The DCnU is here! Possibly one of the most unexpected and controversial moves in recent comic history, this week DC Comics relaunched their entire line of comics with the all new Justice League of America #1 by comic superstars Geoff Johns and Jim Lee. The DCnU has been on the minds of fans all summer, and in the weeks to come, fans will see just how radically the comic characters they love will have changed. But is it a full reboot? DC staff has been full of double talk as they seem to change their mind time and time again. Batman seems to be the same. Superman seems to be different. The Teen Titans isn’t what we remember. The JSA is nowhere to be found. Obviously, for fans who don’t like their characters being messed around with, the DCnU hasn’t been a very popular idea, but only time will tell if DC Comics can win everyone over to the new status quo. However, is the DCnU really all that bad? I mean, it could be worse. Seriously, it could. From the moment that DC Comics reintroduced a brand new Flash in 1956 reboots has been a constant part of the comic industry as writers and artists attempt to keep the stories fresh, the characters relevant and keep with the ever changing speed of the real world around us. Some of the reboots have been legendary successes, but no matter how successful they are they always seem to offend or alienate some of the core fans. But then there are some reboots that were just…well…very very misguided. These are the reboots that fans like to forget, which companies write out of continuity and are never heard of again. However, as a quick reminder of just how bad the DC Universe reboot could be, lets look at the outlandish, the stupidest and the most disastrous reboots in comic book history. It doesn’t just how bad the DCnU gets – it can’t get this terrible.
CONFESSIONS OF A POP CULTURE ADDICT PRESENTS
10 TRULY AWFUL COMIC BOOK REBOOTS
1. Dell’s Monster Comics – In 1966 Dell Comics decided to take advantage of the monster craze of the 1960’s by introducing a new line of books based on classic monster franchises including Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman. However, due to the Comic Code Authority, which had put in place a decade earlier to prevent the creation of horror comics, Dell found it’s hands tied and they were not able to make the monsters into the characters we remember. The answer was to reboot the characters into superheroes, creating a disastrous oddity in the history of horror comics.
Dracula was not the fictional vampire of Bram Stoker’s novel. In fact, he was not a vampire at all. Of course that doesn’t stop goth kids from believing they are vampires, but this didn’t even get that cool. Instead, the Dell Dracula was a science nerd named Aloysius Ulysses Card, who is a descendent of the original Dracula, who has a research laboratory set up in the old Transylvania castle where he was researching a cure for mental disorders. Upon making an elixir from bat blood, Dr. Card uses himself as a test subject and finds that he has gained the ability to turn into a bat and that he has super sight and hearing powers. Using his new found powers to help the villagers overthrow a would be communist dictator, the villagers thank Dr. Card by burning down his castle, which has him going to America under the alias Al U. Card. Donning a spandex costume, Dr. Card decided to redeem his family name by fighting crime as Dracula! In issue three Dracula even got a sidekick in the form of his girlfriend B. B. Beebe when she also gains powers and dons a blue skin tight outfit and takes the name Fleeta.
While Dracula was not the original character of horror lore, the Frankenstein monster was. When the dormant Frankenstein monster awakes from his long slumber due to a stray lightening bolt, he wanders around the abandoned castle of Baron Von Frankenstein and discovers he has super intelligence and the strength of fifty men. He also discovers in the castle a room full of latex masks that Baron Frankenstein created for no real reason at all. No. I am not making this up. Donning the masks, which somehow allow him to look like a normal human, the monster takes the alias Frank Stone and sets off into the world where he saves an old tycoon, named Henry Knickerbocker from a car accident. However, when Knickerbocker kicks the bucket due to a bad heart, he leaves the Frankenstein monster his entire life fortune. Now rich and powerful, the Frankenstein monster decides to fight tyranny and make the world a better place. With the suspicious socialite Ann Thrope trying to uncover his true identity Lois Lane style, Frankenstein finds an arch nemesis in the form of midget scientist Dr. Freek and his gorilla Bruto.
