Comic Cancellations and the Comics Industry

Dec-08-08

While Jason and I may have been slow in posting the past few weeks due to other commitments, the comics world has continued to move forward. One of the big recent announcements made by the Big Two was DC’s decision to cancel their mid-tier Bat-Books, including Robin, Nightwing and Birds of Prey. This may have come as a surprise to some readers, but it’s not an unusual move. None of those books had a buzz about them and sales had been mediocre for some time.


This tactic, of culling the weak from a herd of related books, is not unusual. Marvel, when it introduced its “Brand New Day” storyline into Amazing Spider-Man, used that as an opportunity to cancel all of its other monthly Spidey titles, although they then began publishing Amazing Spider-Man every week, so that may have been a wash. Throughout the past decade, Marvel has also taken the hatchet to its bloated X-Men family of titles on a few occasions, although such cancellations never seem to trim the line for long, with new books and relaunched versions of older books soon appearing.


In fact, that’s one of the questions that one must ask when confronted with news of this sort: does it matter, in any conceivable way? It’s possible we won’t see Birds of Prey again, but does anyone truly believe that there won’t be another Robin series popping up down the line? All it would require would be a hot artist or writer being brought on board and that title could easily be relaunched, with a new number one issue, and if we’re really lucky, variant covers (perhaps with special metals used on them)! Cancellations like these, while frustrating to those fans who follow those series on a monthly basis, are normally just speedbumps in the road for these established characters, who will either guest star regularly in their parent title, or will be back soon enough in their own title. Cancellations are only a concern when you’re a relatively new, untested property, like say, Blue Beetle.


Yes, DC has also announced the cancellation of their Blue Beetle title, and sadly, the titular hero has no other place to call his home. Cancelling a title such as Blue Beetle or the critically acclaimed Manhunter (or, on the Marvel side, the oft-cancelled Spider-Girl) often means that the characters who have lost their book will disappear, rarely, if ever, to be seen again. If the writer of that title is writing other titles for the company, they may be able to move some characters over into their non-cancelled titles, but that’s not always the case (and for a character like Spider-Girl, who’s in a different continuity, it’s not really even possible). Many people have attacked and lambasted DC over its decision to cancel Blue Beetle, as the character had just appeared on their new cartoon show The Brave and the Bold, and the cancellation was seen as a poor marketing move, which it might well have been, had DC ever marketed its comics towards the viewers of the show in question.


In any case, the comics blogosphere has been all abuzz the past few weeks as numerous armchair quarterbacks discuss these cancellations, and what sort of an effect they will have on the industry as a whole. Never one to miss out on an opportunity to inject my opinion into a topic that other’s have milked dry, I am going to jump into this fray, as is the lovely and talented Jason. I think we bring a unique perspective to this debate, in that we are not armchair quarterbacks of any sort; I, for one, sit in an office chair, with no armchairs in sight.


So, let me outline what we’ll be discussing, and then I’ll turn this over to Jason, who’s been hoping to rant for many days now. We’ve mentioned the different types of cancellations: mid-tier books that will likely be back soon; mid-tier books which are absorbed into the parent books in their line; and the third stringers who may disappear altogether with no other title to call home. The question is: are these sorts of cancellations wise business decisions? Do they help or hurt the comics industry as a whole? Are they a shortsighted decision or one that looks to the future? To begin the discussion, I turn this over to Jason, but I’ll be back with my own thoughts on the subject soon enough.


To begin, I would like to point out that my chair does have arms, but it is also on wheels…so I think that technically rules out any sort of “armchairing” on my part. You’re right to relate that I have been waiting to rant about this topic for a while now. I kept starting and stopping my own version of this post because I had just too many thoughts and opinions to blurt out. I didn’t want to tax anyone’s reading comprehension abilities as I vacillated wildly from topic to topic. I’m sure this response will meander into the realms of economic concerns, buying habits, related cultural industries, the counterintuition of the industry and a bunch of other things. However, first I’m going to try to address John’s questions straight on.


John asks if “these sorts of cancellations are wise business decisions” to which I respond: ANY sort of cancellation is usually a wise business decision. And, quite honestly, I wish the Big Two would do more pruning of their overgrown product lines. It’s all about curb appeal…and right now, neither Marvel or DC has much of that when it comes to attracting new readership. The mentality of the last decade or two, to be filed under “Lessons NOT Learned From the Mid-90s,” is this: if readers love Mr. Super in one book, they’re sure to love him in eight books! If they are willing to fork over $3 for one comic featuring Mega-Dude, imagine how much we can squeeze from them if we have Mega-Dude appear in a dozen titles this month! On its face, that sounds like a great supply-and-demand model, right? Unfortunately, comics are a different sort of beast. Maybe I read the monthly Mighty Mr. Super title because I like the writer or the artist, whereas Awesome Mr. Super, Mr. Super Adventures, and Mr. Super Hangs Around Outside Elementary Schools employ creators who don’t twirl my baton. Or, and this seems to be the one the big boys can’t seem to understand, maybe I only have $3 this month! Maybe, I buy a bunch of other books (including, ironically, some from the same publisher) and don’t want to make that commitment or be faced with that choice. Or let’s say I do make that commitment, but now I have to drop one of their other titles in order to read more about Mr. Super.


Extrapolating that kind of effect can be difficult, but I’ll try to explain it in small numbers. DC launches Blue Beetle to some critical success. It begins to build an audience. DC faithful like it enough to add it to their regular buy lists. However, then DC decides to launch an event comic that is destined to “change the DC Universe FOREVER.” Well, being a DC fan, you feel like you need to see this. You stretch your budget a bit to include this overpriced piece of garbage, but that’s pushing it. You like Blue Beetle and don’t want to give up on it yet…I mean, they’re going to introduce this new character, build a world around him and let him enjoy some adventures on his own before trying to force decades of unrelated continuity into the title, right? AHAHAHAHA. Don’t hold your breath. But, for argument’s sake, let’s just assume that everything is going swimmingly over in Beetle-burg. Now, DC decides that Batman is going to die. Oh no! Not one of the major comic icons of my lifetime! I need to follow that story desperately! Um…bye-bye Blue Beetle or big event comic or DC in general just for forcing me to choose. In fact, maybe I’ll just give up completely on comics. Granted, that may be pushing this example to the extreme, but it’s possible. The goodwill that was going to be built by Blue Beetle or Secret Six or Birds of Prey or The All-New Atom or Shadowpact or anything else, is now dribbled away by DC trying to do too much at once.


That’s an example of what can cause a new book to be cancelled, but what about a mid-tier book? Well, it’s a similar track. Companies forget that there is a limited audience out there and that that audience has a limited budget too. You can’t have the mentality that “everyone in the world wants to read every book I make” and hope to have great success in this business. I haven’t gone back and crunched years of data on the topic, but I can make a few educated guesses about those second-level titles. Let’s say The Supergroup sells 100,000 copies a month. The company decides this is a good time to take advantage of increased readership and introduce The Fabulous Supergroup as a companion title. For the sake of simplicity, readership on the first issue of Fabulous is also 100,000. Wow! Another hit on their hands! Of course, over the release of a few issues, the numbers adjust themselves to account for readers making a decision between the two titles or deciding the creators aren’t their favorites or the stories aren’t interesting or whatever. After issue #4 hits the stands, Fabulous is now attracting only 70,000 readers and the original title is down to about 90,000. In order to regain some flagging interest, the company decides to launch a solo title for their most popular character, Mega-Dude. Mega-Dude’s premiere issue flies off the racks at a pace of 120,000. Awesome! But now it’s decision time again. Do readers feel that Mega-Dude is better on his own (meaning an uptick in the solo series, but less interest in the team book)? The original series drops to 75,000…Fabulous now sits at 50,000 (and is on the bubble for cancellation now) and the solo series settles in around 80,000. Do they feel that three titles with Mega-Dude are way too many and decide to drop one or two of them? Do they get completely fed up with Mega-Dude’s overexposure and drop all the titles? Do they decide to stick with all three but now have to drop the Mr. Super title because of a limited budget? Or does a rival company take advantage of the diluted market and launch some new fan favorite title that attracts 150,000 purchases and shoots to number one on the sales chart?


Someone is going to lose.


And that’s just the economic semantics of the deal. Having the same character appear in a bunch of different books every month is a horrible way to keep characterization and tell fluid stories. Why can’t there be just one X-Men comic? You have great stories to tell? Perfect! Tell them in one book. Maybe increase the page count or put it out bi-weekly or something. Is there really any need to dilute the characters and their gravitas just to kill a few more trees and put more stress on your readers’ wallets? At the very least, combine the titles…if two books cost $6, you should be able to double the page count and produce a single title for $5. If every publisher would follow this model, readers could get more bang for their buck and the market would turn to one more similar to Japan’s booming market…with thicker monthly books that contain multiple stories. Less titles to fret over, but more stories in each book.


I’ll skip John’s second question and go right to the “shortsighted decision” inquiry. Yes, I believe all of these cancellations are shortsighted. It has nothing to do with the titles themselves, but with the overall mentality of the comic industry. Everything they do is shortsighted. Switching creative lineups. Launching assorted miniseries. Killing off established characters. You name it, it’s a blindfolded dartboard mission. Even the things they think they have planned out ahead of time end up being retrofitted at the last second. Look at all the stories about DC’s big event books for the past two years…Dan DiDio has lorded over the titles, making adjustments, removing key plot points, changing characters and generally mucking about in the creators’ realm all in the name of “executive editing.” And how has that worked out for them so far? I’ll tell you: confusing, self-referencing, continuity-laden stories featuring third and fourth-tier characters that the average literate person doesn’t recognize and could care less about. You’d think they’d learn after one debacle, but instead they keep trying to adjust for each event, making them go further and further off track until the Final Final Final Crisis will be a one-shot featuring Bwana Beast playing a game of battleship against the head of Toyman. And someone is bound to say, “Wasn’t that one dude on the Super Friends cartoon?”


