Three Years After Crisis/Flashpoint

It's been three years since Flashpoint rebooted the DC Universe into the New52 and we know what that looks like. It got me wondering where we were three years after the original Crisis on Infinite Earths. I realize I'm probably comparing apples and oranges when it comes to the market's context, but maybe it'll yield some interesting data.

So three years after Crisis, if Crisis ended in March of 1986, we'd be looking at April 1989. Of the series that started just after Crisis, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle and Hex are already gone, while Captain Atom, Wally West as the Flash, Young All-Stars, Wonder Woman and Secret Origins still survive. Of the series that kept going after Crisis, some are also gone: Green Lantern Corps, Hawkman, Outsiders, Teen Titans Spotlight, Warlord, Vigilante, and Justice League of America among them. So right away, a huge difference from today's massive number of new books and cancellations. Of 52 original New52 titles, only 21 remain, with many more series cancelled in the intervening years. One wonders if they'll do something special when they cancel their 52nd title (which should be soon, we're at 47 now).

25 years ago, the strategy was obviously different. DC didn't spam the shelves with books and insist on 52 monthlies plus sundries, no matter what, ditching what didn't work and throwing a different strand of spaghetti against the wall to see if it stuck instead. Marvel was more or less about to do something similar - we called that "the 90s" - but let's not get off-track here. No, back in the day, books would be born or die, often as a result of some big crossover event. I suppose that still happens today, with books like Talon coming out of events like Night of the Owls, or Justice League United out of Forever Evil. In the late 80s and early 90s, the formula was much more obvious, with unrelated books also coming out in the same "wave". For example, Legends gave us Justice League (AKA JLI) and Suicide Squad, while Millennium gave us New Guardians and Manhunter, but DC also threw in Power of the Atom and Starman (Will Payton). In 1989, Invasion just happened, so we get books like L.E.G.I.O.N., Justice League Europe, Huntress, Mister Miracle and New Gods, not all of them related to the event. Hawkworld and Hawk & Dove would soon premiere.
The late 80s also saw the rise of dark comics at DC. Morrison's Doom Patrol and Animal Man, Dr. Fate, Hellblazer, Swamp Thing, post-Longbow Hunters Green Arrow, Question, Spectre, Chaykin's Blackhawk, and Checkmate were all at least a year in, usually more than two, and Sandman and that DP just launched. These books contained mature themes, and many would become part of DC's Vertigo imprint, which I believe is what made DC a comparatively strong creative engine in comics through the 90s. Today, we have a kind of reversed situation, where the characters sent behind the Vertigo curtain have been rapatriated and made to star in Teen+ books, still "dark" but far more superhero-y. Meanwhile, a company that used to do superheroes for teenage boys almost exclusively, Image, is the main producer of Vertigo-like books.

In April of 1989, Superman had three books. Meanwhile, Batman had only two books, though Legends of the Dark Knight would soon premiere, and was working alone after Jason Todd's death. Firestorm was a fire elemental. The Titans were wondering Who Is Wonder Girl (the fallout from which would haunt the DCU through the next two decades). The Legion of Super-Heroes was very close to making the leap to Five Years Later. The Justice League had two books and worked as a comedy.

In September of 2014, Superman has two books of his own and shares two others (a third has just been cancelled), which is sort of the same. Meanwhile, Batman has... I don't even want to count the number of books in the Batman Family, I find it kind of depressing. Jason Todd is alive and well and has a book of his own in the line, but there is a dead Robin haunting Batman. Firestorm is a member of the Justice League, but has lost his series. The Teen Titans have returned to a new #1 quite recently, with little rejigging of the concept as far as I can see. The Legion is tapped for a return in the pages of other titles, but has been on its longest hiatus ever, with both its New52 series cancelled. The Justice League is still popular, though I can't stand the book myself. It is the only book from the original New52 line-up to see its numbering drag behind the others despite DC's never-late pledge.

Oh sorry, did I go all negative? Didn't really mean to. Perhaps it's the books taken as examples. The current Aquaman book is quite fun and the New52 run has put the King of Seven Seas on the map again (he even has a second book for the first time in history). In '89, he was getting a lackluster mini-series drawn by Curt Swan that didn't do much to modernize him (especially after the slick art of P. Craig Hamilton's previous effort). Green Arrow, then as now, was/is in a period of critical acclaim. Green Lantern didn't have a book in April '89, but there are five Lantern books currently published (not long to wait in '89 for a similar spike in Lantern popularity though). And it should be said that while 1989 DC had more diverse titles in terms of tone and genre (comedy, supernatural horror, straight superheroes, spy thrillers, quirky surrealism, etc.) 2014 wins out when it comes to giving minorities their own books. Many of those books fail, mind you, but today's crop of books features 10 female-led books (one of them gay, two of them cancelled after this month), to 1989's three female-led books (and I'm having to count Hawk & Dove here). For non-white characters, things look a little dim either way. 1989 is all white (or alien), so the New52 gets a slim win with its one black star, Batwing, whose book just got cancelled. With that, the DCU is once again white-washed. Teams fare better, but then, 1989's did too.

