Comic Fodder

Who Should Really Be in DC's Trinity?

DC has long recognized a three-legged stool upon which to structure their heroic foundations: Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. They have long occupied the front and center of an untold number of cover pages, splash pages and pin-ups. When we were kids, it was just the way of things. DC presented it this way to us. Why would we do it any other way? But for the past twenty years, there have been whispers. In some chat rooms, there have been insults and yelling. Most of it has centered on Wonder Woman, and the question of whether she truly belongs on DC's front line. Is it because of something inherent in the character itself? Is it affirmative action to provide a female a place? A token so everyone can pretend her invisible plane wasn't a comic metaphor for a glass ceiling? ("Ha ha, that Wonder Woman! She can't even afford a plane we can see!")

Sales of Wonder Woman's title have long trailed behind the other big two. Superman had his own problems from time to time, and to a lesser extent, so did Batman. The two guys were obvious, but this other one, did she really fit? DC has launched an ambitious exercise to make their own case, in the form of the weekly series Trinity, which has allowed Kurt Busiek to craft a story that not only states clearly that she deserves her place in the foundation, but actually analyzes and explains the roles that all three members play in the foundation of the entire DC universe. Ambitious in both publishing schedule and subtext, the series has been a great success, both in sales and plain good storytelling. But even more, the archetypes themselves have been dissected and explained so well by Busiek and the creative team, you might think the case is closed. We have our trinity, and that's that.

The real-world problem of sales still remains, but not as big as it once was. Gail Simone's run has actually brought sales up quite a bit, reinforcing the idea that this is a dead issue; maybe she just needs a good writer to bring her "up to par." Still, as much as I think the Trinity team has done a magnificent job, and as good as Wonder Woman's title has been doing lately, it still felt like it wasn't enough. Worse, when I dared to ask the question of who else might take her place in the trinity, I actually found other groupings that made me want to take out Superman and/or Batman as well!

So here is a list. It's not exhaustive, but it includes my thoughts on what other characters could be part of the trinity, forming different groupings that DC could use as representatives. Let me know which three you prefer, and if you would put somebody else into contention that is not mentioned here:

Green Lantern: Okay, if you had to pick a well-known character to exemplify the heroic ideal of the DC universe, you could do a lot worse. Hal Jordan was chosen for his fearlessness, and he is the everyman candidate. He's a regular guy, but with a ring that can conjure up anything from his imagination. Is there any other character better suited for us to relate to than the setup for this guy? His Parallax history is easily brushed aside. The regular trinity members have all had their moments of possession/insanity/alternate world monster version. Plus, it wasn't really his fault (thanks for that, Geoff Johns!). Double plus, if you prefer a trinity version that allows substitutes, we can always plug John Stewart, Guy Gardner, or Kyle Rayner into his place.

Flash: Talk about the Brave and the Bold. If not Green Lantern, how about one of the most wished-for powers of all time? Even better, what if we switched out a couple of the existing members and had Hal and the newly-returned Barry as poster boys for DC's new trinity? Throw in Green Arrow, with Green Lantern in Superman's place as the linkage, and you have an entirely new, but perhaps just as valid trinity. Let's see, Green Arrow is Batman, since he had an Arrowcar and an Arrowcave and all that. Flash is Wonder Woman, with his speed duplicating her invisible items...

Okay, joking aside, Barry Allen first discovered the pre-Crisis Earth-2, and provided the building blocks for the eventual meeting of the JLA and the JSA. He is the character credited for beginning the Silver Age of comics, and he is so instrumental to the Crisis stories that have grown beyond the JLA/JSA crossovers that "a Flash has to die" has almost become a cliché already for the meta-stories. As a representation of the best and the brightest, the Flash is definitely in the running (pardon the pun, it was unintentional, honest! Or subconscious, at least) to be a member.

Hawkman: Let's talk about linkage. In the current post-Crisis atmosphere, Hawkman's history has him as both a founding member of the JSA, and a valued member of the JLA. His reincarnation back-story gives him history and depth, providing linkages to much more than just a couple of hero teams. What if DC wanted to present a trinity team for the planet, and represent land, sea and air? Flash covers the ground, Hawkman provides air cover, and...

