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Friday, 11 September 2015

Editorial: The Five Worst DC Heroes.

Editorial: The Five Worst DC Heroes.

DC Comics has a vast roster of heroes, ranging from aliens to magicians to amazons to mad scientists to people who don't have any powers but do happen to have some kind of archaic and impractical weapon. It has a lot of amazing characters in its cast - Batman is a cultural icon that will never be forgotten, Zatanna is one of the finest examples of a legacy character in fiction, Aquaman will never stop being funny.

But they can't all be winners. Let's count down the five worst DC heroes.

5. Wildcat.

Not to be confused with Catman, the much more ridiculously named comedic-villain-turned-serious-and-often-half-dressed-antihero, Wildcat is a superhero that has been turning up in various places in DC Comics since the Golden Age, and the writers can never really decide what they want to do with him.

The basic idea is that Ted Grant is a heavyweight boxer who is framed for a crime he did not commit, and who becomes a superhero in the hopes of clearing his name, being a kind of low-tech Batman who basically dealt with criminals via the careful application of punching. That's not really a premise with any kind of longevity in it, as in a grandiose world of magic and gods and aliens, 'punches real good' is the kind of superpower that will quickly see your hands - along with the majority of the rest of your skeleton - shattered.

But it is, at least, a very clean and simple premise. Except for some reason, Wildcat also magically has nine lives? It's never really elaborated on bar 'it was a magic spell' - nobody knows who cast it, or why they cast it, or whether they informed Wildcat before or after that they had, or if they had specifically chosen nine to fit with his cat superhero theme or if that had been a happy accident.

As time went on, Wildcat's character was altered into what appears to be a conservative nutjob who could rant at Power-Girl about anything and everything, because why not, I guess? Later still, Wildcat would have a successor, whose power was transforming into a werepanther, because of course it was.

4. Matter-Eater Lad.

Matter-Eater Lad and Arms Falling Off Boy are usually quintessential features on any such list of terrible DC heroes, but Arms Falling Off Boy gets a pass because his power, at least, is genuinely quite sinister and will really weird out any supervillains he encounters. But Matter-Eater Lad? His only ability is to eat matter. Everyone does not, although admittedly not as prolifically or indiscriminately as the lad himself.

A member of the Legion of Super-Heroes, an organisation from the future where only a select few members have even vaguely useful powers, Matter-Eater Lad did in fact come from a species of aliens where everybody could eat any kind of matter, meaning that not only was his power just an amped up version of a commonplace ability that every single lifeform has, but he shared that 'power' with billions and billions of people.

Other members of the Legion included 'Infectious Lass', whose power was that she infected people with diseases, 'Chlorophyll Kid', who could make plants grow quickly, and Jimmy Olsen, for some reason.

3. Mister America.

Very little good comes out a superhero with 'America' in their name, with the possible exception of Captain America and America Chavez from Marvel. Mister America is a lot like Captain America, if you exactingly and surgically stripped away everything about Captain America that made him likable, or even just tolerable.

Mister America's schtick was that he was an FBI agent working alongside a different superhero called Mister America - when said first Mister America's family was killed, second Mister America was fired from his job, and decided to become Mister America, a superhero who dressed up like somebody cosplaying a cowboy and who wielded two exploding whips.

... Wait, two exploding whips? That's a disaster waiting to happen. I'm not even certain it's possible to dual-wield whips, but if it is, I would not want my whips - weapons which are basically just very long bits of rope and thus not exactly accurate or easy to control - to explode on content, lest I lose an ear or an arm.

He also had a sidekick for a while, All-American Boy. He would later turn out to be a Nazi. Good job, Mister America.

2. Superman.

"Murphy, you can't be serious, Superman is a classic."

That's very true. You know what else Superman is? Dull. Dull and, in point of fact, a little creepy.

As Dorothy Woolfolk, one of DC's editors back in the 90s will tell you, Superman is an utterly boring character because it is nigh-on impossible to create a convincing villain for somebody who is invulnerable, impossibly fast and strong, and has laser eyes (and, in early comics, was super-intelligent and had all manner of super niche skills, so you couldn't outwit him), which is why kryptonite is now the most common mineral in the DC Universe and why it comes in a range of flavours, the effects of half of which can be boiled down to 'create conflict'.

(You can't even really have moral conflict with Superman, because Superman is Always Morally Correct.)

You wouldn't have to do this if you hadn't made your flagship superhero be an unstoppable god with unshakable moral foundations, DC. Which brings us neatly on to why Superman is creepy, because he's always been an allegory for America, a country whose favourite pastime is genocide and whose second favourite pastime is self-aggrandisement, and it is enormously skeevy to have your America analogy be an unstoppable godlike being of perfect goodness and moral strength.

Superman is surrounded by more interesting, nuanced characters, too, like Lois Lane, Superboy, Supergirl, and even Jimmy Olsen, which really just hammers in how utterly tired and ridiculous he is. There is, perhaps, a reason why there has never been a good Superman film.

1. Timothy Hunter.

So, you know how I said that Superman is boring, because he has the powers of a god and that just saps the conflict out of any story?

Well, meet Timothy Hunter! He has the powers of a god as well, only his powers are magical and ill-defined where Superman's are clearly and rigidly defined, meaning that every single story he's in ends with 'and then Tim did something that we weren't aware that he could do, and saved the day with the absolute minimum of effort'.

A young boy from London, Tim is the greatest sorcerer who ever lived, an entirely unearned position that nonetheless brooks him special magical tutelage from four much more likable and interesting characters than himself. He was only really meant to show up in a four issue mini-series, but he instead ended up with his own one-hundred-and-ninety-three issue series, and each issue is more tortured and awful than the last as Tim accrues more powers and comes up against more non-conflicts and also everybody he meets falls in love with him.

What makes it worse is that DC was never prepared to just let him go. Time and time again writers tried to make a clean break from the character and put him to rest, only for DC to go 'Nope, we're bringing him back!' because nothing sells with the teenage boy demographic quite like unsubtle, revolting wish fulfillment.

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