DC Comics have long been full of dark and evil gods, constantly making trouble for our heroes and heroines. But as bad as Darkseid, Ares and their ilk might be, you know the comic book gods that really scare me?
The ones some of DC writers seem to worship.
Now, the existence of a secret cult that meets in the basement of 1700 Broadway on the nights of full moons, their identities hidden even from one another by ritual cloaks and hoods, to chant in a secret, blasphemous language and bow before a profane, obscene stone idol of a hideous monster-god is just a theory of mine.
I have no actual proof of it, other than the suggestion that surely there must be some reason so many writers have begun their new series or new story arcs with a blood sacrifice, as if it were part of a ritual beseeching some entity for success.
It’s 2003, and Judd Winick and Geoff Johns are about to launch new volumes of The Outsiders and Teen Titans respectively. Their storyline kicks off in a special miniseries in which several characters are killed.
It’s 2005, and the pair—joined by Greg Rucka—are about to set the DC Universe on a course towards Infinite Crisis, and they kick it all off in a special one-shot in which they kill Blue Beetle II.
In 2008, Winick gets ready to relaunch a new Titans title, and he does so by slaughtering a half-dozen minor characters.
That same year, the Grant Morrison-written Final Crisis opens with the deaths of Orion and Martian Manhunter.
Surely there must be some reason for all this blood, and since it is the blood of fictional comic book characters, I can only imagine it’s a very peculiar, quasi-religious reason.
It can’t possibly be a creative or dramatic reason, because it’s been done so often in such a short span of time, and despite their occasional shortcomings, all of these men—even Judd Winick, whose work I like the very least—are talented, and have certainly read enough comic books to know that seeing a character get killed barely moves the needle of fan interest, let alone excitement.
These same writers have also been simultaneously restoring dead characters to life during that same time, even undoing some of the most “sacred” comic book deaths, like that of Jason Todd and Barry Allen, further making the act of death meaningless within the context of their fictional universe.
So they must worship an evil god that feeds on the imaginary blood of fictional characters—It’s the only thing that makes any sense.
I haven’t mentioned James Robinson yet.
He’s probably best known for his Starman title, which began with the death of the title character, in something of a clever swerve—the real protagonist picked up the mantle within the same issue.
He also helped relaunch a Justice Society book with 1999’s JSA, which began with the death of Golden Age Sandman Wesley Dodds.
Lately he’s been writing Superman and Justice League comics. His Justice League: Cry For Justice is about half over now (in terms of issues, if not months) and it’s been littered with corpses. The premise of the series is that some heroes are so bent out of shape about their allies and/or loved ones getting killed that they’ve teamed up to get revenge. The antagonist has been mowing down minor superheroes in some sort of attempt to impress readers with his badassedness (My God, Prometheus killed Tasmanian Devil! What chance will Green Lantern, Green Arrow, The Atom, Supergirl and a bunch of other people possible have against the man who took down the Tasmanian Devil?).
This week, Robinson took over Justice League of America, a title that’s been without a regular artist for the first three years of existence, and somewhat rudder-less editorially, with the stories either completely disconnected with the rest of the DC Universe, setting up minor miniseries in other corners of the DCU, running to catch up with major events in other corners and sometimes all three in the same issue.
Having Robinson at the helm of what could be (what used to be, what probably should be) DC’s flagship title seems like a good thing, particularly since he is apparently on the same wavelength as DC’s main creative force at the moment—Geoff Johns—and gets along well with editorial, unlike the last writer (Poor Dwayne McDuffie, who probably had a classic JLA run in him somewhere, but got stuck cleaning up after Brad Meltzer’s run).
Naturally, Robinson begins his run by killing off a character, appeasing his dark lord with the fictional life essence of Blue Jay:
And that’s a terrible shame.
Again, seeing characters killed off in a DC superhero comic book isn’t exciting, and it hasn’t been for about a decade now. It isn’t even interesting, it’s just something that one often sees in comics, like a drawing of a building in the background or a computer console in the Justice League headquarters. But I personally find it depressing. Not necessarily in a “Oh, poor Blue Jay” kind of way so much as a “Oh, poor DC Comics, why aren’t you any good” kind of way.
Blue Jay is and/or was a flying, shrinking superhero from an alternate universe that was meant to be an analogue of the Marvel Universe. He was part of a team originally called The Champions of Angor. Pre-Crisis, when he was introduced, they were set on one of the many alternate Earths the Justice League was always visiting.
