Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Farewell, "Old" DC Universe

Don't worry, friends, this shan't be a rant about the "New 52." But as today is the last appearance of the "old" DC Universe, I thought a few thoughts, and a brief eulogy, were in order.

As long-time readers know, I started out as a Marvel zombie, and that was that. Oh, I'd read my friend's DC comics that he bought, if I came across any at garage sales or quarters bin I'd take some (especially the ones with crazy covers). But, to my younger tastes, at least, Marvel had the better art and stories and characters.

But then along came Crisis On Infinite Earths, and the cats at my local comics shoppe were all agog over what was promised to happen, so what the hell, right? I was familiar enough with DC to be able to follow along, and it was a corking good story by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, whom I knew best from their Marvel days.

So I bought it, and read it, and got swept up in the excitement of being in "on the ground floor" of a whole new DC universe. And John Byrne was coming over to do Superman, so I had to read that, right? And I might as well read Batman too, right? And...

Yeah, it was like giving crack to a baby. Those were heady days in DC, post-Crisis, as it seemed as if the influx of talent and ideas was just never-ending. I seem to remember one occasion (and this may be faulty memory on my part) when new issues of Dark Knight Returns, Man Of Steel and Watchmen all came out on the same day. Hell, how could I not get hooked?

The Charlton heroes were being incorporated successfully, in very different ways; it's hard to imagine that both Blue Beetle and The Question were coming from the same place, but DC had the courage to try drastically different approaches, and commit to the characters.

To me, Barry Allen had always been boring, dullsville. But even though parts of Mike Baron's approach struck me as a little bit clunky, I thought Wally West was a great character. Alan Moore's Swamp Thing was, of course, brilliant. Perez was bringing us a more vital Wonder Woman than I had read before. The Justice League has always seemed very, well, staid and corporate and snooze-inducing, but DeMatteis and Giffen? That I could get into (for a while, at least. I soon found that a little BWA-HA-HA went a VERY long way, and far too often it was much more than a little).

But clearly, DC was doing a better job at that time of attracting talent, whether raiding Marvel, bringing over Brits, or giving shot to creators known mainly for their "independent" work. And, in a reversal of what happened in the Silver Age, Marvel was a full decade behind DC in putting creator credits on their covers. DC was (in part) marketing the creators, and by that point I was mature enough to appreciate the difference creative teams could make on books, and follow writers and artists.

It was a time, too, when Marvel seemed, to my eyes, to be in a bit of a downswing. After Byrne's Fantastic Four and Simonson's Thor ended, it felt as if a little light had gone out of the Marvel Universe, as if all of the innovation and risks had gone, post-Crisis, over to DC; and after the New Universe crashed and burned, Marvel seemed to settle into an increasingly stale mediocrity. Oh, I know, it's all subjective, and quite probably a good part of my perception was that DC was mostly new to me, while I had been reading Marvel forever.

But most of all, best of all, DC created one coherent universe. At a time when Marvel almost seemed to be fracturing itself into fiefdoms, DC removed a lot of those artificial barriers. The real problem before Crisis wasn't that there were too many alternate worlds. It was that those worlds presented needless hurdles to telling the stories we wanted. Bob Haney's Brave & The Bold excepted, if I wanted to do a story with Batman and Wildcat, I'd have to spend several pages explaining the alternate worlds, and then explaining how we breached the barriers. Now, it's all one big happy world, and if we wanted Wally West to be mentored by Jay Garrick, hey, he's just down the road. A Starman series set in the modern DC universe? Easy-peasy. I want to have the Question trained by Richard Dragon, and then have him beat up the Riddler, and then pal around with Green Arrow? Cake. A world where Mary Marvel and Superman and Doctor Fate and Phantom Lady and Peacemaker could all team up to fight Solomon Grundy and Terra-Man and Mordru and a Khund warfleet? Pricelss.

No, all wasn't a bed of roses. Not every idea was great, not all the executions perfect, not all their treatment of creator idyllic. And plenty of what DC did at the time just wasn't my bag. But still, the landscape was bright and shimmering, overall.

And doing it the Crisis way had created problems. By doing a full reboot only on Superman and Wonder Woman and Hawkman, there were plenty of cracks left in continuity. Most people got over it. But some people, including many in the DC hierarchy, seemingly became obsessed with making every story fit, which it obviously couldn't. But like that mosquito bite you can't stop scratching, DC couldn't seem to leave well enough alone. A few sentences in a Secret Origins story, and just ignore most of the problems, and eventually they would have gone away. But the need to make Hawkman's history "make sense" or to come up with 3rd and 4th post-Crisis iterations of "who were the founders of the Justice League", led to more and more navel-gazing events, where "making things right" and "creating jumping on points" became more important than telling a good story. Why it was necessary to reset the Legion timeline--several times!!--just to somehow make things "consistent" with stories that took place 1000 years earlier, was never really explained. And the constant half/mini-boots did more to alienate fans and complicate continuity than any "fanboy entitlement" that DC liked to blame. (If only everyone at DC had had the good sense of Roy Thomas, whose books were frakked with more than most by the changes Crisis wrought. He didn't pout, or try to undo the Crisis; he just adapted, realized that he had tons of ancient DC-owned characters who could fill the holes, and carried on)

But let's not dwell on the negative. At it's height, the post-Crisis DC Universe was a marvelous, exciting place, chock full of new ideas, new directions, new creators, and lots of creative risk-taking. And it was MY DC, you know?? It's what brought me over, and kept me there.

I can't say I agree with the current brain trust that it was time chuck it in and sort of kind of start over again. But I can remain hopeful that they will take their cues from what was done 25 years ago, and strive for that same level of creativity and quality and daring.

Goodbye, post-Crisis DC Universe. I will miss you.


Gary said...

Ahh, snell - posting this soft hearted sort of thing will ruin your reputation, you know.

I have my fingers crossed for the relaunch / reboot thing and, like you, hope it brings in some wonderful new stories.

Siskoid said...

Great eulogy, Snell.

I share your sentiments.