Dork Age: The DCU

Remember this? No? Good.

  • The 1980s "Justice League Detroit" incarnation of the Justice League of America. It got rid of almost all of the previous Justice Leaguers and replaced them with hip, angsty teenagers in an attempt to rip off DC's own Teen Titans. The run ended with the team being destroyed by one of the "real" Justice League's more powerful foes, with two of the three new characters being killed and the third largely not being seen again for about six years. Years later, when it became "safe" to talk about the period again, the team was sometimes cast as "lovable losers". For example, a flashback showed that during Crisis on Infinite Earths (an event that changed the DC Universe on a grand scale and destroyed entire planets of characters), one of the Detroit Leaguers was too busy admiring the chest of a superheroine to listen when the plot was being explained, and subsequently went through the entire event clueless.
  • While the early years of Justice League International are fondly remembered, the later years (Justice League Spectacular, Justice League Task Force, Extreme Justice, the Yazz, Total Justice — everything up until Grant Morrison and JLA) are considered either a series of Dork Ages, or forgotten entirely.
    • Also, everything after JLA. The Justice League of America series that followed it is widely known to have suffered from Executive Meddling, which resulted in the book being a big advertisement for everything going on in the DCU and the editors being able to dictate who could and could not be on the team. The Dork Age lasted until the New 52.
  • The '80s version of the Doom Patrol was another attempt to profit off Teen Titans and X-Men-style angst. Probably the only reason people know it exists now is that the surreal and successful Grant Morrison run is known to have started with issue #19, so there must have been something in the previous 18 issues.
  • Pictured is Superman Blue. For those who missed this (or who have it nicely repressed): for a thankfully short time in the comics, Superman was given a major overhaul, and turned into a bright blue Energy Being — and later split off into another energy being, Superman Red — and comic covers said "he would be different forever." Massive protest resulted in an Author's Saving Throw and he was changed back.
    • The whole idea came from a one-shot Silver Age "imaginary" (read, non-canon) story published in 1963. In the story, Superman is accidentally split into two Supermen with a hundred times the intelligence of the original. The twin Supermen successfully enlarge Kandor, recreate Krypton, produce an "anti-evil" ray which cures not only comic book villains, but Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev as well, and finally, the existence of two of them means that one can marry Lana and one Lois, ending the love triangle. Why they thought it would be a good idea to re-visit this in the freakin' '90s is anyone's guess.
    • Some consider Superman Blue an improvement over Superman's hairstyle he wore from 1993-1996.
    • Which of course came after his death and resurrection, which was based off another 1960s "imaginary" story; "The Death of Superman". It's ironic that in the 'Dark Age' they were so crazy for recycling Silver Age whimsy.
    • Superman Blue was given a Take That during the Brainiac 13 storyline. A copy of Superman Blue is created to delay B-13 and fails miserably. The narration text makes the dig clear:
    He's not Superman. The costume is different, and the powers are all wrong. He's not Superman. And he never will be.
    • In JLA/Avengers, even Thor blurts "Who the hell are you?!" when Supes Blue appears. When you consider that the Thor who says this is actually Eric Masterson (a.k.a. Thunderstrike; him being Thor was during the time he was subbing in for the real Odinson), that's saying something.
  • Pretty much every single time Chuck Austen gets his claws on a mainstream comic, one of these results (go to the Marvel section for what he did to Uncanny X-Men). A particularly egregious one, though, was probably his run on Action Comics, where he seemed to really want Superman to be a violent asshole somewhat like the Golden Age Batman. And he was loudly adamant that Clark Kent should dump Lois Lane because she was a gold-digging, power-hungry whore who was only sleeping with him because he was Superman... even though Lois fell in love with and became engaged to Clark long before she ever found out he was Superman. This led to loads of Derailing Love Interests in favor of Lana Lang, who came off as a pathetic sociopathic stalker and made the elder Kents into jerkass Meddling Parents. Needless to say, the entire run was hustled into Canon Discontinuity faster than a speeding bullet when Austen got booted off the title.
  • This article argues that Superman: Grounded was a thankfully short-lived Dork Age. It's generally considered to have been salvaged when Chris Roberson took over and shifted the story from Superman Walking the Earth and lecturing people to Walking the Earth and saving lives.
