This past year has been an important one for DC. Not only have they been publishing some great books, but the company has has several important anniversaries to celebrate. The first of which is their 75th anniversary of existence. DC has been publishing books for the past 75 years, a feat that is currently unequaled in the comic book industry. What else is unequaled are the three books that celebrated 700 and 600 issues. Those of course being the books of the flagship characters of the DC Universe: Superman, Batman (who celebrated 700 issues) and Wonder Woman (who reached issue 600).
The anniversary issue is a unique book. First of all, for a book to hit the 100 mark is rare, given the amount of books that have been started and ended in the past 75 years. For a book to reach 100 (a little over 8 years of publishing) is impressive and a sign that the characters have some lasting value. Add in all the shifting stories, writers, artists, event books, relaunches and you have a character who can be done and done well consistently. To put it into perspective, The Justice League is going to celebrating 5th issue #50 within the next six months. Now imagine 700 issues and you can understand the importance of a book getting to this level.
But where else these books are unique is they allow for a celebration of the character. Granted, most books will be tied to whatever storyline is coming or has just pasted or be the culmination of a person’s entire run on the book, but they always allow for a peak at the core of the character. What is it about Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman that has made them this important to readers that they’ve invested in 700 issues of this character?
Each book represented the past, present and future of the book, some more figuratively than others.
Superman has just returned to Metropolis from a lengthy story that can best be described here: NEW KRYPTON. But what does this mean to Superman or Clark Kent or Lois Lane or Lex Luthor or Jimmy Olsen or Perry White? Unfortunately, the book only focuses on Lois, but we get to see what it is about Supes that makes him tick. Lois has been his love since day one, so what is the Man supposed to do after leaving the woman he loves for an extended period of time? Save her from danger and shower he with love. The first story is a relatively quiet story that is about the love between Superman and Lois and what that means to the characters. How do you be Superman and a husband?
The second story is a throwback in many ways. Drawn by the man who killed Superman, Dan Jurgens, the second story tells an unknown story from Dick Grayson’s beginning where he attempts to stop a ring of weapon smugglers, but ultimately needs Superman’s help. For myself, I’ve always enjoyed the Batman/Superman dynamic when its done right. They are two friends who can joke around, but who respect each other immensely. There is a good gag at the end that is a perfect example of how the two should act together.
But now we come to the future and the future is J. Michael Straczynski (who is also writing Wonder Woman). In the aftermath of Superman’s return, our hero finds himself disconnected from his adopted homeworld and has vowed to reconnect by walking the United States. It’s an interesting idea that will be interesting to see played out. The first issue, Superman 701, is out today.
Wonder Woman has been a character that, if we’re being honest, no one has really been able to write well. It’s really the age old question of being able to reclaim something that was meant for exploitation. Wonder Woman’s origin has always been something of an anomaly. Created by the man who invented the Lie Detector, Wonder Woman was really the first female superhero, but has also been the poster girl for exploiting woman in comics and was criticized for being a book of bondage fetishes. She is the inspiration for female superheroes, but is in a world of men (and males readers and writers). She is a loving woman, but is usually written as cold, without humor and just a warrior. She, like many other languishing old characters, does not have that definitive story that captures exactly who she is. And her anniversary issue is retroactive, with her numbering system being changed from the 50s to the 600s. It is DC attempting to add some prestige to the book and maybe this time it will take.
Like I said before, Straczynski is taking over Wonder Woman with issue 601 and I am honestly interested in the book. It’s a relaunch of the character without relaunching her. The premise of JMS’s run is that someone has tempered with the time stream and destroyed Wonder Woman’s home, Paradise Island. Wonder Woman, as a young girl, was saved from its destruction and has been living in secret with the rest of the gods and titans who were spared the devastation. They now live in the shadows of the world and Wonder Woman is no longer the stoic heroine that she once was, but more street-wise and worldly. She enjoys the thrill of fighting in a more physical way, not as warrior respecting her opponent, but as a girl who has been hurt and looking to hurt back. She’s also getting a new costume.
What makes the run so promising is the end result. All the death and destruction are, of course, temporary. Any time anything is changed because of time travel, it is reversed quickly. But JMS has come up with a great way to change the character of Wonder Woman without changing her. When the time stream is fixed, Wonder Woman is going to have both sets of her memories (the Wonder Woman we know and the one JMS created) and she’ll be able to take from both what she needs and, hopefully, become a more realized character who will no longer languish, but soar.
And that brings us to The Caped Crusader (which I hope is the name of the third Nolan Batman movie). Grant Morrison has sent the Bat universe into all sorts of crazy directions following the “death” of Bruce Wayne. But with Wayne on his way back and Dick Grayson currently holding the mantle, it is a good time to reexamine the idea of The Batman. Is he a man or an idea? Is Batman the identity of Bruce Wayne or is it the costume taken by anyone who has been damaged by crime and hopes to set the world right?
Morrison says that it is both.
Grant Morrison has been controlling the Bat universe for a few years now and that has led to some great stories and some convoluted stories. Batman 700 was a bit of both. The main story is three short stories that involve one mystery over the three eras of Batman: Bruce, Dick, and Damien. Past, Present, Future. It’s great character work and a solid reminder of who all these men are, but the story felt like something outside of the norm of Batman, who is a street level character. Seeing the man go through the supernatural or science fiction always feels off and maybe that is why, sadly, this was the weakest main story of the three books, but it worked as a character study to see how the three Batmen go about the same case in their own ways.
But then the legacy of the Wayne family begins to vanish over the course of the final few pages as the reader is treated to several one page teasers to other future incarnations of Batman (with my favorite one being Terry McGuinnes, known from Batman Beyond, who made his official DCU debut in this issue). We see that Batman is the therapy for anyone who lives in a world dominated by corruption. Where evil attempts to ruin the lives of good people, Batman will be waiting in the shadows, waiting to strike.
The ability for a character to remain popular for 75 years is something that is rare. While these figures have waned and faltered over the years, they have been a part of the popular culture for almost a century. As writers tend to say, they were there before we were born and they’ll be there after we’re dead. These books are the testaments of what these figures mean to the world as a whole. What they mean to the kid who needed a hero growing up. A guy who needed inspiration. A woman who felt powerless. So many people have come to these characters for something and these are the books that remind us why we do.
Now we just have a year until “Action Comics 900.”
All artwork copyright of DC COMICS