Monday, September 19, 2011

Top 10 grounded DC characters.

Art by yours truly, Rafa Rivas.
For certain characters, who never had notoriety of any sort, its completely normal to get dry spells of publication. Nobody expects the likes of Angel and the Ape, Anthro, Prez or Detective Chimp to get their own regular series. However, since the 70s, every decade has a different set of previously prominent DC Comics character hidden under the rug. As if TPTB were ashamed of those properties. The Martian Manhunter, Firestorm, Zatanna, Red Tornado, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Adam Strange and even Aquaman have all been through that.

The first clear example would have to be J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter. When the Justice League of America was founded, outside the "super trinity" (Batman, Superman and Wonder), he was about as famous as any of the rest. Really. In fact, the weakest link was Green Lantern, who debuted some months before the team was created. After the debut of the JLA, all its members were editorially pushed with their own titles; the Martian moved from Detective Comics, where he was out-shined by Batman, to House of Mystery, where he became the lead. The Elongated Man replaced him in Detective Comics. However, that all faded by the late 60s; he was first taken out of House of Mystery, and then, he was written off the Justice League. By the 70s, he was known as the green bald dude who was somehow a funding member of the JLA. After over a decade of cameos, the Justice League title provided the best justification for his return: it needed full-time members, who wouldn't have adventures outside the book. Lacking options to make the team feel like the real JLA, writer Gerry Conway decided to bring the green dude back, and for similar reasons, the next creative team kept him as leader of the Justice League International. DC revamped the League once more in the mid 90s and, this time, the angle was going for the original founding members (or their available equivalents). Consequently, after all that, despite his long absence around the 70s, the Martian became known as "the heart and soul of the JLA". That's a happy ending, let's see how it continues now that he has been retroactively erased from the origins of the Justice League and shoehorned into a team called "Stormwatch".

Zatanna, for instance, was a steady member of the JLA after the late 70s. Like the Martian Manhunter and the Elongated Man, she stayed with the League during it's "Detroit era". However, once it was over, she went back to scarce cameos. The controversial and successful Identity Crisis limited series brought her back to the spotlight, she has a miniseries, joined the League for a while, appeared in Detective Comics, and got her own title. Now, she's with something called "Justice League Dark".

Firestorm popped up in '78 with a mini series, then, fully boosted by his creator (Gerry Conway), returned in 1980 to join the Justice League and get his backup feature in Flash. In 1982, he graduated from the backup to get his own title. Then, they got the popular characters out of the JLA title, they did some really weird stuff with him in his book, yadda, yadda, yadda, he didn't appear through the 90s. When I started reading comics, I often wondered whatever happened to the guy from Super Friends with fire instead of hair. He returned, but they keep doing odd things with the character.

Along with the Elongated Man, half the characters who were part of the Justice League International, were notoriously absent from 1996 to 2004. They revamped them as the "Super Buddies" in a couple of limited series that were critically acclaimed and sold very well. However, after the first series, for some reason, one by one, each of those characters was killed off (Sue Dibny, Blue Beetle, Rocket Red, the Elongated Man), horribly derailed (Maxwell Lord, Captain Atom, Mary Marvel) or went through hell because of that (Booster Gold, Fire).

Their absence is normally a bit more notorious once they return; however, I believe I can identify the missing people of this era. My criteria is how recurring they were in the past, compared to what they get now:

10. Zauriel and Aztek
Shooting stars like Ragman or Blue Devil, they were never really regulars of anything. However, their absense is odd, considering that their creator, one Grant Morrison, is one of the most influential forces of the current DC Comics authors. He tends to leave a trace of brilliantly conceived bastard children behind him.
9. The classic Teen Titans
Not really an endangered species, since we get to see them all around; however, they do lack a regular series. During the 70s, writers avoided using or creating sidekicks (children fighting crime are a dumb idea, anyway), so they kept them in the Teen Titans team (a team of teenagers with no adult supervision... sounds better, doesn't it?). In 1980, DC aged them, added new characters and it became a hit. Sidekick problem solved, right? Well, not really. They kept aging and, during the 90s, DC created a new wave of sidekicks... which eventually needed a team, and since the Teen Titans were no longer teenagers, they got the name as well. Now the original titans are too old to stay in the team and not popular enough to substitute their mentors. Some became part of the Justice League, but that didn't sit well with the title's fans at all. Without a team, most of these characters are doomed to be title-less, which puts them at risk of fading away.

