I was stumbling around my apartment in a drunken, St. Patrick’s Day haze when I came across my Giant Gray DC Binder. I got myself all gussied up and popped open another beer and sat down for a trip through early 1990s memory lane.
One thing kept occurring over and over, I came across tons of characters I hadn’t seen in a while and really missed. Or characters I still see but don’t have as strong of a bond with now like I used to.
I now present the Top Five Underused/Misused DC Characters:
1. Aqualad - Where the fuck is Aqualad? He made a very brief appearance in Final Crisis but before that I couldn’t even hazard a guess as to when the last time it was I saw him in a comic book that takes place in the DC Universe here and now (Teen Titans: Year One doesn’t count).
Even though he was a founding member of the Teen Titans, Aqualad (I won’t call him Tempest) has always been the forgotten member of the group. No one seems to know anything about him, and no one seems to know what to do with him. He was never really involved in any of the interesting interpersonal stuff that would go on within the Titans. There was the Dick-Donna-Roy love triangles and Wally and Dick are best friends, but what of Garth? He was always just off to the side, not really involved.
In a company that focuses so strongly on legacy, it’s a real surprise that nothing ambitious has been tried with Aqualad. Why not make him the new Aquaman instead of that really, really lame Arthur of Maine character. If I recall correctly, there was a brief flirtation with bringing Aqualad more into Aquaman’s role during Peter David’s excellent run on Aquaman, but since then I can’t recall anything interesting being done with Aqualad.
If you think, as I do, that Aquaman has been given the short shrift lately, he’s got nothing on Aqualad. But I can feel it in my bones – the time is ripe for an Aqualad comeback.
2. Rocket Red - Oh, Dimitri Pushkin, you cold war relic stereotype! Yes, I realize that Rocket Red died during Infinite Crisis, but that’s a minor hurdle to overcome in comics. To be honest, I don’t find myself really yearning for Rocket Red stories so much as I always just liked having the guy around.
He was one of those characters that really just enjoyed being a superhero. Rocket Red was always laughing and having fun, and it became contagious for the reader! In Keith Giffen’s Justice League books he was a nice counterpoint to the (hysterical) cynicism that ran through most of the other characters. The dude loved his life, he loved his wife, and despite being a Soviet, he looooved America with our blue jeans and our rock n’ roll music.
Hell, when he joined Justice League Europe, he became best friends with Animal Man and they spent their downtime chatting about how great their marriages were!
Another great thing about Rocket Red is that he breaks up the dominant stranglehold that America has on superheroes in most of our comics. It’s always good to mix up the nationalities and backgrounds of your characters, especially in team settings. It leads to interesting and new dynamics. It was unexpected that the character from the big, bad Soviet Union was in fact the nicest guy in the world. When he first showed up, the Justice League expected the worst and instead got Dimitri with his big missing-a-tooth grin.
I hope that some day Rocket Red can find his way back to the DC Universe.
3. Commissioner Gordon - I know this is a strange one to have on the list, but here it is. Commissioner Gordon has been totally underused since One Year Later. Previous to that storyline, James Gordon had retired as Commissioner of the Gotham City Police Department and had pretty much been out of the picture in the Batbooks for years. And in one of the greatest travesties in recent comic book history, he even missed out on being a part of the best cop comic book ever – Gotham Central.
The biggest problem with Gordon being retired is that he is as important to Batman as Alfred or Robin. He is a part of the dynamic. He is what Bruce Wayne can never truly be. DC finally brought him back to the top job with the One Year Later time jump and since then it’s almost as if he hasn’t been back at all. There have been very little meaningful stories involving Gordon and he usually just shows up to give Batman pertinent information on a crime or escaped criminal. Hell, we still don’t even know how it was he unretired. There is a story there that is just sitting, having been unmined for the last two and a half years.
Commissioner Gordon has always been one of my favorite characters and it almost pains me more to see him standing around doing nothing rather than not being there at all.
I realize, of course, there is a Commissioner Gordon themed book coming out next week. So maybe we are headed in the right direction.
4. The Phantom Stranger - I never see The Phantom Stranger anymore. When I was a kid, he used to always just show up randomly in a story and when he did you knew there was big trouble looming. In that way The Phantom Stranger was kind of like DC’s equivalent of The Watcher over at Marvel. And while The Phantom Stranger would actually sometimes get involved in the action and not just observe, his presence served the same purpose – there’s some cosmic level shit headed your way when you seem him standing before you.
Plus, you used to get awesome stories in books like The Brave and The Bold when The Phantom Stranger would team-up with Batman and those stories would get trippy.
My favorite thing about The Phantom Stranger? His totally awesome seventiesness. Just look at him! 70s-era turtleneck worn under a dark suit. Big gold medallions dangling around his neck. Long white sideburns. He looks like he should have been a villain on Columbo. I love it. His visual look is so completely and totally out of date, and yet it perfectly suits this mysterious character from another time. And that makes his look awesome, and that makes The Phantom Stranger awesome.
I don’t even know the last new comic book I read that featured The Phantom Stranger and that makes me sad.
5. The Flash (Wally West) - Hey, remember Wally West? The badass superhero who is so fast that he is a member of both the Justice League of America and the Titans, all while finding time to patrol his beloved Keystone City?
What happened to that guy?
He used to be one of the major forces in the DC Universe, one of the top tier characters, but these days he seems more like a non-factor. At least it has seemed that way since Infinite Crisis, and that ended two and a half years ago.
Maybe this is some elaborate plan to reintroduce Barry Allen as the premiere Flash in the DC Universe. Maybe if we had a strong, dominant Wally West, there would be more push back from the readership in regards to the return of Barry Allen. As it is, people seem hungry for a good Flash, and they now seem to be looking to Barry to fill the void left by the man who is but a shell of his old self.
I couldn’t even tell you much about Wally these days. I know he has those two creepy kids, but that’s about it. I’ve read every issue of Titans and until recently I read Justice League of America, and I couldn’t tell you anything he may or may not have done in those pages.