Now for John’s last question: “Do cancellations help or hurt the industry as a whole?” Well, personally, I think there’s some good and some bad. There have been titles that have bled readers without outside influence, proving they probably didn’t deserve the attention they were granted. There have been titles launched that had great buzz before they hit the stands and then just fell flat, whether from overblown expectations or suck-o creative output. And then there are books that really could have been something, but were given no promotion, overpopulated with ill-conceived crossovers, or hastily tossed on the chopping block to save the 14th useless and watered-down Cool-Man title. As a whole, I wish the industry would think a little before they launch the titles, take better care of them once they’ve launched and look across their entire line before they start cutting off noses to spite their faces, so to speak.


I have a lot more to say on the topic, but I’ll give it back to John to digest my rant and reply appropriately.

Well, before I delve into what you wrote too extensively, I have to completely agree with you that these choices are short-sighted, and that all the choices the Big Two make fall into that category. Sadly, I feel that’s a problem with much of the world today; we tend to live in a very short-sighted society, which can’t look more than a few weeks or months into the future. The comics industry is obviously not as strong as it could be, as it has been in the past, and indeed, as strong as it is in other countries. While there are numerous reasons for this, I believe that, to change this and to really turn the industry around, the leaders of this industry are going to have to look to the future and make some difficult choices. They need to completely change the way they do business, because the current business model? Not working out so well.

I agree with much of what Jason says, although I feel that you don’t hit a wall of diminishing returns in a financial realm only, when you publish multiple titles featuring the same character; you hit that same wall in a creative realm as well. Put simply, Batman may be one of the most interesting characters in creative fiction, but he’s not interesting enough to feature predominantly in six books a month. If you insist on publishing six books a month featuring this character, you are going to start running out of ideas, and you’re going to either recycle old ideas (changing little) or you’re going to get some really bad stories.

Understand that I am quite cognizant that bad stories can happen in the books of characters that only have one title. My point would be that, in the case of a character like Batman or Superman or Spider-Man, you should easily be able to get the top creators in the business to chronicle their adventures. If you restrict their adventures to one main title, you can have the top creators in the business telling their stories, and you don’t have to worry about trying to find others to pad the pages of the many ancillary titles that feature them. You would have creators who would be building on many years worth of stories, yes, but those years would only be filled with twelve or twenty four issues worth of stories, not sixty or seventy two issues, as we have now.

I also see how budgets are limited, and multiple series featuring a favorite character can really hurt a buyer’s wallet. I’m sure that, if this was suggested to the Powers That Be that run DC and Marvel (and I’m sure it has) they would counter that, if they drop two Superman titles a month, the consumer who was purchasing them wouldn’t then start picking up Manhunter and Blue Beetle; they’d simply save the money, or use it on another form of entertainment. Unfortunately, the Powers That Be could be right, and consumers might react that way. Still, I believe that it’s a chance that must be taken. I believe that, if given more choices, not only might current readers try something different, but that new readers might be brought into comics, since there would now be a better chance that the Big Two were publishing something that might interest them. This wouldn’t be a quick process, as there are decades of preconceptions built into our culture, but going back to making far sighted decisions, those preconceptions will never be broken down if steps aren’t taken to do so.

Okay, intermission is over. The rant may continue.

Right. I’ve gotten my breath back and I’m ready to sound off again! I like the point you raised at the end. I think there’s a general fear within the industry that they’re competing against video games and movies and all the other related disposable entertainment. However, you can’t ever succeed if all you do is operate on a fear-based model. Don’t take chances! Don’t do something that may alter the sales patterns of the last four years! Don’t make any changes to characters or continuity that can’t be explained and changed back at a moment’s notice! Don’t try to attract new readers in a new way! Don’t put any effort into cross-promotion outside your sheltered little industry!

Look, how simple could this be? Instead of putting the onus on the retailer to sell your product, why don’t you do something that could help out everyone? Pundits like to draw conclusions about comic books from comic-based movies. The new Batman flick did gangbusters, that must mean the comics are selling millions too, right? Um…no. The person who watches a movie isn’t necessarily the same person who has spent a decade following the adventures of his favorite hero. Sadly, while most comic book readers will flock to comic-based movies, most comic-based movie watchers don’t flock to comic shops. They go home and watch TV or go see another movie or go out in the sunshine and engage in sports or social events. It’s not a two-way street by any means of the imagination. Readers need to be cultivated and, in a way, bred into existence. I can’t think of one person I know these days who just decided one morning to be a comic book reader. And the industry does little to help. I always believed there was potential to cross-promote a movie into a visit to the comic shop. That is, until I actually owned a comic book store. When someone wanders in looking for a recommendation, sometimes you’re at a loss. Sure, if they just saw From Hell or V For Vendetta, you can recommend the source material verbatim. However, X-Men: The Last Stand came out while I had my store. Someone who knows nothing about the X-Men, aside from what they’ve seen in the theater, comes in looking for an X-Men comic book. How do you explain to them that there are about a dozen titles to choose from? Or that you could recommend another dozen or so collections and trades, all with different characters, plots and creative teams? Which do you think they’d like? Which ones do you personally think are fabulous, but could lose the person you’re showing it to? And if you make one bad recommendation, you risk losing that customer forever (not that there’s a guarantee that they would come back anyway).

Maybe I was just a bad salesman…I’ve heard from both sides of that argument already. I know that not all superhero movies can pull a revered plotline straight from the pages and slap it up on screen. Concessions need to be made in terms of pacing and costumes and special-effects abilities and even for the translation to viewers who aren’t familiar with comics in general. But imagine how much easier things would be at the retail level if there were only one Batman title on the shelves. Someone walks in, says they just saw the film and now they want a Batman comic and BOOM, instant sale. You don’t need to spend an hour explaining the story or the crossover or the extraneous characters popping in and out of every other panel. Just, here’s the monthly Batman title. I would also like to believe, and maybe I’m just an eternal optimist, that one title would mean better stories. You have a built-in filter. Let the top creators pitch their stories and pick the ones you think are tops. Don’t just settle for whatever because you have 150 pages to fill in a month and you think consumers are mindless sheep. KISS…Keep It Simple Stupid!

I’m old enough to remember the DC Implosion of 1978. Twenty titles were cancelled and a handful of other planned books were nixed due to low sales attributed to a couple winter blizzards (which points to an obvious flaw in your business plan). Granted, none of the titles were anything to write home about…with the exception, in my little world, of Mister Miracle and Secret Society of Super-Villains. However, DC was also on the verge of eliminating their flagship title and namesake of the company, Detective Comics. Only a last minute merger with the better-selling Batman Family kept Detective in print. It goes to show that a bloated line can be dangerous for even your most historic titles. Maybe Detective should’ve been sent packing? Nostalgia can only sell so many books, the rest need to be sold on story and characters…unless you count that brief span in the 90s and early 00s where sales were artist-based, which always baffled me.

Of course, once you start talking about cancelling titles, the fanboys start to freak out about cuts across the board and people losing jobs and companies going out of business. I recently read a post on the new version of Blog@Newsarama (which is horribly amateurish and, at times, just plain awful, compared to what they had before), in which the author tries to make a connection between a film studio cutting back on its staff and the time of the successful comic-based movie coming to pass. This point is crowbarred in right after he points out that The Dark Knight just made a billion dollars and that comic-based movies are more successful than ever. If comic-based movies are so successful, why then, in any sense of the definition of logical, would film companies stop making them? Just because they lay off part of their office staff in order to reduce overhead, doesn’t mean they’re suddenly going to wipe their upcoming slate and devote all their resources to making documentaries about churches and playing chess. They’re not going to suddenly stop producing the one film genre that is bringing in demonstrable cash. And, even if they did, there’s absolutely no correlation between a reduction in comic-based movies and the sudden and complete collapse of the comic book industry. Popular comics have been produced since the 1930s or earlier, and the first successful comic book movie was…Superman back in the late 70s. With a glowing track record like that, I’m pretty sure the industry will survive.

I’d also like to point out that comics more or less thrived during the Great Depression and, even though the popularity of superhero comics waned in the post-World War II world, other genres…crime, horror and romance…rose to outpace their flagging sales. Granted, comics back then were MUCH less expensive and usually appealed to a broader swath of the population, but the need for entertainment and an escape from reality are never stronger than in poor economic times. I don’t see this as a doom-and-gloom scenario. Rather, I see today’s market as a chance to correct problems, exploit opportunities and generally right a ship that has been lazily listing for the past decade, like a rowboat with only one oar…circling and circling until the rower can’t do it anymore and the boat just drifts off into the horizon. Build up a new readership! Limit your best characters to two titles AT MOST! Create some new, compelling characters that can stand the test of time (Marvel’s last wildly successful characters, Wolverine & Punisher, were both created 30 years ago)! Come up with stories that create a foundation for new worlds instead of just referring to things that happened 25 years ago in a book nobody remembers! Go forward! Stop looking back!

Whew. That’s enough for me right now. I’m going to slap my tag team partner’s hand and just slump down in the corner until I’m needed again.

Way to go Champ. You got ’em on the ropes. Now just take a swig of this water and take a minute to catch your breath.

It has become the sport du jour in the comics blogosphere to explain to all who will listen what the best way is to fix the current economic slump which has affected the comics field since the mid 90s. I don’t think either one of us claims to be experts, but honestly, it doesn’t take a genius to know that the current business model being used by Marvel and DC simply will not be effective in the long run. They may be able to squeeze out a few more dollars from loyal customers over the next decade, but after that? Unless they change the way they do business, I simply can’t imagine there will be much of a comics industry after that point in time.

