3 insane DC Comics reboots nobody asked for
The ’90s were a rough time to be a comic book fan. The mainstream view of superheroes was still colored by the Adam West Batman series and the Super Friends cartoon, while the comics themselves desperately tried to prove they weren’t just for kids, because who could possibly get that idea from grown men running around in tights?
A few writers, most notably Frank Miller, Alan Moore, and Neil Gaiman, had made huge strides in creating superhero stories aimed toward an older audience. Unfortunately, the lesson the industry took to heart wasn’t that quality writing is what’s important; it was that you should take silly concepts and make them nihilistically dark and self-serious as an emo brain tumor.
The real kicker, however, is just how well this actually worked. (For DC, anyway. It would almost bankrupt Marvel when they tried it, since their version was mostly just “add guns, pockets, and boobs.”)
DC ended up with a bunch of all-time classics this way, presumably by total accident. Aside from the marquee successes like Watchmen and The Sandman, there was also Swamp Thing, Doom Patrol, Hellblazer and a slew of others. DC had a treasure trove of nonsensical Silver Age garbage that was just waiting to be spun into grimdark gold. Unfortunately, even for DC, not every gritty reboot turned out to be magic.
1. Beware the Creeper
Originally appearing in DC’s anthology Showcase, the Creeper is sort of what the Joker would have been if he’d decided to be a vigilante instead of using mass murder as an avant-garde means of stand-up comedy. His origin has varied over the years, but what usually sticks is that he was a talk show host named Jack Ryder who was fired for his controversial views (this was in 1968, back when people actually got fired for acting like assholes on TV instead of getting elected president). One way or another, he gains the power to transform into a yellow-skinned, super-powered lunatic, either through scientific means or because he’s possessed by a demon. Like I said, his origin is all over the place; we’re just lucky DC didn’t try to cram some aliens in there, too.
Ironically, the Creeper has achieved surprising renown among nerds because of his single appearance in Batman: The Animated Series, mainly by knocking Batman on his ass, which even the biggest fanboy wants to do on occasion.
So obviously, there’s quite a bit to work with if you want a darker take on the character. Sadly, what they actually did was change the setting to Paris in 1925 (the place to go for art, absinthe, and syphilis), where the Creeper has no superpowers and carries out bizarre revenge schemes disguised as surrealist art protests. The Creeper is also a woman in this version, but it’s not like the character revolves around his boobs or lack thereof. Hell, this Creeper doesn’t even have the same costume; instead of the iconic yellow skin/red feather boa thing that makes the character look like a demented carnivale dancer, this Creeper looks like a reject from Clive Barker’s junior high notebook.
The backstory of this Creeper revolves around, you guessed it, rape, because it’s a comic that came out during that period when writers thought that a female hero couldn’t have drama unless she was sexually assaulted first. Twin artist sisters Judith and Madeline Benoir live in Paris and are, like, super into art. Judith is also super into getting laid, and Madeline isn’t. One day, Judith gets raped and dies from her injuries, so Madeline assumes her identity and becomes the Creeper (oh noes, spoilerz). As she sets out for revenge through needlessly complicated schemes disguised as performance art, she’s also such an unlikable shit that the only way to make her even a little sympathetic is to ramp the bad guys’ villainy up to Captain Planet levels of cartoonishness.
Really, it’s hard to imagine what exactly motivated this reboot. Aside from a few tufts of red hair on the costume, this Creeper has literally nothing to do with the original. It seems more like the writer wanted to get this story made and managed to bamboozle DC into slapping an established character name on it for sales purposes. And it’s not even a good story at that; all the characters act like stereotypes, the “plot twist” is easier to predict than your average Scooby Doo episode (a show that, ironically, also had a character called the Creeper), and the whole plot reads like someone’s freshman creative writing project. Which would at least explain this comic’s community college-level grasp of the historic art scene.