  • Black Canary's infamous late-80s "Jumpsuit and Headband" costume, complete with bizarre wing epaulets and pirate boots. A cover from a later run of the character in Action Comics Weekly even featured her back in the original costume, burning the jumpsuit and grinning wickedly. Another issue of Birds of Prey featured her horror at seeing scores of action figures of herself in this costume... and then emphasized the point by saying the reason the toy shop had so many was that they couldn't get rid of them. She promptly buys all of them so no one else will see how bad it looked.
    • Dinah entered a second Dork Age when she married Green Arrow, left the Birds of Prey and was reduced to a Faux Action Girl and Damsel in Distress of the Green Arrow books. Ironically, she was the leader of the Justice League at this time.
  • Wonder Woman has gone up and down over the years. In the 1970s, DC tried having Wonder Woman depowered and make her a feminist hero like Emma Peel of The Avengers. This move backfired completely, considering it angered real feminists like Gloria Steinem, who denounced it as a profoundly sexist move to remove the power of one of the greatest female superheroes. As a result, DC scrambled to repower Wonder Woman as fast as possible, although it took the Post-Crisis reboot by George Perez years later to get the spirit of the character right (despite what he did to the other Amazons to get her there).
  • Superhero Tim Drake (Robin to Batman) and his girlfriend Stephanie Brown have suffered this to some degree. Tim was the only Robin who didn't have both parents dead, and tended to be more well-adjusted with a complex personal life. Of course, this had to be fixed, so Tim's father and best friends were killed to make him Darker and Edgier, and so he lost his entire supporting cast. This led to a very boring and angsty run by Bill Willingham, and him becoming a huge wangster in all DC books. In addition, Tim's Badass Normal, fun and lighthearted girlfriend Stephanie Brown (the Spoiler) replaced him as Robin briefly, which looked like it could be interesting; however, it only lasted for three issues and she was then written to cause a gang war, be tortured in sexualized positions by Black Mask, get shot, blamed for everything and then die... all to make sure Tim got angst and Batman remained a loner. Tim promptly forgot Stephanie ever existed, but the fans didn't, and raised a big stink about her treatment.
    • Original Robin writer and creator of Stephanie, Chuck Dixon, started writing the title thanks to this and revealed Steph had never really died and is now back and kicking ass as her usual lighthearted self. Tim was brought in a less self-destructive direction as well, admitting he'd been in a bad place, apologizing for his behavior, and reconciling with Steph. Dixon also brought back Tim's geeky best friend Ives, albeit with a bit more Wangst himself than he had originally.
    • And then Steph became Batgirl. There was, um, more rejoicing. Some Cassandra Cain fans weren't happy, but since the two had been depicted as best friends, most readers who were fans of one were also fans of the other. Then New 52 came, restoring Barbara Gordon to the role and leaving Cass and Steph Exiled from Continuity.
    • Tim hasn't fared too well in the New 52, either, with most of his backstory and character traits being jettisoned in the reboot. Some have even come to calling him "the imposter."
  • Speaking of Cass, due to an editorial mandate, Cassandra Cain turned evil after her series was canceled. During this time, she became significantly more articulate (the character was supposed to be illiterate, dyslexic, and almost mute) and wangsty. Even worse, DC then went and handed her miniseries to the same writer who turned her evil. He not only failed to fix the problems he created, but added even more. Fans are still skeptical about her future.
    • Since she's been replaced as Batgirl by Stephanie, it's pretty safe to say that this one's going to be a fairly lengthy Dork Age until the smoke clears.
  • The Flash's revamps in the past few years have been very poorly received, and for good reason. First, Wally was Put on a Bus and Fun Personified Kid Hero Bart Allen was hit with forced aging and, worst of all, increasing amounts of wangst, finally resulting in the decidedly Not-Fun adult that starred in the first The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive revamp. Both series and character proved to be short-lived, as both were unexpectedly killed off in issue #13. This resulted in the return of not only the previous, popular Flash, Wally West, but the return of popular '90s Flash writer Mark Waid. This version focused on Wally adventuring with his new superpowered kids. The resulting series was considered better than the previous attempt, but reception was still lukewarm, with many seeing the kids as a pint-sized Spotlight-Stealing Squad. Then the Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen, was brought back and revamped by the return of popular '00s Flash writer Geoff Johns. This has met with mixed results, with the book being frequently late compounding complaints of slow pacing. This lead up to a Flash-centric crossover, Flashpoint, which led to a continuity reboot for the whole universe. The new, re-re-re-booted Flash book is focusing exclusively on Barry, with several changes made to previous Flash canon such as Iris and Barry no longer being married. Wally has recently reappeared in the new 52 and Convergence. Reviews of the Flash book continue to be mixed at best, despite the creative art style of the first post-reboot creative team. The book is still plagued by pacing problems. The Flash comic's Dork Age looks set to continue.
