One Fan’s Trials: Batman Inc., creative success like Green Lantern or creative failure like Flash?

One Fan's Trail Header

One Fan’s Trials: Batman Inc., creative success like Green Lantern or creative failure like Flash?

DC has a history of having several characters sporting the same nom du guerre. In some cases it makes sense creatively, in other cases it is confusing.

Green Lantern and the Flash serve as the best current day examples to use to test against DC’s plans to have both Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson be Batman as well as others in a new book to be released called Batman Inc.

I’m focusing on Green Lantern and Flash as comparators because outside of these two, most of the other times we’ve had several characters using the same name at DC are/were very similar:

(A) As generational heroes associated with the Justice Society of America (JSA), e.g. Wildcat and his son Wildcat (there was another female Wildcat in the 1980s as well, now deceased) which is a strong part of that book’s appeal today, and…

(B) As stunts such as with Superman in the Return of Superman storyline after his death in the early 1990s. There you had 4 characters vying for the Superman mantle when the real one was in limbo and thought dead.

Ok, onto this DC trinity…. 😉

(BTW, please also note that this column’s heading refers to “creative” success or failure not “monetary” success or failure. There is a difference.)


Green Lantern

Several Green Lanterns in the DC universe makes sense since that name is more of a rank or career category. The name Green Lantern actually just means “space cop” in the DC Universe. So, all those characters that are part of the Green Lantern Corps and report to the Guardians make sense having the same handle.

Alan Scott, the Golden Age Green Lantern, keeps his nom du guerre for legacy reasons even though he didn’t in-story inspire Hal Jordan or other green space cops in DC. Despite editorial trying and failing in the 1990s to rebrand Alan Scott as Sentinel for a sustained period, he has been and will be DC’s Green Lantern. There have been efforts over the years to tie his origin and his mystical Starheart to the Silver Age Green Lantern “space cop” mythos, but with the creation of the emotional spectrum as the source of the space cops’ powers, Alan Scott may in fact keep his uniqueness in terms of power source, if not mantle. And, he remains active as a member of the Justice Society of America.

This is a great example where having more than one character with the same name actually works both from a space cops perspective as well as the legacy hero lineage aspect. It also allows DC to naturally put out books featuring DC’s earther Green Lanterns such as Green Lantern Corps featuring John Stewart and Kyle Rayner, Green Lantern: Emerald Knights featuring Guy Gardner, Green Lantern featuring Hal Jordan alongside Justice Society of America featuring Alan Scott.

The last remaining question is whether John Stewart or Kyle Rayner will eventually headline their own book. One keeps GLC and other gets their own book? At 3 official Green Lantern as-space-cops books on the shelves today, that seems unlikely, but with both those characters having headlined their own books before (John in Green Lantern: Mosiac and Kyle in Green Lantern), time will tell whether the industry and fandom can suppoort 4 ongoing Green Lantern books plus a JSA with Golden Age Green Lantern (which isn’t really part of the Green Lantern tentpole anyway; JSA is their own franchise with their own “main” JSA book and an All-Stars spin-off). Having said all that, with the creation of the New Guardians in the pages of Blackest Night and into the main Green Lantern book, a new book called Green Lantern: New Guardians featuring Kyle or John as keeper or emissary among the New Guardians could work. John would seem like a better fit than Kyle due to John’s old Mosiac work (keeping a planet of various aliens cohesive and safe), but since Kyle is part of the Honor Guard perhaps he could work in Green Lantern: New Guardians equally as well? The question is whether either is strong enough to headline a GLC book on their own, so “fit” becomes the key question for GLC and any prospective 4th Green Lantern book as it relates to John and Kyle.

We’ll see, but I think the eventual DC plan is to have all human Green Lanterns headlining their own books. And, that may work based on the fact that multiple Green Lanterns are plausible in the DC Universe since the name denotes position as space cop anyway than a heroic nom du guerre per se.


