The late Marvel Comics writer Mark Gruenwald had a rare talent: an encyclopedic knowledge of old comics. Gruenwald was apparently the only man who could beat Mark Waid in a comic book trivia contest about the Justice League…which, of course, was published by DC, not the company Gruenwald actually worked on.
As a result of this, Gruenwald, during long runs on series like Captain America and Quasar, would much prefer to resurrect long forgotten characters for story lines rather than create new ones. He even did the most mature Justice League story ever when he used the Marvel knock-offs versions to tell what many consider the first mature readers comic book storyline with the fantastic Squadron Supreme mini-series, a story showing the Squadron taking over their Earth as benevolent dictators, unmasking in public, and all the eventually horrible repercussions that came with that. Not only does this story predate Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns, but Gruenwald told a story with mature themes without anything that would have gotten the book censored by the Comics Code. That’s right, folks: his mature story had no nudity, sex, or swearwords.
But he did create a few characters too, and into that mess came the unfortunate example of Hauptmann Deutschland.
Not all that many moons ago, Mad Max director George Miller was preparing to direct a Justice League movie called Justice League Mortal. Unfortunately, even though they had gotten quite far into development and even had the above cast, that movie was not to be. But recently surfaced photos of Megan Gale as Wonder Woman gives you some idea of what we could have expected. Catch it after the break.
Last week, when I covered the Beefeater in this column, I mentioned how that Beefeater’s dad was a partner to a World War II era American hero named General Glory. When the Beefeater tried to tell his wife about his old man’s adventures with the good General, his wife reminded him that General Glory was a fictional character from American comic books.
Thing is, the Justice League books of the time dropped that line a couple times, and so it came as something of a surprise that General Glory was actually a real guy.
The deconstruction of the superhero genre is something that has been going on for a few decades now, and is often rather repetitive. Generally, it is an excuse to show classic or recognizable characters doing things that normally they wouldn’t, often of a more R-rated variety.
That said, when the deconstruction is done right, such as in Watchmen, the work says something about the genre’s conventions and tropes in a way that can be highly entertaining for the reader, while also giving the reader a chance to think over the sorts of things that are taken for granted.
But one of the best deconstructions out there doesn’t just cover superheroes, but pulp literature and genre storytelling in general. That would be the comics series Planetary, written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by John Cassaday.
Superheroes, for the most part, don’t age. Marvel and DC have their superhero universes set in some sort of sliding scale timeline, where almost everything that’s happened since the superhero line was created somehow only occurred over a ten to twelve year period. That means that even though there are Fantastic Four comics depicting Reed Richards and Ben Grimm in the trenches of World War II, today neither of those gentlemen are that old. Aside from a handful of World War II era heroes and villains who have managed to stay active and keep their ties to the war (Captain America, the original Justice Society), or even the rarer other type (Frank Castle is a Vietnam vet), heroes are pulled from eras they existed in to avoid explaining how Batman swings through the streets of Gotham without a walker.
But there are ways to allow heroes to age, and one of them DC used to have was Earth-2. Originally the home of the Justice Society of America, Earth-2 was the place where the Golden Age heroes did their thing. And while none of them quite reached the state we’d consider “elderly,” some of them did marry and have children. One of them was the Earth-2 Batman, and he had a daughter, and oh man, is this one messed up history.
Kid sidekicks are a thing for many heroes. Usually they’re supposed to be someone for the young reader to identify with. And while not every superhero has had a kid sidekick, on the DC most of the major ones did. In fact, the Justice League had one once for some reason.
His name was Snapper Carr. And oh man, was he painful to read about.
Marvel and DC both have many characters that share strong similarities with their cross-company rival. Sometimes it is a coincidence. Two people have the same idea, no matter how novel, independent of each other. Sometimes it is just because there are only so many archetypes. Of course there is going to be some nearly identical characters. Sometimes they aren’t even that similar. We just want to make this list longer. Other times, they are 100%, complete rip offs. When DC/Marvel did the Amalgamation back in the 90’s, they could have just used the original.