Just some further thoughts on DC comics new 52 relaunch. Now that some of the dust has settled and issue 3 of most titles has come out, people are starting to find out which titles they really love and settle into various camps such as Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Horror (Swamp Thing, Animal Man), Teen, and so on. I’ve recently been watching some of the Young Justice animated series and it made me think about what I think is missing from the 52 relaunch. It’s mentors and teachers. It’s books about young people learning how to be heroes from the start.
Fantasy books are full of farm boys and stable boys growing up to become great warriors and heroes. They feature an epic journey where the fresh faced nobody must overcome numerous impossible obstacles and eventually they succeed and are stronger for it. Over a long period of time they become someone other boys with dreams look up to; an icon and hero in their own right. So far I’ve not seen this from DC which is very surprising given some of their popular successes.
Peering across the street, Marvel has a school for gifted youngsters, now the Jean Grey school, where some of the most dangerous and famous X-men as now the teachers, including Wolverine. They’ve also had the extremely popular X-Men movie franchise. Just so we’re clear, this is not me being negative about DC at all because right now I’m buying more DC books than ever before and very few Marvel books. I just think there is still room for new titles from DC comics that could potentially cover areas not currently being explored.
Think about the Christopher Nolan Batman films and put to one side the actors, directors, special effects and so on. If you focus on what made the films really interesting and enjoyable, then for me it’s the story and the heart of that adventure. It’s the journey of Bruce Wayne from naïve wounded puppy to seriously dangerous and extremely threatening and scary menace of the underworld. I loved seeing him learn different skills from a wide range of different Masters. Be they low criminals and thieves, crime bosses, leaders of ancient cults or dangerous psychopaths like the Joker. I loved seeing him absorb all of those skills and all of that knowledge, learn from his mistakes, sift through the information and shape it into a weapon that he could use for his mission. Something that would bring together all of his new skills together with his fear of bats. He didn’t start out as someone who was born to that way of life, nor was he gifted with special powers, nor did he come from another planet or gain superpowers in some freak accident. This is something he chose. Something inside him broke when his parents died and the only way he knew how to cope (I’m not saying it’s a healthy or recommended way of dealing with loss!) was to become something terrifying and fight an endless war on crime.
If you look at all of the new 52 titles you could argue that Bruce Wayne is training and mentoring Damian, his son. But let’s be honest, Damian was trained practically from the second he was conceived. He is already a devious and extremely dangerous evil genius who was left to fend for himself in some of the most hideous ways imaginable. In some ways Bruce is trying to teach Damian how to be a real human being and to care rather than let him develop into an evil megalomaniac like his grandfather. So Damian is not just a kid off the street like Jason was a long time ago. He’s not even like Dick or Tim, both of who had no formal training at the start in being a crime fighter. They were trained over many year by many masters, including Batman, before each became a hero in their own right.
The new Teen Titans comic is not about the youngsters learning how to be heroes like the animated adventures, and in Batgirl she is already someone who has been trained and is coming back to the cowl after some time away. The closest I can probably find is Bette Kane, who in the pages of Batwoman, is being trained by her cousin. She is not given a proper costume and is being tutored by Kate, but it’s not exactly the same thing. The book is very much focused on Kate not Bette.
Some of the other titles feature young heroes but they are either accidental heroes who have to learn what they are how it all works (Blue Beetle), aliens who have crash landed and are the stranger in a strange land (Supergirl) or experiments (Superboy) being programmed to be a weapon at someone else’s behest. One of my biggest complaints about the TV series Smallville was that Clark whinged all the time. Every single episode he probably made at least one comment about wanting to be normal and he never seemed to enjoy his powers and what they allowed him to do. What I’m talking about is someone who wants to be a hero or crime fighter, who has sought it out and is pushing themselves beyond normal human limits because they have a driving need and urge that is not quenched by a normal life.
I think all of the tools and pieces are already there for a comic like the one I’ve described which is focused on a student and mentor relationship. All it requires is that DC dust off certain toys currently sat in their box and wrap them up in new clothing as they’ve done with a lot of characters in the new 52. Maybe something like this will be coming in the second wave of titles from them. I certainly hope so, because if not, I think DC are missing a trick, especially given how popular such themes are across the street in comics and at the movies.