DC Comics and Marvel Comics, the “Big Two” of American comics publishers, are essentially like cruise lines. They are a bright delight, packed with too many options for any one person to enjoy on any given week. They are also incredibly difficult to steer. Years of history, a wide variety of characters and tones, and dozens of notable creators all come together to make changing direction a herculean effort.
Just consider the history of DC Comics in the wake of the New 52. While the initial relaunch was a massive sales success, it quickly earned the publisher a lot of negative reviews in less than a year. History was wiped away to the chagrin of many longtime fans, and a full embrace of dark and gritty superhero tales lacked staying power. Many series sales quickly plummeted after the initial curiosity wore off and the term “New 52” became an albatross about the publisher’s neck. It is an experiment that has taken more than 5 years to course correct, even more if you were to trace the issues back to series with a similar tone, like Identity Crisis.
There were exceptions to this rule of the New 52 though and none was more exceptional than the success of writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo on Batman. From the very first issue it was a stand out new series, with both of its creators quickly coming as close as superhero creators come to being rockstars of their industry. The critical and commercial fame has only continued to follow the pair, with their most recent collaboration on Dark Nights: Metal providing a smash hit for DC Comics. Snyder, specifically, has gone from the all-star writer to a leader within DC Comics. He is no longer the Batman writer, but has extended those wings to become the Justice League writer. Over the course of the past year he has crafted a new vision for DC Comics in the subsequent forms of Dark Nights: Metal, Justice League: No Justice, and now Justice League. As hard as a publisher may be to steer, it appears that Snyder has the guts and vision to do just that, and he has provided a stirring outline of where he intends to go so far.
A Big Vision
One word that could be used to define Snyder’s DC Comics career since he took the reins to Batman is ambition. It’s impossible to find a moment when the next thing didn’t feel bigger. After “Court of Owls” introduced a brand new array of villains to Gotham City and a possible brother for Bruce Wayne, it would be hard to imagine where to go next, but that’s exactly what Snyder did. A new origin with an apocalyptic overhaul of Gotham City and mechsuit Batman fighting a villain with a black hole continued to up the ante.
Given that context, it’s hard to be shocked at what has happened recently. The Source Wall has been shattered threatening all of reality, a collection of hundreds of worlds with sentient species were released back into the galaxy, and, oh yeah, the Justice League destroyed the moon. Batman blew up the moon with a bomb. It’s an expansion in scope that can only be matched by the best superhero events of the past and top notch shonen manga. Given what has occurred in the first issue of Justice League alone, it’s obvious that Snyder wants to tell the biggest stories possible at DC Comics.
An Iconic Vision
It only makes sense to tell the biggest stories when working with the biggest characters though. Again, if you reflect on Snyder and Capullo’s Batman, it is clear that there is an interest with the iconic elements of the character. Each major story arc was designed to interrogate the question of “Who is Batman?” in some new way. It’s obvious walking down the street that Batman matters just as much to ordinary people as he does to passersby in Gotham City, so figuring out what makes the character special is a valid concern.
That concern extends to a much greater scope when moving to the Justice League though. Batman is important, but watching cultural reactions to Superman and Wonder Woman, he’s just one voice at a very impressive party. Even less well known recruits like Martian Manhunter, Cyborg, and Hawkgirl have a built in fan base thanks to their ability to diversify the core heroes of DC Comics and essential cartoon adaptations. The heroes on display in Justice League feature plenty of cameos to favorite events and beloved B-listers, but it’s clear that this new series along with the events that preceded it are aimed at the very heart of DC Comics. It is a publisher with many of the very best heroes and they all serve a purpose in this vision.
A Positive Vision
Scope and significance don’t make a complete vision though. Anything DC Comics publishes is capable of presenting the world’s greatest superheroes in an epic confrontation. That has been clear since Crisis On Infinite Earths started a cycle of events in 1986. What makes Scott Snyder’s vision for DC Comics stand out is his tone.2comments
From Dark Nights: Metal through Justice League, his stories take these notable heroes and place them in the most dire straits imaginable. The destruction of the Earth is far from the worst consequence to be faced in this series of stories. And yet, somehow in the midst of all that darkness, there is a refrain that everything can be solved. The heroes don’t know how they will survive, but they do. No answers seem apparent, but they appear. The world always appears doomed, but it survives. The constant factor in Scott Snyder’s vision for DC Comics isn’t the darkness, but the light at the end of the tunnel.
This is what makes these recent stories resonate. A feeling of hopelessness is all too relatable and many narratives revel in that despair. Snyder pushes back and busts open the feeling with a hammer. The events are nothing short of ludicrous, but they are the exact level of crazy needed to believe that the world can be repaired. It embodies hope filtered through the icons that have inspired so many generations since the Golden Age. DC Comics went through a dark phase. Identity Crisis did its best to dirty up heroes and make hope seem foolish, and the publisher was steered in that direction for many years. Now it seems that two years into the Rebirth initiative that these heroes are heading back toward the light. That’s certainly for the better.