Saturday, April 21, 2012

if I rebooted the DC universe

This is a collection of posts about revamping DC characters. The first one is tongue-in-cheek, but the rest are straight fanboy.


  1. Dear DC, Please Keep Captain Marvel Black!
  2. If I rebooted Wonder Woman
  3. If I rebooted Batman and Robin
  4. If I rebooted Superman
  5. If I rebooted the Justice League: Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkwoman, Martian Manhunter
  6. If I rebooted Atom and Green Arrow
  7. If I rebooted Aquaman
  8. Why Aquaman is the greatest superhero ever (or, rebooting Aquaman, part 2)
  9. If I rebooted Zatanna
  10. If I rebooted Sgt. Rock
  11. The gender-reversed Justice League
Dear DC, Please Keep Captain Marvel Black!

Dear DC,

You’re about to reboot your universe, and I approve. Comic books should be rebooted every decade to keep them vital. Having a younger Superman who was never married makes sense. I only have one plea: please, keep Captain Marvel black.

I’m old enough to remember the early ‘70s when DC had the best female superheroes, Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and Batgirl, and Marvel had the best black superheroes, the Black Panther, the Falcon, and Luke Cage.

But everything changed in 1973 when DC expanded its universe with characters that had been published by other companies. Justice League #107 introduced the Quality Comics superheroes. Here’s that groundbreaking cover:

With one stroke, DC accomplished two things. The obvious one: it leapt ahead of Marvel on diversity, creating four African-American heroes, a Mexican-American Black Condor and a Japanese-American Human Bomb (which seems simplistic now, but was a daring commentary on nuclear weapons then).

Sure, DC got flak from racists who said Uncle Sam had to be white. DC bravely answered that the spirit of America could manifest in any of its citizens, and all the major media news media agreed, giving DC publicity that no amount of money could buy. Until then, Marvel Comics had threatened to surpass DC, but DC's bold integration of its world pushed Marvel back into second place.

DC's other accomplishment is easy to overlook now. When independent comic book companies were competing, they had slots to fill. Among them:
  • The white supernatural guy.
  • The white woman in a skimpy costume.
  • The white guy who flies.
  • The white guy who shrinks.
  • The white guy who is super-fast.
  • The white guy whose power makes him a tragic freak.
Imagine if DC had left the Quality characters white. They would’ve been redundant: the Spectre, Wonder Woman, Adam Strange, the Atom, the Flash, and Robotman had those roles covered. But with a simple change, DC made the DCU look more like the world of its readers.

When DC saw that sales didn't suffer from having characters who weren’t white, they did it again with the Fawcett characters in Justice League #136 and #137:

Can you imagine what those covers would've looked like with all-white characters? You would think you were in an alternate universe where Hitler won.

Superman, Supergirl, Batman, Robin, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Green Arrow, and Green Lantern had already taken these slots in the DCU:
  • The white guy with demi-god powers.
  • The white woman with demi-god powers.
  • The rich white athlete guy with gimmicks.
  • The rich white guy's boy sidekick.
  • The white guy who flies.
  • The white woman who flies thanks to her boyfriend.
  • The white detective guy.
  • The white guy with a supernatural doohickey.
By making the Fawcett characters black, DC told its readers that anyone could be a superhero, regardless of race or gender. Who was stronger, the white Superman and Supergirl or the black Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel? No one knew whether a Kryptonian could defeat the magic of Shazam, but one thing was very clear: the people at the top of the power spectrum could be of any hue or gender.

Comics could sell a million copies in those days. Did the black Captain Marvel and Isis make it a little easier for Jesse Jackson to be elected president in 1988?

Probably not. Comics can’t change the world, even if they change the discussion for a few people. If DC had stuck with a white Captain Marvel, I'm sure capitalism would still be in crisis today and the Republicans would've still given us a moderate like Barack Obama to cope with our changing world.

But it’s nice to imagine that things would be a little better because DC saw a need and acted on it.

So, DC, when you revamp your universe, don't make the most powerful men and women white again. Keep the Marvel Family black.

ETA: RAB reminded me of this panel from Animal Man, which features characters this fanboy would love to see again:

Sunshine Superman

ETA 2: Walaka reminded me of the alternate Justice League in Legends of the DCU: Crisis on Infinite Earths #1, with Earth-D's black Superman and Superwoman. For pics of the rest, see his post, Earth D-lightful.

If I rebooted Wonder Woman

This is the Wonder Woman I would choose:

She's from a one-shot, Legends of the DCU: Crisis on Infinite Earths #1. The designer solved a problem that's defeated every other attempt I've seen to fix her costume: he turned the original bird insignia into something that both holds up her costume and suggests armor.

I dunno who suggested the costume, but I strongly suspect the writer, Marv Wolfman, suggested that she look Middle-Eastern. It makes sense. In classical literature, the island of the Amazons has been located in Libya and Asia Minor.

ETA: While I like the skirt, I would be tempted to give her pants. 

If I rebooted Batman and Robin

This is a light modification of a panel in Legends of the DCU: Crisis on Infinite Earths #1. I could go either way on making Batman's costume black and gray or blue and gray, but for a creature of the night, the yellow belt made no sense, and the panties were just too 1940s.