Aquaman: Don't laugh. I'm serious. Remember your Saturday morning cartoons? It wasn't Green Lantern or Flash standing there with the big three, it was Aquaman. He's responsible for a majority of the planet's geography, and he's a king in his own right. Also, remember that he is a founding member of the JLA, and he always has been. Not only has he been the team leader, but whether you're discussing pre-Crisis team formations or ret-con post-Crisis Mark Waid revisions, Aquaman is always there at the start. I think he works in combination with Flash and Hawkman the best, but you may have other ways he can fit in well.

Robin: Speaking of the Super-Friends, did you list them as "Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Robin?" Or did you list them in your head as "Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman and Aquaman?" The second half of "Batman and," Robin is an old-time contender for being one of the big three. You absolutely have to keep the other half of the dynamic duo in there, and all of the older adventures make it logical to maintain Superman in the trinity as well in that case. If Wonder Woman does not deserve to be there, Robin may be one of the best contenders to take her place. His youthful exuberance and representation of the future also showcases a melding of Supes and Bats, with Robin having both the brains and skills of Batman, but displaying the more good-natured and positive attitude of Superman, providing plenty of story material for his 'balancing' of the other two.

Captain Marvel: Shazam! Forget your genie-in-a-bottle power rings, take a young kid, give him a magic word, and presto! Instant Superman. Not only does he represent the reader for wish fulfillment, but he can provide a magical component that arguably, any trinitarian representation of the DCU should have. He can either take Wonder Woman's place for the magic portion, or muscle out Batman and have some genuine power to make the entire trinity formidable.

Dr. Fate: Speaking of magic. Dr. Fate is a very imposing character who has been mishandled lately. Should DC's trinity have representatives for the major realms that affect it? Imagine a trinity composed of Dr. Fate, the Atom or Firestorm (for science), and someone like Batman for the "street-based" element. Or do we want to have Dr. Fate paired with the Spectre and Alan Scott for DC's 'magical trinity?'

That's about it for me. Any others? Can Adam Strange be a good fit? Does Ryan want to make a case for the new Blue Beetle? Should Zatanna be submitted instead of Dr. Fate? Does Wonder Woman really deserve her place in the trinity? Or is each one of them vulnerable depending on how you want to structure things?

Most important, will DC be short-sighted and stubbornly stick to its focus on the big three, to the exclusion of all of these other possible combinations that could provide us with a ton of good stories? Or is there room for them to throw out different trinity concepts, perhaps in their own mini-series? Busiek's Trinity series opened up a marvelous realm of possibilities for the archetypes to assume greater meaning as part of the whole. It would be cool to see further exploration of similar themes.

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

The only characters to survive the code were Superman, Batman (and Robin), Wonder Woman, and Aquaman. The rest of these either got shut down permanently (Doctor Fate, The Spectre, etc)shut down and rebooted (GL, Flash, Hawkman) or shut down, traded, had their entire publishing line hijacked and then sold (Captain Marvel).

I believe it is the headliner status of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman (Aquaman didn't get his own title till after Showcase and Robin was a sidekick) as they came through the dark age of the CCA that made them the DC trinity.

-- Posted by: Max at April 22, 2009 2:40 AM

Wait... what about Booster Gold?!

-- Posted by: Ed at April 22, 2009 9:30 AM

I'm thinking...Snapper Carr.

-- Posted by: poeboy at April 22, 2009 9:47 AM

I guess the change-up I'd be willing to see most is the Batman AND Robin. But I admit, poeboy may be on to something here...

My assumptions regarding Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman as the Trinity had as much or more to do with DC's publishing history than anything, and who built the company. Had things gone differently, we might be looking at Sargon, Dr. Occult and Slam Bradley as our Trinity.

I do appreciate what Busiek has done with Trinity, but I now prefer to think of the Trinity in the way that Brad Meltzer has suggested in JLA. Their role in the DCU from a publishing standpoint has created its own place in the meganarrative of the DCU. Those three carry the weight of the DCU on their shoulders, and its part of the story for them to be this stand-alone group, even within the JLA's core line-up.

