Comic Fodder

DC's Trinity: Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder?

Travis wrote a great column recently about the seeming randomness of selecting Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman as the Trinity within the DC Universe, particularly from a mega-narrative view of the DCU and from a modern reader's perspective.

Some might be inclined to agree. Superman may not have whatever it is a contemporary audience is looking for. Wonder Woman's sales haven't been in the top tier in a generation. Batman, all things being equal, is just a human walking amongst gods (and his sidekick is dealt out of the picture altogether).

He'd also mentioned, recently, that it seems DC has abandoned The Big Three. He referred to, especially, the recent decision to take Bruce Wayne off the game board in the Bat-books, and Superman is oddly absent from not just Action Comics, a title he's appeared in almost every issue of since 1938 )barring his death, etc..., and has gone AWOL from his own title.

I follow the Superman Homepage fairly closely, and have been a bit by surprised by how fans have addressed the absence of Superman in Action and Superman. I don't follow any particular Batman site (if someone can suggest one as comprehensive as Superman Homepage, I'm all ears), but I assume some of the fans on those sites are similarly grousing and making noise about dropping the books, etc... I can only assume there were all sorts of declarations made when Steve Rogers took a bullet on those steps and Bucky picked up the shield.

All of the hubbub has me curious about readership and how it interacts with the comics it picks up.

World Without a Superman

Once the solicitations appeared for the era of "World of Krypton" in the Superman titles, in which is was mentioned that Mon-El and The Guardian would be taking center stage in the pages of Superman and that Flamebird and Nightwing would take on Action Comics, many readers revolted, making bold proclamations about how this was the ruination of their beloved character and title, and how sad they were to have a break in their collections. But how could they still pick up a book without Superman actually in it?

I find this idea a bit bizarre, and would, in fact, champion the opposite notion.

After 70 years in publication, it would be my hope that the Superman titles have built up enough of a world, a diverse enough cast of characters, a wide enough array of concepts, etc... that a story which is truly epic enough in scope to reflect a complex narrative would have the good faith of the readership behind it. Despite my earlier bemoaning the plan to remove Superman from the Earth, the creative team has not treated the absence of Superman as a stunt. Kal-El is not "dead" or "missing". We know where he is, we know why, and, shockingly, its all been driven by conceivable character choices rather than driven by seeming happenstance. And while serial, mutiple title comics under a corporate editorial umbrella will always be hampered by certain factors, the story is thus far organic and engaging.

I'd vote that the creative team has wisely spent those pages following Metropolis under the watch of others, while simultaneously building the story. Under Berganza's stewardship, it seemed that the Superman titles often forgot the many, many other aspects of the Superman legacy, from Steel, to the Guardian to Mon-El that could be used, and which expanded Superman beyond a guy in tights punching out aliens. Each character reflected back upon Superman's world and gave it another layer of texture.

And, most importantly, it felt as if until Infinite Crisis that Clark Kent and the Daily Planet had been taken out of the equation as all but a mere prop and location for stories to begin. Johns and Co. have reminded the readership that the grounding mechanism of the Daily Planet is entirely relevant to the Superman stories. Its not just that Superman books become more than just people in tights clobbering each other once the detailed relationships of the Daily Planet staffers become subplots (and allow for more varied storytelling), but that the Daily Planet staff can act as the stand-ins for the humanity that Superman is attempting to protect. These subplots give the mission of the Man of Steel substance.

By showing how this world works, which is either side product or subtextual mission of the current, Kal-El free titles, we can see a world enriched, enhanced and inspired by Superman. All of which, one would hope, will endure after Kal-El's foregone return.

And how much story and subtext is there in Superman fleeing Earth just as his father passes?

The Batbooks

While the removal of Bruce Wayne as Batman from the Batbooks was telegraphed more than that of Superman's absence, post Batman RIP (or from sometime near the release of the final issue of RIP), the Batbooks have moved into market/filler mode with "Battle for the Cowl".

