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Grumpy Old Fan | Wait ‘til next year

Remember, red and green are Christmas colors

Rise Of Arsenal #4

Last week, being full of Christmas cheer made me look back on DC’s 2010 a little more fondly than I might have otherwise.

While I take none of that back — goodwill is never truly wasted — this week isn’t Christmas, and I’m remembering some of the more awkward moments from the year about to pass. After all, 2010 had its share of shock-value deaths and ill-advised changes in direction, and today I want to talk about the biggest ones.

* * *

Probably DC’s most reviled comics of 2010 were the JLA miniseries Cry For Justice and its followup, Rise Of Arsenal. Admittedly, it’s hard for me to talk about Rise because I didn’t read the series itself, just the Justice League issue which tied into it. However, the Internet covered the miniseries’ excesses so thoroughly I feel like I’ve already read it — or at least gotten the experience of reading it.

By coincidence, I re-read a good chunk of Dwayne McDuffie’s Justice League issues (featuring the Milestone characters and Starbreaker) over the holidays. One of the more minor subplots deals with Roy and Hawkgirl breaking up because she keeps calling out Hawkman’s name during sex. Now, that sentence makes the whole thing sound worse than it is on the page. On the page it’s handled with relative subtlety, which is to say that McDuffie (or someone else with such pairing-up responsibilities) decided that “Kendroy” wasn’t working and didn’t want to make a big deal out of ending the relationship. That’s fine. It may be an uncomfortable subject, but apparently it was nothing compared to Rise of Arsenal’s more lurid scenes.

And the thing is, Roy Harper was both the prototype for, and the nadir of, DC’s troubled-teen generation. Dick “Robin” Grayson just dropped out of college. Wally “Kid Flash” West chose college over superheroics (blasphemy!) and was probably involved with Young Republicans. Donna “Wonder Girl” Troy had a mysterious past, dated Roy for a while, and eventually made the creepy Terry Long the happiest man on Earth-1. None of that compares to Roy, the heroin addict, who eventually turned his misspent youth around and became a drug-hunting government agent.

Now, that’s not a bad long-term character arc. Neither was Brad Meltzer’s “the student surpasses the master” take when Meltzer wrote Justice League. I’ve read a lot of comics featuring Roy Harper, from his Speedy days through those horrific ‘90s Arsenal costumes and his JLA time as Red Arrow. Actually, I read enough Speedy/Arsenal/Red Arrow comics to think that Rise of Arsenal was a story which didn’t need to be told, and a story I could probably ignore until its inevitable undoing.

Indeed ,the “inevitable undoing” is a mechanism all too familiar to longtime superhero readers — so much so that I’m not going to pursue that line of thinking in this post. It does, however, allow me to segue into another story which didn’t need telling, namely the murder of Ryan “Atom” Choi. I’ve written before about Ryan’s death, arguing (ironically, in the present context) that the same effect might well have been achieved by a brutal, severe beating. Degrees of violence aside, for now it’s enough that both Ryan’s death and Roy’s troubles served the larger makeover of the Titans book, from a title starring the former New Teen Titans to a cutthroat, all-villain squad featuring Deathstroke, Cheshire, and the all-new, all-bad Arsenal.

That in turn makes me wonder why, exactly, DC felt the need to continue Titans after most of its cast left for other titles. Dick/Batman, Donna, Cyborg, and Starfire went to the Justice League (although Cyborg faded into the background and Starfire moved on to REBELS). Raven and Beast Boy went back to Teen Titans, Wally/Flash might still have been waiting for that Speed Force book (I’m not as clear on the timing there), and Tempest (the former Aqualad) was killed in Blackest Night. Rather than cobble together a team from second- and third-string Titans (as Teen Titans did, with less-than-optimal results), I suppose it’s not unreasonable to wrench the book so violently from its original we’ll-always-have-each-other foundations. Titans did enjoy a brief boost in sales, although that appears to be fading.

Still, I presume the answer lies in that improvement. Time will tell whether it’s enough to justify further sales-building mayhem; but Green Arrow — relaunched via both Cry For Justice and Brightest Day — is enjoying a significant sales boost. I’m not sure why that’s so surprising to me, since Brightest Day was such a good launchpad. Maybe it is just me, because the two impressions I have of the book are a) Green Arrow spends most of his time in Star City’s new forest; and b) no one seems to be talking about it, good or bad. Obviously someone is buying it, and in the end I’m sure that’s what DC values most.

