Tracking DC's Current Era: The Superhero Family

Category: Theory
Last article published: 5 December 2022
This is the 53rd post under this label

After the Crisis on Infinite Earths, the DC Universe gained an overall theme, that of Legacy. The Flash had died in that Crisis and been replaced by NextGen Flash, Wally West, and with the merging of Earths 1 and 2, contemporary heroes traced back their culture of heroism to the JSA and other heroes of the Golden Age. It became the template for many series.

The next game changer was in the early 2000s, though it was fathered by trends from the 90s - the DCU became grim-dark. Bad things happened to good heroes. Arms and heads were torn off in big crossover events. And though those legacies were still around, legacy heroes were on the outs with the powers that be (i.e. Dan DiDio) - Barry returned to displace Wally, a new dark Robin displaced Tim and even Dick in the eyes of Batman readers, and Supergirl was eventually turned into an angry brat. It's an era that tried to out-Watchmen Watchmen, and after a dank reboot few people liked, culminated in all that Dark Metal nonsense.

Out with Dan DiDio and creative director Geoff Johns (who's written some great comics runs, but is also the arm-tearer in chief), in with Mark Waid as creative force behind the DCU. What will this mean? It's obviously too early to tell at this point, and we're still living with the wages of the past - Black Adam still has a series, there are still more Batman books than anyone can buy or read, Tom King is writing whatever he likes with no thought to which characters he slanders and ruins, and the next event is called Knight Terrors - but between the books Waid is writing himself and the titles greenlit this year, there is a noticeable trend: Superhero families!
Obviously, surrounding a superhero not with a civilian supporting cast with with OTHER HEROES is an idea that pays dividends when you consider the appeal of giving those heroes their own titles. Batman is the model. Not only does he have his own books, but currently or very recently, so do allies Tim Drake, Nightwing, and Batgirls (note the plural, Batgirl is ALSO in her own constellation of heroines), not to mention Batman Inc., as well as villains Harley Quinn, the Joker and Poison Ivy. We might remember that Waid's own seminal Flash series pioneered the format, and if you look at the Flash series TODAY, it once again features a family of super-speedsters, including Barry and Wally BOTH.

Mark Waid is currently writing World's Finest which isn't just a Batman-Superman team-up book, but also includes Robin and Supergirl as a matter of course (and sometimes others). And his next project is Shazam, which was already a "Marvel Family" book under Johns, but that's been reaffirmed if anything over the course of the Lazarus Planet events. Well, we know Batman does this, and Waid does this, but does it mean the Dawn of DC will go beyond that? Yes! Not only does Action Comics currently showcase an expanded Superman Family (a few of which have their own titles, including Jon, Connor and soon, Steel), but the first issue of Green Arrow just hit and it's all about an Arrow FAMILY, very specifically so.
Nightwing has folded the Titans into itself, at least until the team gets another shot at a series. When last scene, Aquaman had a vibrant super-family around him. Wonder Woman currently includes Wonder Girl (Flor) and a lot of brand name Amazons. The Justice League is absent, but do we even notice given the number of "team" books on the stands? Sorry, I mean "family" books. One wonders if there's something in the air. Perhaps the pandemic has made us more receptive to our close circle of friends and family (biological and chosen). Perhaps a decade+ of DC-inspired TV shows based around such groupings has created that expectation from superhero narratives. Or it might all be business, with core books acting as a engines for ready spin-offs. Regardless, I think I'm there for it.

Certainly more so than for the previous Heavy Metal Album Cover era of the ol' DCU.