Who's In and Who's Out in the DCU, 2010

A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Thomas D. Crawford
2010 has certainly been an eventful year for Marvel's "Distinguished Competition." In the wake of "Blackest Night" and minis like The Return of Bruce Wayne and Flash: Rebirth, heroes are rising and falling like nobody's business. As this year comes to a close, I have taken it upon myself to determine which characters are up and coming, or succeeding in a major way. And, since we all love a bit of schadenfreude, which characters are down and/or on their way out.

Potential spoilers below.

IN
Lex Luthor: In his run on Action Comics Paul Cornell has done something I never thought possible: He has made the trials and tribulations of Lex Luthor interesting. I'm sure even as this is being read, millions of purple-and-green clad fanboys are cursing my name, but I've just never seen him as a worthy foe for someone as godlike as Kal-El of Krypton. That's a whole separate rant.

Here, however, we have Lex Luthor matching wits with his fellow villains month after month, and it's a madcap romp through the DCU that no reader should be missing. For goodness sake, he fought Gorilla Grodd and his giant spoon! Honestly, now that he's out (sort of) from under Superman's shadow, he's able to be the fascinating and complex character people keep telling me he is.

Martian Manhunter: It seemed poor form to write a list of comebacks and not include at least one of the resurectees from Blackest Night. Having made quite an impression in Brightest Day, J'onn J'onzz is back and, quite frankly, better than ever.

For starters, his new outfit is the best costume he's ever had. He's swapped out the blue speedo for real pants, and the added the red circle on his chest is evocative of his home planet, and finally gives him an iconic logo. Additionally, the adding of another green martian is handled here much better than it was in the frankly terrible and largely ignored 2005 miniseries by A.J. Lieberman. *Shudder* Best not to think about it. By the time Brightest Day reaches its conclusion, it is my greatest hope that J'onn is finally reestablished as the DCU's favorite Martian.

Captain Atom: Let me summarize how every story featuring Captain Atom in the last ten years has gone:
  1. Captain Atom gets called in on a crisis "only the combined might of every Justice Leaguer can stop" (Which these days apparently constitutes something like Alan Scott throwing a hissy fit).
  2. Captain Atom absorbs too much energy from the ensuing explosion/ death ray/ magic blast and gets blasted through time.
  3. The good Captain reappears in time to join in the final charge and help win the day!
With the exception of a brief, failed stint as a megalomaniac, Captain Atom has been used and reused as a punching bag or a lesson on the wrongs of blind obedience. After his disappointing back-up feature in Action Comics earlier this year, I had completely given up on him ever being interesting again, until Judd Winnick of all people finally showed what a de-humanizing effect getting the crap kicked out of you in dozens of different realities and timelines can have. It's nice to finally see the dark side of his shiny armor, with Captain Atom actually having his occasional moment of badassery.

Guy Gardner: Guy Gardner is an obnoxious prick. Plain and simple, that is his defining character trait. He's a schoolyard bully with the most powerful weapon in the universe. He's exactly the sort of person you don't want to become cop. He is my least favorite GL of any sector, of all time, ever. If my opinion counted for more, his new series Emerald Warriors would never have seen the light of day.

And yet, with so many more deserving, he has been given a starring role in this title so that we can spend even more time listening to him be bull-headed and rude. On the positive side, this series is finally addressing Sodam Yat, a plot thread Peter Tomasi left dangling in his Green Lantern Corps run. While he may be getting a higher profile in the DCU, I'm seriously hoping that Red Lantern vomits on his face.

Rocket Red: My first experience with Rocket Red was in the pages of Grant Morrison's Animal Man, when Justice League Europe guest stars. Rocket Red strikes one of the dorkiest poses ever and proudly proclaims "I love your English beat music! Gerry and the Pacemakers! The Applejacks! Fab Gear!" In this one interaction, he was hilarious, friendly and clearly filled with good intentions befitting a member of the Justice League. The next time I saw him, Greg Rucka had him self-destruct to take out what were more or less evil redshirts.

Lame.

And, as if to add insult to injury, he was replaced by the Rocket Red Brigade, a whole team of boring Russian cops without any distinguishing personality traits beyond an inexplicable hatred of Green Lantern. Now Judd Winnick has proved that lightning can strike twice, creating a new Rocket Red in the pages of Justice League: Generation Lost that recaptures the fun of the original with his Communist sympathies and broken English. Clearly Winnick has an understanding of what makes the character work. Now I just need to get past his work on DC Universe: Decisions.

Damian Wayne: He's a big boy now, our Damian. He's ready to go out into the world without the God of Comics holding his hand. Tony Daniel's stopped writing him as a slightly more jerky Tim Drake in the Batman monthly. Over in Red Robin, Fabian Nicieza made the Tim/Damian feud seem fun again instead of just contrived verbal abuse from both sides. Even JT Krul, a writer I don't particularly enjoy, is nailing his trademark arrogance over in Teen Titans. Damian's no longer just a part of Grant Morrison's Bat-epic. He's an established character in the DCU. Hell, he's finally officially Robin.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents: This year, Nick Spencer and artist CAFU have put together one of the most accessible, best looking, and strongly written comics from any publisher, let alone DC. These are characters that are interesting, if not always likable (Toby in particular is a character I love to hate). They have a clear mission and well defined personalities. The tragic circumstances that come with their powers add gravitas to this surprisingly human tale. I guess what I'm trying to say is: Why are you not reading this?

