Steven’s Soapbox: New Age of Heroes In Memoriam

Following the events of Dark Knights: Metal, DC unveiled a brand new initiative aimed at creating new, diverse characters known as the “New Age of Heroes.” From the teen hero Sideways to the monstrous creature Brimstone to even new takes on classic characters like Hawkman and Plastic Man, this series of titles covered it all. Unfortunately, just like it’s sister initiative All New, All Different Marvel, the sales numbers didn’t deliver. Now, as series after series gets cancelled, I thought that it would be a good time to discuss what worked, what didn’t and say goodbye to what was a really good set of books.

When I say that the New Age of Heroes attempted to add diverse characters to the DC Universe, I mean they really made sure to be inclusive. Sideways is a new Hispanic character, the Silencer an African-American one, the Immortal Men included an Asian lead and a Native American femaleand the list goes on. It was a refreshing thing to see, as DC made sure to make these characters more than just mere stereotypes, giving each one a real sense of depth and making them all relatable and fun to follow. However, the most brilliant thing DC did was add diversity in terms of both types of stories and types of characters as well, making the books as unique and interesting as the characters who headlined them.

They’re better than this edit job, trust me.

There were new white characters introduced, but they were put into different types of stories that were unique for the DCU. Yes, there are definitely soldier characters like Damage out there (John Stewart, the Guardian, for example), but few have taken the tack of a soldier battling for mental dominance with a monster, and seeking revenge for being turned into a weapon. Similarly, The Curse of Brimstone deals with a character on the fringe of society in a rusted out dead small town that winds up in a horror story after making a deal with a demon. The Silencer is a hitman story, The Immortal Men is a fantasy epic, Plastic Man is a comedy, The Terrifics was the Fantastic Four before Marvel so kindly brought them back… There were a lot of diverse stories here, and it made the books fun to read, if just to see how these writers handled them within the confines of this universe. 

After Metal ended, there was a concerted effort from DC and its three biggest writers (Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, and Joshua Williamson) to expand upon the universes of the individual characters. Williamson introduced new Forces to the Flash universe, each Justice League title expanded on threats to space, magic and reality itself, and much more. Each character in the New Age of Heroes lineup save one (Brimstone, as of yet) has some tie to the DCU proper, some with big heroes and some small. However, each one made the characters feel like they were important parts of this world, ones that we were finally getting to see and experience for the first time. As a longtime DC fan, and somebody who loves that universe and getting into the geeky details of it, I was always excited to see what character would show up in these stories. 

Damage crossed paths with the Suicide Squad, has powers derived from Hourman, and teamed up with the Unknown Soldier. Sideways had an adventure with the Seven Soldiers of Victory to save the New 52 Superman. The Terrifics went on a mission to find Tom Strong. The Unexpected recently revealed the return of Mandrakk, Grant Morrison’s cosmic vampire from Final Crisis, for God’s sake! Throw in the Justice League with the Immortal Men, Batman and Deathstroke with Silencer, and you have quite the variety of DC cameos! It was such an exciting time, wondering who was going to show up next, or to see just what connection these characters had with the heroes and villains we all know. 

Though we at the Revolution have loved these titles, there were some faults with the lineup that might have contributed to their end. Some of the books were a bit too ambitious for their own good, such as the sci-fi heavy Challengers (which was always meant to be a miniseries, to be fair). That book had a simple enough concept, but ultimately became a little too convoluted and hard to follow, even for a sci-fi geek like myself. The Immortal Men had a similar problem at first, trying to cram so much mythology into the first few issues that I felt like I was starting to lose my mind keeping up with the various Houses and Immortal Men and powers and everything. It got better, but having such a difficult start can be crippling to a new book. 

I would say that the biggest problem, though, is that the characters just never caught on with the public. Comics as an industry is dying out, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone with even a vague interest in comic books who doesn’t know who Miles Morales is, or that there was a female Thor. Marvel pushed the All New All Different banner through every channel at their disposal, with The View talking about Jane Foster’s Thor and Sam Wilson’s Captain America being confirmed on The Colbert Report. Now you can’t swing a magic hammer without hearing someone on the Internet bringing up Amadeus Cho as the Hulk or Kamala Khan’s Ms. Marvel, and while their titles may not post the biggest numbers, people know who they are. 

And one has their own (excellent) movie!

Not a single soul on the planet Earth outside of the DC Comics fan community knows any of these new characters, and that is a massive problem. Yes, people might recognize Mr. Terrific or Metamorpho or Hawkman, but those titles weren’t the point of the entire line. It was about showing off new characters and new stories, and it just didn’t work out that way. It’s a shame because these are great characters, but DC isn’t like Marvel, willing to keep pushing a book that doesn’t make any money. And for the books that have been cancelled, Marvel has exiled those characters to the Champions, giving those fans more chances to see their heroes even if the title is treated more like a foster home than a top-tier title. And while the young hero-centric The Champions isn’t getting the same treatment from Marvel that Titans gets at DC, Marvel has at least given those characters a homeDC, as of right now, has not announced any plans for these New Age of Heroes characters, meaning it might be awhile before we see them again. A shame, but also an inescapable reality of this ever-shrinking market. 

All New All Different Marvel and DC’s New Age of Heroes, despite what the parent companies might tell you, were unfortunately not resounding wins for either side. But why? The two companies have clearly put a lot of time, effort and manpower into this, but it hasn’t translated to more dollars. Even putting their best writers and artists on some of these titles hasn’t moved the needle! Marvel was clearly the more aggressive of the two, catching flak for removing, killing or turning characters evil to promote their newer and more diverse legacy counterparts. DC tried something a bit more subtle, keeping the heroes of DC where they were and introducing new characters to go along with them, while taking pains to ingrain them in the fabric of the universe. Two approaches, both with their strengths and weaknesses, but both ultimately didn’t work. Why? 

                            SPOILER ALERT

Well, I hate to break it to the people on Twitter who like to point fingers at Marvel and DC, but they can’t be blamed for a lack of diversity in their comics anymore. We, the community, have to bear the blame for not supporting these titles. Publishers are not going to push characters that don’t make money, because they’re not charities. If fans claim to love diverse characters so much, then either they’re not buying the titles, they’re lying, or there just aren’t that many of them. If people want titles like this to succeed they have to go out and purchase multiple copies to give to people to read, or they’d really talk them up to their friends or people in the right demographic, or write about them online and tag people, or all those things! The two companies have tried their best to make these initiatives work, but we can’t blame anyone but ourselves for their failure. 

But there is still hope, people! Even though these initiatives are on their way out, it is inevitable that the Big Two will try again, and probably even put more effort into it. Plus, there are also diverse titles on the shelves still, with DamageThe Terrifics and The Silencer still hanging on at DC and almost all of Marvel’s still in play. Go out and buy them! Tell all your friends about them! Get the Big Two to see that you really do care about these characters, and the virtues of diverse characters and storytelling! Otherwise… leave the EICs alone people, it’s not their fault that you won’t buy their books. 

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