DCnU – Looks Great, but Less Filling

Let’s get the personal stuff out of the way first. I do not work for DC Comics or any of its parent companies and while I may poke fun at both DC Comics and Marvel Comics, I have great respect for the longevity and cultural force of both of these comic titans. Once upon a time, I would have given organs to work for either, but for now, my organs shall remain my own. I am not a hater of comics, no, I have twenty-five or thirty years of comics cooling in a storage locker somewhere until I can decide what to do with them. Once, my love of comics was unending and in some ways, they saved my life, gave me hope and kept me on a path of honesty and heroism that I can say I am proud to live and believe in. That said, I am often amazed at just how blind and bigoted the industry can be. I have seen the lineup of the new DC Universe (shortened on Twitter to #DCnU) and I am saddened by much of what I see. Thanks to the wonderful women of Girls Gone Geek for presenting an awesome lineup of the DCnU covers. Go look, come right back.

In order of sadness:

The Marvel Family, Captain Marvel, Billy Batson as the Wizard and Mary Marvel

1. No Marvel Family. I know in the last few years, their stories were convoluted and difficult but since we were rebooting the universe, I thought they could have found a new seat at the table. I know why they did not, though. They wanted the Superman Family to regain its seat as the mightiest family in the DCnU without question. There were too many similarities between the two groups to make their existence worthwhile to the writers and editors of the current DCnU. They caught a bad deal. Making Billy Batson take over the role of the Wizard was strange, but logical. Making Freddy, Captain Marvel was a stroke of brilliance. Letting Black Adam become a good guy for even a little while made his return to evil, even more tragic. The DCnU is less for their absence.

The Justice Society, the greatest heroes that never were…

2. No Justice Society. Though they were old heroes, they deserved better than to be shuffled off to non-existence as if their legacy did not matter at all. The funny part is their final adventures were some of the finest writing of their entire careers as characters. Yes, they had silly names, from a less serious time, but I thought they could have been renewed and given a new lease on life. There was certainly room enough for some color to have been added to the DCnU. But that is another story.

3. Does the Batman need to show up in at least five books? Batman is the hardest working mortal in the DCnU. He shows up in the Justice League, Justice League International, Batman, Detective Comics, Batman: The Dark Knight and Batman and Robin. Adding insult to injury, his Batman family includes Batgirl, Batwoman, Nightwing, Catwoman, Batwing and the Birds of Prey. So the Batman Family takes up a full fifth of the DCnU. So much potential in these characters but I am afraid they will burn up and run out of steam quickly down the line. I think a smarter step would have been to have a collective series with rotating lineups or story arcs because I just don’t see all of these books maintaining their momentum down the line. No, I did not include any Batman related titles. I wouldn’t have any room for the rest of the article!

The latest iteration of the fashion-impaired Teen Titans

Black Aqualad caused a stir, looked great in video and now has disappeared

4. No new Aqualad in the Teen Titans. Young Justice, the television show was my absolute most favorite incarnation of both the Teen Titans and to a lesser extent the Justice League. Cocky, young Robin, annoying but cute Bart, grim overstretched Superboy, the annoying Martian Girl, Megan (who I will not miss), but my favorite member of Young Justice was Aqualad. Yes, he was black but it was more than that. The new Aqualad was such a refreshing twist from I have come to expect from black heroes in the DCU. I wept with joy each time he hit the screen. He had class, dignity, grace, charisma, and leadership ability in excess of his years. He was one of the best representations of what I have complained about for over thirty years. Make a powerful, well-developed, non-stereotypical black character and he could command the same respect as the Classics did. And of course, in the new DCU, he is nowhere to be found, his amazing powers, his class, his leadership and the dignity he could bring to black readers is gone. No, don’t tell me I have Static as a replacement. Because while I adore Static, he is not Aqualad. And this group of Teen Titans is fashion-impaired in a big way. Please tell me they will change their look because if they are the future, the future is going to be ugly.

Static, last survivor of the Milestone Universe? Another of the many electrically-charged black superheroes.