Due to copyright laws with Universal, Dell couldn’t use the term “Wolf Man” but they were free to use the term Werewolf, which would be the code name to their third character. However, the Werewolf was not a monster at all. In fact, he was more Mowgli then Lawrence Talbot. When Major Wiley Wolf crashes his experimental airplane into the Artic Circle, he suffers of amnesia and spends the next six months living a feral life with a pack of wolves, including his constant companion wolf named Thor (not to be confused with the thunder god). When the US Airforce finally finds him, Wiley and Thor return to the US. Gaining his memories back, Wiley finds that he still has animal like stealth and the ability to communicate with wolves, and resigned from the US air force, but is quickly picked up by a US agency to work as a black ops operative. Take the code name Werewolf, Wiley and Thor go on a series of secret missions including defeating a fleet of Communist China submarines that are threatening Scotland and even manages to sneak into Cuba and take down Fidel Castro single handedly. Not even JFK could do that!
The Dell Horror Comics proved to be both unpopular with readers and especially horror fans and only lasted a hand full of issues before being cancelled. Dracula and The Werewolf were discontinued after three issues, and Frankenstein suffered on for a fourth. In a last ditch to try to revive interest, Dell reprinted the three Dracula issues in 1972 after the Comic Code Authority lifted the ban on horror books and Marvel Comics was having a run away success with Marv Wolfman’s Tomb of Dracula. Of course, nobody cared and the Dell monster books were shelved forever, becoming nothing more then a misguided curiosity from the history of horror comics.
2. The Shadow in Tights – “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!’ With this classic catchphrase The Shadow became one of the most important and beloved character of pulp fiction and radio throughout the 1930s and 1940s, inspiring the age of mystery men even before the creation of superheroes. With the ability to “cloud men’s minds” The Shadow was immediately recognizable in his long black cloaks, his pointed nose and intense eyes peering from under his wide brimmed fedora, and his face half hidden with a long red scarf. However, by the 1960’s The Shadow was a franchise that was hurting. Radio had been pushed aside by television, and the pulp magazine was replaced by cheap dime novels. In 1964 MLJ Comics, better known today as Archie Comics, acquired the rights to the character and gave the property over to the one and only Jerry Siegel, the man who created Superman, in an attempt to breathe new life into the character. But would you really want to give The Shadow to a guy who created a character who wears his boxer shorts on the outside of his costume? It would quickly be realized that maybe this was not a match made in heaven. In the first issue of MLJ’s The Shadow, Lamont Cranston was depicted in his traditional cloaks, scarf and fedora and girlfriend/companion Nora Lane was reestablished as his constant companion. However, for the second issue, Siegel threw out everything everyone ever knew about the character and rebooted The Shadow into a spandex costumed crime fighter! Scrapping all the mystery out of the original character, Siegel and artist John Rosenberger put Lamont Cranston in a purple costume complete with a green cape and mask! Furthermore, his mysterious powers learnt in the East were thrown away for the typical fisticuffs while he battled Red Menace foes, including his arch nemesis Shiwan Khan and neo Nazi Dr. Demon. Thankfully MLJ pulled the plug on Siegel’s Shadow after eight issues and The Shadow was never seen in colorful tights again.
3. The Blackhawks as Superheroes – A fan favorite since the second world war, the high flying Blackhawks were one of the great golden age comic titles that managed to survive the 1950’s without being discontinued. However, once the war was over comic writers had a hard time figuring out what to do with the popular aviator characters. During the 1950’s and early 1960’s the Blackhawks fought communist menaces, but with the reality of Viet Nam creating an unpopular backlash against war comics, sales began to slip for the title and DC Comics, which now owned the characters, decided that it the team needed a massive reboot. They had to be modernized for the modern 1960’s comic reader. So instead of sending them into battle in an unpopular war, The Blackhawks would become superheroes! In 1967 Blackhawk and his team faced a turning point in the three part epic Junk Heap Heroes (Blackhawk #228 – 230) when Lyndon B. Johnston, backed up by the Justice League of America, deemed The Blackhawks no longer relevant and ceases funding of their operations, forcing the team to disband. In an attempt to prove their worth, The Blackhawks go their separate ways and devise superhero identities to continue fighting the good fight. Situating himself in a black bird shaped satellite, Blackhawk takes the additional alias “The Big Eye” where he communicates with the rest of the team, alerting them to situations and sending them on missions. If that isn’t