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DC vs Marvel, the original nerd debate…
First of all, I grew up on Marvel. The House of Ideas, “Stan Lee presents…” all that. It sustained me during my awkward adolescence. And then, I grew out of it.
By the middle of my high school years, I was still very much obsessed with comics but my standards were higher. While Marvel always focused on art, DC focused more on writing. It’s a fact you can look up: in comics scriptwriting there is a style called the Marvel style in which the author makes a brief outline, and the artist effectively tells the story (like a film director) and afterwards the author fills in the dialogue. It evolved from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby doing a dozen comics a month during the Silver Age in the 60s.
DC is more traditional. They do scripts with all the panel layouts and details written in, and depending on how visual a thinker the writer that can include a lot of detail. Think of a film/TV script except the writer actually has authority. So while Marvel had all their famous artists and had all their editorial-controlled characters in endless crossovers, DC had far more literary stories. Especially back in the 90s. Marvel always outsold the latter, but DC won awards and eventually even created the Vertigo imprint for more mature, adult-oriented work.
For me, it mostly began with the seminal Death of Superman event. Remember that? Doomsday, the four replacements, the post-resurrection mullet. It was awesome! Like many casual readers, I ate that up. Unlike many others, I stuck around and went backwards and learned all about such histories as the Eradicator and so on.
However, an important character like Superman will soon get his own post. Batman as well. Then Vertigo, and various authors. This post is simply about DC in general in the decade.
Starting from that jumping point, Dan Jurgens was one of the main architects of the Superman mythos in the 90s and he was also briefly in charge of the Justice League. If you remember from the Death of Superman graphic novel, there was the Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, Fire & Ice. That actually goes back to the 80s Justice League. (80s post next. It’s tricky writing these things going backwards chronologically.)
Dan Jurgens was also unfortunately responsible for writing and illustrating the 1994 crossover Zero Hour. It was itself a pale shadow of the epic Crisis on Infinite Earths of the 1980s – again, next post – and frankly it wasn’t that good. Green Lantern turned out to be the villain, they tried to fix some continuity problems, and they released special issue number “zero”s with new origin stories.
Some of the tie-ins were good, some weren’t. I read many of them. In doing so, I realized I had a lot of work ahead of me to master this new universe. Exciting times for an escapist teen… I proceeded to go to my local bookstore, back when Borders was a thing (RIP Borders!) and read all the graphic novels I could. I did my usual thing of searching for discount back issues at used markets. On Wednesdays I filled up my pull list with the best of DC.
Yes, the teenage me of the mid-90s really wanted to focus all his attention on learning about the DC Universe. Seemed like a good idea at the time, seemed I had nothing better to do. I am glad I did. The fondest memories of that age.
Let’s continue with writer Mark Waid and the Flash.
Looks like the Flash is already getting some new buzz with the TV show. I heard it’s good. I’ll binge-watch it later.
The Flash does in fact have one of the greatest rogues gallery in comics, right up there with Batman in Spider-Man, and they’re called the Rogues. Captain Boomerang, Captain Cold, the Trickster, Grodd. There were many Flashes in fact, and my incarnation will always be Wally West the former Kid Flash. I loved that he had no secret identity, that he grew up in the community of superheroes. I enjoyed the generational and family elements with all the different Flashes. There was time travel, speedster ninjas, all you could want. None of that lame dystopianism that other superhero comics faked in bad attempts to be relevant; Mark Waid always knew how to write with heart and respect to the genre. Waid made Flash a must-read comic, added the Zen-style “speed force” to it all, and also created Impluse.
Mr. Waid’s true opus was the 1996 miniseries Kingdom Come, brilliantly painted by Alex Ross of Marvels fame. While Marvels was about the past, Kingdom Come was about the future. With much commentary about bad 90s comics, the plot concerned an aging Superman coming out of retirement to save a bitter, cynical world from violent antiheroes.
Every page contained a thousand references. This kind of story must be studied to be fully appreciated. I also liked the less-acclaimed followup, The Kingdom, which further fleshed out the setting of tomorrow.
Peter David was a fine writer, let me reiterate. While I first came across his writing in the X-Men spinoff X-Factor, and of course the Hulk, my favorite of his work was Aquaman (Also Supergirl, but about that later Superman post…)
Aquaman has always gotten an undeserved bad rap, damn you Superfriends cartoon! It was the 90s, they had to make him “badass” with the hook for hand and long hair. But I think it worked. I enjoyed the mythology of Atlantis, the politics of his being a king, and the revamped origin story in which he was raised by dolphins.
David also created Young Justice, after Justice League of America became popular, with Superboy, Robin, Impulse, and the new Wonder Girl all in their own team hi-jinks. It was a hilarious teen book, essential reading, even though Superboy and Robin had plenty going on in their own corners of their mentor’s DC Universe franchises (which I will definitely address later…)
Too bad the Young Justice cartoon didn’t work out.
I really had a soft spot for the 90s Green Lantern, written by Ron Marz. Styled more like Peter Parker than Clark Kent, Kyle Rayner was a relatable secret identity. Hal Jordan and the science fictional space opera of the Green Lantern corps had been done away with — don’t worry it would all come back in the 2000s, but while Hal was off being Parallax and destroying the cosmos or something the ring went to this great new guy. He was just trying to make ends meet while learning how to be a superhero. He eventually joined the JLA, had a green-skinned girlfriend, and seemed like he would be the permanent replacement GL.
Until he wasn’t, and they reset the status quo. I did adore Hal Jordan’s return and the 2000s Green Lantern, but it’s a shame Kyle Rayner was mostly left by the wayside.
What I particularly appreciated about the 90s DC Universe was how most of the heroes generational. From the Teen Titans growing up, to the new Green Arrow being the original Green Arrow’s son, as well as Nightwing and all those Robins; it seemed like there was a real timeline the universe felt more solid that way.
Perhaps that comforted me in the awkwardness of my late teens? Who knows. In any case, I read and I read.
I also must mention the Ray, and the work of Christopher Priest. He never got the recognition he deserved, but he created his own smart little mythos with the Justice League Task Force and the Ray. The latter was an obscure character from the 1940s Golden Age with light powers, who was just cool enough to have revamped next generational version and Priest’s writing was very good indeed.
I could go on and on. I’ve left out so much. The Power of Shazam! by Jerry Ordway, the Spectre by John Ostrander. It was one of my favorite eras of comics. I still have to get into Superman, the Legion of Superheroes in the 30th century, Batman, and the Justice League of America. There was the One Million crossover, going in the complete opposite of Zero Hour with issue number “one million” instead in the 853rd century. That was great science fiction. But that will be in my Grant Morrison post when I get around to it.
Speaking of which, DC did have their fair share of annual crossovers. Some of them of them actually were good.
Let me end on the note of Final Night, a well-done storyline wherein the Sun Eater blocked out our sun and the world was going to end. Instead of punching villains, it was about the human element of dealing with a post-apocalyptic scenario. In the end, the former Green Lantern Hal Jordan would be redeemed by sacrificing his life to reignite the sun. Then he became a ghost and became the Spectre, then he was redeemed again and came back to life. But that’s a story for another time indeed.
Then, as it goes in studying superhero comics, I went backwards in time to that other magical decade I so love.
After high school, during part-time college, from nineteen to my early twenties. I devoted all my energies to catching up with the history of these iconic American history. From Ohio to California, I scoured comic conventions like bugs feasting, read trade paperbacks at libraries and most of all I hung around Half-Price books seeking out discount history lessons. Bit by bit, I filled in the gaps and I read it all.
Next: DC Comics – 1980s