James Gunn Is Going To Get Me To Read DC Comics, Isn't It?
Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying About Continuity And Love The Bomb
I have a specific memory of being eight years old and making fun of a kid at school for reading DC Comics. It wasn’t because he was reading comics - my friends and I were all heavily into funny books. We were into the Marvel Universe, though, thanks to the recent launch of both the X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons in the ‘90s. Yes, there was also a Batman cartoon, and, yes, it was very good - as were the Batman films of the early ‘90s - but, besides the Dark Knight, DC Comics were not seen as cool at my particular school.
Chalk it up to marketing. Marvel Comics had a sheen of hipness to the kids growing up in the ‘90s that DC just couldn’t compete with. And how could they? DC Comics had characters our parents’ parents had read growing up. We had Wolverine, Venom, Ghost Rider, The Punisher and Darkhawk. Yes, kids were into Darkhawk. The ‘90s were a weird time.
To put it simply, Marvel dominated the merch aisle and their characters spoke to the generation raised on Sega Genisis and the Pepsi Challenge. DC Comics, on the other hand, had no popular video games, toy lines or even a breakfast cereal worth eating. Superman and Batman weren’t even currently Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne, respectively. Compared to Marvel Comics - or, gasp, Image Comics - DC was for babies.
Flash forward thirty years and I’ve matured somewhat. I don’t make fun of Superman fans, for starters. Or, at least, I don’t that much. I’m still very much a Marvel Zombie but I can acknowledge there are some (okay, a lot) of really great stories and characters in the DC Universe. Most of the stuff I like, though, are out-of-continuity titles, such as KINGDOM COME, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, THE NEW FRONTIER, THE SANDMAN, SUPERMAN: SECRET IDENTITY and all the great stuff that Vertigo and Wildstorm put out in the ‘90s and ‘00s. There are a handful of in-continuity runs or stories that I like, the problem is that - as a casual reader of DC Comics - I just never know what’s part of the current continuity and what’s been retconned or wiped clean from the current slate. DC loves a reboot like Batman loves making promises to his dead parents in the middle of the night.
For example, I love Jeff Jeff Lemire’s 2011 run on ANIMAL MAN, China Miéville’s 2012 run on DIAL H and the 2006 AQUAMAN: SWORD OF ATLANTIS series, just to name a few. Are any of these still in continuity with the current version of the DC Universe? I have no idea.
DC’s media slate is even weirder. We have the Zach Snyder films sitting alongside the CW superhero shows and HBO Max’s handful of series and animated movies released every few months and prestige films like JOKER or THE BATMAN and none of them seem to take place in anything remotely resembling the same continuity. To a Marvel fan who obsesses over the MCU timeline like it was a holy scroll, this whole thing is maddening.
Here’s the thing, though - does it really matter?
I just finished watching the third season of HARLEY QUINN on HBO MAX - a show I deeply love. The series - a half-hour animated sitcom in which Quinn attempts to free herself from the role of the Joker’s sidekick and become her own person - features a surprising amount of character development and an even more surprising amount of raunchy humor. I don’t consider myself a prude but I also can’t help but clutch my (Martha Wayne’s) pearls when I hear somebody say “fuck” in a cartoon with Batman in it.
Raunch aside, I love how effortlessly funny HARLEY QUINN is while also featuring great character growth and development. I also love how the show cherry-picks from the various Batman media adaptations - flashbacks are shown in the art deco style of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES. Batgirl dresses in her cool AF Burnside costume redesign from 2014. There are references to BATMAN RETURNS (my favorite Batman movie - sue me), the 1966 Adam West TV series, and even the CGI mustache fiasco from JUSTICE LEAGUE.
It was watching HARLEY QUINN that made me realize I don’t need to give a shit about continuity when it comes to the DC Universe (sorry for all the cussing, I’ve been watching a show with bad words and I’m an impressionable youth). A good story is a good story and just because something may or may not “matter” in conjunction with the stories being told in current DC Comics doesn’t make it any less entertaining. In fact, if a story is only worth reading because of how it exists in relation to stories happening in other books you also have to read in order to enjoy that first story, chances are good you’re not actually reading that good of a story.
I don’t know a ton about DC Comics. Even today - as I’m reading more comics than I’ve read since I was in college - my jaunts into the DC Universe are mostly self-contained maxi-series. I love DC VS VAMPIRES, DARK KNIGHTS OF STEEL and - most recently - DANGER STREET, for example. That said, I am interested in dipping my toes into the wider DC Universe and its deep well of titles past and present. I’m probably always going to be a Marvel Zombie but I am curious to learn more about how the other half lives.
If I’m being honest, it has more to do with the movies than the comics. As much as I’m a fan of Marvel Comics, I’m even more a fan of James Gunn and I’m willing to follow the dude wherever he goes and right now he’s pitching a big ol’ tent in the DC Universe. That’s even more reason to roll up my sleeves and see what’s cooking in the world of Superman and friends.
Am I going to love every series I read? Probably not. Is anybody from DC Comics going to replace Spider-Man as my favorite superhero? Unlikely. Am I going to read a comic that touches my heart or makes me laugh as much as HARLEY QUINN or PEACEMAKER did? God, I hope so. Believe it or not, I want to enjoy every comic I read. The habit is too expensive to read books not expecting to like them. And I do expect I’ll like a lot of DC Comics because I think something DC Comics does better than Marvel by a longshot is to realize the true iconography of their characters.
The fact is, DC’s stable of heroes and villains are modern mythology - as powerful of legends as the Greek or Norse gods. A big part of why the company’s characters are so iconic is because so many different stories - wildly different in some cases - have been told about them. Batman, Superman and their friends and enemies have been allowed to grow and change over time to reflect the eras and storytellers that have come and gone since the characters first appeared in the ‘30s.
Read a Batman comic from the ‘40s, ‘70s, ‘00s and ‘20s and it’s almost like you’re reading about completely different characters. On the other hand, Marvel Comics’ heroes are largely the same characters they were in the ‘60s - maybe a little older and carrying a bit more baggage - but not quite as different as when they first hit newsstands. Stories become legends and then myths because of how they are told and changed over time. DC is in the business of myths, Marvel is still in the business of stories. I’m ready to crack open some good myths.
Do you have a favorite DC Comics run? Something you think I would enjoy? Let me know - operators are standing by.