Prior to Infinite Crisis, and in the middle of "War Cimes" (or whatever it was called), I remember realizing I was going to probably see a break in my Batbook collection. There are other breaks in the collection (I missed the entire Knightfall AND No Man's Land runs), so that didn't particularly bother me. But it bothered me that DC had seemingly allowed the titles to slide so much that I just didn't care any more. And spent part of 52 and the years since Infinite Crisis to repair the damage. Only to see Battle for the Cowl seem like a replay of the Gang War storyline in small but significant ways. Did we really need another storyline so soon about a gang war breaking out in Gotham (especially as the Robin series ended with Robin supposedly ending just such a gang war)? At some point, after the Earthquake, all the psychos in Gotham and two huge gangwars in two or three years, it all just seems... a bit much.

The point, however, is that rather than feeling that Batman's world is expanding or receiving its due, a separate Robin title often felt perfunctory and directionless. Nightwing too often felt like Batman-Lite. Birds of Prey had moved out of Gotham, which seemed all right, until Simone left the title. And Catwoman had run its course. Oddly unmourned was Brubaker, Rucka and Lark's superlative "Gotham Central", which is, page-for-page, one of the best titles from DC in the past decade.

Battle for the Cowl seems like it should be two or three issues with, possibly, a few extra pages. Instead we receive a bevy of mini-series, trying to re-establish or test the taste for various characters in the Bat-verse. Did DC need a new Azreal? Really?

And for those of us not sold on Jason Todd's return to the DCU (underscored by the "Death in the Family" hardcover solicited in the July Previews), trying to turn this character into someone we'd wish to read about isn't just unlikely, its a little bit embarrassing to watch DC try different tactics with the character, as if anything is going to stick. Naming him after a burger franchise isn't going to endear him to anyone.

In short order, Rucka will be on Detective Comics and, for some reason, Batman will go to Judd Winick (the mastermind who brought us both Jason Todd and The ScareBeast). Morrison will return on "Batman and Robin". I'll follow Morrison and Rucka, I am certain. And I'll try Winick.

But the expansion of the Bat-line to include Dini's "Gotham Sirens" and "Red Robin" just doesn't appeal. And I don't know enough yet about "Streets of Gotham" to see if I'll follow them down that particular rabbit hole. The $3.99 price tag but higher page count is interesting, as is the creative team.

At the end of the day, however, unlike the re-establishment of Metropolis as DC has been pushing since Infinite Crisis, the new titles seems a bit like an editorially driven game of musical chairs. To its credit, it doesn't seem like re-arranging chairs on the Titanic, but if DC is serious about expanding and exploiting its Gotham-centric titles, throwing in an interstitial non-event like Battle for the Cowl all seems somewhat pointless, except to give Rucka, Dini, etc... some lead time.

In this case, I think we may miss Bruce Wayne more than we thought we would, but maybe not for all the right reasons.

Wonder Woman: Paradise Lost (indeed)

Obviously, to anyone reading Wonder Woman, the title doesn't really follow the pattern of the books above. The title is not currently being shuffled or dealt with in any hugely disruptful way aside from using the ongoing title to re-establish the successful working bits of the Wonder Woman mythos. Perhaps DC realized that Wonder Woman and her world were treated so wrongly with the One Year Later jump and the tragedy that was Countdown and Amazons Attack, that its best to let Simone re-create the thing and make it work.

In any case, perhaps it can be seen that DC is in the process of ALSO re-establishing Wonder Woman's world, not through her absence, but through the narrative bringing those elements back together. The bizarre notion to remove the Amazons from the world seemed like an editor's capricious decision (or to bring Hippolyta back after the arc surrounding her demise in both Jimenez and Rucka's runs). In short, Paradise Island has been missing from the books, and that character and world needs to be re-established (and anyone want to take bets on how much longer the DEO job will last?).

Trinity and 52

But why on Earth is DC pulling the same stunt again that they pulled first with 52 and then with the premise of Trinity?

