Comic Fodder

DC Abandons the Big Three

There is a strange pattern that has been brewing at DC for the past three years, and the end result means reduced screen time for their three biggest draws. In many ways, Superman, Batman and to a lesser extent, Wonder Woman, have been taken off the grid. When did this start, and why does it continue? This may be part of a master strategy, or the opposite: bad planning and poor handling of key characters.

The cracks in relationships started with Identity Crisis, where we learn that Superman sort of turned a blind eye to a way of dealing with villains that Batman opposed, earning Bats a magical mindwipe. Heading into Infinite Crisis, Wonder Woman killing Max Lord exacerbated the divisions between the worldviews of these three people. Then, in 52 (2006), they all took a year-long absence. While 52 was a great story, and allowed for DC to focus some attention on some worthwhile characters, this was a very unusual thing to do with the biggest attractions in an entertainment setting.

The effects of 52 might not have amounted to much , because DC was trying to breathe new life and interest into the big three, and for the most part, they succeeded. But then came Countdown, and more emphasis on other characters, with the big three taking a back seat yet again for a year-long storyline. And this time, Countdown wasn't even good. Two years in a row, with a major storyline affecting the DC universe, and your big stars are sidelined? Surely this could not continue.

Uh oh.

Then we transitioned from Countdown into Final Crisis. Setting aside discussion of the meta-story itself, the outcome cost us Bruce Wayne. Batman and Detective have been cancelled, along with the entire Bat-family line of DC. Unlike when Marvel killed Steve Rogers and put forth Bucky in short order to fill the void, DC is weaving a months-long substitution extravaganza, the end of which will have Grayson assume the mantle, unless they opt for lameness. That's a long time without Batman!

Then comes the news that Superman is leaving Earth. He will be in the New Krypton series, while the Action and Superman titles focus on his supporting cast. Granted, they have done this once before when Superman "died," but not while Batman was MIA too. Wonder Woman has always been the weak leg on the stool, so her lesser impact in the form of a constantly-canceled and rebooted series lately had a reduced presence anyway, but at least she will still show up every month in her own magazine.

The newest weekly series, Trinity, has also contributed to this atmosphere. Billed as recognizing that the big three were essential to DC, and hoping to use the series to prove it and emphasize it, the series did this by... making them disappear. Their absence resulted in a world where evil looked sure to win, and even their comeback is not complete, because they are still in an altered state, not back to the versions with which we are familiar. It's a great story, and it may accomplish its objective long-term, but I do have to acknowledge that a series about a group of three has a tough challenge when it makes those three characters disappear for what feels like half of the series itself!

To make matters worse, the most recent issue of JLA has the three big guns walking away from the team. Batman we already knew about, but now Superman's exile is taking him away from the world's greatest super team, and Wonder Woman simultaneously trumpeted the old "other commitments" excuse (not too long after she took Wally to task for not showing up for his JLA commitments often enough). There is an ebb and flow to comic titles, and there was a good humor to Giffen's run on the League, but the end result was a cancelled title, and Morrison and Howard rebooting the team with the big three in primary position, helping to revitalize the JLA franchise, and incidentally reinforce the fact that the JLA works better (and sells better) when it has its core triumvirate. Brian Bendis at Marvel further reinforced this idea with his New Avengers concept, piling all of Marvel's biggest attractions into one magazine, and watching the sales skyrocket.

Despite the activity and success at the main competitor's place, DC is solidly locked into its current course. So for the next year, Bruce Wayne is lost to time, Superman is exiled to one series, and the Trinity is bringing all three together for their final nine issues, only to wrap up and be finished. Wonder Woman has dropped out of JLA, leaving her with only her struggling title as a showcase for the third tent pole of DC's biggest attractions.

This may all work out in the end. If the stories are indeed spectacular, we will end up with some version of Batman before too much time passes, and Bruce Wayne should be back in two or three years. Superman's exile is only for a year, after which he should come back to his two primary titles. In the meantime, if the creative teams can successfully garner more attention for some of their secondary and tertiary characters, then we end up with more grist for the mill in the future.

Still, the timing seems off. In an era when Marvel is throwing their big guns together and putting them out front, and succeeding wildly in their movie versions, DC is reducing the attention and presence of what should be their main counterstrike in both comics and film. Can DC really hope to make inroads against Marvel's slice of the comic market this way? Time will tell.

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Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.

I'm a DC diehard, but for the first time in my comics-reading life (circa 1992-2009) the number of Marvel titles on my pull list is equal to the number of DC. As surprising as this was for me to realize, the explanation is simple. DC has taken Batman and Superman out of their core titles. The adventures of Nightwing and Flamebird and Batwoman may end up striking creative gold, but, as you've pointed out, it's a huge risk for the publisher to take.

-- Posted by: The Kize at April 8, 2009 5:10 PM

It's not just Marvel who's "succeeding wildly in their movie versions" of their major characters: The Dark Knight is literally the biggest movie of the decade, but DC is following up their esoteric (and arguably frustrating) Batman R.I.P. storyline with at least a year without Batman -- the real Batman, a character whose secret identity and origin is fundamental in the minds of the general public, at least as much as Clark Kent or Peter Parker, and quite possibly more.

I do not understand this movie, particularly as DiDio keeps talking about bringing together a core group of characters that everyone recognizes.

"DC Abandons the Big Three," and since my interest in DC comics is primarily and almost exclusively on Batman, I am abandoning them for the time being.

In the titles being launched or relaunched, either we have spotty talent (at best) such as Judd Winick on Batman, or we have concepts that don't really appeal, like the Batwoman stories in Detective. The only title that will actually feature Bruce Wayne, Batman Confidential, opened with terrible story arcs and is only now really finding its feet.

With nine Bat-titles, I can say that there is only one title that I know will be in my pull list: Dini and Nguyen's Batman: Streets of Gotham, where very good talent is focusing on an interesting premise.

I know I'm not the only one pulling back on what I purchase, and I cannot conceive that sales will actually improve: Marvel's death of Captain America had a few things going for it that this does not, not the least being Ed Brubaker.

DC will probably tread water sales-wise AT BEST, and I doubt that all the stories they tell will be so groundbreaking that the critical reaction will have been reason enough for this move. Even if Morrison's title is great, there's going to be a lot of chaff with that wheat.

-- Posted by: Bubba at April 9, 2009 2:11 PM

I can guess that perhaps DC realized they had painted themselves into a corner with just the Big Three and this was there way of expanding on that limitation to create a more widely appealling product line.

That said, I'm over it completely and absolutely. 5 years this has been going on. 5 freakin years. You had it right in your speculation, this is poor planning. The Didio(t) is to blame.

I dropped Bat and Tec when they went on hiatus and dropped Supes and Action when Krypton started. I'm riding Wonder Woman until the Genocide arc is done. I had planned to drop JLA anyway and it so happens that #31 was the best place to exit.

-- Posted by: David at April 9, 2009 2:12 PM

you know where DC got it wrong? It got it wrong by coping marvel with its big three DC has a big seven batman, aqueman, superman, flash, green lantern, hawkman, and wonder woman. thats the big seven it is actually unfair to the fans to pick out three of these characters and say those are the big three. I read 52 and it was great I got three issues into countdown and didn't know what was going on. another series I need a break.

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