Post-Crisis, he appeared early in the Giffen/DeMatteis run on the Justice League titles, along with Silver Sorceress and Wandjina (Each was a DC analogue of a Marvel character, with Blue Jay being a male, bird-themed version of The Wasp; the others were analogues of Scarlet Witch and Thor, respectively).
He reappeared later in the run and ultimately joined the Justice League, but has had few appearances in the last decade or so. The last time I saw him was in a three-part Action Comics story arc by Kurt Busiek, Fabian Nicieza and Pete Woods, where he was part of a ragtag group of superheroes Superman lead against an unusual alien invader.
Obviously there was very little danger of Warner Brothers optioning Blue Jay for a movie any time soon, and it seems unlikely that he would be able to carry his own series or miniseries at any point in the near future.
Of course, I wouldn’t have expected DC to launch Magog and Azrael ongoing series in 2009, nor to devote two $4 ongoings to Red Circle characters. I can’t believe anyone thought a Vigilante ongoing series was going to be a good idea, or that a Warlord or REBELS revival would last very long. They’re currently publishing a Red Tornado miniseries, they published a Metamorpho: Year One not too long ago, and they launched a ten-part series starring The Great Ten, minor characters from the popular event limited series 52…from 2006.
As a comics reader, it’s impossible to say what characters and properties DC really thinks are worthwhile, and to dismiss any of them as completely unmarketable. Hell, a couple months ago a Blue Jay ongoing seemed more likely to me than a Magog one.
One would expect James Robinson to know better than most that there’s nothing to gain from destroying one of the DCU’s many toys, and to know that every character, no matter how minor, has potential.
Robinson’s very best work has been done with the minor, half-forgotten characters of the DCU. Starman wasn’t exactly Superman, or even Aquaman, when Robinson launched that ongoing, and beyond his protagonists Jack and Ted Knight, he filled the book to near-bursting with such characters, with perhaps The Shade getting the biggest bump in his Q-rating.
His recent Superman work seems to be merely an excuse to reintroduce all of the characters from the short-lived, late-seventies DC First Issue Special series. And he’s putting Congorilla in the Justice League, for God’s sake! It’s hard to imagine that a man who sees the value in Congorilla doesn’t also see potential in the likes of Tasmanian Devil or Blue Jay.
Fictional characters are the DC Universe’s greatest resource, just as they are that of DC’s cross-town rivals, who run just about the only viable superhero universe left. Remember how all the mainstream media coverage of the Marvel/Disney deal made a point of mentioning that Disney acquired a catalog of over 5,000 Marvel characters?
I laughed to myself every time I saw it, because I know there are more Razorfists and Ruby Thrusdays and Razorbacks and Pumas in there then there are Iron Men and Thors, but you have to admit, even the lamest character is worth more than no character.
I haven’t counted, but DC’s gotta have more than Marvel, given that over the years they’ve gobbled up so many other comic book companies, eventually adding the Quality, Charlton and Fawcett heroes into their universe.
That’s why it always depresses me when I see something like Blue Jay getting killed. It’s a subtraction from the DC Universe, and, while there are no shortage of superheroes in the DC Universe and maybe no one will really miss one or five or ten, it’s still a lessening of the thing that makes the DC Universe a fun place to live (Well, visit once a week, anyway).
If Robinson were constantly creating new characters to replenish the ones he was killing off, that would be a different matter entirely.
Two of my favorite writers who do regular work for DC are Grant Morrison and Kurt Busiek, and while there’s a lot to like about each, one thing I like about them is how neither ever seems to waste characters, and they constantly add new toys to the DC Universe. Sure, not all of them are great characters—Busiek’s female gorilla character Primat from Trinity isn’t any more likely to get a movie deal than Blue Jay—but they are additions.
As a frequent visitor to the DC Universe, I’d like it to be a place that’s ever expanding, a place that’s always getting bigger, better, crazier, more complex and more exciting, rather than getting smaller and sadder all the time.
Now, it’s quite possible that Blue Jay isn’t actually dead. In which case, Robinson does know better, I probably wasted almost 2,000 words and did little more than hype up an issue of a comic book that I didn’t even think was very good.
As DC deaths go, this one’s not very gory—the guy still has all his limbs!—and the coloring effect that killed him hit him on the side of his chest where his heart isn’t. But even this implication that he’s died was enough to remind me that DC in general, and Robinson in particular, have been doing far too much subtraction this decade, and precious little addition.
Personally, I blame the evil entities their writers worship.