The sad thing about this is that there are a LOT of truly good books being produced right now. Regrettably, not many of them are being produced by Marvel and DC for their flagship titles, but the well written and compelling stories, with strong artwork that serves the story well, are out there. Comics can be great, and we see evidence of that right now, but we need to communicate this information to the general public. It’s become quite common to have a newspaper, magazine or mainstream internet site do a story about how comics aren’t just for kids anymore, but that’s not true promotion, or at the very least, it shouldn’t be the beginning, middle and end of promotion. Events such as Free Comic Book Day is a grand idea, except that it begins and ends in the comic shop, a place that most people who aren’t comics fans already don’t visit. We need the comic shops to go out amongst the population and sell their wares, luring the unwary back to their place of business after distributing free samples of their wares.

I’ve come to the point where I simply don’t read the amount of mainstream superheroes that I used to, which I find rather depressing. I love superheroes. I understand that they can be considered gaudily dressed symbols of a stunted adolescence, or brightly colored avatars of a power fantasy, but I don’t care. They’re neat, and when done well, they can be as deep and meaningful as any other type of story. When done well, they can also just be a heck of a lot of fun, and there’s no shame in that either. Unfortunately, so many of them aren’t done well anymore, and while I still read scads of comics (and keep up with developments occurring in both DC and Marvel), more and more what I’m reading comes from DC’s Vertigo line, from Dark Horse, from IDW, from Oni or Fantagraphics or from various and sundry other independent publishers. I enjoy their books, and I enjoy the opportunity to explore their worlds, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t really miss reading the adventures of my favorite superheroes, particularly the Avengers, Fantastic Four, JLA and Titans, all of which I’ve found all but unreadable lately.

Perhaps the best way to end this thought would be through the following story. I have been trying to trade my single issue comics in for trade paperbacks for years now, as I find the trades easier to read and easier to loan to people. I also regularly go through my trades and single issues, purging those where I have duplicates of the story in another format, or those where I realize that the story isn’t very good, or doesn’t appeal to me. I never sell my old trades or single issues, but instead I try to give them to people, and many of my friends who don’t regularly read comics, but know of them, are the recipients of many of these. Nine times out of ten, the trades that they love, and the ones that they remark on, are the older ones, from the 70s and 80s. Usually I’m told that these stories were easier to follow, that they made more sense, and that they weren’t as violent or profane, which some of them find offputting (particularly those with children). If my friends and their families are indicative of the general, non-comics reading public, might we not want to consider the ramifications of their opinion?

Well, we’ve wandered all over the field on this one. Are we ready to draw some conclusions and move on?

Wait a second, you’re giving away comics? Why wasn’t I told about this? What’s going on?!?!

I kid. John actually gave me an entire longbox full of comics once. He’s quite the generous sort and always eager to spread the comic gospel to the uninitiated. I guess my past ownership of a store and our continued blathering about comics on this here internet page qualify as missionary work too. We’re like Mormons, but without all that nonsense about finding gold plates buried in the woods (and the polygamy too). I’ve been to Utah. It’s nothing special. Go Team Comics!

I have no conclusions to draw about what we’ve said. I feel like, at times, we’ve argued both ends against the middle…with the middle being rational thought and the ends being “everything is fine” and “everything is falling apart.” The industry needs to change somehow. Everyone knows it. This “circle the wagons” mentality just further insulates an already shrinking fan base while doing nothing to attract new readership. The ones inside the fortified castle are either dying off or trying desperately to break out by pounding their heads on the walls. The ones outside our little fantasyland have no idea what’s going on and just go about their business with a faint recollection that Superman is Clark Kent…or something.

At the same time, the industry isn’t going anywhere. I don’t want to say comics are bulletproof when it comes to the economy, because we all know how the industry is so very capable of shooting itself in the foot on a regular basis, but being on the low end of the entertainment radar can sometimes be a boon. Ignorance is bliss, right?

We could make a list of things the industry should at least TRY to do, but no one would listen anyway. And we’ll just keep reading whatever they put out, in one format or another. Who’s worse…the executives and editors or the readers themselves? During the recent presidential campaign, Barack Obama often used a quote by Albert Einstein to explain the need for change and I think it’s appropriate here too: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

Maybe it’s all our fault.

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Sidekicks: Interns to the stars!

Jul-25-08

Batman and Robin. Captain America and Bucky. Flash and Kid Flash. Aquaman and Aqualad. Sidekicks have been a staple of the comic form almost since it’s very inception, although the concept is quite a bit older than that. After all, what is Dr. Watson if not the sidekick of Sherlock Holmes? However, while you can find examples of sidekicks in other places, it was in comics where sidekicks became known by their current popular meaning, which is a younger hero who basically apprentices him or herself to an older, more established hero.

Sidekicks are probably most prominent in those super-hero titles published by DC Comics, which really popularized the sidekick phenomenon with the most popular sidekick ever, Robin. After he proved a success, DC introduced a veritable plethora of sidekicks and for a time it seemed that everyone of their superheroes had one (except, interestingly enough, for Superman and Wonder Woman. While there was a Superboy and Wonder Girl, both of these characters, originally, were simply younger versions of the title character. It wouldn’t be until the 1960s that Wonder Girl was made a separate hero and sidekick, and it wasn’t until the 1990s that the same thing was done for the Boy of Steel). Marvel also used sidekicks during it’s Golden Age, and introduced one for it’s other popular hero of the 1940s, the Human Torch, in the person of Toro. However, while DC would retain the use of sidekicks in the 1960s and 1970s, Marvel disavowed the concept after the years of World War II, and never again would sidekicks play a large role in any Marvel comics. Younger heroes at Marvel might be inspired by a hero, but rarely would they work with them and train with them.

It is said that sidekicks were often added to a book because they provided a younger person to which the children (the perceived audience of comics) reading the tales could relate. Of course, we now know that very few children read comics; is this why sidekicks seem to be disappearing out of our favorite comics? DC found sidekicks so popular that they introduced a title in which these younger heroes could gather, The Teen Titans. When this title was first published, all of these heroes could also be found in the monthly titles of their mentors, and truly the book was something of a mini-Justice League. While the title is still being published by DC Comics, and it still showcases younger heroes, how many of them have actually worked with their mentors? Has the current Wonder Girl ever really spent time with Wonder Woman? Certainly the Kid Flash who previously starred in the book, Bart Allen, never really trained with Wally West. Although many of these characters may be considered sidekicks by the general public, do they really fit that mold?

Times are certainly changing, and the reading public of today has different needs and wants then their predecessors half a century ago. Have sidekicks gone out of fashion? Is there any need for them any longer? Was there ever a need for them? Which sidekicks work and which don’t? And if I could get a sidekick, would they do some of my work for me? Would that have enabled me to post earlier this week? Good questions, and as always, I’m sure Jason has good answers.

I don’t know about GOOD answers, but I have a ragtag assemblage of comments that I’m going to throw out there and we’ll see what sticks. I have to get back into the groove of doing this whole blog thing again after the two-week Batman whirlwind and subsequent week-long dearth of posting. But I guess transitioning from Batman to a discussion on sidekicks is a semi-natural progression. After we saw The Dark Knight, my wife and I were on our way home and she asked me if I thought they would introduce Robin in the next Batman flick. I starting laughing so hard I almost ran off the road.

Sidekicks are all kinds of ridiculous, in a traditional sense, from both a moral and practical view. No one is going to seriously consider bringing a child along to help them in a combat situation. I used to watch episodes of the live-action Batman show and wonder how Robin was able to knock these thugs out with the same force that Batman used. I mean, if you’re getting your ass kicked on a regular basis by a teenage boy in his underwear, you may want to consider a new line of work. Not to mention how pissed off some of these “family groups” would be…hell, they’d be calling for Batman’s head just for putting Robin in the line of fire. It’s dangerous, irresponsible and nonsensical.

I don’t, however, have a problem with the Teen Titans forming a group on their own. It makes sense from a social standpoint, that these kids would want to surround themselves with like-minded peers. That’s not to say that I think they should be going on missions to fight the same villains as their grown-up counterparts either. It would almost be kind of sweet to see the Titans taking on someone like Li’l Riddler or Kid Brainiac or Gorilla Grodd’s son Monkey Mikey.

I can understand the relationship that Green Arrow has with his son Connor. And, while Connor isn’t technically a sidekick, I think he works better as one than Roy ever did as Speedy. I think the idea of the sidekick has been trivialized to always indicate someone who is usually younger and of lesser value. It has taken on a negative connotation (most likely because of Robin and the weird associations made with the character) that pervades all of pop culture these days. However, I can also see a view where “sidekick” has the same meaning as “wingman” or someone who assists you to reach a goal. The sidekick isn’t lesser than the main character, it’s just that the main character is the catalyst for whatever the adventure is about and whoever he brings along with him is his sidekick.

Does that make any sense at all?

I think that it makes sense, and I think you highlight a problem, and that’s with our traditional definition of a sidekick. It makes perfect sense for a hero to have a partner of some sort. Being a hero is a tough job, and there’s a lot to it for most of them, and that sort of work could best be accomplished with some help. I also think that it behooves the current generation of heroes to help and train the next generation. After all, there isn’t any college where you can learn super-heroing (although, considering how many heroes populate the Marvel and DC universes, I can’t believe some college hasn’t created that curriculum) and super-heroing isn’t a profession that is kind to amateurs. The best way for someone to learn to be a hero would be to apprentice themselves to an established hero.

The trick here is that these amateur heroes need to be at least 18 years old. It’s pure lunacy to take a younger person into any sort of situation when they’re younger than the age of consent; if they can’t be drafted into the military, they have no business being a hero. There’s been a lot of talk about Frank Miller and Jim Lee’s All Star Batman and Robin comic, and critics are saying the book is bad because Batman is insane and a child abuser. While I can’t say I’m a fan of the book, is this a bad portrayal of Batman? Isn’t taking a 10 year old boy into combat child abuse and the act of a crazy man? I have to say yes. So, the first thing we’ve done is redefined sidekicks as no longer being children. These are men and women of legal age.