5. Static is the only survivor of the Milestone Universe. Sadness overwhelms me at the loss of the great characters who could have experienced a renaissance with the reboot of the DCnU. Here was a chance to bring color, culture, new ideas to a universe stuck on itself with white heroes. Yes, they pay the bills, but you might want to check out another article that says DC better get with the times or fall flat on its White superheroic face in less than twenty years time. We have Mr. Terrific, John Stewart, Static, Vixen, Cyborg, Batwing, one part of Firestorm and I think that is Invisible Kid I see in the Legion lineup, but I can’t be sure. Of Hispanic or Latino descent, I see the Blue Beetle. Of Asian descent I see one possible candidate whose name I do not know but might hazard a guess as Katana. Wow, is that really it? I understand that DC is run mostly by White men for almost all of its existence but you figure it might be time to consider hiring some more WOMEN, you know somewhere near the density of the population of the nation would be nice. 1% is a bloody embarrassment. While you are at it, maybe you can populate the rest of the world with some superheroes as well, otherwise your elitism is showing. “Nuff, said.” Okay maybe not, see the afterword for the rest of my sentiment in this regard.

The brilliant broker of Gotham, leader of the Birds of Prey, the wheelchair bound, Oracle

6. Taking Barbara Gordon out of her chair and returning her to the role of Batgirl. A completely stupid thing to do. Yes, I said it and deep in your hearts you will agree even if you do the politically correct thing and say we wanted her back for <insert reason here>. Oracle was an identity that had evolved from tragedy and had grown into a role of personal affirmation and power. The Birds of Prey series and line of books was one of the jewels in the crown of the DCU even if they were not aware of it. A book whose focus was on the talented and metahuman women of the DCU was both brilliant and inspired. Having them lead by Oracle was a trifecta, of mind, might, and magic. Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown were not only doing the job of Batgirl, they were doing it in their own completely different styles. Both would be headed for completely different futures and I was completely okay with that.

Stephanie Brown, daughter of Cluemaster as Batgirl

Cassandra Cain as Batgirl, in the DCnU now called Blackbat

I counted one hundred and sixteen faces from the book covers I was able to find. I counted ten faces of African or African-American descent. Close to the statistical average in America. For the first time in the DCU history I can say that without rancor. Okay a little rancor because half of the characters I don’t actually care about or care for, and I suspect others do not either. Of the ten, only two are A-listers, John Stewart and Cyborg. Mister Terrific is a B-list hero and the rest are relegated to the C-list as either little known, or poorly written or completely unknown and cannot be expected to do much at the moment. I hope I am wrong. As far as the other minority groups, which should have a higher percentage than I can see, all I can say is I hope DC is looking ahead. This would have been the perfect time to have spread the color around. And I won’t mention gay at all because I am certain they will not be addressing Apollo and Midnighter’s previously established gay relationship. If they do, I will be shocked. I suspect it will be relegated to an off-screen relationship with as little mention as possible.

Now on to the WTF pile. Okay because I try to keep my language relatively civilized in my blog, I try to avoid colorful language, but I am going to break my own rule somewhat by including the text language expression WTF. It was the only way I could express some of the dumbest ideas coming out of the comic industry in a long time. And that is really saying something. Let the WTFs begin.

Captain Atom masquerading as Dr. Manhattan

What the F*ck?

Batman is everywhere. I mentioned the one-fifth of the DCnU is Batman related books. WTF?

Dr. Manhattan masquerading as Dr. Manhattan

Theme Redux, Again? Why is Captain Atom suddenly suffering from Doctor Manhattanitis? Do we really need to open the old chestnut of what happens when a man gets so much power, he eclipses the human experience? Was it not explored enough in the Watchmen? Or in other books like Miracleman/Marvelman where not only was it done, it is unlikely to be done better. Tell me why?  WTF?

The Ballad of Hawkman

One Hawkman to lead them all, one Hawkman to find them,
one Hawkman to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.

The Savage Hawkman. I have to say, if this guy were flying toward me, I would run!

