Batman, New Krypton, and DC Comics's Exit Strategy

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

[This post on the modern DC Universe spoils just about everything if you're not up on current DC Comics storylines.]

In a good way, DC Comics finds itself in upheval these days, pulled both forward and back. Back, in the classic Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Flash Barry Allen having re-taken their respective roles; forward, in that former Robin/Nightwing Dick Grayson has taken the role of Batman after Bruce Wayne's death, and Superman lives among a planet of resurrected Kryptonians.

But the down side to DC's forward movement, however, is that we know as readers that it's temporary. When writer Geoff Johns took over the Green Lantern title and introduced the spectrum of different Lantern rings, we knew that was a change that could hold, because it didn't alter the core of what the Green Lantern hero was -- he could still appear in Justice League, for instance. But one day Superman is going to be the Last Son of Krypton flying over Metropolis again, just like one day the one, true Batman will be Bruce Wayne.

The issue is, however, that as unrelated as the Batman Reborn and Superman: New Krypton storylines are (the forthcoming World's Finest miniseries notwithstanding), they're connected in one specific, important way: Nightwing. Batman died, Nightwing became Batman, and meanwhile the Kryptonian Chris Kent became the Kandorian Nightwing (thus completing a circle where, years ago, writers took the Dick Grayson Nightwing name from a former Kandorian hero). So for Bruce Wayne to come back and be Batman again, there has to be some place for Dick Grayson to go, which means Chris Kent needs to have abdicated the name by that time.

Which means DC Comics needs, and probably already has, an exit strategy.

Tom Bondurant put this well in his recent Robot 6 "Grumpy Old Fan" column, "The New Normal":
I’d think Dick would be more than happy to ditch the Batsuit for his comfortable Nightwing duds and his old solo title. Still, what about the other Nightwing, not to mention Flamebird? Do they get their own book when Superman moves back to Earth, or do they stay in Action Comics? Would Batman and Robin continue without Dick and Damian?
Essentially, DC has a bunch of loose heroes on their hands. And when all of this is said and done, as Tom speculates in his column, it's unlikely everything will go back where it was -- unlikely former Robin Tim Drake will be Robin again, unlikely Dick Grayson will be Nightwing again, unlikelies all across the board. It's a puzzle with too many pieces -- some of them won't fit on the board.

I wonder whether "the Nightwing conundrum" isn't a sign of a larger sea change among the DC Comics titles. For a couple years, DC has had a Titans problem -- what to do with the original generation of Teen Titans that are now no longer interesting sidekicks nor heroes in their own right: Nightwing, the Flash Wally West, Donna Troy, and others. An earlier "thirtysomething" Titans series didn't last, and the current Titans series has received mixed reviews; for a while, DC seemed on track socking these characters either as mentors in the new Teen Titans or in their Outsiders title, but neither the former nor the latter are currently the case.

Indeed, it seems to me the de-Arrowing of former Green Arrow Connor Hawke is an example of this sea change. When DC killed Green Arrow Oliver Queen in the mid-1990s, his son Connor Hawke took over as Green Arrow, representing this new "middle generation" much the same as Kyle Rayner did taking over from Hal Jordan. But Ollie returned (as Hal did a few years later) making Connor as Green Arrow repetitive, and in a recent storyline Connor became Green Arrow no more. (Seriously. He can't even throw trash accurately in a trash can.) Geoff Johns managed to integrate Kyle Rayner into the Green Lantern mythos without doing away with him, but many fans are concerned Barry Allen and Wally West won't both be able to coexist as the Flash, especially since there's already a new Kid Flash.

Wally West -- not the Flash? Dick Grayson -- not Nightwing? Connor Hawke -- not Green Arrow? I don't necessarily advocate the following, but it's possible DC could be gearing up for a new "thirtysomething" title, taking all these former sidekick heroes and putting them on a new team. And would that bring new superhero identities? It's been so long since former Green Arrow sidekick Speedy became Arsenal (and now Red Arrow) that his new name seems natural, but right now I think I'd have a hard time thinking of Wally West as, say, Red Lightning, or Dick Grayson as the Target. Me, I can't see that getting off the ground much better than other Titans series.

All of this, I think, is good. All of this is to say that DC Comics is changing, DC Comics is innovating, and DC has a long-term plan for their characters that I can't forsee and that has my attention. But mark me down as one of those very curious what DC's exit strategy is going to be.
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