By now you’ve heard all about the upcoming Before Watchmen prequels to Alan Moore’s well-loved classic. I’ll be honest: they look great. Whether or not you think the prequel series are needed, or proper, the writing talent they’ve put together for these titles is impressive:
The prolific J. Michael Straczynski, a long-celebrated author for comics, television and movies;
And Darwyn Cooke, a storybook artist for the wildly popular Batman, Superman, and Batman Beyond animated series.
And this is great. Not a surprise, either: a work as well-known and accoladed as Watchmen could expect no less in this new treatment. But it does make you wonder: where the heck were these guys during the New 52 re-launch? (Azzarello notwithstanding, of course.)
The thing is, the New 52 titles started out as reasonably diverse (as far as mainstream comics go, anyway). Mister Terrific took the lead in his own series, as did Static Shock and OMAC. It was exciting to see these now-cancelled titles alongside Voodoo and Batwing and Batwoman. Taken together, the picture DC was painting was of a multi-national, multi-racial, even slightly LGBT superhero universe (of course, this went alongside the reaffirmation of the white male pillars that began DC).
But a lot of the color’s washed away. Why? Merely a lack of interest? Were the racial changes that were a liability?
I read Mister Terrific for as long as I could stand. Things started out well enough. A billionaire super-genius atheist with crazy-powerful toys and a fortress in another dimension? What incredible potential! However, the series was riddled with flaws – overnarration, flat supporting cast and villains, and a less-than-endearing main character (he betrayed and deceived his associates so much that he came off not just as depressed after personal tragedy, but as kind of a sociopath).
But the killer, for me, was Issue 4. Our hero is captured by an alien invasion force and thrown in their slave camp. What comes next? You guessed it: prison rape jokes. Because even a super-genius sophisticate is just a thug waiting to happen, provided he’s black.
I wish I was exaggerating. But the writer reinforces the view two pages later when he faces off against his alien captors with a horde of prison escapees at his back. The depressed, humorless super-genius yells at them – and I wish I was making this up –
“Hey, aliens! You know what’s scarier than a black man with a posse?”
Wait for it…
“An angry black man with a posse.”
#facepalm. From a guy with Stephen Hawking intellect and the body of Maurice Greene, to Will Smith in Independence Day in a manner of pages.
How could DC have let these titles be so badly manned? Why couldn’t they have brought in someone competent to handle Mister Terrific, considering the possibilities the character had? I understand that mistakes get made, but something seems clear to me: DC would rather invest their best creative talent in telling stories about characters in a dead universe with no future, than to preserve some of its more ambitious titles going forward. And it’s sad to see a good number of their stand-alone heroes of color marred by such bad writing. I couldn’t get past page 2 of Static Shock issue 1. I felt no connection to the character.
Instead of seeing these diverse heroes thrive and develop and earn their place in our hearts with exploits and great story-telling, we’ll get well-written stories of dead white heroes who can’t grow. To me, that’s disappointing.