So we take a hero who has more origin stories that the Playboy mansion has bunny slippers and try it one more time. For the love of Christ (and I say this with love, because Hawkman has been a favorite of mine for decades) can we pick an origin and stick with it! Is he a hero who finds the mysterious Nth metal and is reincarnated again and again seeking his lost love? Is he a space police officer who uses super-science, and a mixture of primitive and modern weapons in a war on crime? Is he a savage barbarian who enjoys the crushing blows of his chosen weapons of war and has some as yet undisclosed means of flight and somehow manages to NOT get shot by people with guns whenever he shows up with his thirty-foot wingspan of flapping targets. (No, you X-folk don’t get a pass with Angel either.) He better have a force field, some armor, or some damn tough wings or some other reason he does not become a bullet laden-pinata when he shows up in the day, flashing his mace, or axe or claws and no ranged weaponry. WTF?

The New Guardians, led by Kyle Rayner (formerly a Green Lantern of Earth, aka Ion). All these colored rings, I hope the book shines, too

The Guardians of the Galaxy, the Marvel Comics space super-team to beat!

The Rainbow Lanterns er…New Guardians. Are we experiencing Guardian of the Galaxy envy? Yes, do not pretend you are not reading those awesome epic space battles with what were considered heroes relegated to the dustbins of history and instead in the hands of skilled writers are now kicking ass across the galaxy as Guardians of the Galaxy. Yes, including the dusty veterans including Starlord, Rocket Racoon, Groot (I mean Groot? Who remembers that issue of Tales to Astonish #13, anyway?), Gamora, the deadliest woman in the Galaxy, the slimmed down and highly tatted, but no less deadly Destroyer and everyone’s favorite pod-transforming, multi-timeline dwelling, soul-gem-using, magic-commanding golden hero from the 1970’s Adam (Magus, Warlock, Paragon, you figure it out), Quasar, yes that guy who used to work for SHIELD and was a spastic hero for the first fifteen years of his existence, and my personal favorite, the Human Rocket, the Man called NOVA. Epic space battles against awesome enemies, where entire solar systems get reduced to dust and entire species die, sometimes by the hand of the people trying to save them? If you are, GOOD. Then maybe you will get off your asses and write some space adventures worth reading. For the record, despite the preponderance of Caucasian aliens populating the DCU, DC’s space adventures were better written and far more creative than much of the work at Marvel for many a year. With the exceptions of the Adam Warlock, Thanos and Captain Marvel, love-hate relationships, Marvel’s space adventures were an abomination with only the slight glittering of hope when Norrin Radd or the Nova Corps might flash by on their way to an emergency.

The Kree and Skrulls spent far too much time masturbating over which of them was the best and I got bored before I found out. The best thing to come out of Marvel in decades were the recent storylines of the Guardians of the Galaxy and now DC has another chance to eclipse that, IF and only IF they write stories like they mean it. To take a line from Star Trek: “Captain, if we go any faster, it’ll fly apart.”

The Red Lantern Corps, no seriously, a corps comprised of anger-management-challenged ring wielders. Wow.

To his credit Captain Sulu says “Fly it apart!” DCnU you better fly the Rainbow Green Lantern Corp like it is the SR-71 chasing a nuclear bearing Tomahawk missile bearing down on Manhattan. None of that warm fuzzy crap the Green Lantern Corp was known for. I want to see alien space, with alien ideas and adventure so awesome I want to forget how to breath until the very end. We are in space, so make me believe it! Otherwise you will get your WTF after the first issue.

Angry Lanterns…er…Red Lanterns. Really? WTF? Did we need to see a comic just like the Green Lantern Corp except they are angry all the time? Inclined to shoot first and ask questions later? Green Lanterns without Restraint? An entire collection of Sinestros, powerful, barely moral, and equipped with the ultimate weapon. Who exactly is this book for anyway? People who love the Green Lantern Corp but wish they were a bit more…um…what’s the word…bloodthirsty, yes, that’s it. The Bloodthirsty Lantern Corp. I think I will pass. At $4.00 a head, I think the Anger-Management-Challenged Lantern Corp will be a flashy, colorful, ultimately unsatisfying failure in the long run. How many angry ways can you beat up a planet anyway?