Next we make these sidekicks less plot devices for villains to capture, and more actual characters. Give them a chance to shine from time to time, and instead of being considered expendable losers, they may start to become junior partners. Sure, they’ll make mistakes, and more often than the hero they’re working with, but they should be growing in the job, and constantly improving. This is also a win for the company publishing the comics, as you can use a sidekick in a book for a few years, growing them as a character and growing them in popularity, and then, when the character is ready to go out on their own, they can graduate to their own series. It’s a perfect training ground for new characters.

I think that’s how you save sidekicks; make them older and follow their training. Do that, and I think they have potential.

There’s something horrifically humorous in the assertion that being a superhero is not something for amateurs. Perhaps it’s been done and I’m just not remembering it (maybe ground covered in Rick Veitch’s Bratpack?), but I can see a scenario where an established hero keeps recruiting “sidekicks” to use as human shields…or where they keep getting killed purely by accident, but the accidents get more and more bizarre in a Spinal Tap-ish vein. There’s also something in the idea that someone could just decide they want to be a superhero and then fail miserably, or that they garner some new powers but are completely inept at using them.

You never really see that process, do you? I mean, some of Marvel’s X-titles allude to training new mutants in harnessing their abilities, but you never really witness the fallout from these attempts. How many young heroes have been secretly shuffled out the back door and tossed carelessly into the dumpster? C’mon, there have to have been a few “accidents.”

One thing you didn’t touch on in your intro wrap-up of the sidekick phenomenon is the fact that, not only were they introduced to appeal to children, but they were used as a way for the hero to recap the plotline within the confines of the story itself. The sidekick would ask some inane question and then the hero would give a page-long exposition on the villain, his motives and the general direction the adventure was heading. I tihnk one of the reasons marvel was able to move away form sidekicks is that they started to internalize these recaps in their characters’ inner monologues. How many issues of Amazing Spider-Man DIDN’T feature Peter Parker swinging through the city moaning to himself about how his battle with so-and-so had made him late for school or caused him to skip out on a date. The angst that Marvel was able to drum up this way easily replaced the need for a goofy mini-me version of the character to tag alongside.

I’d like to see a good parody of the sidekick world that takes all of these tropes and expands them to a completely ludicrous level. There’s fun stuff to be mined here.


Batman: Introducing the Bat-Bunch

Jul-10-08

We’ve been spending the last week or more talking about what makes the bad guys bad (and how to make them badder), so I thought it was about time to change the pace a bit. We were going to switch gears and talk about improving Batman’s supporting cast, but John and I came to the general conclusion that we approve of pretty much everyone the Dark Knight surrounds himself with…from Alfred to Oracle, Commissioner Gordon to the rest of the Gotham City PD. Hell, I even have nice things to say about Bat-Mite (I really don’t).

No, the problems we have aren’t with Team Batman themselves, but rather with the way Batman treats his supporting cast. And these problems will be explored in the next few posts as we cover everything from background players to love interests to the Bruce Wayne alter ego to our final hypothesis on “fixing” Batman.

So let’s get the ball rolling on the rest of the good guys. Let me see if I can drum up a rough timeline of Batman’s prominent bit players. Jim Gordon makes his first appearance in the same Detective Comics #27as Batman (interesting to note that Gordon’s early appearances put him in opposition to Batman while showing a friendship with Bruce Wayne…Gordon is also the only major Bat-confidante who doesn’t know his secret identity), Robin (Dick Grayson) shows up a year later followed by Catwoman (first as a villain), Alfred Pennyworth, Barbara Gordon (first as Batgirl…not to be confused with Bat-Girl), the second Robin (Jason Todd), Huntress (who later became the second Batgirl), another Robin (Tim Drake), Spoiler (who then became the fourth Robin) and finally a third Batgirl.

That was easy to follow, right? And, heck, I didn’t even include his former bodyguard (Sasha Bordeaux), his son (Damian) to the daughter of one of his archenemies, the violent weirdo who temporarily replaced him (Azrael), a friend who became a villain (Harvey Dent), an enemy who has become a tenuous ally (Riddler), an obsessed other-dimensional imp (Bat-Mite), or his domino-masked German Shepherd Ace the Bat-Hound.

So where do they all fit in? How do they all come together? And what the heck is Batman’s problem with teamwork? Let’s explain.

It’s funny that Batman is often considered the quintessential loner, when in actuality he has a larger supporting cast than almost any other hero I can name. We’ve spoken at length about the strength (and breadth) of his Rogues Gallery, but his allies are just as strong. These are some well rounded characters and they fill important roles in Batman’s universe. I wouldn’t say I don’t have a few minor quibbles (is there anything Alfred can’t do? He’s a boxer and can fight; he’s a medic and can do minor surgeries; he’s an actor and can fool anyone with his disguises; he’s enough of a mechanic to do some maintenance on the Bat-Toys; plus, he makes some great food, washes windows, and vacuums. The man is amazing.) with some of the cast, but overall, these are great characters. The biggest problem I have with them is Batman.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, when Batman stopped being a Dark Knight and became an unofficial policeman who opened shopping malls, Batman treated everyone in his supporting cast as though they were his best friend (except the ladies, who enjoyed his condescension, but that was ok since they were girls). Words like “chum” and “pal” were liberally sprinkled throughout Batman’s dialogue, and the idea that anyone feared this man was ludicrous, since he was about as threatening as a hall monitor. When it became obvious that Batman had strayed too far from his core concept, and that he needed to become a Dark Knight once again, one of the first things they did was to push his supporting cast to arm’s length. Even Robin, who had been like a son to Bruce, got pushed away (all the way to college for some years). This wasn’t to say that Batman wouldn’t have allies; he just wouldn’t be quite as chummy with them.

I’m not sure that this was a bad decision. I am not the first one to point out that Batman would want to surround himself with allies, as he’s building himself a new family, to replace the one that was taken from him. However, I also agree that Batman is not particularly cuddly, and that he probably does keep most people at a distance. I certainly can live without ever seeing Batman call someone “chum” again. Unfortunately, starting in the early 90s, and just getting worse in the current decade, writers have gone too far and instead of simply maintaining a distance from his allies, Batman now treats most of them with utter contempt and disrespect. In short, Batman has become a prick, and its his allies on whom he takes out his anti-social tendencies.

To illustrate this point, let’s go back to the early 90s (1993, to be exact) and look at one of the biggest storylines in Batman’s post-Crisis history, Knightfall. In this story, a new enemy named Bane stages a massive breakout at Arkham Asylum, releasing all of Batman’s enemies at once. After Batman has managed to defeat these enemies, but when he’s still tired from the battles, Bane then attacks Batman and breaks his back, paralyzing him. Bruce Wayne decides that someone needs to continue to be Batman, and he chooses as that person….Azrael. Um, who? Yeah, just some character that Batman barely knew, someone who had been shown to be mentally unstable, someone Batman had known for less than a year. He chose that person over Dick Grayson, someone who is like a son to him, someone he’d known for over a decade, and someone he should trust implicitly. And, to make matters worse, when he was questioned on that decision by other allies, Batman blew those allies off.

Fast forward to another huge Batman crossover called No Man’s Land. I’ve referred to it before (rarely kindly) and will refer to it again, since there are so many huge, underlying problems with this storyline. However, in the context of this discussion, we can again see Batman treating his associates with contempt. When Gotham City is declared to be no longer part of the United States (don’t get me started) and it’s citizens are ordered by the federal government to leave by a certain time, since after that time anyone attempting to enter or exit the city will be attacked by federal troops (I said don’t get me started), Batman disappears. Certain of his allies remain behind in Gotham City (Gordon and Oracle foremost among them) and some leave the city (like Robin), but Batman doesn’t tell any of them that he’s leaving, and he doesn’t tell them where he’s going. For three months he simply disappears, with no word to anyone. When he finally returns, he expects things to be as they were before, but many of his allies are upset at the way they’ve been treated. To which I say, it’s about bloody time.

My point is this: I do not believe that Batman feels the utter contempt that he so often shows to his allies, and while I agree that he would not be having tea with Oracle or playing Call of Duty 4 on his PS3 with Robin, I do believe that he would show them respect. Being somewhat isolated from others does not mean that you treat them like dirt. It is very possible to keep your own counsel while still respecting those around you. This, to me, is the biggest problem with Batman and his allies; the way he treats them, and the fact that they so rarely object and that they continue to follow him. I would have gone to work with Blue Beetle years ago.

Could you imagine the holy hell that would rain down if Batman was in a high-speed chase with some of Black Mask’s henchmen and he buzzed Oracle to have her redirect some traffic signals and she told him to “Hold your horses. I’m bit-torrenting last week’s Desperate Housewives.”? That’s how I like to put things in perspective. Just flip the tables on Batman and see if he’d like to be treated the way he treats his associates.

I agree that Alfred is one helluva Jack-of-all-Trades. I believe he has even impersonated Batman himself on numerous occasions. And yet I can’t recall a single time that he’s been thanked for his work. Bruce must have set him up with one monster of a retirement plan for him to stick around so faithfully.

The Bane thing blows my mind as well, which brings into focus the current “Batman R.I.P.” storyline and the whispers of “who’s going to replace Bruce Wayne as Batman this time?” The way he’s been operating lately, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pull some random dude off the street and stuff the suit with crumpled up newspaper to make it seem realistic. At this point, it would almost be a slap in the face to hand the duties over to Nightwing or Robin…like he didn’t want to have anything to do with them before, but fully expects them to step up when he beckons them now. Kneel down and kiss my ring, peons!