I'm a fan of Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and others... and dig their positions within the DCU as core elements. I'm not always sure, as you mention, that GL or Flash reflect aspects of the Trinity or can't hold their own. But I'm not quite ready to start swapping anyone out.

I'll reserve my Blue Beetle comments for another time!

-- Posted by: Ryan at April 22, 2009 10:41 AM

I always thought Batman, Superman, and the Flash were the best characters. Wonder woman just didn't cut it. Truth-forcing lasso? Invisible plane? bullet-deflecting bracelets? Meh. She's not sure if she's goody-goody or a dominatrix, and her powers are borderline aquaman-weak if you ask me.


-- Posted by: Charles at April 22, 2009 10:56 AM

as a kid, i always thought of the DC characters in terms of colors. you've got primary colors and secondary colors:

Blue + Red + Yellow = primary

Orange + Purple + Green = secondary

now i don't literally mean that these colors have to match up to the costumes... what i mean is that:

Superman + Batman + Wonder Woman = primary DC heroes

the public knows them well as icons and comic fans know them well for their famous exploits.

then you've got your secondary heroes, known vaguely by the public and known intimately by fans:

Aquaman + Flash + Hawkman = secondary DC heroes (GL wasn't really on my radar as a kid)

i think that you can even make the argument that the secondary heroes, just like secondary colors, are essentially combination of the primaries.

Aquaman = Superman's epic nature + Batman's no-nonsense attitude

Flash = Wonder Woman's courage + Superman's optimistic heroism

Hawkman = Batman's tough side + Wonder Woman's warrior spirit

now i'm not saying that's what those characters are really made of... that was just my gut reaction those those characters when i was young.

nowadays, i think the Trinity is a bit forced from a storytelling perspective, but makes worlds of sense from a marketing perspective.

-- Posted by: Nick Marino at April 22, 2009 12:20 PM

My vote has always gone to The Martian Manhunter, a character packed full of coolness and conflict.

-- Posted by: John Jones at April 22, 2009 4:28 PM

It's true that Wonder Woman is part of the Trinity because she's female, but she's also one of the older characters. Although her backstory has been changed a few times, (and blissfully removing the bondage fetish of the creator), she has always been Diana, Princess of the Amazons, just as Superman has always been Clark Kent and Batman has always been Bruce Wayne.

The Flash? Which one. Jay Gordon? Barry? Wally? Bart?
Green Lantern? Which one. Alan Scott? Hal Jordan? Kyle Raynor? [Personal note: I know Hal is a favorite, but he's always struck me as a cocky jerk.]

Aquaman is good, except DC has never managed to decide, once and for all, who he should be. King of Atlantis and the Oceans? Or ...not. There's a reasons his comics thrive then die.

Wonder Woman works as part of the Trinity in part because she is a balance between Superman and Batman. She has the super-human powers like Superman, but spent much of her life training, like Batman. Her world was separate, giving her the 'alien' aspect of Superman. She believes in the Gods, in a way Superman and Batman never has. (Of course, that's because she's met them, personally.) Because of that, the idea of magic as a part of a problem will come to her. Magic is a weakness of Superman and bothers Batman's scientific mind. She has the grace to stand tall with Superman, but the nobility to not be cowed, or pushed aside, by Batman's attitudes.

And, according to Wikipedia, like Superman and Batman, she's one of the few characters to pretty much never go out of publication.

-- Posted by: Cat Skyfire at April 22, 2009 5:37 PM

I like the Martian Manhunter vote, John Jones, but I suspect you may be biased... heh

Cat Skyfire, I like your analysis, it rings true. You raise some additional good points that support Wonder Woman.


-- Posted by: tpull at April 23, 2009 2:23 AM

I don't necessarily agree, but some people seem to think Green Lantern should be in the Trinity, which would seem to be backed up by sales.

Wonder Woman is a popular character, and means a lot to a variety of readers, and that's her problem. She means different things to different readers, from being an icon of female empowerment, to "guh, she's purty." And often, she falls into the trap of having to be everything to everyone.

-- Posted by: googum at April 23, 2009 9:56 AM