A look at DC Comics in the 2010s

DC Comics saw some number of changes over the 2010s. While I covered the highlights in my general comics post, I figured I should write about DC on its own.

Highlights

  • DC dropped the Comics Code (2011).
  • The New 52 reboot (2011).
  • DC changed its logo to the “peel” (2012).
  • The publisher moved from longtime home of New York to southern California (2015).
  • DC changed its logo (again) to a plain, retro 70s-style circle (2016).
  • The Rebirth retool (2016).
  • “Action Comics” #1000 came out (2018).
  • “Detective Comics” #1000 came out (2019).
  • The shuttering of “Mad” magazine and Vertigo (2019).

Observations

Since DC’s a mix of comics and other media (TV/movies), I’m splitting my thoughts by such categories below.

Comics

Scooby-Doo Team-Up
Art by Dario Brizuela.

DC’s gone through a lot over the decade. Reboots, new logos, the company moving…

That said, much of DC is still overseen by the same people that were in charge during the 2000s. As such, DC kept many of the same storytelling elements, mindset, etc. in the 2010s. Batman still dominated DC to a lopsided degree, with at least a third of their DCU set comics tying into Batman in some way, shape or form. The 2011 New 52 reboot felt like a revival of the worst aspects of 90s comics, though DC eventually walked back the worst changes with Rebirth in 2016.

Overall, with few exceptions, the “canonical” DCU comics in the 2010s still embraced the worst aspects about DC Comics: an emphasis on “grimdark” storytelling; heavy-handed retcons/reboots/crossovers; the usual problems with diversity both on page and in their staffing; and an excessive reliance on Batman (and an unlikable version of Batman, at that).

On the positive side, DC’s non-canon books gave us other options. DC Comics over the 2010s published enjoyable books like “Scooby-Doo Team-Up”; they also (with mixed results) offered revivals of other Hanna-Barbera characters. Even the Looney Tunes got some attention, via crossovers with the DC superheroes. The late 2010s saw DC start to release young adult graphic novels, with fewer of the problems that plague their canonical comics.

As for the 2020s, DC seems better poised than Marvel to take advantage of the kids’ graphic novel boom.  I like that DC’s planning to publish more young adult graphic novels; it shows some attention to the current and future state of the comics market.

Otherwise, it’d be nice to see DC less reliant for sales on stories published when Ronald Reagan was president (“The Killing Joke,” “Watchmen”) or with problematic “darker and edgier” elements (“Heroes in Crisis,” the Joker slaughtering a church full of Black people in a story published two years after Charleston, etc.). But that’d require a significant change in mindset, creative staff (including hiring more diverse creators), and/or leadership; thus, I’m not optimistic for much other than more of the same. For the future, I’ll be paying attention to the young adult graphic novels and similar non-canon comics, while ignoring the “core” books. Although I suppose the DCU books have an audience, I’m obviously not part of it.

Movies

Wonder Woman posterDC’s movies for most of the decade were largely profitable, but paled in both box office and critical praise versus the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. “The Dark Knight Rises” in 2012 raked it in as the last of the 2000s-era Nolan films; however, “Green Lantern” a year earlier was an infamous flop.

“Man of Steel,” “Batman V Superman” and “Justice League” attempted a darker direction (under Zack Snyder of “300” fame), but while they were profitable, they were all critically panned. A group of hardcore fans on social media keep asking Warner/DC to release a (non-existent) “Snyder cut” of the above three films. However, most comic fans either disliked the films (I hated “Man of Steel”), or had mixed feelings. The general public, meanwhile, has forgotten about them, or relegated them to the $5 DVD bin at Target.

Fortunately for DC, things turned around with “Wonder Woman” and “Aquaman,” their two DCEU-era high points both critically and in box office. A sequel to “Wonder Woman” is due in 2020. That said, the 2019 R-rated “Joker” film has been very profitable, so DC’s “darker and edgier” mindset isn’t completely going away.

I assume the 2020s will see the same direction for DC movies: Wonder Woman and Aquaman setting the tone of DC’s films going forward, while Batman and (eventually) Superman get another turn. I also assume there’ll be more R-rated takes on DC characters, in light of “Joker”‘s success.

Live-action TV shows

SupergirlDC’s main non-comics strength in the 2010s was in television, where things did much better than at the movies.

The live-action high point is their “Arrowverse” line of TV shows on the CW network. “Arrow,” “Legends of Tomorrow,” “The Flash,” and “Supergirl” all have strong followings. (Not part of the same universe, but “Smallville” also held a strong following when it finally ended in 2011.) “Black Lightning” also has dedicated followers.

Outside of the CW, DC characters also popped up elsewhere, including: “Gotham” on Fox; the short-lived “Constantine” on NBC; “Watchmen” on HBO; and “Krypton” on SyFy.

As for the 2020s, it seems DC plans on sticking with what works. Batwoman had a TV show launch in 2019, while yet another Superman-related TV show (costarring Lois) is expected to launch. Despite Hollywood worrying about DC’s lack of direction for Superman in movies, he’s clearly doing just fine on TV.

Animation

DC Super Hero GirlsIn animation, while “Batman: The Brave and the Bold” aired early in the decade, by far the most successful DC superhero cartoon of the 2010s has been “Teen Titans Go.” While it has mixed reception among some fans, it’s been a very successful show on Cartoon Network. (Granted, they also aggressively promoted the show, to the consternation of some.) “Go” even got a theatrical movie in 2018.

Other animated properties that were popular include:

  • “Young Justice,” which ran on TV for several years, and eventually got a revival on the DC Universe streaming service.
  • “DC Super Hero Girls,” which ran as a series of YouTube videos and direct-to-video movies. The companion graphic novels also did quite well in sales. The line was rebooted in 2019.

“Beware the Batman” and “Green Lantern” both have fans, but didn’t do as well. The same seems to go for “Justice League Action,” which seemed to fade from view quickly. Overall, it feels like DC’s superheroes have fallen victim to the same fate as kids’ TV animation overall—shows that star teenagers are more popular and prominent than those starring adults.

As such, I expect the same direction to continue in the 2020s. There’ll certainly be another Batman, Superman, and/or Justice League cartoon. However, I expect most of DC’s animation attention will be given to Clark, Bruce, and Diana’s junior counterparts.

Conclusion

Ironically, DC’s “canonical” comics in the 2010s was the company’s weakest point. However, DC did show strength in their young adult graphic novels, TV shows, and (eventually) movies. Hopefully DC will build upon these aspects into the 2020s, while correcting the problems with their “core” DCU comics.

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