what it really meant when I was a kid, I didn’t read it. In my second stint of collecting, I immediately fell in love with the art of George Perez. It was his art that made it even easier for me to want to read it some 17 years later.
The real architect of the Crisis on Infinite Earths was Marv Wolfman. He was already a veteran comic writer for both Marvel and DC when he began working on Crisis. The real beginning started about three or four years prior to the release of the first issue. But why did it happen? Well, remember when I said DC seemed to have a terribly confusing and convoluted timeline? As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. DC was hurting for new readers. They realized the root problem was their own continuity. DC employed the use of a “multiverse” which turned into an infinite number of universes each with their own set of heroes. No one new exactly which Superman they were actually reading because Superman was seen hanging out with characters in the current continuity, dubbed “Earth-1″, and was also familiar with characters from the Golden Age, dubbed “Earth-2″. When Barry Allen gained superspeed, he named himself the Flash after his favorite comic book character. The need to have two separate Earths with their own continuities became that much more important. At what point can you say the Superman from the Silver Age was the same or different than the Superman from the Golden Age? Over the decades, DC tried to build the differences and create specific timelines, but it caused a ton of headaches for the lay reader.
Wolfman had long wanted to write a massive story in which the superheroes was forced to face a massive, universe destroying villain. Now, while at DC, he had the chance to sort it all out. The goals were simple… He and Perez would do for all the DC Universe what they did for the Teen Titans – make it popular and relevant. Exactly how they would go about it was interesting. They needed to make sure Superman was important again. He was supposed to be the last son of Krypton, but there were Supermen in every universe, not to mention an often seen Golden Age Superman, Supergirl, Krypto, and a ton of super animals. They needed to pare down the massive multiverse into one, singular universe. No more Golden Age this, Silver Age that. One universe.
What did that mean for the multiverse? The idea was to eliminate the idea completely. Along with this, some characters would have to die. Wolfman stuck to his promise that no character created before his birth would die, but Barry Allen would die a heroes’ death. Also, Kara Zor El, Superman’s cousin, Supergirl, would also bite the dust. These events happened in back-to-back issues and proved to the fans that DC was not going to pull punches to right their ship. Many believe Kara’s death proved to be the best story Supergirl was ever involved in, and it was unfortunate it had to come at the end of her life. Even more believe Barry’s death was one of the greatest, most heroic deaths in comics history. Even Wonder Woman would be knocked so hard during the final battle that she was thrust back in time into the lump of clay she was molded from.
Even though the story didn’t stick, and DC ultimately needing a couple more Crises to continue to retool their universe, I loved the series. To me, Crisis on Infinite Earths is the best of the best when it comes to events. It truly changed how DC would operate. It forced almost all the titles, except Batman’s titles, to reboot and start over. It created a new continuity for Superman that updated the character for new readers. The story was epic and Perez’ art was gorgeous. As I turned each page, I was introduced to a new character. I also had the help of the internet to find more information on what each character’s connection to the overall story was and who was there in the background.
It was because of this, that very quickly I recognized the hints made for a second Crisis. The pieces were in place with the events of Identity Crisis and the first arc of Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuiness’ Superman/Batman series. Identity Crisis set up a mood in the DCU that was troubling for the heroes. Superman/Batman had a “dethroned” President Lex Luthor exclaiming a “Crisis is coming!!!” Who would be guiding DC through this Infinite Crisis? Well, none other than Geoff Johns.
With each issue that came out, I hungrily read and reread the new Crisis. Call me a sucker, but I love an epic event when they work. It’s easy to get event fatigue, but there was just something about Infinite Crisis that really struck a chord in me. Knowing Superman and Lois Lane of Earth-2, Alexander Luthor of Earth-3, and Superboy-Prime (Prime signifying what was supposed to be the real world the audience existed in) had secluded themselves in what they believed to be paradise at the end of the first Crisis, imagine my surprise when they were revealed to be stuck in a crystal room forced to watch the heroes of the present day slipping from grace. Imagine an even bigger surprise when Earth-2 Superman, Alexander Luthor, and Superboy-Prime came out as the puppet masters and villains of the story! I should say here that E-2 Superman eventually realized he was being played based on the health, and Alexander Luthor’s plan to make her feel better, of Lois, but still, he was none too pleased with the way the modern heroes dealt with problems.
Alex would eventually fail in trying to find the “perfect” Earth, and because he didn’t invite the Joker to the party, was killed. Superboy-Prime went crazy and, being unable to deal with the loss of his Earth from the original Crisis and Alex’s inability to find that Earth when a new multiverse briefly appeared in the sky, ended up becoming an insanely powerful villain that would cause problems for DC for a while afterward. E-2 Superman and Lois both died, much to the dismay of Golden Age fans.