2. Kid Eternity
Grant Morrison is probably second only to Alan Moore when it comes to dredging up the half-digested literary misfires of the past and spinning them into something delicious (well, before Moore tried to turn everything he wrote into threesome subtext, anyway). Unfortunately, even the best writer is going to put out a turd every now and then. In 1991, Grant Morrison got hold of Kid Eternity, a character originating from Quality Comics (one of DC’s competitors that they eventually gutted for spare parts in the 1950s) who had a rather odd backstory: he was a nameless boy who was killed in a German U-boat attack in 1942, but upon arriving in the afterlife found out that he’d died 75 years too early and was sent back to Earth with a mission to fight for good, and also given the ability to summon the spirits of historical figures to aid him. Though for some reason, he could also summon fictional historical figures, a power which kinda seems like it’d be rife for abuse.
When Morrison took over, the character had been defunct for decades (aside from a brief revival in the 1970s where for some reason DC tried to tie him in with Captain Marvel, until the evil Captain Laryngitis left them both powerless), and so he immediately set about turning the entire character concept inside out. For one thing, the art had kind of a post-modern style, meaning that it’s disjointed as hell and almost impossible to follow, like Andy Warhol hit you in the face with a scrapbook. Second, Kid Eternity never even went to Heaven; he was in Hell the whole time and his powers were given to him by demons, because of course they were. Apparently, Hell has been encouraging the development of superhumans on Earth because of some sort of convoluted plan of being reunited with God. I think that’s what they said, anyway. It’s like trying to read a Where’s Waldo book that’s been through a garbage disposal.
However, this was just the initial three-issue miniseries. When Vertigo was launched in ’93, DC decided to build on what Morrison had done and brought in writer Ann Noceti, who apparently bought into Morrison’s vision completely. Much like leaving an open wound to heal through fresh air and sunshine, all we got was a gangrenous pile of rotten flesh. The series ended up turning into a bizarre road trip Easy Rider-type story that was even more disjointed than the original arc and eventually concluded with a bunch of new characters driving off into the desert together. Remember when the character was about a kid fighting crime with the ghosts of historical figures? I think DC forgot which character they were rebooting after a while.
3. Brother Power the Geek (with BONUS Prez!)
I talked about the original Prez not too long ago as an alternate-universe character in need of a modern TV reboot. Well, DC did sort of bring the character back at one point, kind of. But we’d better start at the beginning.
Another equally short-lived character from DC’s poorly planned attempt at appealing to the baby boomer hippies in the late ’60s and early ’70s was Brother Power the Geek, a dress shop mannequin wearing hippie clothes that was brought to life by a lightning strike (it’s comic books, so it’s either going to be lightning or nuclear waste). Lasting all of two issues, Brother Power allegedly offended the editor of Superman, Mort Weisman, who hated that the comic portrayed hippies in a positive way and didn’t just have them shot on sight like on an episode of Dragnet. A more reasonable complaint might have been that the comic was completely batshit insane, and probably shouldn’t have been sold without a prescription.
That said, the comic did provide an admittedly G-rated look into the culture of the era, and does have a lot of visually interesting scenes, so it’s still a shame it got cancelled. Like Prez, Brother Power attempted to satirize the political climate of the day with villains like war-monger Hound Dawg and corrupt businessman Lord Sliderule. Hey, I didn’t claim the comic was subtle.
Obviously, these two psychedelic characters, both steeped in the counter-culture era, needed a cartoonishly grim update for the 1990s.
In the early days of Vertigo, DC produced six one-shots called “Vertigo Visions”, each dealing with an old, forgotten character. The most notable of these were The Geek: Corruption of the Innocent and Prez: Smells Like Teen President, which, as you can guess from the titles, didn’t exactly live up to the tone of the originals. It’s like someone read Kerouac’s On The Road and decided it needed car chases and sex scenes.
In Brother Power’s case, the story mostly revolves around him waking up in modern day and being horrified at the state of society (in 1993, of course—had he woken up in 2017 he’d probably have set himself on fire). Meanwhile, the new Prez revolves around a teenager looking for his father, who happens to be the original Prez, who disappeared years ago but pops up every now and then in remote parts of the U.S. to make commentary about the state of the country like a preachy Bigfoot. The two stories were most likely supposed to feel insightful, but kinda just come off as bringing characters back from the dead so they can shill the authors’ anger hard-on about politics. You know, kind of like what every living superhero is doing anyway.