    • At least the live-action TV series is thriving, being much more faithful to the comic mythos.
    • During The Silver Age of Comic Books, "helpful alien"-type characters were becoming popular with writers, with Superman battling Mr. Mxyzptlk and Batman putting up with Bat-Mite. So the decision was made to retcon the lightning bolt that gave Barry Allen his powers, revealing that the imp-like "heavenly help-mate" Mopee had been its true source. Cue massive backlash in the "letters to the editor" page. So hated was this development that it has never been mentioned since, at least in-continuity. However, once enough time passed, it became a curious bit of nostalgia, and has shown up several times in out-of-continuity works like Ambush Bug.
  • The year-long, weekly book Countdown was originally promoted as "the spine of the DCU", for its pivotal importance to the DC Universe. About halfway through, it was even renamed Countdown to Final Crisis, in order to promote the Crisis Crossover that would follow. However, Countdown became increasingly unpopular with fans thanks to its wide-sweeping character changes. One of the most glaring examples is the sweet, innocent Mary Marvel, who inexplicably finds herself abandoned by her usually caring family. She asks for power from constant adversary Black Adam, and he actually gives it to her, the power turning her usual white costume black. Then she decides to go evil, partnering with the villainous Eclipso. (Note that we've been told that it's not Adam's power that makes her go evil. Bad Powers, Bad People is averted, but at the price of logic or proper characterization.)
  • Then there is also the related mini-series, Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew!: Final Ark, where the senior editors order the furry heroes to be exiled from their world and horrifically trapped as regular animals on the primary Earth. Though this was later undone by Grant Morrison during Final Crisis, though the company didn't do anything with the Zoo Crew by the time of the reboot. Currently, several new characters with more than a passing familiar look to members of the Zoo Crew have appeared as alien beings in the Threshold series.
  • The brief period at DC Comics where the Blackhawks became superheroes. The writer hung a lampshade on this in JLA: Year One; all of the Blackhawks put on their old, proper costumes with a general feeling of relief and an attitude of "What were we thinking?"
  • A Supergirl writer tried to make her Darker and Edgier, but just gave 75% of the readers a giant headache. Another writer tries to do a Author's Saving Throw, but that gets the other 25% of the readers angry at this because they like the Darker and Edgier Supergirl — creating an Unpleasable Fanbase.
    • Supergirl's Post-Crisis life is basically defined by her Dork Ages, due to DC Comics wanting to leave Superman as the true last son of Krypton... there's been maybe a good half-dozen different versions of the character, with increasingly convoluted designs and backstories (let alone trying to fit in where Power Girl went), eventually leading to the reintroduction of the essentially Pre-Crisis "Superman's Cousin" version of the character... for now.
  • When Batman's back was broken by Bane, Azrael replaced him, essentially becoming a Darker and Edgier version of Batman who ended up using lethal force. Very few people liked him, although arguably they weren't supposed to, a la John Walker as Captain America. Word of God confirmed that AzBats was a giant Take That to readers who were crying for The Punisher-As-Batman. It needs to be pointed out that AzBats, the Darker and Edgier Dark Knight(!!), was ultimately defeated by blinding light — a surprisingly subtle Take That on the part of the writers, that. AzBats was immediately followed by an even more gritty, but awesome, version of Bruce Wayne (the Kelley Jones/Doug Moench run).
  • Firestorm, under the watch of John Ostrander in the late '80s, became Darker and Edgier, leading up to the big revelation... that the character was meant to be Earth's fire elemental. Oh, and the power plant sabotage that brought Ronnie Raymond and Martin Stein together in the first place? Not an accident. In an attempt to make Firestorm's origin more deep or something (see also: the first of the JMS/Quesada Spider-Man offenses listed in the Marvel section), it was later explained that Martin Stein was always meant to be Firestorm/the fire elemental. Ronnie just got in the way (which was "rectified" in Firestorm (vol. 2) #100, when Stein replaces Ronnie and Mikhail "Pozhar" Arkadin in the Firestorm Matrix).