My Batman's personality is inspired by the 1960s "New Look" Batman: he's a detective who has mostly made peace with the fact that he can't bring his parents back from the dead. He doesn't like putting Robin in danger, so Robin would be a supporting character, someone who goes undercover in places where Batman can't and who usually has adventures on his own or with the Titans. Their styles are so different that they shouldn't team up often: Batman's inspiration is the creature of the night; Robin's inspiration is the people's hero, Robin Hood. The only reason Batman trains Robin is because he realizes that the kid will fight crime no matter what Batman does, so he might as well do what he can as mentor and friend.

The Bruce Wayne playboy is not a "cover". Batman thinks of himself as a soldier or a spy who works hard and parties hard. He knows he needs R&R to keep doing his duty, and he wants fun that won't result in anyone becoming too fond of him. He's an adrenaline junkie, and sometimes, late at night, he wonders if he has a bit of a death wish. If so, so long as it helps him do his job, he's fine with that.

ETA: The capes can become rigid and serve as gliders. Otherwise, why are acrobats wearing capes? Other than they look cool? Which, I grant, in a comic book is never automatically the wrong answer.

ETA 2: The trick to making the original Robin cape work is to use the collar. Perez understood that:

ETA 3: I would be tempted to make Robin's cape green.

If I rebooted Superman

For background on Superman's look, try SupermanPage and Superman's Symbol, Shield, Emblem, Logo and Its History!. Part of what I like about them is they disagree. For example, was the original Superman meant to have red boots, and the printer or the colorist screwed up? No one seems to know. Blue boots are plausible:

So are red:

What's clear is that Superman was meant to resemble a circus strongman. And that's what's wrong with DC's current attempts:

Is he supposed to look like a kid playing superhero by tying a towel around his neck?

The amount of blue and the high neckline makes it look like a he's wearing a uniform, and the hints of armor make it worse: a superman doesn't need armor.

The fact is that the basic Superman costume is surprisingly delicately balanced. Get rid of the cape? It works too nicely in flight. Get rid of the panties? He becomes too streamlined. I considered giving him red pants and blue boots:

But that does odd things to the icon, too. Much as I hate taking the conservative choice, on Superman, this can't be improved:

Make fun of his panties. I do. It doesn't matter. Superman is perfectly comfortable with his sexuality, thank you very much. I hear men mocking his look, but I can't remember ever hearing a woman saying there's something wrong with calling attention to his crotch.

As for powers, he should be able to fly into space, but he shouldn't be able to move planets and he shouldn't be faster than the Flash.

Clark Kent works for the Daily Planet as an investigative reporter. He doesn't worry about the deadlines that come with TV or radio reporting. The Planet has a web presence that's giving the New York Times a run for its money.

Romance? Complicated. Lois Lane is simultaneously a best friend, love interest, collaborator, and, on some stories, competition. Clark and Lois should see other people while they're working that out.

Best friend? Jimmy Olsen, the only reporter with less experience than Clark, and the only reporter who is as gutsy as Lois.

Boss? Penny White, a black woman.

Completely new character? A Korean-American male reporter and former Marine who works with Lois and Jimmy, and is Lois's current romantic interest.

Clark's current romance? His relationship with Lana Lang is getting rocky. His work has taken him to Metropolis, and she's on an archeological dig in South America, where she's falling for a local. 

If I rebooted the Justice League:
Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkwoman, Martian Manhunter

According to a friend I trust, when the trailers for the Green Lantern movie appeared, kids asked, "Why did they make Green Lantern a white guy?"

That's not a joke like "Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings?" It's because, to folks under thirty, this is the Justice League:

But this is DC's reboot:

How many ways is it awful? The short list:

• Instead of being a team of individuals, they look like they went to the same tailor.

• Aquaman is one of my favorite characters, but he shouldn't be part of the core League. He should only appear when a case involves the seas.

• Cyborg is great in the Titans, but he doesn't have a distinct role in the League unless they turn him into a brilliant scientist. Also, his name is generic—it's like calling a character Robot. Give him back to the Titans.

• One woman? Are you kidding me? Humanity is 51% female, and there's one woman in the core team?

My reboot would have the Big Three, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, and:

• Green Lantern. John Stewart, a black man who is the one and only Green Lantern of Earth. In the reboot, he's the guy Abin Sur Katma Tui* chose to wield the ring. (Hal Jordan and Guy Gardner would make cameos as people who might've been picked, if things had gone differently.)

• The Flash. Ricky Estrada, a Mexican-American man with the personality of Wally West.

• Hawkwoman. Shayera Hol, a Thanagarian cop who comes to Earth in pursuit of an alien crook. Her partner, Katar Hol, is killed, and their ship is destroyed, so she stays on Earth for longer than was planned, and comes to love the planet.

• The Martian Manhunter: The original always seemed goofy to me: a green version of Superman who can change shape and gets weak in the presence of fire? Use Miss Martian instead:

Miss Martian photo

A fundamental principle should apply to characters like Green Lantern and Hawkwoman: Heroes should be unique—unless someone offers a lot of money to make a movie or TV show about a variant like Supergirl or Batgirl.

