DC: Fixing The Second Generation Superheroes

A few days ago I was talking with fellow TFF reviewer about how DC could, and should, revamp its “Young Justice” comics. To clarify, I realise that there was an animated show of the same name and that there were accompanying digital comics as well. However, I use that term as a catch-all to describe all the second generation superheroes in the DC universe for the purposes of this discussion. This includes heroes like Superboy, Supergirl, Batgirl, Red Hood, Nightwing, Teen Titans and so on.

We did some preliminary discussions around the idea and it gave me the idea for this post, since our discussion was held on a forum where the comics discussions are extremely limited. And I wanted to explore the idea in greater depth and provide a much more visible platform for it as well.

Young Justice 0002

Heads-up: My experience with DC titles isn’t all that extensive, much of it comes from all the reading I’ve been doing since April last year, outside of some big crossover/events I read a few years ago. If I make any mistakes, I do apologise in advance.

If you look at the list of titles that DC has launched in the New 52, the ones that have been cancelled and the ones that are still active, there is a clear trend there: a distinct lack of cohesiveness within the Young Justice titles. Only in the earliest issues of a few of these titles were there any crossovers of any kind, outside of last year’s Death of the Family for the Bat-family titles and H’el on Earth for the Super-family titles. Beyond that, all the books are off in their own worlds, doing their own things, with little to no connection to each other.

And despite the fact that we have heroes of both primary genders represented, there’s still a lack of diversity, since the majority of these heroes identify either with Batman or Superman. There aren’t any second generation heroes with their own books who stand apart from the big-wigs.

Heroes related to Batman:

BatFamilyNew52

  • Barbara Gordon as Batgirl in Batgirl
  • Dick Grayson as Nightwing in Nightwing
  • Jason Todd as Red Hood in Red Hood and The Outlaws
  • Tim Drake as Red Robin in Teen Titans
  • Helena Wayne as The Huntress in World’s Finest
  • Damian Wayne as Robin in Batman, Inc and Batman and Robin

SuperFamilyNew52Heroes related to Superman:

  • Kara Zor-El as Supergirl in Supergirl
  • Kon-El as Superboy in Superboy
  • Kara Zor-L as Power Girl in World’s Finest

Other heroes:

  • Cassie Sandsmark as Wonder Girl in Teen Titans
  • Miguel Barragan as Bunker in Teen Titans
  • Bart Allen as Kid Flash in Teen Titans
  • Kiran as Solstice in Teen Titans
  • Kori as Starfire in Red Hood and the Outlaws
  • Roy Harper as Arsenal in Red Hood and the Outlaws
  • Cisco Ramon as Vibe in Justice League of America and Justice League of America’s Vibe
  • Courtney Whitmore as Stargirl in Justice League of America
  • Jason Rusch and Ronnie Raymond as Firestorm in Fury of the Firestorm (discontinued)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes in Legion of Super-Heroes
  • Virgil Hawkins as Static in Static Shock (discountined)
  • The Ravagers in The Ravagers (discontinued)

So there you have it. As best as I can find out, that’s all the named “Young Justice” characters in the New 52, whether in their ongoing books or in team books or in discontinued books.

Stargirl 0001It is interesting to see, as someone who has read everything on this list excepting Red Hood and the Outlaws, Fury of the Firestorm, and Static Shock, that only the big-name younger characters with ties to DC’s holy duo have any kind of serious exposure. Even though both Tim Drake and Jason Todd star in team books, they are the leaders of their team in those respective books, and thus are prominent enough. The other characters all play second fiddle. I’ll note here that Vibe has shown up relatively few times in Justice League of America, despite being a member of the team, only the odd panel here and there each issue. And the same goes for Stargirl, in that she is in the same situation, but worse, since she doesn’t have her own book.

Now, if you compare it to all the big titles, we see a whole lot more diversity. Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Flash, Green Arrow, etc are all going great. There is a general decline in sales numbers across the board for all DC titles, as I’m sure the case is with Marvel which is a whole separate discussion, but generally, the experienced heroes rule while their younger counterparts are barely getting by.

Firestorm 0001Nightwing and Batgirl for the Bat-family are the only books where the characters are holding their own strongly, have suffered next to no serious creative changes (outside of some fill-in issues) and are in the upper mid tier in terms of quality. Personally, they are two of my favourite titles in the New 52, especially Batgirl where it has gone from strength to strength under Gail Simone.

Superboy and Supergirl for the Super-family are titles that have suffered some serious creative changes, but have continued to hold their own despite everything. Still, looking at sales analyses for June and July, the titles aren’t doing too well and the general decline has definitely hit them both, despite the recent H’el on Earth crossover. And a special note for Superboy: I recently read #19, which outlines his origins and, to be frank, it is one of the worst things I’ve ever read in comics. Just… utterly ridiculous.

Teen Titans started off well enough but it has turned into absolute dreck of late. I still haven’t read anything since #19 and I’m not really motivated to read anything either. The story jumps all over the place, there’s no straight characterisation, no focus on the “minor” characters, and just… boring.

Batgirl 0001From comics news I occasionally follow, Red Hood is a title that has gone through several creative changes and is in the lower tier of DC’s line-up. Which certainly isn’t helping things. Creative changes, especially too many of them, are a sign that the series is unstable and that it is clearly not making any headway.

And the same goes for World’s Finest, but I’ve been holding out hope for it. The book has become my guilty pleasure really. I should drop it, but I just like the characters too much to give up on it. Regardless, there needs to be a serious shake-up here. Either Paul Levitz needs to wise up and seriously up his game, or a new writer needs to be brought in.

The rest, well… the rest are a different matter.

The biggest problem facing the “Young Justice” books is that they are struggling from a story point of view. I won’t focus on Nightwing and Batgirl since those books are going strong, but I’ll offer a few suggestions on how DC can raise the profile on the rest of the books and make “Young Justice” really stand-out.

The first thing that needs to happen is that Teen Titans needs to be shaken up considerably. I hate to say it, but Scott Lobdell needs to go, and someone else needs to be brought in. Whatever his vision is for this book, it is suffering big time, given all the story jumps and all the plot points that are introduced but then ignored and so on. A lack of decent characterisation for both Cassie and Kiran is also a big problem here, and I hate that the only two girls on the team are also the two who are getting ignored the most. Cassie had an origin-arc in the second volume of the series, but that played on her being second to another character. Surprise, surprise, it was a guy! An old boyfriend in fact. Right, ok. Ways to fix Teen Titans.

teentitans01Other than replacing Lobdell on the title, the following needs to happen:

  • Cassie and Kiran need to take more prominent roles within the team, and they need to be shown as characters with some actual weight behind them. I can’t take any of them seriously right now, because they’re being cliched to hell and back. And Cassie gets sexualised in the art, so that needs to be addressed as well.
  • Bunker needs to take a more prominent role as well. He seems to be the only level-headed member of the team, whereas the others are either too dour and quick to anger or too comedic (Kiran doesn’t really have a personality, as an addendum).
  • I’d shuffle up the team a bit. Bring in someone new. This could be any number of characters really. My best bet however would be on Beast Boy, who can be used to set up an entire arc involving the Doom Patrol. That’d be helluva fun!
  • The book needs a clear, definable and long-term villain who is not as ridiculous as Harvest.

To replace Lobdell, I’d bring in any of the following writers:

  • Gail Simone – After reading three volumes across her two runs on Birds of Prey, I would love for her to come back on a team book and write it. Not to mention that if I had to pick someone to redo Cassie and Kiran, then she’d be pretty much perfect even though Kiran is a new character, because Gail has worked on Wonder Woman before and she is familiar with that kind of mythos. Still, if someone can bring Lobdell’s thief of a Wonder Girl (she hates that name) closer to her other previous avatars in comics, its probably Gail Simone. She writes female characters really well and I’d love to have her here.
  • Kyle Higgins – He has been killing it on Nightwing, for the most part, and that man definitely needs a second book. Sure, he’s working on the new Batman Beyond 2.0 title with Terry McGinnis, but that’s a digital first title, and is a little different. However, considering how superb the first issue was, and how much I love his version of Nightwing, I’d love for him to write more superheroes. Additionally, getting him on Teen Titans opens up possibilities for a Nightwing/Teen Titans crossover, just as bringing Gail to the title opens up possibilities for a Batgirl/Teen Titans crossover.
  • Darwyn Cooke – his take on the Minutemen in Before Watchmen: Minutemen, the prequel 6-issue mini-series to Alan Moore’s Watchmen was phenomenal. If I didn’t love what Cooke and Amanda Conner did with Silk Spectre, I would say that Minutemen was my favourite of all the Before Watchmen titles. Still, Minutemen was an excellent title. Consequently, I’d love to see Darwyn take on the Teen Titans, coming back to a more SF-fantastical world with superheroes and all. He’d be a good fit, I think.
  • Christos Gage – I haven’t read any of his work outside of G.I.Joe for IDW and Angel & Faith Season 9 for Dark Horse, both series being among my favourite comics ever, so I don’t know how he’d work on a superhero team book. But all the same, looking at his body of work, he is no stranger to them, and has worked on team books for both Marvel and DC. He clearly has the know-how and that’s a huge plus.

Initially, I had considered that Red Hood and the Outlaws should just be merged with Teen Titans, but I kind of don’t see that working anymore. The main reason is that the team leaders for both teams are proteges for Batman, with Jason being the older of the two and a former Robin. Plus, I’m not really familiar with the title at all, so any recommendations I make would be specious at best.

So, on to Superboy and Supergirl.

SupergirlSuperboy 0001The problem with Superboy is that his origins are just a complete mess here. Scott Lobdell and Tom DeFalco have created a maze of things and its supremely confusing, not to mention that #19 by Lobdell was absolute tripe, junk really. I mean… come on, that’s just ridiculous. The problem is definitely the storytelling. As part of the H’el on Earth crossover, Superboy had the most boring and inane issues, and DeFalco had this irritating habit of giving character overview at the start of each issue, much like how Geoff Johns began most of his issues on Green Lantern with a snapshot backhistory on Hal Jordan.

As a fix, the storytelling definitely needs to ante up. That’s really all I can say about this. And the best way to bring that into effect is to have Superboy on his own adventures separate from any other characters, whether they be Superman, Supergirl, or the Teen Titans. He needs to develop into his own as a self-defined character. Right now, everything he does is defined by his relationship to these other heroes, and it is hurting him big time. Sadly, I know that there is an upcoming arc involving Krypton which is a crossover with the other two Super-family titles. Perhaps after that?

The only real problem I’ve had with Supergirl is that the stories just weren’t all that interesting. I breezed through the first 12 issues in record time last year, but I didn’t really enjoy them. The H’el on Earth crossover didn’t really help any, and I had plenty of issues with how she was characterised, so it was more of the same. With Michael Alan Nelson taking over from #20, I had high hopes for the title, since I had talked to him about it in detail when I met him at the 2nd Middle East Film and Comic Con in April this year. The introduction of Cyborg-Superman has definitely been a really interesting move, and the three issues so far have been quite decent, but I’m still waiting for the comic to really take off.

As a sort of fix, once the current Cyborg-Superman arc is over, and once we are through the upcoming Krypton arc, Supergirl needs time off on her own, just as above with Superboy. Her relationship with her roommate, Silver Banshee, needs to be explored more and she needs a definitive villain of her own, as was the case with Silver Banshee’s father in a previous arc.

For what its worth, she has been developing into her own for a while, but things are moving very slow on that front. So the book just needs to pick up some pace and go all out, all chips in the middle.

Supergirl 0020Where World’s Finest is concerned, that book needs a firm kick in its posterior. Paul Levitz has been taking things very slow of late and he has been winging in so many plotlines that a lot of it is just passing over my head. Too many things to keep track of, essentially. He needs to go back to the basics and focus on Helena and Kara’s mission to return home to (what we know as ) Earth 2. And all this silliness that is going on right now with Desaad needs to be nipped before it goes two far.

Things aren’t bad per se, but I’m steadily losing interest in the book, as I mentioned earlier. This is an extremely plot-driven series so far, with little in the way of character development. This kind of thing works decently in the graphic novel format, but not in a monthly format. And this is hurting the book because the overall story is moving so slow.

I also want to see more of how Power Girl and Supergirl interact, and how Huntress works with the Bat-family. We saw Helena meet Damian in the second arc on the title, and we also see her visit his grave later on, which was a great touch. But I want things to go beyond all this superficiality. Power Girl and Supergirl have already squared off in the pages of Supergirl and it all left me wanting more. A hell of a lot more. This is a great setup and it is being seriously under-utilised.

The most important thing is that in the wake of the success of the first two issues of Batman/Superman, the pairing of Earth 2 Robin and Supergirl definitely needs to be prominent. Paul Levitz really needs to leverage his plotlines better and he needs to be at par with what the “bigger’ book is doing. Just something to bring the book out of its funk.

World's Finest 0006And then we have Justice League of America and Justice League of America’s Vibe. First and foremost, I enjoy both titles, especially the former which I think is phenomenal, aside from a few minor missteps. There really isn’t any major issue that I have with Justice League of America other than the fact that both Stargirl and Vibe are so underused on that book. Vibe is far better off in his book, obviously, but Stargirl doesn’t have any such advantage. A second fact that Amanda Waller keeps her on the team just for the team’s PR to the American masses is a narrative choice that contributes to her lack of development and growth in the book. And where Vibe is concerned, I’d like for him to be used more in the main book rather than in his standalone. And yes, JLA’s Vibe is most definitely a standalone title, much as how Batman is to Justice League or Wonder Woman to Justice League.

So these two things need to be addressed and here’s a few suggestions:

  • First, Stargirl needs to be given more prominence. Even if she is just there for PR, and that’s what Geoff Johns really wants to stick with, then fine, give her more to do on that front. We’ve had maybe 3-4 panels total, at best, in six issues so far where she does anything related to the team’s PR.
  • Second, Stargirl needs her own book. This will be a huge step forward in developing a cohesive line of “Young Justice” books, and since she is a female character, DC can add that feather to their New 52 cap. Stargirl with her cameos in the live-action Smallville series and the animated Justice League Unlimited show was one of my favourite characters and I definitely want to see more of her. It would definitely spice things up and could open up to some really good arcs with Sterling Gates’ Vibe, which would be fantastic.
  • JLA’s Vibe needs a story ante-up as well. Its been quite decent so far, and I like what Gates is doing for the most part, but he can do so much more. The revelations in the last issue, #6, were quite mind-bending, and seeing him played off against Kid Flash and Gypsy has been a highlight so far. Gates pretty much just needs to open up his stories. And reveal the entire thing that’s going on in Amanda Waller’s holding facility.

For a Stargirl book, I’d like to see the following writers step in:

  • Matt Kindt – He has been absolutely killing it in the backups for Geoff Johns’ Justice League of America, featuring the Martian Manhunter. I love what he is doing with the character, and I’d love to see him take on a challenge like Stargirl.
  • Marguerite Bennett – She hasn’t done much so far, aside from the latest Batman: Annual #2 with Scott Snyder and is doing the upcoming Batgirl #25 which will be the Zero Year tie-in with Snyder’s Batman. I like what she did on the annual. It wasn’t mind-blowing or great by any means, but it shows a lot of promise. And since she is a relatively new writer, I think having her own book for a “relatively new to New 52” character like Stargirl would be a good fit for her.

New 52 - Justice League of America's Vibe 05For the other titles – The Ravagers, Static Shock and Legion of Super-heroes – I have no idea. I didn’t read those titles and I have no idea who these characters, aside from a few early episodes of the Legion animated series that went on air a few years ago. Simply put, it is the same case as the Red Hood and The Outlaws book.

What I do know, however, is that we need to see a lot more of the “Young Justice” characters. We need more diversity, and this is a great way to cover a lot of bases. For the third year of DC’s New 52, starting in October once September’s Villains Month wraps up, I want to see DC implement some serious changes to this line-up. And this needs to be a long-term project. They can’t yank off titles from the sales lists after only a few issues because they aren’t doing well. They NEED to put in the work to make these titles a hit. Marketing has been a sore point for DC through all of New 52 and week after week they are getting bit in the ass for their screw-ups. Lack of marketing has been a major factor in why several titles have died off since the launch of the new continuity across all the titles.

Aside from all the things I’ve mentioned already, here are a few “Young Justice” characters I would love to see more of:

  • Terra
  • Raven
  • Miss Martian
  • Aqualad
  • Damage
  • The Marvel Family – We’ve already seen Shazam/Billy Batson in the pages of Justice League, but this is more of seeing the entire family of kids, rather than just Billy, who no doubt will join either the Justice League or the Justice League of America once “Trinity War” wraps-up.
  • Zachary Zatara
  • Más y Menos

Given that Robert Venditti has just inducted a bunch of “young” Green Lanterns into the Green Lanterns Corps since he took over from Geoff Johns on Green Lantern after Johns’ seminal #20, I think a young Green Lantern book, or a character of prominence would be really great. Would certainly break the monotony of Hal, John, Guy and Kyle.

So there you have it. Some basic thoughts. What did you think?

Posted on August 14, 2013, in Comics News, Editorial, General, News and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Well since you asked…

    I think the main problem with the “Young Justice” DC books is that most of the characters are “legacy” characters and former sidekicks of the main DC heroes. Which worked really well until the New 52 compressed everyone down to five years of adventures, maximum, and the clutch of sidekicks they had really didn’t work anymore. The Bat-family has held together somewhat, but that’s it.

    Prior to New 52, the Teen Titans worked because the older gang (Nightwing, Starfire, Cyborg, Donna Troy) were practically family, having been through so much in the team’s 80s incarnation; and the younger gang (Robin, Superboy, Wonder Girl) were the same way thanks to Young Justice. But with all of that retconned away there’s no glue holding the current Teen Titans together, they might as well just be superhero fanboys and fangirls who have no reason to team up. The heart of the team is just gone and I’m not sure how to fix it without some serious work.

    Stargirl… Well, she’s sort of Geoff Johns’s pet character, and she’s got a long history with the JSA and her own series back in the 90s. She could probably hold up her own series again, but I wouldn’t call her broken right now – she’s already stepping out of her “PR Girl” role in Justice League of America.

    Not much else I can say, since I don’t read the books (hey, there’s a problem right there!) and I’m still grouchy about Wally West. But I’d agree that most of the books just need some fun stories, and not massive shake-ups.

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    • You are absolutely right. The Teen Titans right now just aren’t gelling together as a team, let alone a family. Red Robin is basically mega-jerk, Kid Flash and Bunker are goofs, and Solstice and Wonder Girl are just hangers on. Plus, random romantic subplots that are introduced but then conveniently ignored later.

      As for Stargirl, she isn’t broken really, just not being used. It was in #4 I think where she slips out of the JLA headquarters and sneaks aboard the invisible jet to join the rest of the team, giving Amanda Waller a big “FU” in the process. That was good. Its great that we got a glimpse. I just want more.

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  2. Maybe DC should just put all the second generation heroes on a big ol’ island and run a series in which they’re forced to kill each other off one by one. Oh, wait…

    Disengaging sarcasm mode for a moment, this is a lot to get my head round – not least because my knowledge of current DC comics is so miniscule you’d need an electron microscope to see it. Great post, though. I might reply more cogently when I’ve read some of Lobdell’s run on ‘Teen Titans’.

    Oh, and incidentally, despite my opening comments, I quite like ‘Avengers Arena’ – a book that makes a dodgy premise work well, because the characterisation’s good. (Or, at least, it was up to issue 4, which is where my MU subscription has got me so far.)

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    • I haven’t read Avengers Arena so far. But I did pick up Keiron Gillen’s Young Avengers 2 #1 and #2 on Schafe’s recommendation. They were… decent. Two issues in and I have the same problems with it that I did with the first 2 issues of New 52 Teen Titans. So… eh. I’ll give Young Avengers another couple issues. The series seems to have a very comic-y feel, if that makes sense. Kind of also like I’m watching an episode of Spider-Man Animated.

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  1. Pingback: Monthly Report: August and September 2013 | Shadowhawk's Shade

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