redundant enough, American pilot Chuck, donning blue pajams covered with ears (seriously…it has to be seen to be believed) takes the alias The Listener, where he sits in a hovercraft transmitting messages and acting as a middle man between Blackhaw….er…sorry…”The Big Eye” and the rest of the team like a big floating “yes man” in the worst costume in comic book history. Dutch mechanic Hendry becomes The Weapons Master (not to be confused with the JLA villain) where he develops gadgets for the Blackhawks like an fat and elderly Q. Scandinavian pilot Olaf wears a metal suit developed by Hendry that gives him the ability to jump really high (yes…that’s his power…he can jump really high) and takes the alias The Leaper (sigh….). French pilot Andre, working undercover as a merry-go-round operator, arms himself with a number of trick gadgets and vehicles and calls himself M’suir Machine. Chop Chop, wearing a tuxedo, uses his kung fu abilities and simply calls himself Dr. Hands (hey Chop Chip – Kato wants his schtick back). And then we come to polish pilot Stan. Dear thick loveable dumb Stan. Stan wasn’t clever enough to come up with his own identity, but when attacked by an enemy agent in a golden armor, he kills the agent and steals his suit, taking the identity The Golden Centurion. Defeating an enemy agent known as The Emperor, the Blackhawks prove their worth to a super secret agent known as Mr. Delta who works for the secret US spy agency G.E.O.R.G.E. who helps them appeal to Lyndon Johnston to be put back on the payroll as the Justice League grins in approval (Batman even states “That’s great news sir. Great.”). By stripping the Blackhawks of their traditional pilot identities and trying to make them superheroes, the thing that made The Blackhawks the Blackhawks was stripped from the comic. Furthermore, the superhero identities created for the characters were uninspired and proved to be even more unpopular with readers then the traditional concept, alienating the readers even more and resulting into even lower sales. The superhero Blackhawks (or New Blackhawk Era as DC Comics deemed it) would last fourteen issues before DC came to their senses and reverted The Blackhawks back to their traditional look. However, the damage was done and two issues later one of comic’s longest running books at that time was cancelled after 243 issues. In the case of the Blackhawk reboot, it did what Hitler, the War Wheel and the Russians could not. It temporarily killed The Blackhawks.
4. The Metal Men Become Human – One of DC’s great cult super teams, the whimsical Metal Men made their debut in 1962 in a series of fun silver age tales. However, by 1969 fun was out and serious and gritty was in. In an attempt to compete with the critically acclaimed and realistic Marvel Age, DC began to update many of their books with edgier content. After successful revamps of Wonder Woman, Green Arrow and Green Lantern, Batman and The Teen Titans, DC decided that the goofy antics of The Metal Men had to go and took the comic in a bold new direction which not only put a black cloud over the book, but stripped away everything that made The Metal Men unique.
In Metal Men #37 the New Metal Men were unleashed on the public. When The Metal Men’s creator and keeper Doctor Will Magnus has a nervous breakdown, he fakes his own death leaving The Metal Men alone in a world that doesn’t accept them. As the public turns on the robots, treating them like monsters instead of heroes, the robots are apprehended by authorities and put on trial where they are condemned to be destroyed. In a public event The Metal Men are put into a compressor and turned into scrap metal, making the world at large believe they had been destroyed. In reality, they were actually saved by the mysterious billionaire Mister Conan and Doctor Peter Pygmalion who create human identities for The Metal Men out of a synthetic plastic, and set them up in society with new human secret identities! Gold becomes playboy tycoon Guy Gilden who bares a strong resemblance to B movie actor Michael Blodgett; Platinum becomes mod fashion model Tina Platt; Iron became successful engineer Jon “Iron” Mann; Tin and Lead became a Simon and Garfunkleesque hippie folk singing duo known as Ledby Hand and Tinker (Once again, I am totally not making this up) and, finally, Mercury became a flamboyantly gay painter called Mercurio! Oy vey! Communicating with Mr. Conan from his secret headquarters, the Metal Men lived a comfortable life in their human identities away from the hostility of the paranoid public, but would shed their human guises to fight villains. Obviously DC decided that their stereotypical human IDs meant to make them more relevant to late 60’s society but, instead, they stripped what made the Metal Men unique – the fact that they were robots. The direction proved to be disastrous and four issues later The Metal Men was cancelled. Yet, with both fans and creators in love with the robot odd-balls, the title was revived three years later with its original numbering, returning Dr. Magnus to the fold and without any sign of The Metal Men’s human identities, which was quickly swept under the carpet and, thankfully, never spoke of again.