Justice League Dark. Not with almonds, not the milk chocolate variety

Justice League Dark? Was that the best you could do? Why not Justice League, Milk Chocolate? or Justice League with Almonds? And listen to this line-up:

Shade the Changing Man? Is he their heavy hitter because last time I checked his suit/vest gave him incredible powers he could barely control. And I think the last time I liked him, he was being drawn by Steve Ditko. If you know who that is, you are too damn old to still be reading comics, just like me. Madame Xanadu? You gotta be kidding me? She better be getting some bad-ass super-upgrades because her powers of precognition are nifty but won’t be stopping a menace that Justice League Classic couldn’t.

Deadman, with the power to possess the living, a one trick pony but a good trick

Deadman, a perenial favorite. His scathing wit, his devil may care attitude about his undead state has endeared him to me, even as I suspend my belief that he will be able to sustain his own book let alone work in this one. His cool but singular power of possessing the bodies of the living is well…cool, but second rate. And lest I forget, the annoying, the chain-smoking, the one-shot artifact using, knows his way around the supernatural realm, using up favors the way my cat unravels a roll of toilet paper, but never runs out of them, favorite heroes, John Constantine. Now unless he has some canned Phantom Stranger under his unwashed and likely odiferous trench coat, I cannot see how this lineup of motley, single powered, almost has-beens is going to stop ANY threat unless it is a lunch counter in danger of being over-run by septuagenarians. I will leave it to the vunderkind at DC to explain why they should not get a WTF explosion salad for this piece of feldacarb.

Iron Superman and his big boy pants

Is there any light at the end of this tunnel? Like Lemmiwinks I am desperately seeking to find the light. As a lover of the Superman line, I can assuredly say to you when I heard Superman was losing the “registration line trunks” he has worn for over thirty years for no good reason, (yes, he wore them longer, but for some of his career they did serve a purpose of helping to align printing presses as a registration marker) I cheered and eagerly awaited his new look. It turned out they did not move too far from his old look, I think the belt would have looked better gold rather than red but other than that, BRAVO. Although why the formerly invulnerable Superman is flying around in armor makes me wonder is the DCnU experiencing a bit of Iron Envy as well.

The new Birds of Prey. Katana sprung for armored pants, Black Canary still wearing stockings. Pants Please?

Now Supergirl on the other hand, is there someone there who forgot to make her legs BLUE? I heard the girls were going to get PANTS. And whatever idiot still has Black Canary running around in stockings when she might have to take a bullet in the leg, I would like you to remember Kevlar does not come in stockings. Say it with me class: Adventurers who might catch bullets want body armor and Kevlar. Not so much they can’t move, not so little, it doesn’t stop bullets. If the hero does not possess damage resistance or damage avoidance powers, THEY NEED ARMOR.

There were so many other books coming out that I was just wondering what the hell was going on at DC. Yes, I love Mr. Terrific, but plucking him out of space-time and giving him an origin bereft of the Justice Society seems wrong. I will eagerly await his appearance just the same since it has been a long time since a Black superhero got top billing and didn’t have the word Black in his name.

The Green Lantern Corps, now with considerably less anger than the Red Lantern Corps, even with Guy Gardner and the angry Black man, John Stewart. Let’s not forget perpetually-in-a-bad-mood, Kilowog

Afterword: And since we are talking about diversity and have been doing so for the last few weeks since the new Ultimate Spiderman was revived as a half black and half Latino character and since DC was revealed to have hired about 1% of their staff as females.

If we were to be judging any industry on its diversity, ethnic makeup and male to female ratios, almost none would pass muster, especially in America, where hiring is almost always done by those with the most money or influence in an industry. Almost without exception this will be White males.

So, if the comic industry has a preponderance of White males, this should be no surprise to anyone. If its hiring practices, especially those firms with longevity of thirty years or more tends to resemble organizations from those less enlightened eras, I would not be surprised.

Adding insult to injury, the very nature of the material lends itself to idolization by men and condemnation by women for the depiction of women in those works, is it any surprise, women would want less, in theory, to do with comics than men? That said, there are likely as many women who would WANT to make comics, if for no other reason, to show better depictions of women (and the same could be said for minorities, since they have exactly the same issues as women, under-representation and unequal treatment both in the industry and in the media depictions.)

