Detecting the Decline of Detective Comics

Tuesday , 17, March 2015 4 Comments

It may sound preposterous to suggest that one of the most storied brands in the comic book industry is on its way out, especially if that brand is responsible for such permanent icons as Batman and Superman, and has provided the source material for billions of dollars in entertainment revenue.

But it is, and the only evidence I have to present for it is visual.

Of course, it isn’t this:

 

And no, not even this:

It is this:

A brief history of the DC logo since 1940.

Now, while the tiny world of comics (as in, the actual panel-art booklets) media goes bananas over the latest SJW-inspired mock-outrage publicity stunt of the week, what seems to have gone without comment is the massive transformation of the brand.

A plot so convoluted, you’d think the Joker made it up: Fake outrage over fake violence inspires fake fears of fake violence to drum up sales…while the crime against Detective Comics goes without detection.

DC traces the origin of its brand to one of its earliest single-title books: Detective Comics. It was a crime and soft-science fiction book that rose to prominence along with one of its most enduring heroes: Batman. Before he was the Dark Knight, he was an unusual detective of the night, fighting crime using his superpowerless wits and discipline (and occasional firearms).

The company branched off into other comics besides Detective Comics not long after – Action Comics would produce Superman in short order, and quickly became a sub-brand to the DC name – but officially if not technically, DC is an acronym for Detective Comics.

And DC Comics still claims the brand on the cover of its books.

Sort of.

See, something weird happened down the line. The DC “bullet” (the one above that started in 1976) was a minor update to the long-running simple DC logo, but it was also an iconic one. The star-spangled DC was unapologetic: American, straightforward, and memorable. While competitor Marvel emphasized individual characters in the brand box in the left hand corner of its comic books, DC distinguished itself with an unchanging hallmark:

DC meant Detective Comics, and Detective Comics meant a specific type of heroism. Campy television shows aside, DC Comics characters were not known for their clever quips (like Marvel’s Spiderman) or their catchphrases (like Wolverine or Thing) or their cosmic (if overblown) psychological crises (like the Hulk and Captain America.)

There was nothing ironic about DC. Their heroes played it straight. Batman was single-mindedly obsessed with solving and stopping crime. Superman unironically stood for truth, justice and the American Way. Green Lantern had his simple oath:

“In brightest day, in blackest night,

No evil shall escape my sight.

Let those who worship evil’s might

Beware my power–Green Lantern’s light!”

DC changed its logo dramatically for the first time in 2005.

Then, in a move that would have raised Batman’s eyebrow, and even Superman’s patient hackles, they sued DC Shoes for logo infringement. In a turn of justice worthy of DC’s better days, DC not only lost the suit…but they ended up losing the logo to DC Shoes. The comic had to change its logo – a logo that had stood simply and with very little adornment for nearly 65 years – once again.

This time, DC Comic’s parent company, DC Entertainment, itself a subsidiary of Time-Warner, made sure there were no mistakes:

They obliterated “Detective Comics” from the logo.

Now, technically they’ll point to the obvious: DC is still in the name, and the logo itself is still a “D” and a “C”.

But it isn’t. Take a look at the 2012 logo.

What’s left of the Detective “D” is being peeled away. It looks more like a lone teardrop than any recognizable letter. The C is also obscured. “Comics” is now spelled out, which, you will note, would have been considered a redundancy in the earlier logos (what with the “C” standing for “Comics.” The current logo, spelled out, would mean “Detective Comics Comics”, technically. Perhaps the “C” now stands instead for “Comcis” as, ostensibly, DC still self-identifies as a comics company, despite appearances to the contrary.)

Considering that this is the same company that is fabricating the ancient “Killing Joke” controversy (above right) with phony “alternative” covers to drum up interest in their fading book sales lines, I’d say that the Batmobile has lost more than just a wheel, and the Joker has more than gotten away:

He’s running the entire show.

4 Comments
  • Eric Ashley says:

    DC’s real problem has been that they keep using the same five characters, branch out, kill the branches, and go back to the same characters.

    Marvel is vastly superior in its world-building, and superior in characters (Batman is an exception.)’

    Caveat: I haven’t paid that much attention to comics in over a decade. Still, long held trends hold true.

    • Daniel says:

      I’m not sure that having a core of rechargeable archetypes is necessarily a bad thing. One of the problems with Marvel’s universe is that is both inaccessible and easier to corrupt. Yes, Superman has “died” and even “gotten married” for ratings boosts, and Green Arrow started swearing in the 80s. But there is also something fairly…sturdy…about the core characters.

      Even Wonder Woman.

  • DC’s problem is that it’s trying too hard to be Marvel. DC’s characters work specifically because they’re simplified, archetypal characters. Many people have compared superhero comics to modern “mythology.” Nowhere is this more accurate than in the traditional portrayals of DC’s characters.

    Nolan’s Batman trilogy worked because he approached the character this way – and when it bogged down it came from the times when he lost sight of this. Snyder’s Man of Steel failed mostly because it completely lost sight of this.

    Part of that is a consequence of being a part of a huge megacorporation in the modern age. DC’s iconic, archetypal characters have been successfully portrayed as “offensive” to too many groups, so they’ve been modified and lost their archetypalness (I may have just invented a word…). Marvel will suffer less from this because its characters have always been less archetypal anyway, but it’s still going to end up having some of its characters lose their appeal over it (witness Thor).

    • Eric Ashley says:

      Both good comments.

      Daniel, bad would be overstating. There is a lot to like about a good Superman or Batman comic story. Not as good as a good Marvel run of comics is a comparison.

      And your complaint directed at Marvel are valid.

      Russell, heh. Thor sprang to mind as an example of a Marvel character that was most DC.

      Yet, Thor, for me is one of my least favorite (except under Walt Simonson, then it brought the thunder.)

      And as an American or Englander, it is your right, no your solemn duty to mangle and transform the English language to your uses. We are not French, to serve a language with a sneer, but descendants of King Arthur able and willing to whack the Language on the nose with Excalibur to make it mind.

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