I realize there are really no new ideas under the sun, but I must admit being taken aback by iconic comic author Grant Morrison’s pitch for ‘Batman Inc.’ (Los Angeles Times’ Hero Complex: “’Batman Inc.’ gets busy as Grant Morrison takes the hero beyond ‘blue-collar’ rage” August 10, 2010) The casual comic book or movie fan reading the Morrison interview by Geoff Boucher may think “Batman franchising his identity for a team of ‘Batmen?’ That’s cool!” As a follower of the maligned, not-as-popular Archie Comics Super Heroes, I see something very familiar here and, much to my chagrin, very sad.
Archie Comics originally began in the 1940s as MLJ Comics, publishing super hero titles featuring The Shield (the very first patriotic super hero), The Web, The Comet and The Black Hood (among others). Years later, Archie Adventure and Red Circle Comics revived those characters and teamed them up with newer creations The Fly (by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby), Fly Girl and The Jaguar to form the “Mighty Crusaders.” They were never a critical or commercial success, but I’ve always been fond of them.
In 1991, DC Comics licensed the Archie Super Heroes for its new Impact Comics brand, keeping the names of the characters intact but completely reimagining the characters so nothing was in common with the original versions. The imprint eventually collapsed due to internal conflicts, bad writing, continuity even Einstein couldn’t follow and poor sales. (A final series THE CRUCIBLE was initially intended to relaunch the line, but instead served as its finale.)
One of the more interesting ideas that came out of the Impact line, however, was the concept of a super hero team operating under the umbrella of a single identity, each individually located in different cities throughout the world, all using the code name “The Web.”
Fast forward to 2009, and DC once again is publishing comics featuring the Archie Super Heroes; under the label of the Red Circle. And, once again, DC writers and editors completely reimagined the characters after teasing that, this time; fans would see the original versions. (Promotional artwork was even distributed attesting to that fact.)
The Web was revived as a millionaire playboy, high-tech adventurer (think Iron Man without the heavy armor), who ended up franchising his suit and its technology to 99 other would be “Web” hosts. The plots, stories and artwork were outstanding on this series. The Web even teamed up with Oracle (Barbara “Batgirl” Gordon). It looked as if The Web had a long career ahead in the DC Universe.
But then …
The Web, franchised super hero, had his book canceled after less than a year. (The final issue, #10, featured a story ironically titled “Terminal Session.”) Today the Archie Super Heroes are again teamed together as The Mighty Crusaders for a one shot comic, plus a six issue limited series. Frankly, I expect the characters to be back in the hands of Archie by mid-2011, only to be put on the shelf once more.
I’m sure the Powers-That-Be at DC Comics will point to low sales as the excuse for canceling The Web’s comic (in addition to THE SHIELD, the other Red Circle title). Little, if anything, will be said about the year it took to get the comics off the ground, the stumble of dumping the original idea of teaming the Archie Super Heroes with Batman in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD (a MUCH bigger platform to be reintroduced through), the choice of characters to launch the Red Circle label (Inferno, really?), the complete reimagining of the characters and generally the comics being launched in a down economy during bigger DC events of the past two years; “Return of Bruce Wayne,” “Blackest Night,” “Superman: New Krypton,” the “new” Wonder Woman, etc.
Now, Grant Morrison brings ‘Batman Inc.’ to the plate and it is considered genius! If that is such a groundbreaking idea, why was THE WEB canceled (twice?)? If THE WEB sales were too low, why is this such a tremendous concept for Batman?
The larger issue is DC and Archie collectively have bungled yet another attempt at reviving characters with a rich history by some of comics’ most respected and talented creators. Many of us believe they can be brought back for new, long, memorable “careers” if only given a chance based on their original foundations; not revised for a grim ‘n gritty, reality-ridden comics world.
Hmmm… “The Mighty Crusaders of Riverdale.” That has a pretty good ring to it. Hey, Archie! Maybe we can hope for some great super heroes to invade your neighborhood someday!