This week DC started the inevitable back peddle from the New 52. The same back peddling I’m certain we’ll see from Marvel in a few years, just like we saw when the Ultimates universe stopped selling well and was folded into the mainline continuity. Comics have gone from big in-company crossover events with every hero, to events planned by committee to make storylines specifically for film, and you can’t do that with particularly complicated storylines or unpopular content. Arguably that’s why we see a cycle of film reboots now every five or six years if we’re lucky, not only to erase old mistakes, but because it’s easier to sell an origin story than it is to continue a narrative. It’s why love it or leave it the Marvel Cinematic Universe is eventually going to crumble under its own weight.
But on this brilliant Mars Project cityscape, I’m talking about DC. In the course of their big announcement they talked a fair amount about legacy. They want us to get excited about Batman. They want us to get excited about Superman. They want us to get excited about product. That’s what they think the legacy of Detective Comics is.
I want to talk about a real legacy. I’m going to ramble on about the legacy we here at Unity can only aspire to. Make no bones about it, we’d love to make some money at this, but at the end of the day you have to have some scruples of some sort, and the legacy that most inspires this author is a man by the name of Maxwell Gaines and a little company called Entertaining Comics that still publishes Mad Magazine to this day.
EC comics produced in its day some of the greatest crime, horror, and science-fiction fantasy comics you can imagine. The real pulpy stuff that a lot of the old school authors started doing when the big lit magazines dried up due to wartime shortages. They were, and are, some of the best comics ever made for their audacity if nothing else and set a bar for quality that would guide later luminaries in the cape genre.
But it wasn’t all rainbows. In the forties one of those defenders of the poor unfortunates, what we once upon a time called a do-gooder before Social Justice Warriors were a thing, by name of Fredric Wertham took it upon himself to warn every ignorant parent he could about the dangers – especially the secret potential homosexuality – of comic books. He was so good at it with his book Seduction of the Innocent in 1954 that comics joined the popular sights of McCarthyism as one of the infectious vectors for the devil communism. Gaines, an outspoken advocate for free speech, fought them and the Comics Code Authority for the rest of his career.
Comics were, once upon a time, counter culture. They held up a mirror to the ugliness of the world and told us with entertaining stories that it didn’t have to be that way. Now, as of Civil War the artists and authors at the house of ideas want you to believe that Tony Stark was right for putting innocent people without due process in an extra dimensional jail that was physically solvent on their moral compass and sanity. They have Mister Fantastic telling charming aphorisms about how McCarthy was right and defying the government is wrong. Over at DC their super heroes are no longer people to fantasize about, they’re ciphers twisted into whatever shape is convenient; so much for the lofty claim to the role as ministers of folklore.
But hey, character sins don’t matter. No one has to be punished for their wrongdoing, or live with their mistakes. No one has to learn anything meaningful about what it is to be a responsible person and be strong in the face of overwhelming evil because we can just reboot it. Tony can punish himself by wiping his own brain, because if you don’t remember your crimes you aren’t responsible for them, and less than two years later turn around and be a super powered drug dealing plutocrat who takes over San Francisco. Reed can just go back to being everyone’s favorite absent minded professor while battling a council of all knowing alternate world reeds who are evil because why the heck not. And when it’s no longer profitable? Secret Wars. Because that will make a good movie in ten years. Thirty or forty years of character development? We can throw that under the bus too so Batman can have sex with Catwoman on the hood of his car, never mind last year he was dead and everyone was ‘warring for the cowl’.
The big two wouldn’t know what a legacy was if it bit them. And, as much as I enjoy Dark Horse for its Predator and Aliens comics, neither it nor Image in my opinion could be said to have a true legacy they can claim as lasting. The only comic I can think of still putting out hits, still true to its characters, is 2000AD because Judge Dredd doesn’t have time for bullshit.
We don’t have a legacy yet, but if we did, I would want to be remembered for fighting the good fight like Gaines and EC. In the meantime, enjoy our amazing backgrounds and maybe support us on the Patreon. Show the world the kinds of comics you want with your money dollars.