The dynamic with Gordon has always interested me. I know he’s had his valiant moments and has faced down a ton of corruption within his own department, but Jim Gordon has always come across as some exasperated schlub to me. He’s just a figurehead at this point. There’s absolutely nothing he can do to control Batman, instead he just has to pretty much stand by whatever Batman decides is best. The line between lawful pursuit of crime and crazy man in colorful pajamas yelling from the rooftops should never be as slim as it truly is in Gotham City. But that’s a whole other topic to pursue.

You almost have to feel bad for the Robin legacy. Here’s a character that is embroiled in just as much danger and backlash as Batman, but never gets the recognition from either the public or Batman himself. The work is just expected of him. And even when a Robin does break free of the Bat-Nest, he’s constantly compared to his mentor yet never really given the chance to live up to or surpass his iconic status. At least Flash, Green Arrow, Atom and Green Lantern have some sort of legacy behind their public images…the name stays the same while the person behind the mask evolves. Behind the scenes you’re faced with living up to your predecessor, but outwardly you follow the same path and gain the same accolades because their identity is now your identity. Robin is just an eternal sidekick, even when he’s no longer Robin (just look at how ravenous the DC brass is in their drive to rid the world of Dick Grayson).

I had forgotten about all the references to “old chum” and “dear friend” that were peppered throughout the Batman mythos for years. Hilarious when you think of the current media portrayal of the “Dark Knight.” Obviously, the character took a wrong turn which justified Frank Miller’s near-parodic skewering of such in Dark Knight Returns. However, to then continue to use “grim and gritty” as your basis for every decision and every reaction a character makes for the next 25 years is equally idiotic and DC should be diligently working to backtrack on that demeanor. I thought they were headed in that direction with the One Year Later scenario of Bruce, Dick and Tim touring the world by freighter. Alas, the whole OYL deal fell apart pretty quickly in the midst of 52 and then Countdown that hardly anyone even remembers what the plan was to begin with.

So Batman’s “Family” is treated like enlisted grunts in a wartime military. They have orders barked at them and are expected to respond with quickness and with little individual thought. No one dares question the orders and no one dares defy their leader. But forced respect often brings resentment, anger and a growing desire for mutiny. Now wouldn’t that be an interesting storyline?

I agree that it would be a fascinating storyline, and it’s one that needs to be addressed. It’s enough for the Bat-Family to have an intervention and sit the Dark Knight down and say, “Stop being such a prick.” Something has to happen to bring things to head.

I believe it could come from one of two directions: either Batman himself realizes he needs to stop treating those around him with such disregard, or his supporting cast need to stand up and say that enough is enough. If you go the first option, then I think you’re talking about something traumatic happening to either Batman himself, or someone close to him. Perhaps Batman could come close to death, and in so doing (perhaps in a moment of delirium) he realizes the value of his extended family. However, that seems hokey, and not very satisfying. It might be better for his revelation to occur because someone in that extended family leaves the family; either through their own choice or through circumstance. I kind of like the idea of one of the Bat-Family saying that they’ve just had enough, and getting the heck out of there. I think that Oracle might be the best one for this; she’s very close, but isn’t actually part of the family (if Dick Grayson hasn’t told Bruce Wayne off yet, he’s never going to) and she has so much else going on that she could believably become fed up and just walk (um, so to speak). Your example of Batman contacting her for work and her blowing him off actually reads true to me, and perhaps if something like that happened, it would wake Bruce up to the way he treats people. Of course, there’s a danger with such a storyline as well; if Bruce contacts Oracle for help in a case, and she refuses, and as a result someone is injured and killed, then she looks like a total tool, and Batman comes out looking like a victim. That would be bad. So it would have to be a very carefully crafted story.

Or perhaps there’s a better way to do this. Do you even think it needs to be addressed? The comics have danced around this issue on more than one ocassion, but after a little bit of actual emotion from Bruce, he goes back to being a jerk. What can we do to change that?

I do remember the situation being addressed to some extent in the “Bruce Wayne: Murderer?/Bruce Wayne: Fugitive” storylines that preceded “Hush.” Oracle, Robin, and Nightwing all confronted Bruce about his aloofness, but I don’t remember what the ultimate solution was…either that or I just gave up out of boredom before the arc finished.

I think the core of the question surrounding his interaction with his supporting cast is: how do we revamp Batman so he isn’t such a big jerk? And I think we’ll be confronting that issue in our Batman: Broken? post later this week…


The Joker: I Dislike Him Too Much to Create a Witty Title

Jul-09-08

Ugh. The Joker.

I’m sure many people may not understand my antipathy toward this character, especially those who don’t read comics. If you only know the Joker from his media appearances, you may like the character. Heck, if my only exposure to him was Mark Hamill’s brilliant performance from the animated Batman shows, I’d think he was Batman’s best villain as well. I will also admit to being incredibly excited to see him in the upcoming movie, as I think that we’re all going to be blown away by Heath Ledger’s performance. But, to see the Joker in the comics…..ugh.

There are two huge problems with the Joker. The first is that he’s overexposed. Because the Joker has claimed the mantle of Batman’s greatest foe, it seems that every writer who tackles the Dark Knight wants to write a Joker story. Not every comic writer has a Ventriloquist story, or a Poison Ivy story, or a Calendar Man story, but they all have a Joker story, so we keep seeing him. Not only that, but the Joker’s profile has become so large that people who aren’t even writing Batman want to tell their Joker stories, so he guest stars all over the place. He’s appeared in just about every series you can imagine, from Wonder Woman to the Justice League. Things went completely out of control in 2001 when DC published a crossover event called Joker: Last Laugh, a Joker-themed event that had its own miniseries and spun out into dozens of DC books. This miniseries was supposed to be the last we saw of the Joker, but sadly, it just set the stage for more Joker stories.

The second problem with the Joker is that he no longer makes sense as a character. Writers, in an attempt to outdo everyone that came before them, have amped up the Joker’s insanity and murderous impulses to an unbelievable degree. First of all, how does this guy get henchmen anymore? Who would work for him? He kills his own people left and right, and does he actually ever score any money or do anything that would make him an attractive employer? Worse is the fact that he’s invited to join villain teams, which makes even less sense. Why would a genius like Lex Luthor, someone who thrives on control, invite the most uncontrollable villain in the DCU into his team? Surely he knows the Joker will eventually cause all of his plans to come tumbling down?

Joker also doesn’t work because, again, his crimes have become too heinous. The Joker has killed the second boy to bear the mantle of Robin, Commissioner Gordon’s wife, and he’s crippled Commissioner Gordon’s daughter. Now, the first crime is horrible enough, but the second two? If some criminal killed a police commissioner’s wife and crippled his daughter, you know that criminal would soon find himself “accidentally killed” while attempting escape. C’mon, even if Gordon wouldn’t do it himself, surely one of his cops (since Gordon is beloved by most of the police) would have done it for him. This is a police force that includes Harvey Bullock, who breaks rules constantly and was willing to reveal information to the mob to avenge Gordon when Gordon got shot (not killed, not paralyzed, but simply shot) by somebody the law couldn’t touch. The fact that the Joker is alive makes no sense (and don’t even get me started on the idea that Batman himself would be well within his rights as an upstanding hero and protector of mankind to kill the Joker himself; it’s not like the Joker can be rehabilitated and reformed).

So, with all of that being said, what can be done with the Joker. Is there any hope for this Clown Prince of Crime? Is he worth saving? Can Batman survive without him?

Wait…tell us how you really feel. I’m not sure where you stand on this one. And I’m disappointed that you couldn’t come up with one goofy headline, even to make fun of the fact that you despise The Joker. Something like…”Joker: The Clown Prince of Just Shoot Me Now” or “Joker: Wow, The Insane Clown Posse Sucks” or even “Joker: Meh.”

All joking aside (no pun intended), I’m with you one hundred percent on this one. When I think back to my earliest exposure to the character…the live-action TV show with Cesar Romero’s mustache, the cackling goofball from the Filmation cartoons…I’m reminded of the best and worst of comic book villain stereotypes. Those campy 60’s and 70’s representations encapsulated what comics were all about as a kid: bright colors, over-the-top scenarios and the valiant struggle of clean-cut goodness versus wishy-washy “evil.”

Then, as I get older and more into the history of comics, I discover that the Joker is a real creep. His original look was based on this:

The Man Who Laughs

The Man Who Laughs

It’s a still from a 1928 movie adaptation of Victor Hugo’s little-known novel The Man Who Laughsstarring Conrad Veidt, a German actor remembered best for his role as a Nazi officer in Casablanca. In the story, the character Gwynplaine is a disfigured actor who learns he is actually the son of a baron. His father, an enemy of the king, was killed and the then-toddler Gwynplaine was given to a group of gypsies who purposefully mutilated his face in order to use him to beg for money. Obviously, the character of The Joker has no connection to this role outside of his grotesque look. Man, that is one creepy black and white photo.

In his earliest appearances he was portrayed as a maniacal mass murderer, reinforcing the widely held belief that clowns are evil freaks. It wasn’t until the Comics Code Authority (and the invention of television) cracked down on his heinous crimes that The Joker became the buffoon-based annoyance we all remember so dearly. Seriously. How intimidated would you be if your main villain dressed in purple, pranced around like a court jester on speed with a giant mallet in his hands and left you gift-wrapped packages that ticked ominously? Boooo-ring!

And of course, nowadays with the voluntary removal of the CCA’s oversight, Joker has returned to his ham-fisted murdering and cackling ways…bludgeoning Robin, paralyzing Batgirl and pretty much running free through the streets of Gotham City without a care or fear in the world. I had retreated from comics in the late 90’s (it’s a long story, but had much to do with Spider-Man’s Clone Saga) and returned to the fold just as Joker: The Last Laugh was hitting the shelves. Like John said, it was meant to be “the last Joker story” as the character was dying from cancer or something like that, but the whole thing turned out to be a ruse set up for Joker to escape from prison (if I remember correctly). I was not impressed.

