Recently, I found myself pondering a question – a question that I’m sure you have all pondered as well: if all Marvel and DC comic books were cancelled, and I was in charge of restarting the line as one shared continuity, limiting myself to 25 books or so, what would I choose?
That of course led me to think of what a shared continuity between Marvel and DC would actually look like. How does one integrate the best or most interesting elements of both company’s properties into one streamlined story. Can you indeed put both the Justice League and the Avengers into one continuity, and give them both a reason to be there? What about Batman and Moon Knight? Hawkeye and Green Arrow? It’s an exercise sort of like what happened back in Crisis on Infinite Earths, but on an even bigger scale.
I tend to be more of a DC guy, so not surprisingly I found that the DC stuff figured more prominently in my vision, but overall I found the ideas that were coming forward (from the recesses of my nerd-brain) were pretty interesting. And because, you know, I write a blog, I thought I’d share it here. I sort of ran through things chronologically, and traditionally with modern superhero thinking, we tend to begin with World War II, so that’s where I started. And so that means beginning with the Justice Society, in it’s classic Post-Crisis iteration, after Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were basically removed from that time period. This means characters like the Flash (Jay Garrick), Green Lantern (Alan Scott), Hourman, Starman, Wildcat, and the rest. But of course, you can’t do Marvel / DC World War II and not have Captain America.
That guy is clearly the single most popular superhero character to be prominently associated with that period in history. The idea could be that the Justice Society are are pretty much as we know them, including being forced to keep away from the battlefields because of Hitler’s possession of the Spear of Destiny (I can’t remember what the deal with that was, but I think it allowed Hitler to take control of any super-powered being who came within 1000 miles of him or something. Meanwhile, Captain America and Bucky can be fighting alongside our boys on the front lines, shoulder to shoulder with Sgt. Rock, the Losers, the Unknown Soldier, and whomever else.
But then of course Captain America dies (or appears to) and the public is devastated. Even with the eventual victory of the Allies in both Europe and Asia, the resultant disillusionment helps to contribute to the general mistrust of the Justice Society, which leads them to “go underground” when HUAC demands that they unmask to prove they are not Communist sympathizers.
In the years that follow, masked super-humans are particularly rare, but other heroes rise up to fill the void. In the late 1950’s, for example, the Challengers of the Unknown simultaneously push the boundaries of human achievement and combat threats that ordinary people are incapable of coping with. In the 1960’s, a group of freaks and outcasts known as the Doom Patrol make the most of their conditions to stand against tyranny. In the 1970’s, Luke Cage emerges as a “Hero for Hire”, and school teacher Jefferson Pierce takes to the streets to save his city from crime as Black Lightning.
During this time, humanity also experiences its first spillovers from the war between Apokolips and New Genesis, with both Orion and Mr. Miracle coming to earth, and Darkseid making initial efforts to search out the anti-life equation amongst the human population. I don’t know how that story would play out, but it’d be interesting to see earth coping with this celestial war without the benefit of Superman, et al. And the Fourth World characters can easily be long-lived enough to hang around until the modern day, if so desired.
In the 1980’s the government begins to again see the advantage of extra-powered champions (perhaps in response to the incursions by the forces of Apokolips), and their efforts lead to the creation of Captain Atom. Nick Fury (Sr.) becomes the first director of SHIELD, and Rick Flag leads the original incarnation of the Suicide Squad on some covert missions. Mercenary-with-a-conscience Mark Shaw takes up the mantle of Manhunter. And unknown to nearly everyone, Martian lawman J’Onn J’Onzz is accidentally transported to earth and begins to discreetly stop criminals as human police officer John Jones.
Things like this continue off-and-on through the rest of the 20th Century until the dawn of the new millennium when a cosmic accident leads to the creation of the Fantastic Four – not so much superheroes, but explorers and adventurers, advancing the limits of human knowledge and defending reality from all manner of mysterious threats. Many of their inventions and discoveries will have profound impact on both the regular and super-powered communities in the years to come.