Flash

There are at last 3 characters in the DC universe using the name Flash. Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash, is the granddaddy of them all. He inspired the other generations and remains active as part of the Justice Society of America.

Next up is Barry Allen the Silver Age Flash. He had the mantle from 1956 to 1985 when he died in the pages of Crisis of Infinite Earths. His sidekick, Wally West, assumed his mantle as the Flash pretty much from 1985 to 2008 when Barry returned from the dead in the pages of Final Crisis. While Bart Allen, who was Kid Flash to Wally’s Flash and actually Barry Allen’s future grandson (long story), did assume the Flash mantle for a while, his series lasted only a year. So, Barry had a claim on the name Flash for 29 years and Wally West had pretty much the exclusive claim to the same mantle for some 23 years. So, DC has decided to allow both characters to be the Flash with Barry keeping his classic costume and Wally assuming a new costume inspired by the costumes he’s held during his tenure, just amped up a bit so it can be differentiated from Barry’s.

While Jay remaining Flash makes sense and perhaps having one inheritor as Flash also makes sense (since DC is all about legacy heroes, etc.), unlike the Green Lantern Corps, it does not make sense to have both Barry and Wally as the modern era Flash as well. That’s three Flashes in DC. That’s seems like a creative crutch than having DC attempt to have Wally or Barry be their own man (sadly Wally gets the short end of the stick here by DC since they say Barry as its “main” Flash).

That said, I would argue Wally West has a greater claim to the Flash mantle than Barry. Barry was the Flash for 29 years while Wally was his Kid Flash for 26 years (this original Kid Flash was introduced in 1959) plus he was DC’s primary Flash for 23 years. That is 49 years of continuous, um, flashing for Wally West to Barry’s 29 years.

What do you think? Next to Jay, who should be DC’s primary modern day “main” Flash?

That said, DC has recognized Wally’s contribution to their creative universe and fandom (for many of DC’s current middle-aged readers Wally is THEIR Flash), he will be anchoring a Flash team book called Flash: Speed Force with Kid Flash (Bart Allen), Jessie Quick and others to play a part. A future Kid Flash book (which was announced than unannounced) also seems likely springing from Flash: Speed Force, but DC is doing a slow build to expand the Flash tentpole. Wally can clearly anchor his own Flash-type book as can Bart since both have done so in the past. However, they haven’t had to do it when Barry was also headlining a Flash book, so we’ll just have to see how DC’s plans unfold.


Batman

With news that Bruce Wayne is returning in November and headlining Batman Inc. and Batman: Dark Knight, while Dick Grayson remains “a” Batman headlining Batman, Detective Comics and Batman & Robin, was met with some serious online debate. Beyond comparisons to what’s happening with Bucky and Steve Rogers over at Marvel’s Captain America tentpole, many DC fans wondered about Dick’s worthiness to remain as “the” Batman in the 2 longest running Batman books at DC, as well as curiosity over Bruce’s new mission to expand the Batman brand across the globe in Batman Inc.; more Batmen where Bruce and Dick are part of a legion / franchise / a Batman Corps. 😉

When news started trickling out about Batman Inc. and that Bruce was going to create and support a network of global Batmen monetarily and with technology, etc. it seemed to make sense that Bruce and Dick could both be Batman since one would protect Gotham City while the other globe-trotted and set up whatever Batman Inc. is supposed to be structurally. This also seemed to be an organic extension of what Grant Morrison had seeded in his Batman run with the reintroduction of the Batmen of All Nations as the Club of Heroes. So, the question is whether the current “Club” members, e.g.The Knight (Britain), The Musketeer (France), Man-Of-Bats (Native American), El Gaucho (Argentina), The Legionary (Italian), etc. will keep their own identities or actually assume the Batman mantle with some costume variations a la the differences between Bruce and Dick’s Batman costumes.