    • This was likely an attempt to tie Firestorm into the Swamp Thing mythos, with a similar revelation having happened to that character — rather than a brilliant scientist turned into a plant-monster by a Freak Lab Accident, he was actually a mystical plant elemental, who as a result of said Freak Lab Accident, ended up thinking he was said brilliant scientist. DC went on to incorporate a number of characters into similar roles (for example, in addition to Firestorm, Red Tornado was revealed to be a mystical air elemental, rather than a robot who could manipulate air via superscience). Sadly, what worked for a horror-based Swamp Thing written by Alan Moore led to mass-dorkageness in Lighter and Softer works written by anyone slightly less talented than Moore.
  • In the '90s, Guy Gardner had his own solo series. After losing two separate rings to a Parallax-influenced Hal Jordan, he rechristened himself "Warrior" and somehow became the last descendant of an alien race, which gave him the power to turn his arms into guns... for some reason. Writers ignore this era at their peril, though: despite the godawful concept (apparently submitted as a joke), and equally bad '90s art, Beau Smith's run on Warrior is responsible for much of Guy's development from Jerkass to Boisterous Bruiser.
  • The Spectre had a storyline about Uncle Sam, starting with the basis that, as he was the Anthropomorphic Personification of America, he hadn't always been Uncle Sam, instead being the Minuteman, or Brother Jonathan, or split in two as Billy Yank and Johnny Reb, depending on the era. All very reasonable. Somehow, that led to him being reinvented as The Patriot, who wore a white bodysuit with red stripes on one shoulder and a blue patch with stars on the other, and a golden space helmet with an eagle on top. Eventually somebody realized that, by their own rules, he should keep being Uncle Sam until a new "Spirit of America" image took root naturally, and he reverted to his old look.
  • Captain Marvel and the rest of the Marvel Family underwent one not too long ago. Essentially, most of the attention related to the actual heroes of the Marvel Family was reduced, while letting their villains like Black Adam, Dr. Sivana, Mr. Mind and Captain Nazi prosper. Shazam was killed off, Captain Marvel had to assume the mantle of Wizard (which effectively removed him from the DCU, trapping him in the Rock of Eternity), and every Marvel not named Black Adam was depowered. Then Freddy Freeman, the former Captain Marvel Junior, then undergoes a series of trials that involves him saying that he blames Captain Marvel for ruining his life, taking the name Shazam as a code name, and dedicating himself to fighting only mystical threats, because why would a person with the powers of the gods fight crime and save people from mundane threats?
    • Then, poor Mary Marvel gets turned evil, redeems herself, but then willingly chooses evil again. Then Captain Marvel gets de-powered, he gets turned evil along with Mary, the Wizard Shazam comes back and depowers EVERYBODY, turning them good again; however, he then claims that Billy had failed him, turns Black Adam to stone, and leaves in a huff. Meanwhile, Freddy Freeman hasn't done anything even remotely relevant in over a year, suffice to say, and fans of the characters are NOT happy with the situation.
    • Even before all that, Captain Marvel had some horribly dark post-Crisis origin stories that were eventually retconned. There was the very first in the '80s, which turned Dr. Sivana into Billy Batson's abusive uncle, and had Cap spouting Totally Radical speech. Then there was another in the early '90s, where Billy flips out and chokes Shazam upon first gaining the Marvel powers. Both stories were written to make Billy seem like a badass loner who grew up on the streets.
    • Ironically, while the last few years have been horrible for the Marvel Family characters in the comics, they've been doing very well in other media, with the classic Captain Marvel appearing in video games (Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe) and cartoons (Batman: The Brave and the Bold, DC Showcase - Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam, Young Justice).
    • The New 52 reboot is providing some hope, as it's restarting from scratch and includes some well-received Canon Immigrants from the Flashpoint event. But fans are still wary of some Darker and Edgier elements that have come up—including a bratty and sardonic Billy Batson—so we'll see if the Dork Age is truly over yet.
      • In fact, the very issue of a Shazam Family Dork Age in the DCnU has become a Base Breaker of sorts. Especially with regard to Captain Marvel/Shazam's new origin story in Justice League #0, which got good reviews, featured some impressive artwork from Gary Franks, and seems to be leading into some sort of redemption arc thanks to Geoff Johns' solid writing. On the other hand, there's the new Billy Batson, who was originally always on the extremely idealistic side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism (making him even more of a Big Good than Superman himself), who is now a douchey teenager who cynically tells the wizard that no one is ever truly good, and who nearly kills a mugger with his newfound super strength and takes a cash reward for doing so. In any case, the new character is certainly interesting to say the least, but whoever he is, he sure doesn't feel like the Big Red Cheese anymore.
