The Risk of Heroism (The DC Way)

Last week DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. released Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths on Blu-Ray and DVD.  I have not actually watched the movie itself.  But I did watch the entertaining Spectre short and the half hour documentary Brave new World which is all about how Awesome DC has been since Identity Crisis.

Right there, I can presume some folks bristled.  What kind of bowled me over is how the creative teams seem to buy their own hype.  Dan Didio spoke heavily of the impact of 9/11, and specifically what we witnessed of the first responders who went into buildings in spite of the risk.  The other things he pointed out were the guardsmen with guns lining the streets shortly after 9/11.  These are the two things, according to Dan Didio, that led to Identity Crisis, as well as all the “Crisi” that followed.  It was the ongoing darkening and coarsening of the universe, which is, certainly a bit different from the 90s which was cheapened grim and gritty.  According to Didio, they needed to show how bad things could get, as well as how dangerous it was to be a hero.

So they killed Sue Dibney.  Correction, they raped and killed Sue Dibney.  And I admit, my love for Due and her husband the Elongated Man drew me into that story, initially.  But then I found it troubling.  To make a c list Villain a menace, they declared he was actually just “mind-wiped”, he was actually a bad assed villain.  Why was he scary and bad ass?  He was a rapist.  For me, that makes him a low life scum, not a scary villain.

After Identity Crisis, we got more and more grim deaths.  Blue Beetle, Elongated Man, Martian Manhunter and the list goes on and on.  This is the risk of heroism, Didio claims.  People need to understand that risk.  And that sounds good on paper.  Understanding the risks and sacrifices heroes make.

But then you look at their recent decisions.  The return of Hal Jordan (Green Lantern).  The return of Barry Allen (the Flash).  The death and coming resurrection of Batman.  In the past, of course, there was the death of Superman among many others.  Barry Allen spent decades as the guy who died buying the universe some time in the original Crisis on Infinite Earths.  His death marked a turning point for the story.  It was a perfect moment for the character.  But now he is no longer dead.  Supergirl died heroically in the same series, and she was brought back.

And the big DC Event going on right now?  Blackest Night, which pays tribute to great fallen heroes by portraying them as dangerous super zombies.  The DC universe has been about death nearly obsessively, but those heroic deaths are continuously undermined by quick resurrections and zombies now.

Watching the documentary, it became clear they want to believe what they are telling the viewer, but they are fooling themselves.  The DC Universe is all about death with no sacrifice and heroes with virtues that do not live any farther than their deaths.  What DC has given us as readers is the opposite of what they are saying they want to deliver.  And it’s really too bad.  DC is full of iconic characters that could be “beacons” of heroism.  They could embody the virtues of good, nobility, generosity and selflessness that is so defining of heroes.

Don’t get me wrong… I like dark heroes and people who are not as successful at being “good” and “heroic”.  But DC is proclaiming they are just showing us what we have to face so we can finally see what heroism truly is and what it’s price is.  All the while undermining any impact those consequences and sacrifices might have.  Death has no permanence in the world of comics in general, and especially in the DC Universe.  How can the sacrifice of Barry Allen mean anything if there really is no sacrifice?

One thought on “The Risk of Heroism (The DC Way)

  1. Wow, just, wow.

    I have yet to get the “Crisis on 2 earths” DVD, and I’ve got to say if I were watching that documentary there would likely be a dent in my wall from my head hitting it a few times.

    What’s terribly ironic about this to me is, while I still read alot of DC, I’d say they showed the consequences of heroism MUCH better BEFORE the whole “Crisi” started.

    I was a big fan of a title called Young Justice, it’s generally remembered as a ‘lighter’ title, which in comparison to it’s eventual replacement “Teen Titans” it was.

    But it was also far more mature in the way it delt with the consequences of herosim.

    Over the course of the series I remember a heroine called Arrowette, who felt the pressures of hero-dom so sharply she retired from costumed heroing.

    She’d still make occasional appearances, she was a friend of the team, but she didn’t ever make a big return to being a hero.

    Impulse matured alot over the course of the series, going from basically ADHD embodied with Superspeed, to a young hero who had quite literally seen himself die (A double he’d created) and had become more mature, while still being very ‘impulse’ driven.

    And then there’s the character of “Harm” who was the first major villain introduced.
    Think a young Batman who wants to be evil instead of heroic.
    He died at the end of his introductory adventure.
    Not because the heroes killed him…because his own parents did, not wanting his level of evil unleashed on the world.

    And perhaps most powerfully, there was the tale of Red Tornados adopted daughter, whose biological parents were from a country that had done a terrorist like attack in the DCU.
    The issue premises on her letter to her adoptive father, asking rather simply “Daddy, why do people hate me?”

    This was actually all in a “lighter” title, that also included comedy like a Ben Stein appearance and the fate of the world being decided by a baseball game.

    The thing is the combination made everything more effective.
    The fact the series was usually so light made the character development and dramatic stories really mean something when they happened.

    Now, the DCU is so full of suffering, it really doesn’t mean as much.
    They haven’t shown any real “beacons of herosim” in a long time.
    The few positive moments seem more like striking matches in a blackout than true beacons.

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