Over the next five years, a new wave of crime and evil gives rise to a new wave of masked heroes, all operating under the radar and outside the law. Preeminent amongst them is the urban legend of the mysterious “Batman” in Gotham City, but there’s also Green Arrow, the Atom, Black Canary, and Daredevil. The government disapproves, but the public begins to accept them, starting with the Flash in Central City, and his bright optimistic style. Green Lantern, over in Coast City, also garners some acclaim.
But things really change when a new hero, unlike any other, debuts in Metropolis…Superman.
Superman is a new breed. Not affiliated with any government or organization, he wears no mask, appearing to have nothing to hide. He cannot be controlled, but he doesn’t need to be because of his innate goodness and trustworthiness. Superman inspires awe and hope in all who meet him, but he is powerful and commanding (sort of like a young version of the Kingdome Come Superman). It is Superman who calls together many disparate heroes into one united team, the Justice League. Some follow Superman without question, while others, such as the Amazon ambassador Woman Woman, and the King of the Oceans Aquaman, take more convincing. Eventually settling on an orbiting satellite for a headquarters, the Justice League membership also includes Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern, the Atom, Black Canary, the alien Hawkman & Hawkwoman, J’Onn J’Onzz…indeed, most of what’s considered to be the “classic” satellite-era version of the team, but perhaps also with Ted Kord joining the team as the Blue Beetle.
Things go well until an incident which changes humanity forever: I don’t know the details of the battle, but the end result is that the League are unable to prevent a cosmic enemy (the Dominators? Kang? Kanjar Ro?) from hitting earth an energy blast that triggers an artificial evolutionary process which causes random and extreme mutations – some dangerous, some fatal, all shocking. Worse, it is apparent that this process will not stop – approximately one in every thousand births results in a mutant, regardless of the parentage. By and large, these mutants are feared and rejected. Some find practical use for their mutations – either for evil or for good. The good ones band together as the X-Men, and attempt to live for the dream of their founder, Charles Xavier, that mutants and humans can co-exist.
But the damage is done. The Justice League is partially blamed for what has happened. Batman quits and returns his focus to the streets of Gotham City. Combined with their aloof manner, the public grows increasingly wary of the super-human champions watching them from above. In the midst of this climate, newspaper publisher J. Jonah Jameson makes the recently debuted Spider-Man the target for his sensationalistic editorials, forever sullying the earnest young hero’s reputation.
Perceiving all of this with great clarity, billionaire Tony Stark chooses this moment to make his public appearance as Iron Man, revealing his true identity in a press conference (like that great scene in the Iron Man movie). Stark organizes a new team of super-heroes, none of whom wear a mask or have a secret identity. The team includes, amongst others, the Wasp, Ant-Man, Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers), Wonder Man, Spectrum (Monica Rambeau), Black Widow, and the Vision. The Avengers make their headquarters in the middle of New York City, and unlike Superman or the Justice League, who consider such things beneath them, Stark knows how to play to the media, and quickly positions the Avengers as favorites in the public eye. Two events help to cement this: the first is the success the Avengers have in reining in the Hulk – the monstrous creature whom the whole country feels terrorized by. The second is when the amazing occurs, and Captain America is found to be alive after being believed dead for over 55 years. The classic hero quickly regains his popularity, and Tony Stark is savvy enough to defer leadership of the Avengers to him in order to cement his teams’ popularity.
From here on, the Avengers and the Justice League have a tense relationship, though they must occasionally work together, and of course ultimately have compatible goals. Over time, they even develop a mutual respect, although there is no love lost between Superman and Tony Stark.
