Superman is almost powerless and has lost his secret identity.
Thor is a woman.
Batman is Commissioner Gordon in a mech suit.
Captain America is Sam Wilson, a Black man and the former Falcon.
Wonder Woman is the goddess of War.
Iron Man is… okay Iron Man is pretty much the same.
Among many other changes, this is the state of DC and Marvel right now. But as Marvel launches their “All New All Different” Omniverse, and DC sets about to initiate DC You, the companies are taking different approaches to their recent changes. See, Marvel is doubling down on change. It’s not just all new, it’s all different. Then on the other hand DC, after a very disappointing fiscal year, has decided to move back to “Meat and Potatoes” superhero comics.
It’s an odd position for DC to take. They appear to be blaming their riskier changes for a recent downturn in sales and I don’t believe that’s their problem at all. This summer both DC and Marvel released event miniseries which were, on the surface, identical. DC’s Covergence was about a patchwork planet made up of versions of their heroes from every reality ever written struggling to survive into a new reality. Marvel’s Secret Wars, which is still in progress, is about a patchwork planet made up of versions of their heroes from every reality ever written struggling to survive into a new reality. The general consensus is that Secret Wars is better than Convergence, and it isn’t because it’s taking less of a risk. It’s because Secret Wars is being written to show off every different angle that can be taken on your favorite heroes and villains, all depending on the reality around them.
Convergence was written to make your favorite heroes and villains fight. Outside of canon. And also to buy DC time while they moved offices.
That’s what makes the All New All Different titles compelling too. Writers and Artists are finding new angles on old ideas. The Avengers will now feature Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America training the next generation, Ms. Marvel aka Khamala Khan, Spider-Man aka Miles Morales, and Nova aka Sam Alexander. This is not only the most diverse team of Avengers ever, throwing in Vision for that key android demographic, but it’s one that arrives with a purpose beyond “we need an Avengers comic because people buy them.”
It’s finding a new angle on an old idea that keeps bringing people back to the same properties. It was taking Batman from silly and Schumaker to dark and Nolan that brought everyone out to see it. It was making The Amazing Spider-Man movies the same as the originals that kept everyone home.
To put it in terms of a metaphor no one has ever looked so deeply into, how are my meat and potatoes served? Are the potatoes baked or mashed? Can I get garlic potatoes or some gravy? What’s the meat? Chicken, steak, pork? Meat and potatoes don’t have to be a bad thing as long as you change up the formula, but I don’t think that’s what DC is planning.
I used to be the biggest DC comics fan. My favorite superhero was Green Lantern, and I would bring new issues to school and turn all of my friends into fans as well. But about a year ago I realized I was only reading two DC comics, Justice League and Multiversity. Multiversity was written much more like Secret Wars. It explored the multiverse and took new looks at old stories, characters, and tropes. It was outside of the main canon and excellent. At the same time Justice League felt like a chore. They had found a new angle, adding Lex Luthor and Captain Cold to the team, but that was their only title doing anything new and interesting. But that wasn’t even enough because the storytelling was frustrating. Every story line had an issue long prologue and epilogue, with a five issue story between. It was, as they say, written for the trades. So when Multiversity ended, I stopped reading DC.
I’ve begun reading much more third party titles and much more Marvel. Their approach to storytelling feels modern, where a single issue can contain a full story. They have found new angles on old characters that are genuinely exciting and, beyond that, intellectually stimulating. One of the friends I got into comics through Green Lantern wrote his thesis paper on Captain America being a Black man. He has a degree because of comic books (and on a day when I’m feeling particularly egotistical, me). Marvel has refused to maintain their “classic” status quo and I applaud them for it and want more. I have read the stories written from those angles, and they are preserved online forever. New stories shouldn’t feel the same as the old ones, they should feel all new… and all different.
This is all a way of saying that I desperately hope DC still takes some risks, because I want their comics to be good. I eagerly await the day I get back into reading their stuff.
Except Green Lantern. That series should have ended when Geoff Johns finished his story.
P.S. This is also why I’m hopeful for the Marvel Studios Spider-Man. I’m sure they know of a new angle to come at Peter Parker from.