The best thing his legacy has given us is Harley Quinn, a character that fit well with Joker’s depiction in the animated series, but defies logic in the comics version of the character. Like John has effectively pointed out, who in their right mind would work with this psycho? Granted, Quinn is a bit loopy herself. However, I find it difficult to fathom that anyone in even the harshest of domestic situations would stick by someone who has repeatedly tried to kill them (even admitting as much), especially if that person were also a well-known criminal and crazy person. Henchmen be damned!

What this all boils down to, yet again, are inconsistencies in the character. Random revamps, multiple origin stories, overhauls in attitude and goals and a lack of emotional attachment to The Joker are what have led me to be so underwhelmed with his potential. Wizard magazine voted him as “The Best Comic Book Villain” in 2006, but I just don’t see the allure. Jack Nicholson didn’t help matters with his role in Tim Burton’s Batman franchise relaunch either. There’s just no menace left in The Joker and I have to agree that his continued existence baffles me too. Someone at some point would have offed the guy by now. People like him cannot exist outside the law for so long and at such a high profile that they would avoid retribution by either a police officer, a costumed vigilante or just some misguided, obsessed stalker who thinks that killing The Joker will bring him instant fame and glory.

And I don’t care how righteous and honorable Batman wants to sell himself as, no one would hold it against him if he snapped this loser’s neck, tossed him in a pile of garbage and walked away whistling a happy tune. It just makes no sense. There’s not a legal system in the world that would continue to treat this monster with the kid gloves demonstrated in the DC Universe. He’s unrepentant, uncaring and unable to be rehabilitated.

So I guess the big question is, how do we fix him?

Wait, how do we fix him? Isn’t that what I asked you? Yeesh.

The big problem is that I’m not honestly sure he needs to be fixed as much as he needs to simply go away. Does Batman need this guy in his Rogues Gallery? I don’t think so. We’ve detailed some great villains over the past week, and there are other really good Batman villains that we didn’t even touch. Two Face. Poison Ivy. Harley Quinn (who I think works perfectly on her own). The Ventriloquist. The Riddler. Catwoman. Penguin. Ra’s Al Ghul. Black Mask. These are villains that stand as strong antagonists for Batman, in addition to the ones we detailed, and all of them have potential. Heck, I’d rather read a story where Bane is the villain than read another Joker story right now. Yes, I said that. I find Bane more interesting than the Joker. Obviously, this is not good for the Joker, since I would rather read the box which contains my morning cereal than read a story featuring Bane (although, I admit, some of my antipathy toward that character stems from him being used in Knightfall, and he’s received better treatment since then. But, that’s another post…). The point here is that I don’t see the Joker bringing anything to the table that another Bat-Villain can’t bring, and they can probably bring it in a more interesting way, and one that doesn’t make my head hurt.

When we fix characters around here, as is our mission, we’re usually giving them a direction or trying to reimagine them for a new audience. We’re trying to fix their continuity problems and straighten out the mess that’s been made of them over the preceding years. However, since one of the Joker’s biggest problems is that he’s completely overexposed, it’s hard to fix him and use him, since he’d still be overexposed. It’s kind of like fixing Wolverine, the most overused and annoying character in the Marvel Universe, and he’s not half as bad as the Joker (although he is used waaaaay too much and is annoying…let the flaming of John begin!).

So, rule number one for a revamp of the Joker…limit his appearances! He gets used, at most, for one story a year for the next five years. No crossovers. I don’t care that he’d be great to stick into DC’s Absolutely Final We Mean It This Time Crisis…he doesn’t get used. I don’t care if Grant Morrison has the perfect story for the Joker in All-Star Superman. He gets told no. One story a year. He fights Batman. That’s it. I’d actually prefer to limit his appearances even more, but I realize what I’m suggesting is already unrealistic, so I’ll keep it at one story a year.

The second rule requires us to make a decision…do we deal with the fact that the Joker should be dead right now? I see two options…the first is to ignore the fact that his ass should have been capped already and simply use him in a reduced capacity (see rule number one) for a few years, until enough time has passed that he again becomes a credible character. It’s kind of a cop-out, but it could work. The second would be my preference, which would be to charge head first into the idea of why no one has killed the Joker yet. Perhaps a member of the GCPD could decide to take the Joker out, then find himself stopped by Batman, and could confront Batman with the question of why he has allowed so many people to die by turning a blind eye to the Joker’s crimes. Perhaps Batman himself could decide the Joker needs to die, and have a story where he questions whether this is a step he should take. Perhaps something else brings the issue up, but whatever the case, we need to end the story with some sort of reason why killing the Joker is bad. Sadly, I don’t have that reason. That lack of a reason would be the only way I’d support the first option. However, whichever option we take, that actually leads us into rule #2…tone down the Joker’s homicides. No more killing and maiming important members of the DC Universe, and less slaughter in general. He can be very dangerous without cutting a deadly swath through Who’s Who of the DC Universe.

So, that’s my start. Thoughts?

The reality of the situation is that The Joker is so ingrained in our society, not just for comic book fans but for general pop culture reference, that you can’t really ever get rid of him. Remember all the fake hoopla that accompanied the “death” of Superman? Did anyone honestly think that Warner Bros. would permanently remove one of their biggest icons (and greatest marketing tools)? Hell no! There’s a certain comfort level associated with the Average Joe being able to name-check villains with heroes. When I say “Spider-Man” you reply “Green Goblin.” When I say “Fantastic Four” you say “Doctor Doom.” Captain America leads to Red Skull, Magneto fights the X-Men, Daredevil has Bullseye (or Kingpin), Superman has Lex Luthor, even Groo faces off against Taranto…though he can never remember if they’re friends or enemies. I guess what I’m saying is that there’s an unwritten rule: a popular hero’s most recognizable arch-enemy will never, ever, ever truly go away.

Where does that leave us and our nefarious plans for his imminent demise? I don’t really think it changes anything. Like you’ve said, we can merely take him out of the picture without taking him out of existence. There are a plethora of opportunities to tell better Joker stories just by merely limiting his influence over the day-to-day goings-on in Gotham City.

Perhaps Batman has other things to worry about as all of our revamped villains (and even the cool ones we haven’t touched upon yet) begin to institute their insidious plans. Joker’s follies are pushed to the wayside as Batman deals with these newly inspired threats. The Caped Crusader spends the better part of two years trying to rein in these other dangers, while we catch glimpses of Joker’s disappointment and neglect in small backstories and flashback scenes. This could all lead up to one big blowout crossover story where the Joker tries to regain some respect. And, his ultimate plan foiled, he slinks back into the shadows for a few more years. Since he’s such a “big picture” threat and works best as a solo foe, I think this scenario would fit his needs perfectly and still allow writers to delve into the big, powerful Joker tales they all want to tell.

Another option would be to change his position in the Bat-verse. Instead of being the main villain, we can relegate him to a smaller snitch-type role or even a kind of, heavens forbid, adviser to Batman. For instance, he performs one last caper, gets captured by the Dark Knight, and finally gets imprisoned in a place that he can’t possibly ever escape from under any circumstances. Batman could visit him, a la Hannibal Lecter, and pick his twisted brain for information concerning other villains and criminal activities. It would be a way of subtly rehabbing him for readers and slowly integrating him into a different role. However, it also leaves open the possibility for him to have a complete 180-degree flip back into psycho bad guy mode and go absolutely crazy again. I see visions of Norman Osborn in this restructuring (which would be another avenue if The Joker actually had an alter ego we could exploit).

I like your idea of exploring a “Why Don’t We Just Freaking Shoot Him in the Face?” arc that involves members of the GCPD, Batman and a bunch of flashbacks (like a sitcom clip show) that show instances of his ultimate survival. However, once that storyline has reached its logical conclusion…whatever that may end up being…I think another revamp option would be to go completely over the top with his homicidal tendencies. If you think about Batman’s rogues gallery, there isn’t a real killer threat in the bunch of them (though Killer Croc definitely would cross that line if allowed). Sure, they’re all dangerous in their own ways, but there’s no overwhelming danger in dealing with any of them mostly because they all have their own personal goals. On the flip side, The Joker’s only obvious goal is to rid the world of Batman. But there’s no rule that says he has to pursue a straight line to get there. He’s a freakishly sociopathic clown for goodness’ sake! Let him run roughshod over everyone, taking out any loose ends, any horribly misused characters and any continuity problems left over from the Never-Ending Crises. Basically we turn The Joker into DC’s Scourge, except minus the altruistic goal of “removing bad villains from the world” and adding in the bottom line of ticking Batman off to the nth degree and drinking his milkshake.

Regardless of the “Choose Your Own adventure” options I’ve supplied to you, I agree that the final outcome of limiting Joker’s appearances (and his influence) is what needs to be reached. Put a moratorium on his nuisance factor and turn him into more of a whispered legend that may eventually rear its ugly head again some day. So which option works best for you?

I love your idea of using him as a Hannibal Lector type for awhile, and think that can work in with the idea of confronting why Batman has never killed him, and why the Joker’s survival has value. So, we start out by running our story on why the Joker has not been capped yet. We go a few issues, and we explore various characters and their thoughts on this subject (I know that Gordon, at one time, thought that killing the Joker would be doing exactly what the Joker wanted, and that Gordon wanted him kept alive and processed through the legal system to show the Joker that he couldn’t break Gordon) and in the end, Batman has the opportunity to either capture or kill the Joker. I think he chooses the first option, and I think he does it for much of the reason that Gordon outlined. If Batman kills the Joker, then the Joker wins, by pushing Batman past the law and forcing Batman to take matters into his own hands. Honestly, Gordon’s rationale may be the only one that makes any sort of sense when considering the Joker’s continued survival, and if we assume that Gordon made this philosophy known to the GCPD, it may explain why none of them have blown out the Joker’s brains in some dark alley; they refrain out of respect for Gordon’s wishes.