* * *

When I was thinking about this end-of-2010 post, I realized that 2011 marks the silver anniversary of the creative renaissance which was DC Comics in 1986. The year began with Howard Chaykin’s Shadow and Frank Miller’s Dark Knight. In the spring, Len Wein and Paris Cullins relaunched Blue Beetle, and “Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?” revealed the final fate of the Earth-1 Superman. Watchmen and John Byrne’s Man of Steel kicked off the summer, which also featured Denny O’Neil’s return to Batman as editor of Batman and Detective Comics. (The latter featured the all-too-brief tenure of writer Mike W. Barr and artists Alan Davis and Paul Neary.) John Ostrander took over Firestorm from co-creator Gerry Conway, and helped lay the groundwork for 1987′s Suicide Squad in the big summer event, Legends. The year ended with the debuts of Denny O’Neil and Denys Cowan’s Zen-infused Question, Cary Bates and Pat Broderick’s Captain Atom, and the last “Big Three” relaunch, George Pérez’s Wonder Woman.

It is not much of an oversimplification to say that many of those talent-driven relaunches owed a lot to the upheavals of 1985 and Crisis On Infinite Earths. While Watchmen and The Shadow were outside the main superhero line, they still demonstrate DC’s willingness to have the professionals it employed take creative risks with its books. I talked about Crisis’ legacy two Decembers ago while revisiting an old Dick Giordano “Meanwhile…” column, and I have not forgotten that Mr. Giordano passed away this past spring.

Nevertheless, this is not really a “WWDGD?” situation as much as it is a reminder that DC has been reinventing itself, with wildly divergent results, pretty much constantly for the past twenty-five years. After the massive renovations of Crisis On Infinite Earths, it all seemed to come together, with the successes of 1986 joined soon thereafter by Suicide Squad, Justice League International, Wasteland, the Wally West Flash, “Batman: Year One,” etc. Even Mike Grell’s controversial, ultraviolent Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters led to a long-running and generally well-received regular series … which, naturally, eventually included Ollie’s death and replacement….

* * *

That’s a somewhat pessimistic note on which to end, but that’s about how I want to close out 2010. I really liked a lot of DC’s superhero output this past year, including the Grant Morrison Batman books (of course); the always-excellent Secret Six and the return of Birds Of Prey; Giffen and DeMatteis’ Booster Gold; Doom Patrol; Justice League of America and Justice League: Generation Lost; Zatanna and Madame Xanadu (which might as well be a superhero book); the consistently-good Detective Comics; Gail Simone’s Wonder Woman (especially her heartfelt farewell story); Paul Cornell and Pete Woods’ Action Comics; and probably some others I’ll kick myself for forgetting (like the “Jimmy Olsen” backups).  For the most part, those series didn’t rely on shocks and/or drastic changes to the status quo — not even, I would argue, Justice League, which quickly adopted a tone decidedly more positive than Cry For Justice.

Even so, the time was right for one last airing of 2010′s grievances. I’m sure there will be more in 2011 — but I hope DC takes the hint from all the anniversaries it might celebrate next year. Twenty-five years ago, DC did a lot of tearing down, followed by a lot more rebuilding. Here’s hoping that 2011 gives us all more reasons to celebrate.

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Comments

10 Comments

I will completely disagree with you regarding Ryan Choi. I am of the feeling that all the forced “PC” replacement heroes need to be killed off, and that includes the replacement Blue Beetle, Question and Firestorm, as well as whatever happened to the false Aquaman. All those misguided attempts to create legacy characters need to be killed, and even erased from continuity.

Sir Manley Johnson

December 30, 2010 at 8:38 pm

Oh boy, nWoJeffDW. You opened that bottle now you have to drink it.

Wrong nWoJeffDW, Blue Beetle is awesome and he will go on! Jaime FOREVER!!!

And kill off all the Flashes after Jay and Batmen and Robins and Batgirls too. And all those Green Lanterns too.