Was DC regretting not covering the missing year to their satisfaction? Is Trinity's extended metaphor not enough to remind readers how and why the Big Three are important to the DCU?

It seems almost as if DC editorial has this particular plan that they believe will work if they just keep removing the biggest names at their company from the game board, and if they just keep trying it, eventually whatever end result they might be looking for will pan out.

Again, the One Year Later jump actually did wonders for the Superman titles, and that the World of Krypton storyline in Superman is hugely engaging. Perhaps the Batbooks aren't faring quite as well, but the steady hands of Dini and Morrison with Rucka engaged could pull this off yet.

What is almost a guaranteed certainty, however, is that Trinity will have no long-term effects in the DCU. Its an interesting meditation for readers and Busiek to consider the archetypes of each character and how the DCU works. I've given in and am enjoying the story on its own merits, but I'm not certain that the story that Busiek has told has entirely worked. Did we really need to spend half the series kicking around alternate dimensions and have our titular characters missing for a goodly chunk of the series to achieve informing readership how the Trinity works? Was this the best possible case of "show, don't tell?" from a storytelling perspective? And I still don't entirely buy all this Tarot card business. But its a good adveture read and a DC-lore fan's themepark, so I'm still reading.

So What Does this Mean for Readers?

I'm a bit surprised when I see comments about something as seemingly obvious and straightforward as Superman's *temporary* absence from the title bearing his name. The cries of "how could they do that?" accompanied with an odd level of fanboy rage indicates that these good readers somehow believe Superman may permanently disappear from the title. Which may be overstating things a bit, but not by much.

What confuses me is that it would seem many comic readers understand a longer story-arc, that writers may not be revealing everything about a story in the first chapter, etc... But evidence points to the contrary. Can comic readers really be so simple as to believe Superman isn't returning? That Bruce Wayne won't return as Batman? And cannot (simply cannot!) enjoy a story that might take place within that character's world, but possibly not contain the character, no matter the credentials of the writer or quality of story?

From much younger readers, I might expect those sorts of comments, but when I see comments about "I've read Superman since 1978, and I am sad to say that I will finally have a break in my collection", etc... I can't help but wonder what the threat might be. I usually guess its all a lot of blowing off steam, but its possible. We all come to comics and superhero comics in particular for different reasons, and if a monthly dose of Superman in the panel is what gets you through the night, so be it.

But, nonetheless, DC is doing something to test reader patience with their ultimately hollow stunts. We know (or should) that DC has a goldmine in Superman and Batman in particular. So when someone believes Superman isn't going to be at the Planet, or living in Metropolis, or that Jason Todd (of all characters) is the new permanent Batman... one can only wonder.

As always, if the story is worth it, readers will forgive them. And DC has taken an entirely new path with Batman and Superman since Infinite Crisis. Its not hard to see that Johns and Morrison have planned out multi-year arcs on Superman and Batman (just as Johns did on Green Lantern), creating a deeply engaging reading experience, that, in the age of the collected edition, should give readers something to return to and enjoy for years.

So in Conclusion...

This reader is curious to continue to watch events unfold at DC Editorial, but, happily, much more interested in reading the stories in Superman, Wonder Woman and even most of the Bat-line to see where these characters go next. If removing Batman and Superman from their books truly can help them expand their universes, then I am for it. Or if the return of Wonder Woman's status quo can keep the title from feeling so rudderless, that's a huge step in the right direction. I am just uncertain that DC needed to pull the same stunt three times in a row.


Questions? Comments? Hate mail?

Come on, I can take it.

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Ryan is an Op/Ed columnist for Comic Fodder. He keeps his comics and himself in Austin, Texas where he manages the long running blog League of Melbotis.

He likes Superman.

You can reach Ryan (aka: The League) at theleague.cf@gmail.com

Hmm, maybe third time's the charm? Don't give up until you finally get it right? Or are they just throwing darts at the wall, and it keeps landing on the same plot device? we need a spy inside DC...

-- Posted by: tpull at April 27, 2009 2:54 AM