However, after Batman captures the Joker, and the Joker heads to court, a very aggressive District Attorney manages to convince the judge (which shouldn’t be too freaking hard) that putting the Joker back in Arkham Asylum is too dangerous. For all the security at Arkham Asylum, they might as well just let him go. The judge agrees, and with the help of the Justice League, this new, escape proof cell is devised. The Joker is placed there, just like a Hannibal Lector, and the only one that he’ll speak with is his very own Clarice, Batman. Now, not only do we get to see Batman and the Joker interact, but if the Joker can help Batman with some information that saves lives, it begins to validate the Joker’s survival and Batman doesn’t look so bad for letting the schmuck live. I wouldn’t have Batman going to the Joker often (in fact, I’d have it be very rare; again, not more than once or twice a year), and only on really big cases, where Batman is trying to figure something out that’s outside of his own area of expertise. Perhaps he needs information on criminal hideouts, or the working of the psychopathic mind, and Joker may be useful.

By keeping the Joker like this for a year or two, we limit his exposure and are still building a bigger reputation for him. Then, after a few years, he escapes. He would probably need outside help, and I’m not sure who would help him, but maybe someone springs the Joker just so the Joker could wreak havoc. Perhaps Batman, with the Joker out of the way, is really able to stay on top of Gotham’s other villains, and so some of them join forces. The Penguin, Riddler and Poison Ivy decide that, if the Joker were on the loose again, he’d distract Batman from their nefarious doings, so they team up, concoct a plan, and the Joker is freed. However, the Joker promptly disappears, giving Batman the chance to school the three masterminds on the error of their ways. Batman then waits for the Joker to make his move. And he waits. And waits.

For at least a year the Joker is silent. Then he returns, as you described him above, working alone, and doing one or two (absolutely no more than two) crimes a year, crimes whose main goal is eliminating his hated foe, although as you pointed out, that road may not be a straight one. No more gangs. No more Harley Quinn (she’s been on her own since Joker got busted a few years ago, and can stay on her own). Just the Joker, striking alone and without warning, at anyone whose death could help further his twisted plans.

Does that tie it together?

I think it works well and it nearly makes me not hate The Joker. In fact, it could almost be seen as a blessing, turning the “oh great…Joker’s back” reaction into more of a “cool, the Joker’s back!” Of course, I’d like to see other things done with him as well…like dialing back the ridiculous outfit he wears. If they can makeover the Riddler to look less obnoxious, then it shouldn’t be too hard to do the same for Mr. Clown-Face. At the very least, give him a tailored suit in a rational color that doesn’t make it seem like he raped an Old West mortician and stole his ribbon tie. Is that too much to ask?

I’m apprehensive to say that we’ve wrapped this up nicely because I believe that Heath Ledger’s prematurely-legendary performance may reopen this can of worms for the general public. However, strictly comics-speaking, we’ve managed to handle a difficult character with genuine aplomb and for that I say we pat ourselves on our respective backs and move on to the next challenge.


Young Justice: Where has all the justice gone?

Apr-22-08

In the long and storied history of the “Meanwhile….Comics!” blog, we have only really dealt with Marvel matters. This is not because we are not fans of DC, or of other comics companies. Partly it’s been because Jason and I are much more conversant in Marvel history than we are in DC history. Partly it’s been because Marvel seems to have issues which we had more of a passion to discuss than anything in DC. And, at least for me, partly it was because DC comics has, in my eyes, become a violent, unhappy, soulless entity over the past few years, and trying to discuss any character they currently publish is likely to be painful. While I’m not particularly stoked about the direction of the Marvel Comics line, it has me doing cartwheels compared to the direction of DC Comics, which has me often feeling somewhat nauseous.

Many people would point to Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis as the tipping point where DC Comics began to move away from telling stories about spandex clad do-gooders, and began telling stories about psychologically scarred arrested adolescents living out some sort of power fantasies by beating the living snot out of each other. And rape. That became an important part of many of these stories. Those people who look to Identity Crisis as the starting point of the degradation of these great heroes are not entirely wrong, but there is an event for me that predates this 2004 miniseries by some time….the cancellation of Young Justice in 2003. That was the beginning of the end for my close relationship with DC Comics.

Young Justice began life in 1998, during one of DC’s Fifth Week Events called “Girlfrenzy”, in a one shot written by Todd DeZago entitled Young Justice: The Secret. The team at that time consisted of three of DC’s hottest young heroes, all proteges of an established DC A List character: Robin, partner of Batman; Superboy, inspired by Superman; and Impulse, nephew of The Flash. The three of them joined forces again in a two issue prestige format miniseries called Justice League: World without Grown-Ups, again written by Todd DeZago. Apparently these issues were successful enough to merit a series of their own, and very soon, Young Justice #1 debuted in September of 1998.

The creative team for the first issue, and almost every single issue thereafter, was writer Peter David and artist Todd Nauck. The three young heroes spent the first few issues as the only members of the team, save for a recently resurrected Red Tornado, who served as their “adult” supervisor. However, David quickly expanded the group by introducing some female members; the Secret, who had appeared in their first adventure; Wonder Girl, who had worked with Wonder Woman; and Arrowette, who had appeared earlier in the comic Impulse and acted as a female Green Arrow-type.

Many people attempt to pigeonhole Peter David as a comedy writer, and coupled with Todd Nauck’s artwork, which had a lighter, more cartoony feel, these people may have written Young Justiceoff as a silly book for kids. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Yes, Peter David can be quite amusing, but his humor is always in service to the story, and he can handle serious storylines with the best of writers. Alternating between lighter issues with those that handled very serious subject matter, David kept the series always enjoyable (and proved that adult topics could be handled with indulging in the sort of hysterical melodrama and violent power fantasies that now seem to characterize so much of DC Comics’ output). Todd Nauck’s artwork was likewise a joy, and while it may have seemed cartoony to some, he was able to handle drama and tension very well.

I could go on raving about the series, and may in follow up posts, but for now let’s move on to it’s tragic resolution. In 2003, Warner Brothers debuted a new cartoon series called Teen Titans, which was going to star the characters from DC’s long running comic series of the same name. Unfortunately, DC didn’t currently have a Teen Titans series, as most of those characters (and the niche that series filled in the DC Universe) was being filled by Young Justice. DC became convinced that they needed a Teen Titans comics series to match the new cartoon, so they cancelled Young Justice (whose sales did not warrant such a cancellation). They then published the execrable Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day miniseries, which served as the launching point for the new Teen Titans and Outsiders series.

Unfortunately, rather than bringing Peter David and Todd Nauck over to the new Teen Titans series to continue their stellar work, DC decided to bring in Geoff Johns and Mike McKone. Now, I’m personally quite a big fan of both Johns and McKone, and gave the new series a try. Unfortunately, within a few issues they had already begun the task of dismantling the character development and relationships which had been cultivated in Young Justice, and by the third issue they had changed Impulse into Kid Flash, showing a complete misunderstanding of who Bart Allen really was. I left the series as a reader in disgust.

The purpose of our blog is not just to point our problems in continuity or in publishing, but to try and fix them. Sadly, I’m not sure if this is fixable. Besides trying to reunite David and Nauck on a book, the characters that were once a part of Young Justicehave been scattered since the end of the series. Both Superboy and Impulse are now dead and Secret has been depowered. Of course, this would all be a moot point anyway, as it does not seem that DC’s editorial policy would allow a series with the sort of sensibility that Young Justice possessed to be be published. I’d like to come up with something and I’m open to suggestions.

First of all, I agree that we need to dip into the DC end of the pool every now and then just to be fair. Unfortunately, just like you (and even though I owned a comic book store for a while) I don’t have the same deep knowledge of DC’s history. I can cover the Justice League, Flash and Green Arrow pretty well, but other than that I only know the names of characters and not much else.

That said, let me start my response to your post with the information I gleaned from last week’s New York Comic Con. During one of DC’s many panels, the question of collecting Young Justice into trades came up and was pretty quickly brushed aside by the higher-ups at DC Comics. So, I think that raises some questions that our website was designed to tackle. This might not be along the lines of “how can we fix it?”, but it does cover the ground of “what went wrong?”

You were obviously a dedicated reader of the title and my experience with it consists of seeing a few covers here and there. Therefore, I defer to you to explain the appeal to me a little more in depth. For instance, what were the circumstances that brought the group together? What villains did they face during the title’s run? What were the relationships that were built? How was the strength of the supporting cast?

I think by studying some of these points, we may be able to do a re-pitch of the series (or at least convince the editors that releasing the trades would be beneficial). I’m encouraged by the fact that the main series kept a consistent creative team, that usually helps with a book’s quality and direction. So let’s start there and see what builds.

What went wrong? With the title itself, I’d say precious little. Let’s start at the beginning. The original three members of Young Justice were Robin, Superboy and Impulse. Each of them had worked with the others once or twice, but the trio first worked as team to save a young girl called Secret from the D.E.O., who were keeping her under lock and key and trying to determine the extent of her powers. The boys managed to free her and found they worked well together. They next met when an ancient Atlantean force called Bedlam transported all the adults of the DC Universe to a parallel world. With only children and teens left, the three young men found themselves elevated to the status of senior heroes, and teamed to defeat Bedlam.

After this adventure, the three of them decided to stay together as a team. Why? Mostly because they simply needed the friendship and comraderie of being with other people their own age, who understood the pressures of being the next generation of a superhero legacy. Although they were a super-team, they were also friends; it was almost more of a club in those early days. Soon, Red Tornado, who had lain inactive in the old JLA Secret Sanctuary, awoke from his stasis, and he became the mentor for the group. It was inevitable that the group would not remain a “boys club” and sure enough, shortly after they formed their group, they became embroiled again with The Secret, as well as Wonder Girl and Arrowette. The girls joined the team, and the full roster of Young Justice was formed.