5. Dick Tracy in Space – Possibly the most important crime strip of all time, Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy has always been relevant by taking the crimes from right of the headlines and bringing it to the comics. Over the decades Dick Tracy has dealt with prohibition era gangsters, Nazi spies, industrial espionage, kidnappers, cold war criminals, secret enemy agents, Columbian crime lords, school shooters, and thugs and crooks of all shapes and sizes. However, during the space race crazy sixties, Dick Tracy found himself leaving the cold cruel streets behind and, instead, boldly going where no comic book detective had gone before – outer space! An interesting idea, but what should have been just a short storyline unfortunately dominated the strip for nearly a decade, creating one of the most despised eras of Dick Tracy history for die hard fans.
Amazing inventions, most notably the television watch, began to be introduced in the 1940’s by inventor Diet Smith. However, he really unleashed a doozy in 1964 when he unleashed “The Space Coupe” which could fly them to space. Thus, in the name of adventure, Dick Tracy, partner Sam Catchem, his son Junior and Diet Smith fly to the moon where they encounter a strange race of being living on the dark side of the moon, known as Moon Valley. Communicating with the humans via telepathic powers, the group meets The Moon Maid, who was the daughter of the moon people’s leader who naturally didn’t trust the Earthlings. Working as a liaison between the humans and her moon people, she convinced the humans to return to Earth. A good to end to the story – right? Not quite.
During their encounter, Junior and the Moon Maid fell in love and the two of them eventually reunited and Junior ran away to the moon with his alien lover, which lead Dick Tracy and Diet Smith to return to the moon to search for the youngsters. Captured and imprisoned by the moon people, Tracy and Smith were finally saved by the Moon Maid who reasoned with her father to let them go. Meanwhile, Junior and the Moon Maid got married and, as a result, had an offspring alien/human hybrid baby named Honeymoon Tracy who had odd shaped eyes, antenna and alien powers. Once again, I am not making this stuff up. Okay – so the Moon Maid’s father totally freaks out that Junior got his daughter pregnant and tells him he can never return to Earth again, but once he meets his granddaughter he totally softens up, turns and new leaf and makes peace with the earthlings, allowing Junior and his new alien family to retune to Earth, and also making Dick Tracy the deputy of Moon Valley. So you think that things would end there – right? Unfortunately no.
Upon returning to Earth, Diet Smith continues to stay in contact with the moon via the Moon Maid and begins to replace all the police forces equipments and vehicles with alien technology, with the most famous addition being hovering cylinder buckets which allowed the cops to fly through the air. Meanwhile merchandise featuring Dick Tracy moon adventures started being produced, including a Space Coupe model from Aurora, coloring books, a Honeymoon doll and the moon family as well as the hover cars were prominently featured on the Dick Tracy lunch box. Was it ever to end? Thankfully, in 1969 NASA finally put a man on the moon and discovered that there actually wasn’t anything up there. Wisely, Chester Gould decided to stop with the moon nonsense, but instead gave Dick Tracy another silly reboot by giving him long hair and a moustache and a new hippie sidekick named Groovy Grove. The end? Well…almost but not quite.
Not long after Chester Gould retired from the strip, handing it over to mystery writer Max Allan Collins who, as an old time Dick Tracy fan, breathed new life into the classic strip, both modernizing it and bringing it to a second golden age. However, one of his first goals was to end this moon nonsense for good. In 1971, in an epic series pitting Dick Tracy against his original arch nemesis Big Boy Caprice, the Moon Maid was killed in a car bomb that was intended to kill Tracy. Upon learning of his daughter’s death, the Governor of Moon Valley, once again angry of humans, alerted Diet Smith that the moon people would never communicate with the earthlings again. Thus ended Dick Tracy’s foray into sci-fi….finally…seven years later.
Today the only reminder of this disastrous Dick Tracy reboot is Junior’s now teenage daughter Honeymoon, who no longer has antenna and doesn’t don any alien powers at all. For all intents and purposes Honeymoon is just a regular teenage girl with a weird name, but a reminder of the wackiest period of Dick Tracy history for the fans that haven’t blocked it out of their memories.