You can’t please everybody, and a lot of the things people complain about are the sort of niggling continuity details, obsession with which is frankly what got DC into trouble in the first place, creating an environment where many felt a relaunch was needed. But some are more thoughtful and credible, and it’s worth taking a look at those.
What have been some of the most notable (and longest-lasting) controversies? Check out our candidates below, but bear in mind that we don’t count it if there’s already been some kind of resolution.
We still hear more about this than any other change of the New 52. While most of fandom’s ire over the costume tweaks and changes of the relaunch has abated, the fury over changes to Superman continues in the comments thread for nearly every Superman story we write. In response to our posting a Superman teaser by Jim Lee yesterday, one fan commented that “for the first time in seventy-five years, Superman doesn’t look like Superman” or something to that effect. The nerve is still raw, and DC doesn’t have to do much to bring these feelings back to the surface again.
One of the things every comic book writer will tell you is that you have to put everything into each story, even if it’s the middle chapter of some big action movie-style crossover, because “every comic is somebody’s first.” Similarly, every character is somebody’s favorite, especially those who have had ongoing series of their own that people may have collected.
With the rolling back of the timeline in the New 52, though, and the desire to make the characters younger and thus more relatable to the potential new audience that DC hoped the digital marketplace might bring, the publisher decided that certain characters weren’t particularly well-suited to introduction just yet, and many characters (especially those who were a generation or two younger than Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman in their previous iterations) still haven’t shown up or been referenced a year later.
The most notable of these characters are Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain (a pair of Batgirls), Wally West (the fastest man
alive, The Flash) and Donna Troy (the onetime Wonder Girl who has had a series of identities in the years since she gave that one up). Each of these has had their own rabid cheering section on the Internet and at comic book conventions, trying their best to make their voiced heard to DC, although in some cases DC has been almost aggressive in ignoring these fans (DC’s Co-Publisher Dan DiDio has repeatedly dismissed fans of Stephanie Brown, saying essentially that there aren’t enough of them for DC to worry about how they feel, and joked at a Comic-Con panel that a lukewarm applause to Wally West’s name wasn’t the kind of outpouring needed to bring him back).
There’s always been a struggle between the commercial side of the comics industry and the creative side, with the best editors working as mediators in that conflict and the worst of them taking sides and ultimately doing no favors for the books they work on.
More and more nowadays, though, it appears as though the corporations at the top of the publishing food pyramid want increased input into the creative process, and are treating editors not as professionals with a skill-set but as a tool for bullying the creators into submission. At its best, this creates a uniform brand identity for the comics publisher, syncing it up with the movies and other media and allowing the broadest possible audience to enjoy what’s being published.
There are a lot of issues at play with this one, so hold on. Now, DC’s thinking here is that they like origins and the like when they’re “simple.” Everyone who’s seen the old TV show knows that Barbara Gordon is Batgirl. This is the same thinking that changed Supergirl a few years back, after Dan DiDio reportedly saw the aliens-and-demons origin story for a previous iteration of the character written on the wall at a Six Flags and basically said, “That’s too hard to understand. I want to go back to when she’s Superman’s cousin.”
First, you have the fact that Barbara Gordon has spent the better part of the last 25 years or so in a wheelchair, and in her capacity as Oracle had become a fascinating and inspirational character to many. There were a number of fans, critics and advocates for the disabled who felt that restoring her ability to walk therefore robbed the DC Universe of an important component of diversity. The creative team of the terrific Demon Knights title have tried to replace Oracle somewhat with a magical character who is unable to walk but rides around in the 16th Century on her horse–but that character doesn’t have Gordon’s provenance and therefore is unlikely to catch on in the same way.