When it appeared that the multiverse faded away when Alex failed, it ended up sticking. In the follow up, year-long, weekly series 52, it was revealed that a brand new multiverse existed out there and only a few people knew about it. However, it wouldn’t stay safe for long. Each universe had its own Monitor, and they were quickly growing personalities of their own. An interesting idea, but it ultimately went nowhere because Grant Morrison took his turn at the Crisis plate and went in a completely different direction with Final Crisis. Supposedly, Morrison had grand plans for the multiverse following Final Crisis (which to my dismay had very little to do with any build up stories produced to usher it in and little connection to what the other two Crises were), but some two years later, nothing has been seen. In fact, whenever I try to talk, or even think, about Final Crisis, it angries up my blood. That’s how much I ended up disliking the confusing, nonsensical story. I’d love to see another true Crisis, but I’m not holding my breath for that.
The Crises weren’t the only things I read from DC. Like everyone, I read the “Hush” story in Batman. I’ve also read some Superman here and there. I thoroughly enjoyed Gail Simone’s run on Wonder Woman. I loved her Secret Six stuff, but unfortunately, I had to end up cutting that from my list to save. I read a lot of Green Arrow until recently. I took shots at the JSA and the JLA. For the most part, though, I’ve stayed with the Flash, Green Lantern, and Jonah Hex. Right now, I’m also reading Zatanna and the DC Universe Legacies, but I’ve kinda strayed away from DC and back to being mostly a Marvel guy again.
I don’t know if there’s a specific reason for that. I know I cut down some of my spending to allow for other things. I mean I have to have some way to afford the 18 Avengers books that come out every month, right? When I had to make those hard choices as to what I’m dropping, I fell back on the basics of what I like. I love genre stuff, so Jonah Hex stuck. I love magical characters like Zatanna because their stories tend to be more fun to read, so she stuck. I’m fully invested in Flash and Green Lantern, so I’m not jumping off that wagon anytime soon.
For some characters I specifically do have reasons for not buying their books. Originally, my problem with Batman was the number of comics he was in and how often they did crossovers. More recently, my problem was Grant Morrison. Superman is a fantastic icon, but not a terribly interesting read in my opinion. At the end of the day, Superman is the all powerful superhero that cannot be defeated. There’s a limit to how many good stories you can tell with the Man of Steel that makes many of the comics in between those just filler. As far as Wonder Woman goes, I fell victim to getting a terrible taste in my mouth with her costume change and new direction from a writer I actually do like. I can’t spend money on things I just don’t like. Most of the others I’ve cut out it really came down to being left with neither a good or a bad feeling about the stories. I grew indifferent with DC whereas Marvel would either make me absolutely love or absolutely hate an idea or series.
I still recognize the importance of the DC heroes and their place in this new mythology. There is no grander vision of justice and hope than Superman’s symbol. There is no greater vision of law and order than Batman’s symbol. There is no greater symbol for compassion and open-mindedness than Wonder Woman. Marvel may have more relate-able characters or better stories to tell in a more realistic world, but DC captures the imagination of the kids inside each of us. Their earliest characters were created out of basic elements that they became archetypes for a brand new medium. You just can’t deny the power of that.
If I had to rank my favorite event comics. DC would hold many of the top spots. They know scale better than Marvel. Marvel seemed to have spent the better part of a decade moving from one moment to the next with the end of each of those events being not much more than a dud as it prepared for the next moment. They eventually got where they wanted to go, but DC knows that if they are going to raise a bunch of dead characters with Black Lantern rings, they are going to get things rolling quickly, bring the heroes together, and have a conclusion. There might be some prologues and epilogues to be seen for sometime before and after that event, but you get a whole story right away. You don’t necessarily need to know what happened in this event or how the current event will set the stage for some other event at some other point. It’s really refreshing to know that you’re going to get one full event from DC. Some might be tired, or, for reasons of their own, flat out hate some of the events DC has done, but I like to think they are doing them right. They are giving what all fans want deep down – a chance to see all their favorite heroes get together to beat the crap out of a bad guy. It’s exactly what we did on the playground during recess, and it’s exactly what we’ve always wanted to see in our comics.
Well, that just about does it for this edition of Geek Life. Come back in two weeks when I go on some kind of strange rambling about how cool the Sci-Fi Channel used to be. I’ll relive some memories of watching Dark Shadows, Mystery Science Theater 3000, the original V series (that was a big event for me and my friends when that week rolled around every six months or so), Twilight Zone marathons, and the really cool short film showcase they had called Exposure. Hell, I even got my first taste of true love for the Universal Monster Movies from the Sci-Fi Channel. So, come back and see what I’ve got to say then!