Marvel and DC comics are fundamental different worlds. While Marvel was (supposedly) built from the ground up, cohesively, DC was cobbled together by various licenses over the years. Way back when (1939 to be precise), DC was known as National Comics, and had only one superhero, Superman. As they grew, adding a combination of homegrown and purchased characters, DC’s catalog increased. With it, so did their lineage. The key aspect that sets DC apart from Marvel is their legacy, where their heroes are mantles, not the characters themselves. If only DC wasn’t afraid to embrace this.
Today’s Superman isn’t the same one created by Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster in 1938. When they said “leap tall buildings in a single bound,” they meant it. Superman couldn’t fly (plus he worked for the Daily Star). The Superman of today is a completely different person. This isn’t the only DC mainstay to have had different people under the cowl/cape/mask. There have been four heroes who called themselves the Flash. There’s five Green Lanterns from Earth. Batman has been through five Robin’s. The list goes on. Since the beginning, purely by happenstance, not design, DC has been creating icons with other characters, be they sidekicks, juniors, etc., growing up to eventually replace them. The best example is with the Justice Society of America.
The team, comprised of Doctor Fate, Hour-Man, the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Spectre, and the Atom, was the first superhero team. DC didn’t own half of these characters, adding to the purchased list, but that’s a different story. Due to the time period (1940), they quickly become known WWII heroes. Eventually, JSA faded. In the 1950’s, DC wanted to bring back the JSA. Gardener Fox instead changed the name to the Justice League of America, and updated the roster. The lineup is the modern incarnation many know today, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter. This was meant to be the next generation of heroes, with a few using the same namesake as their contemporaries.
After a few years and a few Crises, things began coalescing in the DCU. The JSA was the old guard while the JLA was the new. Dick Grayson was set to be the next Batman, having even stood in for Bruce on a few occasions. Ted Kord was the second Blue Beetle, Dinah Lance was the second Black Canary, and Wally West was the third Flash. Out of all these shifts, the most revolutions was the end of the Green Lantern Corp at the hands of Hal Jordan. Kyle Rayner was the only Green Lantern in the universe, and was known as the torchbearer. DCU had full embraced the idea of the hero, not the person.
The problems came when DC wanted to have their cake and eat it too. First, they famously killed Superman. After much fan ire, they infamously brought him back, forever breaking death in comics. The JSA, still WWII heroes, were around and active, though most had to be well in their 70’s. Batman kept firing Robin’s, leaving no place for these great characters like Tim Drake to go. Roy Harper eventually became the new archer, calling himself Red Arrow, but Green Arrow stayed active. Hal Jordan came back to life, and with him the entire GL Corp, undermining the importance of Kyle Rayner. After 15 years Barry Allen resurrected too. Now two people ran around in nearly identical costumes (one was more Scarlet than the other, pay attention). Things started to fall apart.
DC pushed forward, still adding more to their legacy with Freddy Freeman taking over as Captain Marvel , or Stephanie Brown as the new Batgirl. Still, the problem was DC wouldn’t let go. Bruce Wayne needed to be Batman, end of story. It was great for a time when he “died” and Dick was under the cowl with Damian Wayne at his side. But Bruce needed to comeback, reclaiming the cowl, leaving two Batmen running around.
Now, this is a moot problem. DC rebooted with the New 52, undoing or removing many characters. DC has always felt a little broken do to it’s poorly conceived creation, but it always had the sense of family and legacy. If they embraced that, and stuck with it, there’d be plenty of great stories to tell. And they’d have one up on Marvel.
Do you like the idea of superheros being a mantle? Which characters do you want to see retire their cowl? Comment below!
Renee Montoya becoming the Question was their best idea.