This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 26, 2017.
During the initial announcement of the Young Animal line last year, DC Comics was very careful to not use words like “Elseworlds” or “multiverse”. The line’s curator Gerard Way actually opened up about how he was excited to bring new voices and a different tone to the DC Universe. While none of the Young Animal titles are set to crossover with Batman or Green Arrow, they have also never distinguished themselves as being separate from the DC Universe proper.
That may seem like a minor distinction, but it’s much more important than that. Looking at the current lineup of Young Animal characters and upcoming miniseries from the “pop up imprint”, it’s clear that this choice could have repercussions for years or decades to come. That doesn’t just apply to the characters or continuity involved either, it could be important for DC Comics as a company devoted to storytelling.
In order to understand the potential impact of Young Animal now, it’s important to look back about three decades at the founding of the Vertigo Comics line by editor Karen Berger. Many titles like Saga of the Swamp Thing, Animal Man, and Hellblazer are all viewed today as Vertigo titles. But they began as parts of the DC Universe. It was their uniqueness and unique success that led to the foundation of a separate imprint for Berger to continue working her magic.
These series and others, including the likes of Sandman, showed what could be done within the DC Universe and superhero comics. They took on new tones, different types of stories, and experimented with form and genre. Yet the character of Morpheus still interacted with the JSA member Sandman and provided the Martian Manhunter with sweet dreams. Their differences didn’t weaken DC Comics, but expanded it to become a bigger tent. With the strength and diversity of these pre-Vertigo superhero comics, the DC Universe became a place where more readers could find stories that interested and engaged them.
That’s especially important today because of how it contrasts against the strengths of DC Comics’ Rebirth initiative. There is no doubt that Rebirth has been a success, both commercially and critically. It has tapped into a variety of things the brand has been missing in recent years in order to hook new fans and regain old ones. That includes the concepts of continuity and legacy. It also features a strong refocusing on DC Comics’ core strength: having one of the two most defined and dedicated superhero universes in existence. Looking at the rejuvenated Superman line, the improvement of supporting comics like Green Arrow and Aquaman, and the increased focus on supporting characters like Batwoman and Spoiler, it’s clear that superheroes are what is making this DC Comics initiative a success.
This success also introduces a risk though. Too much of a good thing might push away those who don’t connect with it or rely too heavily on a single market that could be diminished by no fault of the publisher. Diversity is a strength for long-term success and that is something Young Animal brings to the table. This diversity comes in two forms. First, it emphasizes characters and heroes outside of the current genre norm. Each of the four ongoing titles features a woman either as its sole protagonist or a core part of a team dynamic. They also reflect a diversity of experience in sexual orientation and age, although race ought to be a major concern of the line moving forward. Furthermore, these four series reflect a diversity of story. Their artwork, tone, and thematic focus are wildly different from one another and anything found within the Rebirth line. They are exciting new takes on DC Comics properties reminiscent of Vertigo Comics’ predecessors in the best possible way.
Crossovers So Far
Doom Patrol and Shade the Changing Girl have primarily established their DC continuity bona fides by reflecting the history of both series within their own pages. Shade the Changing Girl features Loma, a brand new character, who has stolen a variation of the original Rac Shade’s M-Vest. She studies and honors the character like a rock star, one that takes on shades of Jim Morrison as the series progresses. Quotes and other references firmly embed this comic both in the Vertigo series Shade, the Changing Man and within Steve Ditko’s original creation albeit to a lesser extent. Doom Patrol has done the same, heavily relying on Grant Morrison’s run, but referencing almost every other incarnation of the team as well. Flex Mentallo and Danny the Street have made welcome returns whose lore is being expanded by the current creative team.
Mother Panic has the most obvious crossover with the current DC Universe. It is set in Gotham City and the its titular anti-hero is in indirect conflict with the Batman. Her goals and methods are a contrast to those of the Dark Knight and the story relies on that distinction for much of its thematic strength. While Batman has remained at a distance, he and the mythology of Gotham City remain an integral part of the story. Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye has featured the most direct crossover in its most recent issue when Cave remembers his initial meeting with Superman. The comic never tries to portray this encounter as an elseworlds tale. It truly feels like Superman and embraces the notion that Cave and his adventures take place within the same universe as every other Rebirth comic.
Why It’s Special
That final example from Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #7 is perhaps the best example as to why Young Animal being a part of the DC Universe matters. It’s not just that it provides readers alternatives to more standard superhero fare or broadens DC Comics’ potential readership and demographics. This connection allows the publisher to tell better stories. The crossover between Superman and Cave Carson is brief, but it illustrates a great deal about both characters. Superman is given a moment of moral clarity akin to those in the character defining work All-Star Superman. At the same time he is defined through the eyes of everyman and struggling father Cave Carson, which in turn offers readers a better understanding of this leading man. It’s an opportunity for excellent storytelling that helps make both an icon and a D-lister really matter.
That’s why series like Animal Man and Saga of the Swamp Thing remain so valued after 30 years. While lifting up minor characters to become legends, they also boosted the profile of existing icons. They were the tide that raises all ships at DC Comics. By linking Young Animal to the current DC Universe, it’s possible that the success of this new wave could help make a better array of superhero comics for all readers tomorrow.