The Legion of Super-Heroes: What started out looking like an exercise in nostalgia has actually become one of the strongest revivals of a comic book franchise in recent memory. In the wake of the Zero Hour Legion reboot and Mark Waid's subsequent "three-boot" Legion, these teenage heroes looked like they were destined for permanent obscurity. Since then, though, we've seen the resurgence of the Pre-Crisis Legion, back and better than ever.

Speaking of happy returns, my initial fears of Paul Levitz retreading familiar ground on the title with which he has become synonymous were quickly dismissed. I'm fascinated with Earth Man's character progression, and his ability to balance such a large cast is impressive as ever. My one complaint? I think I speak for most Legion fans when I say "Bring back Matter-Eater Lad!"

Reverse Flash: I am not well-versed in Barry Allen, I'll admit that. When he came back, I honestly didn't see much of a point. Now I'm starting to think Geoff Johns did it just so he could write Eobard Thawne, the Reverse Flash. My only previous experience with Thawne was in the Rogue War story arc a few years ago, where he didn't really do anything except stand on the cosmic treadmill and leer creepily at Wally. Now, though, he's a fun, mustache-twirler of a villain who practically leaps off the page with sadistic charisma. Looking ahead to the already much-teased "Flashpoint," a Flash-centric event might normally not catch my fancy, but if this guy's going to be there, than so am I.

Wonder Woman: I was hesitant to include Wonder Woman on this list, but then I remembered that famous Alan Moore quote: "This is an imaginary story... but aren't they all?" JMS's run has certainly received strong reactions from the fan community, but you know something? If you look at it just as a story about a hero fighting against all odds to save the people she loves, and not blasphemy against some untouchable deity, it's actually a pretty interesting story with a lot of neat ideas that make this a really fun read. The sales for this title are improved as well, so I'm clearly not alone here.

And for those of you still not convinced (and those of you who flat-out refuse to be convinced), this year also marked the wrap-up of Gail Simone's terrific run on the title. Simone totally nailed the princess's voice, and I'm confident her run will be looked back on as a high point for the character.

Honorable Mention: Ragdoll: Ragdoll makes this list as an honorary mention simply because month in and month out he is the most entertaining character the DC Universe has to offer, bar none. "I never knew falling entrails could be so lovely!" This guy is messed up and he doesn't even try to hide it. In fact, it's the relish with which he embraces his brand of perverse lunacy that makes Ragdoll so much damn fun. The only thing keeping him from making this list is his relative low profile. Who knows? With the upcoming Secret Six/Action Comics crossover, he'll get a bit more recognition. Personally, I don't know how much longer I can go on living in a world that doesn't have a Ragdoll miniseries.

OUT
Magog: Finally. DC really made an effort to push this character. They gave him a spot on a popular team. They gave him a solo series with a prominent writer and fairly well-known (at least to JLA fans) artist. They even gave him his own 80-page special when it became clear his series wasn't going to succeed. If DC had put this much effort into Simon Dark a few years back, we might still have a good horror/fantasy title on the shelves, but I digress. It seems that the one thing DC didn't take into account was that, at his core, Magog just isn't a great character. He was nothing more than a plot device in Kingdom Come, and was really just an antagonizer on the JSA. Based on how relieved I felt when this guy finally got killed off, it's possible that Max Lord really is trying to save the world.

Batwoman: Ah, poor Batwoman, another tragic victim of missed deadlines and scheduling. Last year, I couldn't get enough Batwoman. Detective Comics was at an all-time high, with Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III knocking it out of the park every month. This year, though, Batwoman hasn't graced the pages of DC's titular title since early in the year, and her much-anticipated solo series has been pushed back several times. Indeed, Batwoman #0 was just a tease, and a somewhat underwhelming one at that.

Please. DC, from everyone, get back on top of this, and make sure I never have to go another month without seeing my favorite redhead again.

The Red Circle titles: Just like with Magog, the end of the Red Circle line was really more of a mercy killing. Their big finish, The Mighty Crusaders, read like a poorly-written, mediocre-looking version of Mark Millar's first Ultimates series, with shape-shifting aliens and government funded superheroes, except lacking the deft character work or humanizing interactions that made that series so good.

I don't really care that I'll never have to look at another issue of The Web again. This series combined the least interesting parts of Batman with the most annoying parts of Booster Gold without being drawn well enough to offer some consolation.

The real tragedy is the loss of The Shield. The most interesting of the Red Circle titles, The Shield was also blessed with Marco Rudy, an artist who I sincerely hope continues to work in the DCU after this. His art on this title combined bits of Steranko, J.G. Jones and Tony Harris to tell a visually appealing story about a reluctant hero who just wants to do the right thing. Fare thee well, Red Circle, we hardly knew thee.

