Vicious Red Circle
If you haven't been paying attention, late last year DC purchased (or maybe just licensed) Archie's entire line of superheroes, giving them unfettered use of the Comet, the Fly, the Hangman, the Jaguar, the Shield and the Web. Over the last few weeks DC has finally started releasing a series of Red Circle one-shots, with the idea that the best-selling characters get their own series and . There's just one problem though.
Let's be honest. There are only three reasons to use a pre-existing superhero in your comics.
- You're incapable of creating a new character, or don't want to give away a trademarkable idea to a rapacious publisher.
- The pre-existing superhero has a level of name recognition that will draw more readers than a completely new character. After all, "Batman vs. Al Qaeda" is going to sell a lot better than "American Power vs. Al Qaeda", right?
- The pre-existing superhero has some unique attribute or characteristic that meshes nicely with the story you're trying to tell. If you've got a story to tell about immigrants having trouble adapting to their new home, might as well use Superman, right?
- I suppose there's commerical concern as well — keeping a character's trademark alive and exploitable. Then again, if a character doesn't meet criteria #2 and #3 then keeping their trademark alive is just a waste of time and money.)
The Red Circle characters don't meet the second and third criteria, which are the important ones.
They've been trotted out five times now — created in the Golden Age, revived in the Silver Age as the "Mighty Crusaders," were reprinted during the Bronze Age, resurrected for "Red Circle Comics" in the Copper Age, and given a total revamp as "!mpact Comics" for the Modern Age — and each time they've been a resounding failure. The general public has never heard of them, and even die-hard comic fans are barely familiar with them.
They're also not particularly unique or compelling characters. They have boring, generic powers like flight, ray beams and superstrength. They have undeveloped personalities — quick, what's the Web's defining characteristic? (He's henpecked.) So there really aren't any decent hooks to hang a compelling story on.
Now, you might argue that this just means the Red Circle characters are just unformed lumps of clay waiting to be molded into new interesting shapes. But honstly, if you have to reinvent a character from scratch why not just create a completely new character? At least then you won't have any of the negatives associated with the existing characters (like the general perception that they're five-time losers). Then again, we might fall back to the first criteria — you're lazy, uncreative, or don't want to give away a good idea for free.
Frankly, there are only three Archie superheroes worth owning — Pureheart the Powerful, Captain Hero, and SuperTeen. But if DC wants to throw money down a hole so they can acquire a few more scrubs to kill off in their next overblown line-wide "crisis," who am i to judge?
Anyway, this is a general problem with American superhero comics that I've railed against before. They're so obssessed with playing it safe that they spend forever mining their history for ever-smaller nuggets of gold instead of taking a chance on new concepts and characters that engage with the modern world.
You know who doesn't have this problem? The Japanese. Sure, there's a lot of chances to find fault with the assembly-line market-research-driven pap that gets pumped out by Shonen Jump but give them credit — they know when a has run its course and has to end. The creators and the public are usually all too happy to move on to something new.
Most of the time.