Keep in mind, DC was only publishing about 38 monthly in-universe books at the time - that month showing 55 books overall (the others being minis, Annuals, collections, or books outside DC continuity like Doc Savage and COPS). I haven't calculated any proportions.

So what have we learned? Anything?


Anonymous said...

"The Teen Titans have returned to a new #1 quite recently, with little rejigging of the concept as far as I can see."

They've gotten Lobdell off the book. Pulling a title's head out of its ass is worth a renumbering, when the head was shoved in as far as TT's was under Lobdell.

"The Justice League is still popular, though I can't stand the book myself."

I was just thinking about the JLA and the Avengers, and how difficult it is to make the JLA work a lot of the time. And I think the edge that the Avengers has is, while the JLA is all superheroes, the Avengers is a meeting place for all sorts of characters who aren't all "really" superheroes. Let's go back through the early line-ups of the Avengers. Thor is a god who sometimes fights on Midgard. Captain America is the living embodiment of US ideals, or perhaps more fairly, what we like to think we see when we look in the mirror. Iron Man is a dude controlling an awesome machine. The Hulk is a guy cursed by science. Of the various heroes and heroines of the early days, only Ant-Man and the Wasp are "standard" superheroes, who somehow gained fantastic abilities and decided to fight crime with them.

The Justice League, though ... looking at its classic original lineup, the only two who don't "feel" traditional superhero are the Martian Manhunter (clearly an alien) and perhaps Batman (who is more the force that holds Gotham together). Even though Superman came from another world he "reads" as an entirely human superhero; same with Wonder Woman and Aquaman, most of the time. Flash and Green Lantern are unquestionably pretty standard superheroes, as are the following inductees (Green Arrow, the Atom, Hawkman / Hawkgirl, etc).

Madeley said...

And yet JLA under Grant Morrison was amazing, one of the greatest superhero runs of all time, with a strong focus on the Magnificent 7, the MOST classical superheroes of all. Why Morrison's run didn't become the template of all JLA stories to come after is completely beyond me.

Leaving aside the teeth-grinding amount of Bat-titles, at least some of the new look Bat-titles (Batgirl, Academy, et al) look like DC are making a serious attempt to vary content, style and address criticisms of representation in comics. I very much hope they're successes.

I know what *I've* learned from this: DC's inflexibility in terms of publishing creator-owned content has completely shafted Vertigo. Creators are rightly reluctant to make original characters under the current system, and have made Image (and also other publishers like IDW) a much more attractive place to go. Incredible to see how innovative Image are now compared to their 90s origins. And with the money that's knocking around Hollywood for comic adaptations, you'd have to be completely mad to sign away original concepts to Disney or Warners.

Jeff R. said...

The JLA and the Avengers were both creations of a different era in comics, before tight continuity was the general rule.

In the modern world where continuities are maximally tight, there are three ways to go with that kind of team book: first, you can make a team almost entirely comprised of people who don't have their own book right now. Second, you can use the 'big guns', but make yourself secondary to their stories and expect some of them to be unavailable or in drastically changed circumstances most of the time. Or Third, you can give the book to the writer who's already the Alpha Dog of the entire line and let events there drive your line-wide continuity.

The middle path pretty much never works. The first one is hit or miss, and the third one depends entirely on who's currently at the top of the pecking order; you get much better results when it's a Morrison, or even a Bendis, than you do when it's a Johns...

Michael Bailey said...

Since I came into DC post Crisis (I started collecting the Superman titles in late spring of 1987 and it only got worse from there) I have been thinking about what the people that did the same thing post Flashpoint are getting in terms of the DCU compared to what I walked into. This post put a lot of that into perspective. I think my biggest take away is that the main difference between then and now was that DC was more consistent in 1989. Now that may seem odd considering that the Post Crisis era was rife with reboots and retcons but those were rolled out over years instead of all at once. And books had time to breathe rather than retooling a few issues in like it was a network show.