Meanwhile, there is lots of activity in other corners of the Marvel/DC Universe. Supergirl joins Superman on earth. An army of vigilantes slowly develop around Batman in his war on crime in Gotham City. Somewhere, Plastic Man is generally just goofing it up as he fights crime. Booster Gold appears from the future and makes even Tony Stark uncomfortable with his glory-hounding ways. The Teen Titans comes together in manner akin to the animated Young Justice TV show. Nick Fury jr becomes the leader of SHIELD. Rick Flag jr becomes the leader of the modern-day Suicide Squad, the one formed by Amanda Waller. (Wait a minute – Nick Fury jr takes over for his father, and Rick Flag jr takes over for his father? Maybe that’s a bit much). Jaime Reyes takes over the mantle of the Blue Beetle after Ted Kord is killed. Out in space, the Green Lantern Corp must contend not only with galactic threats, but also the machinations of Vril Dox and his paid LEGION security service, as well as Peter Quill and his so-called Guardians of the Galaxy. And 1000 years in the future, the Legion of Super-Heroes, childhood friends of Superman’s, carry on heroic tradition that emerged in the 20th and 21st Century.
And so that’s the picture. What about the 25 titles that would make up this comic book line? Let’s see, I’d go with…
• Black Widow – High tech super-espionage stuff, this title would be our main window to the activities of SHIELD
• Booster Gold – Time Travel glory-hounding!
• Brave and the Bold – A general team-up title, again allowing for all sorts of mixing and matching not normally seen
• Captain America – Taking place in the modern day but with lots of references back to the 1940’s
• Challengers of the Unknown – In the 1950’s / 1960’s, sort of New Frontier style
• Detective Comics – Where we’d find all those other Bat-characters who work with Batman
• Fantastic Four – Technonauts and Imagineers going where nobody else does
• Flash – Barry Allen, because even I, a big Wally West fan, find him easier to include in an exercise like this
• Fourth World – Our primary place to find the New Gods and Darkseid
• Green Lantern – Hal Jordan, but with regular appearances by the Corp
• Guardians of the Galaxy
• Justice League
• Justice Society of America – set in the 1940’s
• LEGION – Vril Dox and his manipulating ways, ideally by Alan Grant and Barry Kitson
• Legion of Super-Heroes – some version or another
• Mr. Miracle – Tied strongly to the Fourth World of course
• Spider-Man – In this whole tableau, he’d have to be a teenager / university student again. And definitely Peter Parker
• Suicide Squad – John Ostrander-style
• Supergirl – With an absence of skanky outfits
• Teen Titans – a bit like the Young Justice cartoon
• X-Men – Real, genuine, societal outcasts trying to do some good
You’ll notice, I’m sure, some big absences, such as no Thor, no Dr. Strange, no Punisher, and very little Wonder Woman. That’s because I’m not really a fan of those characters/concepts, and so I didn’t make room for them. In any case, this list would not necessarily be my most hoped for titles, but rather are 25 which I think would serve my vision for this shared universe fairly well. Hmm…maybe Iron Man needs a title as well, considering how prominently I involved him in my narrative. Replacing one of the Fourth World books, maybe? In any case, as often happens with this sort of thing, I found that coming up with creative solutions for the challenges that this sort of thing poses to yield some surprisingly enjoyable results. Now I just have to wait for it all to happen with Marvel and DC.
Or…I could just go and read Astro City.
You know that one, right? That’s that series created and developed by writer Kurt Busiek, artist Brent Anderson, and cover artist / designer Alex Ross, in which Busiek basically did what I just described. I mean, sure, it’s not actually Superman, Captain America, or the Justice League but when I’m reading about the Samaritan, the Silver Agent, or the Honor Guard, I know that I’m entering Kurt Busiek’s answer to nearly the same question that I started out with: what are all your favorite things in superhero comics, and how you would put them all together? Astro City, of course, takes all that one step further and shines a spotlight into all the other cracks and crevices of the shared superhero universe that we normally don’t get to look into, and brings out some truly wonderful and unique stories.
Astro City is one of my favorite comic book titles, and deserves a lot more commentary from me than I can give it here, so I’ll save really talking about it for another day. Until then, if you are not familiar with Busiek’s story, then go and get yourself a copy of Life in the Big City and get to know the place. It’s well worth the visit.
But as much as I enjoy that series, I still find these thoughts to be fun, and would enjoy reading the stories that would spin out of a shared Marvel / DC universe. Not that I ever expect it, or even really want it, but I can see how it would work. Anyway, it’s fun to speculate about, and let the imagination go wild.
How would you do it?