Second, you’ve got the fact that Batgirl began as a role that Gordon took on herself, then left behind after her injury. In the last couple of decades, though, you’ve seen Cass Cain and Stephanie brown step into the role, effectively turning it into one of the many “legacy” identities of the DC Universe. That aspect of the character–having a history to live up to–shaped some of the early adventures for the other Batgirls, which both gave respect to Barbara but also created a motivating factor for the newbies. Batgirl has therefore become emblematic of larger changes that have been made to the DC Universe, with characters like Wally West (whose entire first hundred issues or so under Mark Waid and a variety of artists, most notably Mike Wieringo, revolved around trying to live up to Barry Allen as The Flash).
Third, both Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown have been treated pretty shoddily for a while now (a few years back, one had been killed rather unceremoniously and one was a villain), even before they were essentially written out of existence in the New 52, which has made fans even angrier at the way all of this played out. Batgirl was a fan- and critical-favorite just before the relaunch, and changing the formula so drastically turned some people off. Those people were unlikely to bounce back and be forgiving when they realized that the character they’d been following simply wouldn’t be appearing in comics anymore–to the point where DC even forced former Batgirl writer Bryan Q. Miller to remove her from Smallville Season 11, replacing her again with Barbara Gordon, with DC brass saying when challenged on the question that Miller had spoken out of school when he told TV Guide that she would be joining the cast.
Ever since he first appeared on the cover of Green Lantern #0 in solicitations, fans have been perplexed and annoyed by the fact that Simon Baz, the new Green Lantern who officially appeared for the first time on Wednesday, carried a gun and had a tattoo, in spite of the fact that he was apparently Muslim, a religion which forbids them. It seemed as though DC was attempting to pander to Arab-Americans, but doing it badly, and at the same time associating a gun and a full-face mask with a character who already had the most powerful weapon in the universe (a Green Lantern ring) at his disposal seemed not only like overkill, but like it made Baz little more than a thug.
Having read the issue now, we can say that it’s a bit more complicated than all that–Johns acknowledges the tattoo thing in-story and his character is certainly more complex than the average superhero. Still, the character remains somewhat controversial and likely will for a while. It’s not as though there’s a shortage of human Green Lanterns, after all, so introducing him seems redundant and anything they do to justify his existence in-story will likely be seen by those who don’t like the character as just rationalizing away a bad storytelling decision. See also: Kyle Rayner, who by the way has his own fan base these days.
There’s also, of course, a healthy dose of racism that’s going into this discussion. One look at any message board will tell you that, and our own Facebook page has had its share of pretty unpleasant comments. I fully support Baz having his own title for as long as he can sustain it, just to annoy those people.
Runner-Up: Tim Drake’s Robin Years
All of these other conflicts can be chalked up to unpopular editorial decisions, or at least management oversight (Perez has suggested that it’s Hollywood and not DC making the final decisions when it comes to Superman)–as well as a number of other unpopular moves, like removing Tim Drake’s history as Robin.
Tim was introduced after the death of Jason Todd and went on to become wildly popular, supporting his own title as Robin for much, much longer than any other character (there were intervals in his book where Stephanie Brown was Robin, but Tim was still featured–and before Tim, there weren’t any Robin ongoings, just one-shots and team-ups in titles like DC Showcase and The Brave and the Bold). He only became “Red Robin” after the introduction of Batman’s illegitimate son Damian Wayne was introduced to be the new Robin–itself an editorial mandate that was not universally accepted or beloved by the fans.
Then, at Comic-Con this year, it was mentioned in passing that Tim NEVER WAS Robin in the world of the New 52 and that, despite the fact that the Batman universe has been largely left untouched following the events of the reboot, he went straight to being Red Robin the moment he put a costume on.
And that’s made some fans…well, less than pleased.
Apologies to The Kirby Krackle for borrowing the turn of phrase, but it seemed apropos.
This particular controversy hasn’t been around the whole year, as have the others, but it’s got people talking pretty furiously. Superman hooking up with Wonder Woman reads like bad fan fiction to many fans, and leaves Lois Lane’s character without a lot of direction, especially in today’s comics climate, where little time is spent on supporting cast members and so without being Superman’s love interest, Lois may simply not get any significant page time.