Again, the series was somewhat lighthearted, but there were also some very serious stories. One of their early villains was named Harm, a young man who seemed completely evil. His parents knew their son was a monster, but were afraid of him. While Young Justice battled Harm, the true meat of the story was the psychological battle within the mind of Harm’s father, who wrestled with the question of whether, if you knew your son was an evil person, totally devoid of merit, could you take the necessary steps to stop him?

Arrowette also had a fasincating story arc. Relatively early in the series’ run, one of her favorite teachers at school was killed by a jealous ex-boyfriend. Arrowette was enraged, and hunted down the killer. She soon had him at her mercy, and would have killed him if not for the intervention of Superboy. Later, after her emotions were calmer, Arrowette realized what she had done, and was scared to learn she was capable of murder. She vowed to give up being Arrowette, which she did. One would have thought that she would have either disappeared from the comic, or she would have eventually reclaimed her mantle. She did neither. She remained true to her vow, never donning the costume again, but still staying an important character in the further adventures of Young Justice.

Red Tornado, as the group’s mentor, could have been ignored. However, he was given some strong plots, as he tried to reclaim his humanity and make a life for himself with his estranged family. Eventually, he realized that his family needed him, and was more important to him than the team, so he resigned as their mentor. In his place, the group found a new mentor in Snapper Carr. Of course, Snapper has been knocking around the DC Universe for over four decades, but he often doesn’t seem to fit. Putting him in an adult role, mentoring kids who were experiencing some of the same things that he had experienced as a teenager, gave Peter David the chance to explore Snapper Carr’s personality in ways that it had not really been explored.

The interactions between the six main members of the team were also interesting. Robin acted as the leader, but was often challenged by Superboy and the developing relationship between the two of them, as Superboy came to respect Robin, despite Robin’s lack of powers, kept the team dynamics fresh. Wonder Girl began the series as an inexperienced and unsure heroine, but matured throughout the series’ run, eventually winning election as the new leader toward the end of the series. The mysteries surrounding Secret continued to be explored. Members became romantically involved (as teenagers do) and some new members joined the team, including the Ray, who finally found a place on a team with members closer to his own age.

In essence, it was a dynamic series, not taking itself too seriously, but willing to tackle adult subject matter when it was a natural outgrowth of the story being told. It never went for sensationalism, but instead contented itself to tell strong, solid stories that you could enjoy reading.

Okay, so from what I understand – and from a quick blast of Wikipedia knowledge – two of the team members are dead (Superboy, Impulse), one has decided not to be a hero anymore (Arrowette) and another is depowered (Secret). Not only that, but their initial mentor (Red Tornado) is possessed by Amazo while their later mentor Snapper Carr is working as some sort of spy for Checkmate. I have no idea how you could put this all back together again. And would it be worthwhile anyway? After all that these characters have been through, the innocence and youth is gone from them (as it is from 98% of the DC Universe).

From your description and from what I’ve been able to deduce online, the series sounded like an unofficial version of the original Teen Titans…formed out of a kinship based on being “sidekicks” or younger versions of their inspirations. Add in the world-weary mentor role and you could almost say it was a Fagin and the orphans scenario played out in comic style (without all the stealing and such).

There’s three trains of thought that I can come up with on this one. The first one is the most realistic: DC puts out collections of the 55 issues plus all the one-shots and miniseries, somewhere between 6-8 trades and it’s done. The second path is kind of a cop-out but ultimately makes sense with what’s going on in the DC Universe right now: make one of the 52 Earths a “World Without Grown-Ups” planet. This would give the team a chance to play out their adventures in a unique setting. They’d be THE heroes of the world yet would still embody all the insecurities and angst of their age and maturity level. Could be a fun way to play with all the toys in the sandbox. The third way is probably the most difficult: find new youthful characters in the DC-verse and bring them together logically to form a new Young Justice team. I don’t know which young heroes remain unblemished by the current goings-on at DC nor do I understand how they could be coaxed into befriending each other anymore, but that is one way to make the magic happen again.

There’s also the problem of who would handle the title? Peter David is exclusive to Marvel, as of February 2006. And the last I knew, Todd Nauck was at Marvel too, drawing Spider-Man. You and I both approve of the writing of Geoff Johns and his handling of superhero types, but I wonder if he’s too steeped in the current DC malaise to properly infuse this proposed title with the jolt of youth it needs.

While I may not have an immediate solution to the writing, I think Karl Kerschl would be an excellent choice for the art. His Teen Titans: Year One and All-Flash #1 work is both quirky and beautiful at the same time.

Writers and artists aside (though I think it’s interesting to discuss), which of the three solutions I offered do you think is best for Young Justice?

At this time, I’d just like to see them acknowledge that the team existed, and issue trades containing the entire series. I think it deserves that much. Let those of us who were fans of the series have the opportunity to enjoy it again, and perhaps they can draw in some new readers at the same time. I don’t see any point in trying to recapture the series with the same characters, as that would require so much continuity twisting that my head hurts just thinking about it. I also don’t see a point in putting them in another world in the multiverse. I’m not usually a fan of that sort of thing, since it never seems like the stories matter much when it’s not the mainstream universe that the rest of the comics line is based in. That being said, I’d like to choose both your first and third options. Let’s see them replace this group with something akin to Young Justice in tone. DC needs a book like that.

I realize that this post probably makes it seem like I am rabidly anti-DC and that’s honestly not true. While I admit that my early comic experiences were overwhelmingly of the Marvel variety (I found most of DC’s output in the early 80s to be rather dull and stodgy, while Marvel seemed cool and hip), I did soon begin to branch out to many other companies, DC among them. During the late 80s I came to like a lot of DC comics, and for some years during the 90s, I was reading more DC than I was Marvel, thanks to both a plethora of strong DC series, and Marvel taking a huge downswing in quality (teenage Tony Stark? Was that really necessary? A clone saga in Spider-Man that lasted for years? The Invisible Woman wearing a bikini top on her Fantastic Four outfit?). I have always loved the Justice League (thanks probably to the Superfriends cartoons of my childhood) and I think DC has some great characters and books. They also, as a company, understand the concept of a legacy much better than Marvel, and I love the way some identities (Flash, Green Lantern, Starman, Dr. Mid-Nite and others) have been handed down from hero to hero.

That being said, I’ve become quite disillusioned with DC over the past few years, and it’s not just because I’m not a huge fan of this dark turn they’ve taken. It should not come as news to anyone who follows comics that it isn’t the strongest business in the world. Many articles have been written on how one brings new readers into the fold. I don’t believe that most of DC’s current output, mired in continuity and dripping in death, dismemberment and rape, really reach out to a new audience. I think it plays to the same aging audience that has been reading the book for years, and it sure as hell isn’t going to draw in any children. Young Justice had the potential to appeal to a younger audience. Please note that it wasn’t written for a younger audience; Peter David wrote mature stories. However, his stories were accessible to people of any age, and I would argue they were appropriate for readers of all but the youngest ages (and truly, some of the sexual innuendo would have passed right over the heads of the really young anyway). Moreover, Nauck’s artwork was the sort of pleasant, happy artwork that would catch the eye of a younger reader, and he was such a strong storyteller, that no one would have trouble following the story. While we may not be able to use David and Nauck, surely we could find some creators who could do the job, and perhaps provide a safe haven for some younger readers (and older readers who don’t want to read about rape, death and decapitation on a monthly basis) in the DC Universe.

You mention Geoff Johns, and while I was very disappointed by his Teen Titans series, I do think he’s a very good writer. Moreover, he did a book with a similar theme in his very entertaining Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. series, so I think he could handle it. Another writer who does a lot of work for DC and can handle anything she’s given is Gail Simone. She certainly has a lighter side, and her books always rise above the norm. A writer who I haven’t seen anything from for awhile, but who has an excellent eye for character is Devin Grayson. She worked on a previous Titans series and really did a nice job bringing the characters together and bouncing them off each other. As for artists, I’m somewhat familiar with Karl Kerschl’s stylized art, and while it’s taken me some time to adjust to it (you could take an eye out with his pointy knees and elbows), I think he would fit the style. I know he’s working for Marvel (and I’ve heard rumors he’s retiring), but I’d also recommend Mark Bagley, one of the strongest, most reliable, and perhaps most underrated pencillers around, who’s proved he’s good with teenagers in Ultimate Spider-Man. Sadly, Mike Weiringo would have been perfect; his death was such a loss to the comics community.

As for characters, I’m afraid I may not be as familiar with who would work as I once was either, and I’m also not sure who’s been spoken for other places. I think you could use Robin and Wonder Girl, and the Ray joined in later issues, and I believe he’s available. I also believe Empress, who joined in later issues is available, and perhaps they could use Supergirl. I also think it would be cool if they used Mia Deardon, the current Speedy. There’s six characters, and all of them except Empress have a heroic legacy to live up to. We’d just need a new mentor. Hmmmm…someone who hasn’t been used in awhile. How about Major Disaster? He’s tried to be a hero many times…when last seen he was an alcoholic, but if he got over that and acted more like he did as a leader of Justice League Antartica, he might fit in. There was also a group called Old Justice in the original series, comprised of sidekicks from previous decades, and included Doiby Dickles. He’d be perfect! He’d be more like a grandfather, but it could be an interesting direction; he’s certainly seen his fair share of odd stuff, and doesn’t seem fazed by anything. Do you have other suggestions?

The first character that came to mind for me was the new Blue Beetle, but I believe he’s tied up in the new Titans series somehow (again my lack of current DC lore comes to light). There’s also the newly rediscovered Traci Thirteen who’s started a relationship with Jaime Reyes (Blue Beetle)…her father could be a pretty wacky mentor too. Maybe Klarion the Witch Boy…wasn’t he briefly in Young Justice?

Regardless of membership, I’m still not convinced that a lighthearted, youthful team like this has a place in the current DC Universe. Perhaps it is best to just release some trades and let this one shuffle off the mortal comics coil.