Reading through an old “Adventures in the DC Universe” comic from 1997, I spotted this interesting subscription advertisement. It’s not the advertising message I was particularly interested in, but the selection of heroes within it.
For traditional and ultra-modern age readers, identifying some of these guys might be a little tough. This is because this snapshot completely represents DC’s attempts through the 1990s of replacing or severely revamping some of their second-tier characters while adding and trying to boost the reputations of other characters.
Let’s look at these guys from the top left:
- STEEL (1990s grade: B-Lister) (2009 grade: C-lister) — Brought in as a temporary replacement for Superman, Steel resided in the “Man of Steel” comic for a while before transferring to his own title. Aside from being a guy in a metal suit, he was also considered one of DC’s primary black characters, and he even got a Hollywood movie starring Shaquille O’Neal. Since his own title ended, he’s been a supporting character in the Superman and Justice League books.
- MARTIAN MANHUNTER (1990s grade: B-Lister) (2009 grade: B-lister) — Since his debut in the 1950s, the “green guy in blue underwear” has struggled to garner some sort of standing with the general reading public at large. Unfortunately, he never made it into the “Super Friends” cartoon, and that had seemed to doom him to be an unknown to the world. But the “Justice League” cartoons changed all that, and now, at least among a generation younger than mine, he’s pretty well known. In the regular DC Universe, he’s also considered to by a linchpin for the Justice League’s success, even though (at least right now) he’s dead.
- ALPHA CENTURION (1990s grade: C-Lister) (2009 grade: F-Lister) (right upper corner) — Here’s a guy that seemed to be of interest to the DC powers-that-be, but he never quite captured the interest of the fans. As the story goes, the man who would become Alpha Centurion was an ancient Roman soldier whisked away by aliens and returned to Earth centuries later with a suit that gave him amazing powers. I always liked the guy, but I haven’t seen him in years.
- GREEN ARROW (1990s grade: B-Lister) (2009 grade: D-Lister) (left lower corner) — A replacement for Oliver Queen, the original Green Lantern, this Green Arrow had a very interesting run in the Green Arrow series, but DC eventually gave in to Ollie’s fans, and Ollie came back to life. Quite literally Ollie’s son, Connor Hawke has been a supporting character in the Green Arrow books. Connor also recently appeared in a series called “Dragon’s Blood.”
- SUPERBOY (1990s grade: A-Lister) (2009 grade: B-Lister) — Another Superman replacement, Connor Kent is actually a DNA combo of Clark Kent and Lex Luthor thanks to some fancy gene splicing. He was in a long-lived series through the 1990s, and also, for a short time, had a second title called “Superboy and the Ravers.” In the recent company-wide slam-bang “Infinite Crisis,” Connor was killed. That didn’t last too long, as he’s supposed to be back alive later this summer.
- BLACK CANARY (1990s grade: C-Lister) (2009 grade: B-Lister) — Like the Martian Manhunter, the Black Canary has always struggled to be one of DC’s recognizable characters. Within the DC Universe, she’s right up there with Batman in fighting skills and Wonder Woman as a representative of girl power. But to the general public? Well, she probably just looks like a floozy in a throw-away Playboy Bunny costume. The picture of her here is one of the attempts DC made to clean up her costume. I quite like this look, but currently she’s back in her old “fishnets, vest and one-piece swimsuit” outfit. She is currently partnered with her husband Oliver “Green Arrow” Queen in the “Green Arrow & Black Canary” series.
- WONDER WOMAN (1990s grade: A-Lister) (2009 grade: A-Lister) — DC’s premiere superheroine, Wonder Woman has gone through ups and downs. In the 1990s she was temporarily kicked out of her costume by Artemis. That was only a short change, and since then she’s been kicking around in her own titles quite well. I’d love to see a live-action “Wonder Woman” movie. Thanks to the 1970s TV show we know it could be done. We’d just like to see it done right.
- CAPTAIN MARVEL (1990s grade: B-Lister) (2009 grade: B-Lister.) –– One of my favorite DC heroes is Captain Marvel. Through much of the 1990s, he had his own book, but I found it mediocre at best. Recently, two artists have tried their own versions of Cap, and quite honestly I like their interpretation better than the 1990s version.
- BATMAN (1990s grade: A-Lister) (2009 grade: A-Lister) — Bruce Wayne will always be Batman, don’t let anyone try to trick you into thinking otherwise. In the 1990s, Bruce was temporarily replaced, but came back. Recent issues of the Batman comics are suggesting that a new Batman is coming. Sure, it might happen for a while, but then Bruce Wayne will come back.
- ROBIN (1990s grade: A-Lister) (2009 grade: A-Lister) — At the turn of the 1980s, a new Robin arrived, and for the most part, everyone liked him. Now I’m no Batman & Robin fan, but Tim Drake, this Robin, turned out to be quite the awesome character indeed. Aside from finally ditching the effeminate aspects of the Robin costume, Tim Drake mastered a battle staff, got his own version of Batarangs and generally kicks butt wherever he goes.
- GREEN LANTERN (1990s grade: B-Lister) (2009 grade: D-Lister) –– After the preeminent Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, got crazy, got killed and kicked to the curb, Kyle Rayner became the new Green Lantern. Generally, I liked him, but most long-time fans loathed him. Eventually some wonderful story-telling brought Hal Jordan back as the Green Lantern. Now known as Ion, Rayner has been tucked away for use as cannon fodder in some future storyline. It’s not that he’s a bad character, but you just know that’s what DC has lined up for him.
- GUARDIAN (1990s grade: D-Lister) (2009 grade: C-Lister
) — Not much was seen of the Guardian even back in the 1990s, so it’s kind of odd that he’s in this advertisement. However, he was recently replaced* (and revamped) into an incredibly interesting character and had his own limited series dubbed “The Manhattan Guardian,” which in turn was part of a series of minis called “Seven Soldiers.” Even though this new guy is on the scene he’s mostly been regulated to “crowd shots” when a big group of superheroes meet.
- SUPERMAN (1990s grade: A-Lister) (2009 grade: A-Lister) –– The most notable thing about this image is that Superman is sporting his Super-Mullet. Don’t worry, it’s long gone.
- FLASH (1990s grade: A-Lister) (2009 grade: A-Lister) — Oh boy, the 1990s were good to Wally West, the Flash of that era. Of all these characters, I’d say it’s the Flash’s star that rose the most through the 1990s and into the 2000s. Only in the last few months has there been an effort by DC to bring back Barry Allen, the previous Flash.
So there’s your scorecard on how the DC Universe has changed since the 1990s. In general, we’re back to the status quo, which DC certainly tried to shake up through most of the 1990s.