This time, my regrets aren’t focused toward a single comic, but toward an entire imprint, put out by DC, called “DC Focus”. It was a very short-lived imprint, consisting of 4 titles, where the superpowered individuals didn’t necessarily become heroes.
Now as I’ve said before, at the time I was really looking for stories of superpowered individuals that didn’t fit into the typical four-color superhero mold and on the surface, DC Focus offered just that. It was around for less than a year and really didn’t fare well in sales, the majority of books were cancelled in 8 issues or less. Here’s what they offered:
Fraction was the story of a top-secret military powered armor suit that was stolen by a group of four criminals, each one of which took part of the suit. As you might expect, their major activities included in-fighting over who should control the whole suit and committing crimes.
Hard Time told the story of a 15-year old kid who was involved in a fatal school shooting and put into prison for 50 years, only to discover that he was starting to develop psychic powers.
Kinetic was the story of a disabled youth who lives vicariously through the comic book adventures of Kinetic, but doesn’t realize that he’s actually got powers of his own.
Touch was the story of a Las Vegas promoter who finds people with superhuman abilities and tries to market them into a financial success. Little does anyone know that he, himself, gives people these abilities, but only to one person at a time and with no ability to control which powers each individual actually gets.
The real problem that I had with all of them is that they went too far the wrong way. I did want non-traditional superhuman books, but all four of these ended up making the “heroes” complete douchebags. They just weren’t people you’d want to have special abilities, even though, I’ll admit, some of the things that happened were probably more realistic than putting on a costume and fighting crime. Still, I really wanted people who weren’t heroic to begin with, who weren’t necessarily good people who did nice things, but who came to that realization once they had special abilities that working to help people was a good thing to do.
While I’ll be the first one to say that an integral, objective moral code doesn’t exist, we all do share in the inherent social contract and we are all evolutionarily programmed with an understanding of enlightened self interest. We know that if we want others to treat us well, we need to treat others well. We reciprocate good treatment with good treatment, we reciprocate bad treatment with bad, but we understand what kind of behavior we ought to engage in, unless we’re mentally unstable, that brings about the best result for ourselves and for society at large. I don’t think I’d even mind if you had someone who had been a criminal, who found themselves with a super suit or amazing powers, continuing that life that they had known for a while. However, as time goes on, as they realize that they don’t have to hurt people, they don’t have to break the law to be successful, that they can go from being an underground criminal to an above-ground citizen, the overwhelming majority of people would do so if given the chance.
That reminds me of another, entirely unrelated comic done by DC called The Power Company. It was a great concept, someone who decided that instead of fighting crime, they’d charge companies and individuals to protect their assets and serve as bodyguards. It’s hard to understand how they hadn’t come up with that idea before. Very early on, they decided that they’d also do some pro bono work for those who couldn’t afford to pay and that was a good thing, but unfortunately, the comic decided to go largely down that road, with the freebie cases being much more common than the pay cases. That’s not how capitalism works, sorry. I want that reality. I want the recognition that these superheroes need to eat too. They need to make money. They need to put a roof over their family’s heads. That doesn’t mean they can’t also be decent human beings, it doesn’t mean they’re going to ignore the cries of the victim if they’re not getting paid, it’s just a bit closer to reality and, at least to start, Power Company did it well.
It’s unfortunate that so many of these comics that, I suppose, have a shot at being more “realistic” also fail so badly. Power Company never gained a strong readership and died at issue 18. All of the DC Focus books died within their first year. There are others that I’ll go into in later posts which did the same thing. Either they were too dark and gritty and failed to attract a readership from comics fans who wanted a more upbeat tempo or they started out light and eventually slid right into the same old tired superhero stereotype.
Why can’t we find stories that have a well understood goal and can walk that tightrope, balancing realistic stories against dark realities? I know if they could, I’d be reading it.