The New 52: Not as 90s as the 90s (Part 2)

Feel like you’ve walked into the middle of a conversation? Read part one this review here.

With all of the 90s style going over at DC with the New 52, I decided to go back and reread two landmark titles from DC’s 1990 collection in order to conduct a fair comparison between what was going on during the “Modern Era” versus what is currently ongoing.

The first storyline I looked at was part one of the KnightSaga, Knightfall. Many of you will be familiar with the villain of this story, Bane. He is the mastermind of this story arc which saw Batman (Bruce Wayne) run down psychologically by the burden of the mantle, and physically by the escape of the entirety of Arkham Asylum’s criminally insane patients. Bane discovered Batman’s secret identity and broke his back in the Bat Cave. As Wayne searched for rehabilitation, he placed an apprentice, by the name of Jean Paul Valley, as a replacement Batman. Valley became mean, cruel, and deadly in the role, and recast the Mantle of the Bat in the image of a dark and dangerous suit of armor. Valley proved to be mentally unstable and in a subsequent storyline, (KnightsEnd) Bruce Wayne returns recouped (by paranormal means) to reclaim his title and take back his city.

This storyline was excellently written, and dealt with the psychological and spiritual issues that one might be under with the heavy burden of being the Batman; the comic also juggled a rather large cast seamlessly, and deftly. More importantly, it drove home a point that Batman didn’t need to be ruthless, bloody and armored by the bleeding-edge in fashion to be currently relevant and have a great story. The art is very 90s (especially the covers), and both the lingo and technology are dated, and the designs themselves are not (with the exception of Bane himself and Dark Batman) attempting to be the definition of the decade. The story managed to maintain the house style, great narrative, and include a ton of Easter eggs without smacking the reader in the face with obviousness—though DC’s message was clear: our characters don’t need to be killers.

The other blockbuster storyline of the time was the Death and Return of Superman. It set out to accomplish a similar goal and had a very similar path: deconstruct and remove Superman, replace him, and prove him irreplaceable. It does just that. Superman fights the lazily named monster, Doomsday, in a battle to the death spanning across America and ending in the heart of Metropolis. While Superman does in fact kill Doomsday, Superman also dies in the battle. He does so while defending himself, and the world, from an unstoppable menace rather than just murdering a thug. In the wake of Superman’s death, four replacement characters were offered, each a variant of a different Superman moniker.

The Last Son of Krypton dealt a harsh breed of deadly justice, and the Man of Steel was an African American man in a suit of armor fighting street gangs. The Metropolis Kid (Superboy) was a teenage clone of Superman with an earring, shades, and a mushroom haircut. The Man of Tomorrow was a Cyborg Superman. Each of these characters provided some aspect of the real deal, but none offered the total package. The Man of Steel had the heart, The Last Son of Krypton had the face, Superboy and the Cyborg had actual Superman DNA. Of course (19-year-old spoiler alert), none of them was Superman. Superman returned and ready for the 90s, complete with a mullet and a “chillax” take on being a cool, brown bomber jacket wearing Clark Kent.

The supporting cast was timely. Lois Lane was confused as to which man was her fiancé (Clark Kent) while being wooed by pony tail wearing, and out of nowhere character, Jeb Friedman. Ma and Pa Kent were grappling with the idea of coming forward to curb stories from insane headline grabbers claiming to have been Superman’s lover. A young, up and coming African American reporter by the name of Ron Troupe had taken Clark Kent’s spot in the newsroom.Llesbian top-cop, Captain Maggie Sawyer, was promoted to Inspector and given greater reign over the police force with her Special Crimes Unit duties.

In contrast to what is occurring in the DC Universe now, it was recently announced that Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern, is being reintroduced as a gay character, while Morgan Edge, previously a white, cantankerous and borderline evil businessman, is now a bald, ruthlessly visioned, African American businessman.

Firstly, it is in my opinion that if they wanted to make Alan Scott into a gay character, it would have had much more impact to do so with his previous incarnation—an older, widowed, father of two, veteran hero. This approach would have actually amounted to someone coming out of the closet; a much more powerful image than simply filling the void of the retconned gay character Obsidian. Secondly, while making Nick Fury into a black man in the Ultimate Marvel (and through many contrivances 616) Universe was a bold move, doing so with Morgan Edge is pointless. Also, Fury is an important touchstone character throughout the Marvel Universe, Edge is not anywhere near the equivalent in DC. They could have just as easily invented a new character to oust Edge. It was, and is, merely pandering and knee-jerk reaction. Of course, the timely part of this was that Edge’s TV company, WGBS, has bought the Daily Planet–interestingly enough, it was just as timely in the 1970s when they first did it.

Don’t get it wrong, I have zero problem with African American characters, or gay characters, or gay African American characters—or really any form or permutation of any kind of diversity including and beyond that. I have a problem with being pandered to. Instead of creating viable characters, everything is just being thrown around. In particular reference to the recent Alan Scott development (as it fell in light of the bombshell that Northstar of the X-Men was marrying his boyfriend), it should be made pretty clear that despite the headlines, the character that is now gay is not the Green Lantern from the movie. He’s the Green Lantern on Earth-2, in the Justice Society, and does not have the World War 2 history of his previous incarnation.

The whole affair has been watered down—this stands in contrast to the reasonably well done retcon of Kathy Kane, Batwoman, who is also gay. There wasn’t much hullaballoo over that bombshell; everyone just moved on and it’s well-integrated into her character without being a sledgehammer. I am not against the notion of these acts, I just feel like DC’s M.O. is to grab headlines and shout “See! See! We’re diverse!” as opposed to just telling good stories. I’ll be honest with you, I really want that story where the original Alan Scott has to tell the guys he’s been fighting with since D-Day that he’s gay. And really, that’s the downfall of the New 52 in light of Ultimate Marvel. There are all the stories they won’t tell, and all the story potential that has just been thrown away. All of this waste to do something not as good as what they used to do.

Of course some things are redeeming about the New 52: Action Comics, Animal Man, Batman, and Green Lantern just to name a few, but where would the snark be in talking about all that?

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