So it seems DC Comics is endeavoring to revert its core super-hero line back to a lighter, brighter tone, and to be honest, I welcome the shift in atmosphere. I have no problem with darker, more mature takes on super-heroes; they can be entertaining and even thought-provoking. But the genre was originally crafted as fun escapism, with plot elements full of wish fulfillment and adventure. DC’s uber-successful Blackest Night event is leading into Brightest Day and a new bi-weekly Justice League series that appears to embrace the goofiness of the humor-era Justice League comics of the late 1980s.
There are other indications that DC Universe titles are going to adopt a brighter atmosphere. DC announced last week it will launch a new 18-part Who’s Who series in May, as well as a generations-spanning history of its shared super-hero universe, penned by Len Wein, whose heyday in comics was in the 1970s and ’80s. Paul Levitz is returning to the Legion of Super-Heroes, a property he personally guided to popularity in the 1980s.
Furthermore, it’s not hard to find other instances in recent months and years that DC was slowly shifting back in this direction. Gerry Conway, a mainstay of mainstream super-hero comics in the ’70s and ’80s, penned an Animal Man limited series. Trinity, the 2008-2009 weekly series penned by Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza, definitely adopted a more traditional super-hero tone. And when DC relaunched The Brave and the Bold with Mark Waid and George Perez as creators, it was definitely with an eye toward a more nostalgic feel. Booster Gold‘s a light, fun, adventure title, and last year’s Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds harkened back to DC’s big team-up events of yesteryear.
But then, there are several examples of new and recent projects that seem to fly in the face of that lighter tone. If Brightest Day promises to set a brighter tone, why has DC tapped its newly exclusive artist David Finch to provide cover images for the series? Finch is a popular artist, yes, but when one considers his resume, it leans toward a gritter style and even ugly imagery (such as the ultimate in distasteful Ultimatum moments — the Blob consuming the Wasp). Is Finch the artist to provide the brighter face of DC super-heroes in the new decade? I don’t think so.
There are also the excesses of Justice League: Cry for Justice, from the suggestion that Green Lantern had a threesome with two costumed heroines and the transformation of Red Arrow/Arsenal into Arm-Ripped-Off-Boy (complete with an upcoming storyline about the fallout over the archer’s new one-armed status). DC executive editor Dan DiDio has announced that Titans will fall under the Brightest Day banner, but the new creative team to do so on the book is the same team that brought us a dark, urban drama in Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink. Some of these decisions seem contradictory in nature.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that DC ought to abandon all darker, more mature takes on super-heroes. Grant Morrison’s Batman and Robin offers an entertaining mix of campy elements and dark intensity, and Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III’s Batwoman serial in Detective Comics, just to cite two examples.
The truth is that DC has been offering a variety of super-hero material, some designed to be edgier and more adult in tone and some that harken back to a simpler, lighter approach to the genre. Even at its darkest, it had offered all-ages super-hero titles at the same time. The balance seems to shift back and forth over the years, but there’s clearly room for both.
My chief concern isn’t so much whether or not the storytelling is bright or night, but whether or not it’s any good.
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