DC’s Superhero Families

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One of the most common complaints against changing aspects of Peter Parker’s life in One More Day was that other superheroes have spouses and children, so that this should be appropriate for Spider-Man. For brevity’s sake, I’ll ignore the critics and creators who didn’t think it was a good idea to give Batman a kid, or have Superman marry Lois Lane. Comparing the directions of other franchises often demonstrates why there are things DC can do with the Elongated Man that the people at Marvel just can’t (or shouldn’t) do with Spider-Man.

So let’s take a look at where characters progressed in various DC titles.

Batman

When Bruce Wayne’s son Damian appeared in Grant Morrison’s first Batman arc, it did lead some to ask why it’s okay for Batman’s long‑lost son to return, but not for Peter to be reunited with his daughter in the Spider‑Man comics. One reason I had no problem with Morrison writing a sequel to “Son of the Demon” was that the storyline it referenced was an excellent Batman tale, deserving of its position in a list of IGN’s ten best Batman stories. Anyone confused about the origin of Batman’s son can buy an accessible, well regarded and self-contained TPB. The Clone Saga fails these criteria.

In addition, Batman’s generally been older than Spider‑Man. I’ve always had the impression that he’s in his mid-late thirties—thanks to how long it’s been since Dick Grayson aged out of the Teen Titans—and a ten year old son doesn’t change that. Damian’s debut was preceded by a story in which Bruce Wayne legally adopted a teenager, and he had already gone through several Robins. Damian’s existence doesn’t limit the possibility for future romantic endeavors for Batman, or make life easier or more stable for the hero and his allies. Damian Wayne’s a great character, because he’s such an entertaining pain in the ass.

Superman

Prior to Flashpoint, Superman had become the epitome of the successfully married superhero, though the best‑selling and most acclaimed Superman comic book story of the last few years (All‑Star Superman) featured the character when he was single. After the events of Superman Returns, I was expecting Lois and Clark to have a child, but there are a few differences between DC’s most recognizable hero and Marvel’s flagship character.

Superman has always been older than Spider‑Man, and his private life wasn’t a significant part of the character’s appeal, as it was often the norm that nothing changed from issue to issue. Lois Lane has always been his primary romantic interest since his first appearance, while Spider‑Man appeared in a few great stories before Mary Jane was even mentioned. Plus, DC gets to do universe wide retcons every few years, an option Marvel hasn’t resorted to yet, so they’re able to experiment in terms of radically shifting status quos. Many of the most successful DC books (IE‑ Kingdom Come, The Dark Knight Returns, New Frontier, The Golden Age, Justice, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, All‑Star Superman, and Superman: Secret Identity) aren’t set in the current DC Universe, you could easily make the case (and I have) that DCU books just aren’t as important to the conception of the characters as the Marvel Universe books.

Of course, there has recently been a new wrinkle to this comparison, thanks to changes to the status quos of major superhero franchises in Flashpoint. More on that later.

The Flash

When Mark Waid returned to writing The Flash, the title briefly followed a superhero with two young children. It was a monthly, as opposed to a flagship almost weekly, but it was used an example of a successful superhero family title when that aspect has been the direction of the book for less than six issues. The only reason Wally West returned (wife and kids in tow) was that the decision to make Bart Allen the lead proved unpopular (much of that could be attributed to the previous creative team) and the staff wanted to bide time until Barry Allen’s eventual return in a Grant Morrison event book.

Barry Allen—the best known Flash—was killed off before he was replaced by his sidekick, establishing that the man behind the mask isn’t as important. As far as the average comics reader was concerned, the Flash was a good guy who ran really fast. Spider-Man doesn’t yet have a sidekick as compelling as Wally West, although a better character than Wally West would be necessary to justify the replacement of Peter Parker.

Eventually, DC brought back Barry Allen. And made him single. And made some major changes to Wally West after the events of Flashpoint.

Flash 228

Other DC Heroes

Other DC books also demonstrate the disadvantages of permanent romantic relationships in a serial format. Ralph and Sue Dibny were generally part of an ensemble, and often minor players in the DC Universe, until tragic developments in Identity Crisis and supernatural developments in 52. Ray Palmer and Jean Loring’s romance also came to a nasty end. Donna Troy and her husband were supposed to demonstrate that a happy marriage was possible in the DC Universe, until he got killed off, along with their daughter, following a messy divorce. I don’t know the status of these relationships post-Flashpoint.

A significant difference between the two companies is that the DC heroes have blander personalities. The average comics fan probably knows what makes Logan, Steve Rogers or Peter Parker unique. Barry Allen and Hal Jordan, not so much. Hal Jordan could be replaced by the John Stewart Green Lantern in a Justice League cartoon, while Superman could have a different personality for every decade. Grant Morrison summed it up for a Newsarama interview.

I read various accounts of Superman’s creation and development as a brand. I read every Superman story and watched every Superman movie I could lay my hands on, from the Golden Age to the present day. From the Socialist scrapper Superman of the Depression years, through the Super–Cop of the 40s, the mythic Hyper–Dad of the 50s and 60s, the questioning, liberal Superman of the early 70s, the bland “superhero” of the late 70s, the confident yuppie of the 80s, the over–compensating Chippendale Superman of the 90s etc.

You could argue that what works or doesn’t for DC characters isn’t necessarily applicable to the Spider-Man franchise. As a result, it’s time to look at Marvel’s other superhero franchises.

The Infinite Spider-Man is a series of mini-essays regarding Marvel’s options for the future of the best character in comics.

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About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. Currently, I’m writing a few comic books about my grandparents’ experiences in Soviet Estonia for Grayhaven comics. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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