John Stewart: Just like Batwoman, this one breaks my heart. In my book, John Stewart and Kyle Rayner (What can I say, I'm a product of the ‘90s) will always be the best Green Lanterns. Kyle is great because he's so relatable, but John Stewart just kicks ass. This is the guy who said "...I don't have to do anything... but stay black," and then punched Parallax's jaw off. HIS WHOLE LOWER JAW. Despite this and other feats of being totally awesome. John now works as a supporting character on Green Lantern Corps. This guy needs to be where the action is, so can that Red Lantern please vomit on Guy Gardner's face so maybe this guy can take over already?

The Captains Boomerang: Try though I might, I just can't think of any lamer villain than Digger Harkness, a.k.a. Captain Boomerang. Boomerangs are lame, and this guy dresses like a total dork and gets beat up by the Flash every couple of months. He is not now, nor will he ever be cool or edgy in any way.

Brad Meltzer understood this. When Boomerang showed up in the pages of Meltzer's Identity Crisis as a fat slob who was ultimately shot to death, it made total sense because, as he was, Captain Boomerang was an outdated and kind of crappy character. Enter the second Captain Boomerang, a leather jacket-wearing super-speedster and half-brother to the current Kid Flash. With his rock 'n' roll fashion sense and that goofy hat nowhere in sight, the new Captain Boomerang was a cool character with a complex personality that was rife with storytelling potential. So, naturally, Geoff Johns killed him so he could bring Digger back.


Lame.

Now the old Captain's back, but with energy powers! And a new hat! And- you know what? Captain Boomerang still sucks.

Obsidian: It's been a rough year for Obsidian. When he was brought on board as a member of the JSA a few years ago, I thought that the prince of shadows was finally going to get a chance to unleash some serious shadow powers on the bad guys. Instead he just sort of lurked around and was spooky until Bill Willingham took over the title. Then he became an egg. An egg that turned off people's superpowers. An egg that turned off people's superpowers that was controlled by the Nazis. Wow. Then once he took a roughly human shape, he rejoined his team just in time to merge with his sister to create some nonsensical superbeing that the Justice League could fight. At this point, I'm just waiting for them to retcon his sexuality.

Tim Drake: Poor Tim Drake. I like you, but I'm afraid your services are no longer required. When he was Robin, he had a purpose: Help Batman. When Batman died, he had a purpose as Red Robin: Prove Batman wasn't dead. Now Batman's back, and the Robin position is filled. Try as I might, I can't shake the feeling that Tim's only being kept around out of a sense of nostalgia.

Red Robin doesn't even win the award for hidden gem of the Bat-titles (that honor belongs to Batgirl, of course). Red Robin is a good series, of course, but it just doesn't demand our attention the way this character has in the past.

The Justice Society: Speaking of being phased out, how about the good ol' JS of A? The roster's been cut down to the single digits again, and they've been moved to some city we never heard of until now. The DCU's oldest super team is finally acting its age, with a succession of disappointing writers resulting in these old timers being put out to pasture before low sales and sub-par stories finally get this once-great title cancelled.

Superman: Why is writing Superman so hard for people? (Note: "people" in this instance means "Everyone except Grant Morrison.") With All-Star Superman, DC found a formula that works for the big blue boy scout, and has subsequently done as little along that vein as possible.

First he got caught up in politics and subterfuge in World of New Krypton and the subsequent equally disappointing War of the Supermen. Now JMS has Supes walking across the country getting to know people. Superman demands big, crazy sci-fi epics! That is where he excels! I think the best bet here is for DC's editorial board to be locked in a room for 48 hours with nothing but the Absolute Edition of All-Star. The survivors that emerge from that room should have an idea of what a good Superman story looks like by then.

Arsenal: DC put out a miniseries early this year called The Rise of Arsenal. I didn't actually read this series because my "This is gonna suck" meter was going off the charts, but based on what those unlucky bastards who read enough of it to update wikipedia wrote, it sounds like there was little to no rising happening at all here. In fact, it seems like Arsenal's life just got progressively crappier.

After poor Roy lost his arm and his daughter, he goes back to using drugs and joins a "Titans" team of B-list villains in what sounds like Secret Six minus any humor or fun. Up until now, Arsenal's progression into adulthood was right up there with Dick Grayson and Wally West's in terms of coming into their own. With this series and Cry for Justice before it, DC has managed to undo years of creator's hard work for the sake of shock value in a mediocre story line.

I'm hoping Superboy-Prime reality-punches Roy's arm back on to his body, because the Arsenal that exists today is just bad.

So that's the line-up. People to watch for, people to watch out for. 2011 looks like it's going to be a less event-oriented year for DC, so maybe we'll see more character-driven stories like Gail Simone's Secret Six or Jeff Lemire's Superboy run. DC has the most iconic characters in comics, and here's hoping DC continues to add to that awesome roster.

Specifically, adding characters that aren't Magog.

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