Nearly 40 years ago I read my first comic books. They were a mix of Archie, Richie Rich and The Justice League of America. I fell in love with the Justice League and started my exploration into the DC universe. The books were fun and exciting and really sparked my imagination. I read hundreds of comics in the 70’s and 80’s but I did not really kick into hard core collecting until the late 80’s when I fell in love with the new Flash (Wally West) and then I began to realize the sense of history and character growth that DC had built over the years. You had teen side-kicks that learned from their experienced mentors as they had learned from the generation before them. It gave a sense of realism to the universe; that you just don’t become a super-hero overnight but that you had to learn from your mistakes and then eventually you would teach the next generation. It is this sense of legacy that has built great DC stories over the decades. I’m not saying that every story that DC has produced has been great and Eisner-award-worthy, but each story always seemed to add to the sense of history. Yes, this history was complicated and confusing, and DC did its best to reset and rewrite continuity and to explain away issues from time to time. Sometimes this was done very well and sometimes not so well, but they always moved forward with the concept of legacy as a cornerstone foundation for their world.
This was true until the controversial New52 relaunch of DC in 2011. The New52 deleted, by design, the majority of history and legacy in the DC universe. This was a stab in the heart of this DC fan-boy. I decided I would take a stiff upper lip approach and give the new DC a chance. Maybe with strong writing we would see some new stories that would reduce my craving for the legacy of the old DC history. In fact there were titles that did very well. The current run of Wonder Woman is one of the best runs I have read in years with compelling story that makes sense for the character and gives Wonder Woman a new role in the universe. Batwoman, Batman, Green Lantern, Teen Titans all began very well and I was really enjoying them. However by the end of the first year things started to go downhill. The writing was weakening across the board, art was suffering, and there was no sense of legacy being rebuilt. Now over two years after the relaunch I only read a few DC books regularly each month, where just a few years ago I was reading 30-40 titles regularly. DC needs to bring back the sense of legacy because without it Superman, Batman, the Flash and many other characters are not as interesting or complex enough without that sense of history.
So what to do now? I have started looking to the past. I encourage you to do so as well. There are some great back issues, trade paperbacks, and graphic novels that every DC fan should read. And what better time to read these than when DC has thrown out history and legacy? At the end of this article I will list a few series/runs you should look into that are fun reads and really show the legacy that DC should continue to build on. A great example of this concept of how legacy is interpreted in the DC universe is the Flash run from the 80’s, where they show Wally West and his struggles of living up to the legacy of being a Flash and eventually the challenges in being a mentor! If you are more of a trade paperback reader there are some great collections out there, and some of the best values out there are the DC Showcase volumes as they are great ways to read huge bulk runs of Silver-Age comics at a low cost.
One last soap-box moment, more a plea to the industry. Focus on the writing and story telling. This what makes a comic nostalgic memory and what gets the readers coming back for more. Art will sell comics and always will, but a strong story and great character development will create dedicated fans and followers.
I may write another piece about this later……….
Here is a short list of DC series and trades that I think you should check out. The list could go on forever, but this is a solid start:
- Crisis on Multiple Earths (Great JLA/JSA stories, gives you a view into how heroes see their heroes)
- Flash (80’s – 2010)
- Martian Manhunter (Ostrander/Mandrake run)
- Hourman (Peyer / Morales)
- Teen Titans Judas Contract
- Crisis on Infinite Earth (Best reboot ever! and some of my favorite art of all time)
- Young Justice (Young side-kicks trying to figure things out living in the shadow of the big names)
- Batman Knightfall (what happens when Gotham doesn’t have the Batman? How does his legacy continue?)
- Justice League of America (Detroit years, yes! Under powered, rag-tag team trying to fill the gap when the big power leaves the JLA)
- Teen Titans (Geoff Johns run)
- Teen Titans (80’s run)
- Superboy (Vol 3 (second half the series & Vol 4 Jeff Lemire)
— Scott Tomlin
Scott and Lainie Tomlin are the owners of the Comics Dungeon. Scott is a lifelong DC comic reader and collector.