Roy Harper was my comic book character crush when I was growing up. He, Dick Grayson, the original Supergirl, Wonder Girl, Lois Lane, and Element Lad (an eclectic bunch!) were my favorite characters back in the ’60s. When Roy was revealed to be a heroin addict in the classic Green Lantern/Green Arrow book, I was happy, with how the story was told and where Roy was at the end of it, stronger, a bit arrogant, and ready to take on the world. The story also made him relevant, but despite the fame of that story, he never really achieved much over the following decades. Still, I enjoyed what I could read with him — the Arsenal mini-series was wonderful — and I was thrilled beyond imagining when he finally made it into the JLA. Then it all went to hell. And I feel sick when I think of what DC did to him.

I will never forgive DC for killing Lian, for ripping off Roy’s arm, and for making him an addict again. The character I loved, the one who Dinah (in the mini-series) called the bravest man she knows because of the very human demons in his head that he overcame, is gone. I read the Rise of Arsenal, hoping it would somehow end well, and I wish I’d never seen it. Roy is gone, dead to me right now. Someday, should DC restore him and again let someone write him as a good, decent, flawed man who always tries to do the right thing despite his insecurities, should they somehow retcon Lian back to the realm of the living, then I will again read something with Roy Harper in it. But not until/unless that happens.

I’m with Shelly – Roy fought his demons and won. I never bothered with The Rise of Arsenal after The Rot of Cry For Justice, but in what sense is losing everything and giving in to addiction, a rise?

Tom, thanks for a great year of columns, and here, for reminding me of some great DC times.

Now, isn’t it time Robert Loren Fleming and Trevor Von Eeden were brought back to finish Thriller?

I know exactly how you feel, Shelly. DC forever ruined my favorite character, Hal Jordan, when they turned him into the villain Parallax. And Marvel forever ruined Tony Stark by making him the bad guy during Civil War. Starting in 1965, I bought every Green Lantern and Iron Man comic put out — I had a complete run of both — until DC and Marvel decided to re-invent the characters I loved.

Now I have no emotional investment in what happens to either Hal Jordan or Tony Stark — because they have been reduced to obvious comic book characters, prey to the arbitrary whims of misguided editors. I’ve occasionally read recent issues of GL and IM, and pass on buying them, because — Who are these characters? Why should I care about them?

I also agree with Jeff above, who states that all DC’s politically correct replacement heroes need to be wiped from continuity. They were a bad idea. (The female Question, especially, is laughable.) History has shown that, eventually, future editors will bring back the originals, like Blue Beetle Ted Kord. And these PC replacements only tangle up the continuity.

Replacing established heroes with substitutes (like Bucky Cap and Dick Grayson Batman) is a poor substitute for the creativity it takes to create NEW characters.

Not to throw oil on a raging fire, but you DO realize that Ted Kord was the replacement for Dan Garrett…right?
Now I LOVE Ted, and I would be more than happy to have him come back…along with Ralph and Sue Dibny, Dmitri, and the original Doctor Polaris. But on the other hand, I am also very fond of Jaime Reyes, not to mention Ryan Choi.

I don’t really see the need to kill off ANY characters. The shock value has long disappeared, and it’s just annoying to get attached to a good character…or even a bad one, and have it all for naught. Rather like the way that they are treating poor Roy right about now.

In my opinion, DC has ALWAYS had editorial problems (even during the Golden and Silver ages) and they’ve created great, even wonderful characters and stories DESPITE their executive meddling rather than because of it. These days in particular they sound really disconnected from the fans. But they still employ greatly talented writers and artists.

I wasn’t reading comics when Hal became Parallax (that was during my boycott over the killing of the original Supergirl, a boycott that lasted 10 years and took another few years before I was reading more than a couple of titles), but I think he’s been restored to his former glory.

And I have no problem with new characters taking on old roles. I love Jaime Reyes and I loved Ryan Choi. I thought Ryan made a much more interesting Atom because, unlike Ray Palmer who’d become a bore, Ryan had personality and a great supporting cast. And a rather formidable girlfriend! ;)

I love seeing Dick Grayson as Batman almost as much as I loved him as his own man as Nightwing. And I hope that someday, DC will restore Roy. I’m just not holding my breath. It took a long time to restore Hal and it took a very long time for them to bring back Kara/Supergirl, and even then, it took another couple of years before they got her right.

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