I'll use Superman as an example because he's my favorite and I have more of a personal connection. In April of 1989 Superman was in the middle of the ambitious Exile storyline. Some might consider this storyline out of character for the Man of Steel. I am confident that there was some "Superman wouldn't do that" going on but them again those same people were probably angry that Superman killed three people which, in an odd way, makes the comparison work better given what happened last year. To me it was an exciting storyline that spun out of the previously mentioned execution. More importantly that story was another layer to Superman's story. Like it or not Exile wasn't a story that was done to retool the line.

Creator wise things were pretty consistent too. Byrne, Wolfman and Ordway were the main creators when the reboot happened and by 1989 only Ordway remained but the change in creators was not something that happened because the books weren't doing well. Wolfman left because he was burned out. Byrne left because he was tired of what he perceived as DC's lack of support and resistance to what he was doing. Ordway picked up the writing reigns on Adventures of Superman and Roger Stern began writing Superman with Kerry Gammill was the penciller. Stern and Byrne were old friends and former collaborators and Gammill had a similar but not copycat style to Byrne so visually and writing wise the transition was smooth. In April of 1989
Action Comics Annual #2 hit the stands and George Perez joined the team with Dan Jurgens waiting in the wings.

Oh, and the backstory was consistent. Byrne may have muddled things during Millennium but events were pretty clear from the beginning.

Compare that to Post Flashpoint. It took 18 months for Morrison to work out his backstory and even then it wasn't what I would call clear. Over in the Superman title you had two major creative shake ups in 18 months. The tone of the series changed each time and it never lined up with Action but to be fair they took place at different times but that in and of itself is a problem. After Morrison we had a creative merry go round until Greg Pak came on and while he and Charles Soule did good work on their respective titles and Doomed has been enjoyable things were so far behind what DC wanted they tapped their big gun to write the book and brought over a sacred cow from Marvel to make a splash.

So the biggest difference between the two eras is consistency. Like or hate the reboot in 1986 DC was committed to the change where today they seem to be floundering. Maybe it's because the Byrne revamp was definitive while today it's more flexible. I don't know. While I would never look at anyone that came to the character Post Crisis and tell them they shouldn't like what they like I do think that I came in at a more stable time.

Siskoid said...

To answer Mike (I'll get to everyone in due course) because we had this exchange of FB first:

Wow, nice big response (with your permission, I'd post it on the blog itself (or you might want to post it yourself). I loved the Superman books back then, the reinvention, but also preceding from there and creating new stories that didn't feel like what went before. And yes, it was pretty consistent, across all books (with a fourth added 2 years later). Obviously, this is your expertise, and mileage may vary from Family to Family. Batman didn't necessarily have the problems Superman did (but he was stretched very thin indeed), and DC Dark has proven to be a pretty good line, taking things to term with a minimum of creative team changes.

Siskoid said...

On the JLA comments...

Anon: I think that comes down to semantics. A matter of finding a niche for heroes to call them something else. You might have treated Wonder Woman like you did Thor, for example.

Madeley: Yes, that was a great take on the JLA. I loved it too. And on your second point, I agree that DC is showing signs of loosening up after 2-3 years of mostly dark and gritty. I still find the current Marvel universe more diverse in terms of tone, but genre-wise, DC's doing fine (if only it can stop cancelling genre books).

Jeff: I don't know that Johns is necessarily taking the third path. It feels like the fourth, where you make it about the big guns and force THEIR books to follow suit.

Anonymous said...

"Anon: I think that comes down to semantics. A matter of finding a niche for heroes to call them something else. You might have treated Wonder Woman like you did Thor, for example."

That's a good example of a character who could be portrayed as a standard superheroine or a mythological Greek warrior from antiquity, but usually isn't. That's more than a semantic difference; it changes the dynamics of the character and the team. Thor doesn't talk funny because he's got a speech defect; it's an ever-present reminder that he is not of this time or place or culture or ethos. When Eric Masterson was standing in for Thor, it simply wasn't the same, because he wasn't of Asgard.

Jeff R. said...

Heh. I'm about a year or so behind, actually, on a "wait for a local library to get the trades" program. So far, I've seen exactly two books that are both (I) Things that could not have been done without Flashpoint and (II) Any good at all. (These are Constantine, which is a good version of what the character would have been if there had been no Vertigo [as opposed to the worse version I saw in JLD], and Wonder Woman, which is so far more or less what we would have gotten if her title had been part of Vertigo from the beginning. But its overall disconnectedness from the rest of the DCnu makes it more 'couldn't have happened in the old 52' rather than 'Made possible by Flashpoint'; not looking forward to seeing the Superman-dating JL version impinge on her solo book.)

Siskoid said...

Let you in on a secret, I haven't read more than a handful of new comics (by any publisher) in the last 2-3 months. Just haven't had time, but I'm not suffering.


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