Firestorm, fusion of magic and science or is it one origin over another? Who knows, he might even be Black.

What surprises me is that those firms STAY that way even now, when it has been proven that diversity is the number one factor companies who are successful today recognize as a fairly inexpensive way of gaining an advantage in our highly competitive society. A more diverse group, one reflecting society as a whole is likely to be more in touch with the needs, ideas, characterizations, lifestyles and belief systems.

This potentially allows for development of storylines in hereforto unseen ways which might engage audiences who current consider comics little more than testosterone-laden slugfests with homo-erotic, misogynistic overtones with the rampant objectification of women and the blatant disregard for minorities.

So why hasn’t the industry made a greater effort to include women and minorities in somewhere near to the proportions relevant in our society, both in producing quality depictions of characters, as well as the hiring of women and minorities on their staff to help develop effective means of storytelling, craftsmanship and quality control of those minority groups, making the work resonate better, potentially widening their readership, improving the quality of the work, and allowing for greater creativity overall in the workplace.

This would imply, 50% of most workplaces would be women, with the racial breakdowns proportionate to the society we live in. 50% White 26% Hispanic, 12% African American, 6% Other 4% Asian and 1.1% Native American/Pacific Islander. Okay, the industry’s statement is, the skills are not evenly distributed, or are not there, the connection to finding those people are not there, and the interest in hiring is not there, it is too expensive to make the effort to find these ratios, when our fan base is mostly White men, who are only too happy to join up to perpetuate what is already making us money.

Justice League – Forty years later and the lineup has almost not changed a bit. Hey, whose that black guy? Oh a Titan Graduate. Cyborg? I guess the rest got sent back to school.

It’s logical but lazy, and ultimately is slowly choking the life out of the industry. Each reboot, each reshuffle, each continuity redistribution, muddles the water, and confuses new readers. Link this to the emotional attachments readers have to characters and the fanboy lack of desire for change and each time a universe is reset, any new readers who were interested in your work, such as it was, is at risk.

Stormwatch. Either you have heard of them or you haven’t. Not necessarily heroes, they get the job done. Don’t ask what the job is. The Manhunter is their conscience. They’ll need him.

At the same time, this industry has been claiming its numbers have been less successful over the years and they cannot understand why any efforts to diversify their character base has failed to take root. The answer is two-fold: A lack of authenticity in the character base and a lack of diversity in the staff.

Writers will immediately take affront saying they can tell stories, no matter who the characters are, and as I writer I understand the idea. But I also know, that a female’s view of things will be different and having a woman to work with might improve my ability to tell that story. A woman may even tell the same story in a completely different manner, resonating with women in a way a man may not. White writers may believe they know the minds of minority heroes, but not having the minority experience, it will likely ring falsely to minority readers, hence alienating the very people they are trying to attract.

Mr. Terrific, one of the newest of the DC lineup. Fix that mask, why does the bottom look like its red? Mr. T planning on kissing someone?

The lack of diversity in their staff has ensured the stories they tell best are the ones they have always told, hence the lack of development in the industry, no matter who the writers were, who the company is, or which part of the industry the company works in, whether it be horror, relationships, science fiction, or the general superhero industry.

The real problem is not the number of women or minorities hired into the comic industry or the reasons they are not hired. We know why that is. The real question is how long before the comic industry collapses under the weight of its inability to grow, evolve, change, adapt and bring real diversity both to their product and their workforce? Will they make the transition in time or one by one, fall into obscurity as their fan-boys age out, lose interest, or experience greater competition from other media.

I think, if the industry isn’t careful, this will be known as the Final Age of Comics. Now I am going to dismantle my soapbox and go buy the few comics of the DCnU that I AM interested in (and it won’t be Batwing, a refreshed, rewritten version of Marvel’s Falcon, same technology, same skills and no superpowers. Who does a brother have to screw to get some superpowers in comic book universes?) WTF.

Thaddeus [@ebonstorm]

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