There are moments in life that are sent to try us. When you come back from a shopping trip to discover you’ve forgotten to buy any milk, completing a jigsaw only to find that some of the pieces are missing. But how about when you start talking to someone, only to find out that they have an obscure fascination of some kind which completely passes you by? In our occasional series here at Illicitly Eating Flowers, we’ll try to help you bluff your way through such conversations, with your sanity still intact.
Comic Books have been around for over forty years now, and what with the rise of the Superhero movie recently, they have reached a prominence never before attained by something so insufferably insular. Comics are enjoyed by millions of people, and to those people the intricacies of the different heroes and stories are fascinating to dissect and anticipate, waiting for the next issue to arrive so they can find out about the next twist in the life of Captain America, or Batman, or whoever. To the rest of the population, comics are impossible to get into due to their convoluted back-story, and the sign of a geek. But what if you get stuck in conversation with someone? Over the next three days, we’re going to try and help, starting with the basics.
The Different Comics: DC.
There are two major companies who make comics: Marvel and DC. They fight between them for the position of ‘top company’, with neither of them ever really managing to isolate themselves at the top. When you first talk to someone and they mention comics, they will mention which lines they prefer most: DC or Marvel. When they do so, you can immediately make several snap judgements on the person which will help you get through the conversation without your head exploding.
We’ll focus on Marvel tomorrow, but for today it’s best to just take DC comics. These are the people who run Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman as their top three titles. A fan of DC comics generally prefers their heroes to be mythologized. DC have a policy where the name and legend of the hero should always bigger than the hero himself. This basically means that when one hero dies, someone else takes up their name and title and continues their work, so the name continues. Obviously, this makes the back-waters of DC comics a thoroughly confusing place, what with all the different people going round using the same name. Here’s a primer on the characters you could expect to be told about, and their relevance.
Superman – One of the original super-heroes. Superman is an alien from a planet far far away who is invulnerable, invincible, and generally brilliant. He’s the most prominent DC character, and one of the most famous Superheroes of all time. His main enemy is called Lex Luthor, and his only weakness is the crystal “kryptonite”, which comes from his home-world, which was destroyed. When not saving the world, he works as a reporter, disguising himself by looking exactly the same, but wearing glasses, and calling himself Clark Kent.
Batman – Bruce Wayne is one of the most beloved heroes, as he doesn’t have any super-powers at all. Instead, he has a lot of money, which he uses to make weapons and costumes that make him strong enough to fight baddies. His main opponents include the Joker, the Penguin, Two-Face and Bane. He works alongside other heroes, traditionally someone called Robin. He’s gone through a few of them.
Wonder Woman – Diana Prince leads the Amazons, a group of women chosen by the Greek Gods (who exist in DC continuity) to help protect the world. She traditionally wields a whip as her main weapon to help save the day. She’s pretty invulnerable, and can fly. In some ways, she’s the female equivalent of Superman, and the only really famous female superhero in print.
The Flash – This is where it gets tricky. There have been four different heroes called The Flash, who all have the same ability: super-speed. The four different flashes keep getting killed and returned to life as is the DC publishers’ wont: at present the main Flash is Wally West, although the previously thought dead Barry Allen has recently returned in DC’s big event of 2008, Final Crisis. There’s also another Flash wandering around somewhere called Jay Garrick. It’s… confusing.
The Green Lantern – There have been FIVE Green Lanterns, four of whom are currently roaming the DC Universe even as we speak. The Green Lantern has a magic ring which is the source of his power. Together, all the green lanterns work as a team from time to time, and recently other ‘colour’ teams, such as the yellow lanterns, have been introduced. Again, it’s really confusing.
These are the five main characters of the DC Universe, although there are countless other members and teams. Continuity is impossible to define, because there are at any one time any number of comics with Superman or Batman in, where they are in different teams or working on their own. Anyone who says they like DC comics is going to start delving into the realm of confusing storylines, so the best thing to do is steer them away from this and focus instead on individual writers. These three, in fact:
Grant Morrison – Grant Morrison is widely considered one of the most brilliant and creative writers currently working in the industry, and saying that you like his work is akin to saying you think Hitchcock is the best director ever – it’s an easy thing to say, and will get you instant credit. His main work with DC at the moment is with Batman, who he’s been threatening to kill off this year, and with the big event “Final Crisis”, which will impact upon most of the other books DC currently have running.
Geoff Johns – Johns works alongside Morrison quite often, but is also very prolific in his own right, writing all kinds of books, including The Green Lantern, the Flash, and some Superman stories. His work at the moment is leading up to “Final Crisis”, and he’s tapped to write the big event story of 2009, called “The Blackest Night”, which will centre around the Green Lanterns.
Brian K. Vaughan – the second most guaranteed name in comics, after Morrison. He’s generally kept away from the mainstream DC Universe, instead writing his own titles “Y: The Last Man”, “Ex Machina”, and “Pride of Baghdad”, all of which have been massively acclaimed as some of the greatest writing of all time. Y: The Last Man, which has a story about what happens when all the men on Earth are killed except for one guy and his pet monkey, is in particular a guarantee. Mention your appreciation of this comic, and you’ll have already set your credibility.
So there you have a basic guide to what you need to know when talking to someone about DC Comics. Tomorrow: a primer on the Marvel Universe, and what, who, and where you need to know if someone starts talking to you about it. And just remember: if someone asks you questions about what you know and like regarding comics… walk away. You don’t want to get involved in any of that.