In my opinion, the only way Bruce and Dick both as Batman work is in a Batman Inc. type scenario where there is a bigger global crime-fighting brand being built. Dick is also a natural inheritor of the Batman mantle being the first Robin which raises some interesting questions about what the future roles of Dick and Bruce should be in the DC Universe.

Dick as Batman is not a long-term strategy nor is him going back to his Nightwing persona (that would seem like regression in my opinion). Perhaps Cassandra Cain (formerly Batgirl) becomes Nightwing, since the “Batgirl” name is taken by Stephanie Brown now, and this would all allow Dick to create a new persona that is an equal to Batman and be part of Batman Inc. just not as Batman.

I like the idea of the Knight staying as the Knight instead of Batman: Britain, so there may be potential for a new eventual heroic persona for Dick Grayson. Plus the upcoming British Batman mini-series by Paul Cornell is called Knight and Squire (not Batman and Squire) so maybe that is a clue about how Batman Inc. will work? Maybe they don’t take on the Bat logo?


Under The Mask & In The Wallet

For now, Dick and Bruce as Batman works in the way several Green Lanterns work. However, I strongly believe that three Flashes don’t work from a creative standpoint based on the current status quo of that franchise. They aren’t a group of cops nor are they an expanding brand. There is no viable creative reason for three Flashes in name; it stretches the credibility of legacy to the creative breakingpoint.

I deliberately prefaced this piece with the comment that the title here is about “creative” success or failure not monetary (because all 3 franchises are doing well for DC), but in truth the name of a character is only one facet of the overall creative framework of a title.

In terms of Flash: Speed Force and Batman Inc. it is still too early to tell whether multiple Flashes and Batmen (in name) will work creatively and monetarily in the long-term.

That said, if folks think back to when Geoff Johns reinvigorated the Green Lantern franchise, there was some skeptism about the viablity of a companion book like Green Lantern Corps, starting so soon after the main title’s launch. Afterall, the whole Green Lantern franchise had been less than stellar in the years leading up to Green Lantern: Rebirth. However, to this day GLC is a top 20 book if not top 10 book and we have a third ongoing Green Lantern book in Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors on shelves.

That said, it would be correct to point out that GLC has been successful in large part due to its connectedness to the broader Lantern narrative and events like Sinestro Corps War, Blackest Night, Brightest Day, etc. which have proven a hit for DC. I don’t wish to diminish Peter Tomasi’s writing chops on GLC because he has been AMAZING and in many months even better than the main Green Lantern book, but the appeal for many of GLC is its importance to bigger picture and events in DC. And, Peter Tomasi is now helming Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors AND Batman & Robin so perhaps my seeing thematic connections between DC’s earth-bound Batman franchise and space-faring Green Lantern franchise isn’t so far fetched.

(You will also notice that the cover to Green Lantern: Emerald Knights #1, below, brings in the other two GL books with the Red Lantern from the main Green Lantern book, Ganthet the guardian-turned-Green-Lantern from Green Lantern Corps, and Guy Gardner, naturally, the lead for Green Lantern: Emerald Knights. It is a family-book affair. 🙂 )

All that said, it would appear that DC may just have found a way to accelerate their familiarity $trategy so that each generation’s “Flash” or “Green Lantern” or “Batman” have a book (or two or three in the case of Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne respectively) to call their own yet cross-polinate to build the overall tentpole brands.

You a Kyle Rayner as Green Lantern fan? Read GLC. You a Wally West as Flash fan? Read Flash: Speed Force. You a fan of Dick Grayson as Batman? Read Batman, Detective Comics, and Batman & Robin. You like their predecessors? There are books for you too.

This may all prove to satisfy each franchise’s sub-cross-generational fanbase and, hopefully, demonstrate a creative richness and plurality that may even entice new fans and perhaps younger ones at that to pick up a comic book.

For all of this, time will tell. Are these short-term creative strategies or the building blocks of an enduring success for Batman, Flash and Green Lantern including their successors? You vote with your wallet, so you’ll end up deciding in the end.

Tags: , , , , , ,