DC Comics at Year’s End: the Hits and the MissesA column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: John Hays
2005 was definitely an event-driven year for DC Comics. The year began right in the middle of two major events, Identity Crisis and Green Lantern: Rebirth, and ended with one of the largest events in the past twenty years, Infinite Crisis. Along the way, some characters died, and others were reborn. Heroes used to being confused finally found their way, while others lost theirs completely. It was a year of major accomplishments, but, as is the case in life, they often came at certain costs.
Let’s begin with the death of Blue Beetle. Ted Kord knew that someone was robbing him, and when he tried to get help from DC’s big guns, they all ignored him, thinking he was just joking around again. Then, when he finally found the source of his troubles, it led him to Maxwell Lord, the new leader of Checkmate. After refusing to join Max in his latest campaign to rid the world of metahumans, Max shot Blue Beetle in the head while he was locked up and kneeling on the floor.
This did not sit well with me, and it still doesn’t. DC kept saying that it was needed as a catalyst for all of the heroes to see what was really going on. Yet, that image on the cover of Countdown? It never happened. In fact, I have yet to even see a funeral for Ted, even after Sue Dibny, another supposedly needed death, had a huge funeral with all the heroes showing up, and she was only the wife of a hero. Plus, Max was trying to recruit Ted into his quest to destroy all metahumans, yet when it came time to dispose of Ted’s body, he was labeled a metahuman, even though he wasn’t one, and Max was.
DC also stated that readers should didn’t seem to care about Ted, because there wasn’t an outcry for Blue Beetle in comics, but it’s been my experience that a company will generally put a single issue or mini series out to at least test the waters of a character before just assuming readers do or do not like that character, yet there hasn’t been a Blue Beetle series out since the end of his first DC series back in 1988. After that, he appeared in the JLI until the end of that series in 1994 (and a brief stint in Extreme Justice from 95-96). He finally was relegated to five guest appearances in Birds of Prey where he was given a heart problem.
Ted Kord as Blue Beetle was Charlton’s, and then DC’s answer to Spider-Man, and a darn good one, in my opinion. He served a vital role in the DCU as a wealthy inventor, often supplying the other heroes with vehicles and devices to assist them on missions. He also provided humor to lighten the mood, just as Spider-Man does in Marvel. Now, however, DC is replacing him with what appears to be a much darker, foreboding Blue Beetle, all the while telling us that the dark times in DC are ending, and making way for a happier, brighter payoff after Infinite Crisis. Yeah, sure.
Next came Hal Jordan’s and the GL Corps’ Return. In 1994, Hal Jordan was unceremoniously removed as Green Lantern by having his characterization completely changed from the hero he had been for 46 years, to a complete villain in, wait for it, 3 issues! No, really. Later, he was somewhat redeemed by saving the Earth, dying in the process. After that, he was chosen to be the Spectre to atone for his sins by God. Finally, in a story that ran from December 2004 through May 2005, Hal Jordan was returned to his rightful Green Lantern role. It turned out that a giant bug-like space alien that fed on fear had possessed Hal for all those years, causing him to become the evil Parallax. So Hal and the other former and current Green Lanterns banded together to defeat the menace, and led to the return of the Green Lantern Corps.
This, for me, was a case of the ends justifying the means. I am extremely happy that the nightmare that was "Emerald Twilight" has been undone, and Hal Jordan is once again Green Lantern, but the way in which it was done was rather hokey and unbelievable. A bug-like space alien possessed me. So how does that explain God sending you to Limbo for your sins? Again, quick and messy fix for a quick and messy problem, but we ended up where we wanted to be, so it’s all good for me. Next!
After the initial blow of Blue Beetle’s death came, it led to even more direct action by Maxwell Lord, which in turn led to our next big event. Wonder Woman killed Maxwell Lord. Maxwell Lord, having climbed his way up to the top of Checkmate using his metahuman persuasion powers in order to carry out his own mission to kill all metahumans, also took much time and effort to get inside the mind of Superman. By the time Superman was aware of this, he had already been forced to nearly kill Batman and was unable to do anything about it.
Wonder Woman, upon confronting Max about the situation, was attacked by Superman, and then told by Max, while under the power of the lasso of truth, that the only way he would ever free Superman is if he were dead. So, with no other choice seeming to be available, Wonder Woman killed Maxwell Lord. Later, Brother Eye, the machine Max used to control OMAC warriors all over the world, broadcast Diana’s killing of Max over the entire world out of context, so that everyone would think of Wonder Woman as a heartless murderer of innocents.