* Using Katma Tui instead of Abin Sur to make it clear that the ring can go to anyone who is worthy.

If I rebooted Atom and Green Arrow

On the list of simple comic book truths: Superhero comics need major female superheroes. I like the idea that the Flash should be a woman. A speedster called Jesse Quick briefly took over the role:

It'd be great if The Fastest Man On Earth was a woman.

But DC is conservative with the characters it considers its most valuable properties, so I doubt they would go with a female Flash, even though that's the best way to get a second woman into DC's Big Five of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and the Flash.

That argument doesn't apply to the Atom and Green Arrow.

There've been several male Atoms over the years, including an Asian, Ryan Choi. I'm a big fan of the Earth-D Atom:

And the female Atom on Earth-15:

So I would make the female Atom a black or Asian-American scientist, then give her a jet pack and ray guns. That would be an Atom who'd be a lot of fun to write.

Then there's Green Arrow, one of DC's most durable characters, probably because he's usually a supporting character. He's Batman if Bruce Wayne was inspired by Robin Hood crashing through his window instead of a bat.

So let Batman be Batman, and let a woman be Green Arrow. An American Indian woman could work nicely if you avoided the obvious cliches, or you could use the character who has been called Arrowette and Miss Arrowette:

She was updated for Young Justice:

Put her in a hooded costume:

And that's my Green Arrow.

If I rebooted Aquaman

For at least a summer, Aquaman was my favorite comic. It was the only comic I subscribed to, and the only reason I stopped subscribing was because as I was such a fanboy that I wanted to be able to pick out the best copy of each issue from the spinner.

I loved everything about Aquaman. I loved his weird underwater world. I loved his relationship with Mera, his girlfriend and then wife who could do everything he could, and could manipulate water as well. I loved his orange and green costume with the scales. I loved his conflict with his half-brother.

Okay, I didn't love his sidekick, Aquaboy in his stupid shorts. But annoying teen sidekicks were the price of DC superheroics.

So, what would I change?

Make him Polynesian.

Aquaman and Green Arrow appeared at the same time, in More Fun Comics #73 (Nov.1941). Like DC's Big Three, they slid from the Golden Age into the Silver with few physical changes: Green Arrow was briefly a brunet; Aquaman's gloves were often yellow before they settled on green.

This is the Aquaman DC is rebooting:

I don't mind the neckline, though I prefer the boatneck collar of the '40s and '50s. But the trident is just a stupid thing to have to carry around. If you want to give Aquaman a gimmick, give him a harpoon gun.

Also, ditch the gloves. He doesn't have a secret identity or any reason to protect his hands.

Here's an early appearance of Mera:

I wouldn't change a thing about her. Superhero comics could use an interracial marriage. If you have to give someone a trident, let it be hers.

Aquaboy? Aquagirl? Heroes should be unique. Forget them, and Topo the Octopus too.

PS. I don't know how many Aryan heroes DC needs, but really, they can spare a few blond guys.

Why Aquaman is the greatest superhero ever (or, rebooting Aquaman, part 2)

Aquaman has a bad rep for one reason: Superfriends didn't know what to do with him. And to be fair to the show, he doesn't fit as a regular member of a team that operates primarily on land divided into nations.

Here's why:

1. Aquaman is the ultimate anarchist superhero. His father (or, in some versions of his origin, step-father) was an American and his mother was an illegal alien, an Atlantean. He grew up an outcast, a citizen of no nation.

2. Aquaman works for justice on the whole planet, but especially on the three-fourths where human law is weak. Every other superhero has a home beat, the city they live in. Even Superman, who should be international, is seen by the world as an American because he operates out of Metropolis. Only Aquaman roams the world.

3. Aquaman is strong enough to survive at the bottom of the sea. How many other heroes can keep him company there? Only Kryptonians, the Marvel Family, Green Lantern, and a few magical folks.

4. The creatures of the sea obey Aquaman because he's just that awesome.

5. Aquaman has a strong enough sense of self-worth to marry someone who is objectively more powerful than he is.

So, what mistakes have been made with Aquaman?

1. Originally, he didn't have any limit on how long he could be out of water. A limit makes sense for Atlanteans, but Aquaman should be unique, half-human and half-Atlantean, incorporating both group's strengths and neither's weaknesses.

2. He should never have become King of Atlantis. The job should've been offered and rejected.

How would I write Aquaman?

He and Mera are kids in their early '20s, cruising the world and looking for adventure. She has the power to shape solid things out of water and he does not, but she can't stay out of the water for more than an hour or two, while he can survive anywhere a human or an Atlantean could.

If I rebooted Zatanna

I would have her look like a dark-haired Marlene Dietrich in drag:

But this cosplayer could sell me on keeping the old costume and making her Asian or black:

(photo from here)

If I rebooted Sgt. Rock

I would make him the black leader of a black company. Popular culture has forgotten that the US Army was not integrated until the 1950s.

I was reminded of that by My Very Own Captain America -

The gender-reversed Justice League

From The best cosplay of Comic-Con 2011: