‘Brothers In Arms’ by Dire Straits has been on heavy rotation over the last couple of days, I can tell you.
Way back in the 80’s, DC Comics decided to change the way they approached their Justice League of America title. What was once a team up of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and other iconic figures from throughout the company’s history was revamped into a superhero sitcom, featuring characters that were second stringers at best. This team, soon rechristened Justice League International, was made up of a bunch of heroes who spent more time arguing among themselves and getting into ridiculous situations involving killer penguins or sentient islands or interstellar dictators who had to be told when to stop monologuing by robots named after pulp sci-fi writers. Bizarrely enough, it worked.
Of course, nothing lasts forever, and soon JLI reverted back to JLA and more mainstream heroics. The characters popped up now and again, but never really set the world alight.
And yet despite their lack of subsequent commercial success, ‘loser’ characters like Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, and Guy Gardner embedded themselves in the consciousness of many DC fans. Why? I think because they were funny. They got into adventures that would be way below the dignity of, say, Batman, and their most memorable fights were between themselves, and when they laughed it sounded like "BWA-HA-HA!", but there was an underlying humanity to them, a sense of fun and reality, believe it or not. They were what most of us would be like if we developed superpowers overnight, warts and all.
Why am I bringing all this up?
Because over the last year or so, DC seem to be pursuing a vendetta against these guys, and its got to the point where it hurts. Okay, so that’s over the top, but look at the scoresheet:
Sue Dibny – wife of the Elongated Man, a stretchy detective figure. One of the most enduring couples in comicdom. Sue was raped and murdered last year.
Blue Beetle – Techno-genius, one half of the best double act in DC history. If there was a move, he’d probably be played by Ben Stiller. He just got shot in the head by…
Max Lord – Sleazely businessman. Looks like Sam Neill. Revealed to be a fanatic working to wipe out anyone with superpowers. Wonder Woman had to kill him because he was mind-controlling Superman to assassinate the other heroes. (He’s actually back now, and causing havoc for the surviving JLIers. The good guys are still dead though.)
Rocket Red – Big Russian guy, a younger Brian Blessed in a suit of high-tech armour. Had a wife and kids, was a Russian character in American comics during and just after the Cold War. At least this guy got to nobly sacrifice himself to save others.
This only means something to comic fans, I guess, but I’m a comic fan, and I’m disturbed at the way DC is going. On the one hand, leading up to an apocalyptic storyline, with new ideas and situations spinning out of it is a great idea, and I’m all for it. But to use characters I love as cannon fodder? That’s just…
Maybe I’m too attached to what are, at the end of the day, fictional characters. Maybe I’m just reacting badly because a long-cancelled series that I only read through back issues years after it had originally been published is now producing the cannon fodder for the latest comicbook gotterdammerung. But there’s just a vibe, a vibe that the world’s moving on and that the future of the DC universe is going to be dark and grim and ‘gritty’, and that’ll leave no room for characters perhaps best known for making bad jokes and losing fights with stray cats.
I think that’s my biggest issue, actually – the idea that ‘realism’ and ‘depth’ in comics has to focus on the darker angels of human nature. To be honest, that seems to be a needlessly adolescent point-of-view. Yes, we’re all well aware of the state of the world – visits the website for Amnesty, for Oxfam, for Christian Solidarity Worldwide, for Greenpeace. Yet that’s no all there is to life; you can focus on the darkness all you want, but that just means you’re going to be blinded by a thousand pinpricks of light that will surround you, burning like stars. There’s good in the world, and there’s fun and there’s laughter and there’s joy and there’s music. And if I’m right, if society is at least partly the product of the stories it tells itself, then something as seemingly meaningless as one second string superhero being shot by someone who he believed to be his friend suddenly becomes part of something more significant, especially as, either by accident or design, it seems to be part of a wider campaign to wipe out all the characters who were funny and loveable and human.
So when someone on the DC Comics Message Boards suggested ‘Brothers in Arms’ as a tribute song, I put it straight in the CD player.
You may think that this was a silly thing to do, a silly post to write. Maybe that’s true. Maybe you think I should be worrying about more important things; I’d say that’s definitely true. Or maybe not. Maybe this and all the other dark stuff going on out there is all part of the same thing, that really its just a matter of scale. Maybe we can begin the fight back by something as small and as silly as laughing at back issues of Justice League International.
So raise a glass to Sue, and Beetle, and Rocket Red. And next time you laugh, laugh loud.
Make it sound…Like "BWA-HA-HA!"