This was huge. Superman hadn’t been this out of control since his breakdown after executing the Phantom Zone criminals in the pocket universe years ago. Plus, Wonder Woman’s entire mission of peace completely blew up in her face the moment she killed Max. It’s currently unknown where she will go from here in her mission.
However, as great a move as this was in throwing a wrench in Wonder Woman’s mission, it still had a flaw that DC decided to simply ignore. Max Lord was, by this time in continuity, an android. He had been diagnosed with a brain tumor and was transferred into the robotic body of Lord Havok, an enemy of the JLI. Plus, older JLI stories had shown Max’s selfless nature towards the League’s heroes numerous times, including one story where he allowed an artificial intelligence to attempt to murder him instead of further harming the League. There were also multiple cases where his powers had been drained or removed, but again, DC decided that the story was more important than continuity.
With all the confusion stemming from Identity Crisis as well as the recent actions of the big three, the next big event was inevitable. The JLA Disbanded. Alright, let’s do this fast and dirty, just like the story. Sue Dibny was raped by Dr. Light (Dr. Light having never shown any signs of this type of behavior in the past, but let’s move on). The League members present voted on whether or not to alter Light’s mind so that he would never do this again, and the vote passed. Just as they were having Zatanna alter Light’s mind, Batman showed up and was naturally furious at what was going on, so they had Zatanna wipe his memories of the entire event. Years later, Sue Dibny is murdered, leading the League to return to the topic of Dr. Light’s mindwipe, and allowing many other heroes to learn of what had happened. This leads to a confrontation between Batman and the members of the League who had voted to erase his memories, which led to the disbanding of the League due to a lack of trust.
This was DC’s attempt to explain away the simplicity of Silver Age stories, for whatever reason. They decided that the villains in some of those stories weren’t menacing enough, so they revealed that they had been mindwiped the entire time, and were now going to come back much darker than before.
In my opinion, the Silver Age stories don’t need any justification; they’re fine just the way they are. I also don’t need to see people getting raped and graphically murdered in comics that do not carry any type of mature content warning on them. Plus, the reason for Sue’s charred body was that Jean Loring always carried a flamethrower, “just in case”. Yeah, right.
Another major occurrence seemed to come out of nowhere, in that it wasn’t a direct result of any recent major events. Instead, it was a progression of an ongoing mystery that had spanned the twenty years DC had evolved since Crisis on Infinite Earths. Power Girl finally learned who she really is. Power Girl’s origin had been a mess for years. Before the Crisis on Infinite Earths, she had been the cousin of Earth 2’s Superman. After Crisis, she was revealed to be related to Arion, Lord of Atlantis. Later, this was discovered to be a lie. Recently, she was put through hell by the Pyscho Pirate, where all the various fan theories of what her origin might be were paraded in front of her, while her powers and physical attributes fluctuated out of control. She finally came into contact with the recently returned Earth 2 Superman who let her know that she really was his cousin, and had always been so.
This, for me, is another case of GL: Rebirth. It’s something that needed to be done, ended up getting us where we needed to be with the character, but was a bit messy in getting there. It had always been my theory since finding out that her origin would finally be revealed that she would, in fact, be the cousin of Earth 2’s Superman.
However, the problem I had was that, in the last issue of the storyline that was supposedly going to reveal her origin in a “definitive” way, nothing was definitive. Yes, Psycho Pirate told her she was from Earth 2, but this was only after showing her multiple other possibilities, and letting the readers know that his only intention was to drive her crazy, for reasons that still have yet to be revealed. It wasn’t until the next issue of Infinite Crisis, AFTER the “definitive” origin storyline, that her origin was defined and concreted.
So, while DC definitely had its major accomplishments in 2005, the big events that drove these individual occurrences might have had a part in perhaps rushing the stories that led to them, which either ended up causing errors, or at least sloppy storytelling. This isn’t to say that it wasn’t worth the effort. On the contrary, most of these events were well worth any possible confusion or complication they might have caused. In the end, it made for great storytelling, and set things up for even better storytelling next year. Yes, 2006 holds the promise of, as DC put it, a brighter and happier DCU, with event-free character-based stories coming out of its "One Year Later" idea, as well as an extremely innovative series titled 52 that explains what happened in the missing year. Will there be missteps along the way? Probably, but as long as they lead to interesting conclusions, DC won’t be worrying too much.