- Luckily, Earth-K Narrowly Escaped: In 1985, DC Comics decided that their policy of placing newly acquired characters and Golden Age versions of their current characters on alternate earths was too confusing for the average comic reader, and so engineered the mini-series Crisis on Infinite Earths in order to wipe the slate clean, obliterating all but 5 of these earths, and then squooshing those 5 into one homogenized version. Now, personally, I never got the whole "these multiple earths are confusing" argument; I mean, I had a firm grasp of the differences between Earth-1, 2, 3, C, S, X, Prime, etc. by the time I was 8 years old. Heck, the Earth-2 centered All-Star Squadron was one of my favorite series at the time, and every regular issue of Justice League of America I bought was just me marking time 'til the JLA/JSA team-up issues. By not only decreeing that there would be no more multiple earths, but that these other earths in effect never existed, DC creatively hamstrung themselves, wiping out a source of interesting characters and concepts and, ultimately, breeding even more confusion as their attempts to shoehorn these concepts into new holes led to the proliferation of #2 on the list
- Oh, Look, Superboy Punched Something: Let us speak now of the bane of many a comic geek's existence: retcons and reboots. For the uninitiated, a retcon is retroactive continuity, the practice of saying that a newly stated fact has always been a fact, despite evidence to the contrary. A reboot is, pure and simple, the total erasure of a character’s history, starting them over from scratch. The biggest problem with retcons and reboots (other than the possibility that they might make one of your favorite stories null and void) is that, in a connected universe, they can't help but have ripple effects. Take the combined reboot/retcon of Superman post-Crisis, for example; one need look no further than the havoc wreaked on Legion of Super Heroes by the "there was never a Superboy or Supergirl" edict for proof of unintended consequences. I will admit to a bit of a love/hate relationship with these concepts. After all, the LSH changes actually appealed to my love of alternate history stories; the addition of Black Canary as a founding member of JLA in place of the R&Rd Wonder Woman added some interesting angles for the character; and, honestly, sometimes a retcon is really the best way to resolve problems with a character (more on that below). And yet, more often than not, they cause pain and confusion, either through their lack of reasoning (Superboy-Prime punching something doesn't really count) or through the way they interrupt ongoing plot lines (I will now never know why Glorith hated Celeste so much in v.4 of LSH or what the heck DnA had planned for Jo and Tinya's kid in their post-Zero Hour Legion; did I happen to mention I'm a big ol' Legion fan?). And then, there are the times a retcon is used to come up with a justification for #3.
- Mass Murder, Shmass Murder, I's a Good Guy Now: It's hard to say where exactly it started, which character was the catalyst for the phenomenon, but by the end of the 90s, it was in full swing at Marvel, and had a grip on DC as well: the transformation of blood-thirsty killers into "heroes." I suppose you can't blame the PTB for the move; dark, edgy anti-heroes were "in," and what better fodder for the next wave of anti-heroes than uber-violent but extremely popular villains? These were not the redemption-seekers of Thunderbolts, nor the "just doing it for parole" members of the Suicide Squad; no, these villains were just plain psycho-killer bonkers. Some concessions might be made to why these characters could be palatable (Sabretooth found a way to control his bloodthirst briefly, and even turned himself in to the X-men when this control slipped; Venom would never kill an "innocent," a term with a very loose definition in the brain-chomping creature's eyes), but ultimately, the crazy-killer aspect was at the forefront. I have no problem with the occasional anti-hero (Deadshot is one of my all-time favorite characters), but the sheer proliferation of these characters bothered me, in no small part because they were basically just marketing gimmicks, being transformed not so much to serve the story as to serve the pocketbook. But still, better for the psycho-killers to become heroes than for us to have to suffer through #4.
- I've Stubbed My Toe . . . The Universe Must Pay!: Now, this isn't quite as solid a movement as any of the above, but it is a trend that pops up every so often in the comic book world, leaving great devastation of long-established characters in its wake. Probably the most infamous incident for years was the Hal Jordan/Parallax storyline, wherein the long-time Green Lantern, distraught over his inability to save his home town from total destruction (plus a few too many hits on the head), goes on a rampage, slaying several of his former GL Corps companions in an attempt to gain enough power to rewrite history. A more recent example is the psychoization* of the Scarlet Witch during Brian Michael Bendis' much maligned "Disassembled" storyline in Avengers, which resulted in the deaths of several of her teammates, including her husband. The GL psychoization** was a little more painful to read because Hal's craziness totally came out of left field while the Scarlet Witch, on the other hand, did have a history of instability, but the way in which the story unfolded left more than one long-time Avengers fan nonplussed. For me, however, both of these pale before the horrible decision of DC to make Hawk (of Hawk & Dove) turn into the futuristic murderous psycho despot Monarch in the conclusion of DC's summer "event," Armageddon 2001. My quibble with this isn't just that they decided to take the two stars of one of my favorite (though recently cancelled) series and kill off one of them in order to turn the other into an irredeemable psycho killer; no, that was bad enough. But imagine my utter disgust when I found out that this turn of events came about because of #5 on the list.
- Fanboys!: yes, that's right: fanboys! You see, the original plan for Armageddon 2001 had been for Monarch to turn out to be Captain Atom. For readers following both the "event" and the Captain's own title, this decision actually made some sense: out of all of the major heroes in the DCU, Captain Atom was the only character who was not viewed fighting Monarch in the future; that's right, in the Armageddon tie-in of Hawk & Dove there were multiple futures shown in which Hawk was a dedicated foe of Monarch. In addition, the final issues of Captain Atom's also-just-cancelled series showed the Captain going through some sort of spiritual journey which finished with him being merged with an amoral version of himself; the issue ended with ambiguity as to which version of the Captain was in charge, perfectly setting up the transition to Monarch. But, at the last minute, DC decided to change the storyline. Why? Because the word of Monarch's identity had leaked to the fanboy community, and DC decided that they would rather scrap their plans (and poor Hawk and Dove along with them) rather than disappoint the fanboys with a non-shock ending. Nor is this the only crime which can be laid at the fanboys' feet: most of the anti-hero proliferation came from the slavish purchase of any books featuring the psycho-killer characters, signaling big bucks to the publishers; the destruction of the multiverse can be traced back to the complaints of anal fanboys who were driving editors crazy with questions about whether the Spectre in the latest issues of Adventure was the Earth 1 or Earth 2 version; and the non-stop progression of retcons and reboots was the result of the same anal fanboys going crazy over each and every change and its ripples.
Yes, you fanboys have much to answer for, with your non-stop analysis of comic books, letting the treatment of fictional characters drive you to non-stop rants on the internet; how I would hate to be one of you. Yes, that would be a fate worse than death.
Worse. Than. Death.
** No, seriously!