  • During the DCU's One Year Later event, someone on the editing staff decided that the Catwoman comic series needed to be Younger and Hipper — and the best way to do that, they decided, was to replace the main character entirely. Selina Kyle had a daughter with Sam Bradley Jr. (much to the upset of many Selina/Bruce shippers), and retired to motherhood before passing on the Catwoman mantle to sidekick Holly. The fans were not pleased, and it wasn't long before DC sent in Zatanna to magically retcon it all away — and it wasn't fully retconned until the New 52, where it was confirmed that Catwoman's daughter had been wiped from existence.
  • Want to annoy a fan of Green Arrow? Ask them what they think of Judd Winick's run. The opening story arc had Oliver Queen cheating on his girlfriend Black Canary with the niece of his good friend Black Lightning. Never mind that Winick's idea of Green Arrow being a player was based on his behavior BEFORE he met Black Canary and that he'd always been portrayed as overly possessive of her before. Or that it was never made clear in the previous writer's run that Ollie and Dinah were an official couple again. Or that Jefferson Pierce was an only child and, as such, couldn't have a niece. Or that the niece was killed partway through the storyline and Pierce was suggested to have used his powers to have lightning strike the Corrupt Corporate Executive responsible for her death when Pierce was best known for being so moral that he retired from heroism when he accidentally killed a civilian and concluded he shouldn't use his powers if he couldn't be sure he could use them safely.
    • And then Winick - who freely admitted not liking Black Canary - was forced to write about the two getting married when the two were given a team-up book. Dinah became a complete Damsel in Distress and Faux Action Girl at a time when she was the team leader of the Justice League in the main JLA title!
  • The 90s Metal Men series. Given that the Metal Men are basically the Silver Age given shape, that a 1990s comic featuring them would be this is to be expected. It did not disappoint. First, it retconned their origins so they were Doc Magnus's old friends in robot bodies rather than robots. It followed up by killing off Gold, The Leader, and putting Doc's mind in a robot body as well. Doc's new form was Veridium, a nonexistent mystery metal that gave him generic energy powers. There's a lot of core aspects to the Metal Men: their AI angle, the simple but strong personalities, the good character dynamic, Doc being the Non-Action Guy and Team Dad, and the scientific (on paper, at least) use of real metallurgical properties as the basis for the team's powers, and the miniseries threw them out right from the starting line, even before getting into the skeeviness of how Doc was now being set up with the fiancee of his dead brother. The series was shoved firmly into Canon Discontinuity by 52, which declared that it was all just a hallucination brought on by Doc's loneliness and going off his meds.
    • During the Silver Age itself, there was "The New Hunted Metal Men", in which circumstances cause the Metal Men to lose control of the powers, causing unintentional collateral damage and putting Doc Magnus into a coma, not to mention souring public opinion of them. After four issues of being on the run, the Metal Men were ultimately deemed too destructive for society and set for execution, but a sympathizer helps fake their deaths and allows them to continue saving the world under secret human identities (complete with Steven Ulysses Perhero aliases), while Doc Magnus himself becomes Brainwashed and Crazy (with said brainwashing being claimed to be irreversible). The comic was ultimately cancelled as a result, but the Dork Age was undone by The Brave and the Bold, which had the Metal Men abandon their human identities and their reputation get restored, and their comic was relaunched a few years later, with Doc Magnus returning to normal with help from the CIA. Craig Shutt describes the entire era in-depth here, and Commander Benson details why this direction didn't work here.
  • Suicide Squad's New 52 era is sometimes seen as this, particularly for adding Harley Quinn, an A-lister who is seemingly only there for Wolverine Publicity, but it's really divisive that way. New Suicide Squad on the other hand, has already gotten this rep. A book traditionally about a team of B-list villains (and Deadshot) wherein characters can die? Well, let's just compose the cast entirely of popular A-list villains Black Manta, Reverse-Flash and the aforementioned Harley Quinn, characters with so much Popularity Power, Plot Armor and importance to their respective heroes note  (or their own series in the case of Harley Quinn) that it's amazing they can even be injured!