8. Black Lightning
Black Lightning was created to be the main African American superhero from DC Comics, and yet the character has been blocked from every opportunity of exposure outside comics: for Super Friends, they had to create "Black Vulcan", for Static Shock, they created "Soul Power", and he was notoriously absent in Justice League. He got some recent prominence in comics, but it has been fading since he quit the Justice League. And now, with Static as the new and improved electric black dude, BL is even less likely to get some spotlight.

7. The Penguin
This guy is probably the most recurring and well known of the list. Ask anybody who's not a comics book fan - the Penguin is a popular character. He even appeared more often in the 60s TV show than the Joker. However, in the current comics, he's a mere supporting character. What happened? In the 80s all the popular Batman characters got their postmodern makeover. The Joker, Two-face, Poison Ivy and Catwoman went from silly gimmicky villains to complex characters. The Penguin (like the Riddler) never made the leap. Even though, in theory, he always had what it takes to be a spectacular villain with magnetic personality: An epic histrionic disorder. As the creators of South Park how far can a character get with that (yes, I'm talking about Cartman).

6. The Question
Between Alan Moore's Rorschach and the Fox Mulder-esque treatment the Question got in Justice League Unlimited DC had the perfect formula to make Vic Sage a hit character. On the other hand they had Renee Montoya, a minor supporting character getting quite popular thanks to Gotham Central. What was done? They killed off Vic and turned Montoya into the Question. Did it work? If the purpose was trading the lead status for a supporting one, I guess it did. Montoya is a lovely member of Batman's supporting cast, but she doesn't have the twisted mind that is required to be the Question and now she can't even fall back to her police role.

5. Garth
Aqualad's main roles were sidekick of Aquaman and member of the Teen Titans, but what happens when he becomes too old for either? Literally, not much. Garth was killed two years ago and a new Aqualad has replaced him on both fronts.

4. Green Lantern John Stewart.
John was always meant to be supporting, he was the original "fill-in Green Lantern" to Hal Jordan; however, by 1992 he was popular enough to get his own series - which was cancelled for no good reason. Later, in 2001 he became the Green Lantern of the Justice League TV series; the idea was to bring diversity to the show to reach a wider audience. The comics followed the trend for a while, but despite all the other media popularity, when DC resurrected Jordan and brought back Guy Gardner, Stewart hit the bench once again.

3. Lobo
Lobo was created in 1983 and by the late 80s he was appearing at least once every single month. He got a number of miniseries and then, after R.E.B.E.L.S. was cancelled, his own title. However, with the change of century, Lobo started fading. He became supporting character of Young Justice, some appearances in 52, and then, back to supporting R.E.B.E.L.S.

2. Wally West
Like Iris West (his aunt) and Ralph Dibny, the Kid Flash is one of the earliest and most recurring supporting characters of the Flash. In the silver age, he was also a Teen Titan. When Barry Allen died, Wally became the Flash (the character got the regular series) and has been part of three incarnations of the Justice League. Recently, DC decided to resurrect Barry. Now, we have two Flashes, but we only get to see the adventures of the original.

1. Elongated Man & Wife
Before the mid 90s, one way or another, the Elongated Man always had a decent amount of appearances. About once every month. After that, his appearances became scarce. In 2004, writers Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis found the perfect home for the Dibnys in Formerly Known as the Justice League. Then, Brad Meltzer decided Sue could be the perfect victym for a thriller (Identity Crisis) and further than that, her death unleashed years of megacrossover events for DC (not even the Death of Superman caused such an aftermath). Ralph died in one of those spins (52) and they ended becoming "detective ghosts". As tragic as those stories were, at least it can be said that they put the Dibnys front center; however, it has been over four years since the end of 52 and those ghosts have only made 3 very brief cameos. Ralph used to be one of the most recurring characters of Flash, along with Iris West and Kid Flash; he had ties strong ties to Batman, was a member of the classic silver age Justice League of America and the Justice League International. However, now it'd seem that DC goes out of its way to avoid featuring them (in Justice League: Generation Lost and Flashpoint, for instance). And it's not only in comics: Sue has never been featured in other media, Ralph's animation time doesn't add up to even 5 minutes, and he's notoriously absent from the DC Universe Online videogame and the DC Universe Classics action figures.

No comments:

Post a Comment