Saturday, September 08, 2007
(Anecdotal) evidence against the existence of DC's "Trinity"
Since around the time of Kingdom Come or so, DC has been pushing the idea that Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman comprise “The Trinity” of the DC Universe’s superheroes.
According to this Trinity theory, they’re the three greatest heroes in the DCU, the ones all other heroes look up to, and are in essence the caretakers of that fictional universe. Together they form the points on the triangle of DC superherodom, three sides of the same coin.
I’ve never really bought into it.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Wonder Woman, and think she’s great and all, but making the World’s Finest duo into a trio has always struck me as a little forced and awkward. Maybe she is one of the DC’s longest lived heroes (along with Captain Marvel, Plastic Man, Green Arrow, and I don’t know if you want to count Robin, The Flash, Green Lantern and the other Golden Age legacies or not), and maybe she is by far one of the most iconic and best known, but there’s still a huge gap between Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman.
I think that among DC’s superheroes, there is basically Superman and Batman, and Everyone Else, with Wonder Woman firmly in the Everyone Else category, even if she’s at the top of that particular heap.
That’s looking at the characters here in the real world, of course. Wonder Woman’s place on a trinity makes even less within the context of the DCU, if we imagine ourselves living in that fictional setting, and the characters that share it as real.
Post-Crisis (on Infinite Earths), her continuity was rebooted to make her a newcomer to the DCU, years after Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Black Canary, Elongated Man, Changeling, Cyborg, Black Lightning, um, Wonder Girl and others debuted. Even taking into account her natural leadership, her impressive powers and undeniable skills, it seems hard to swallow that in that short time she’d shoot up the hero hierarchy into the top three, while Aquaman and J’onn were still having to justify whether or not they belong to be counted as part of a “Big Seven” or not.
Now, the Infinite Crisis/52 rejiggering “restored” Wonder Woman to founder status, but not in any tangible way. We’ve just been told that she’s a founder again, we don’t really have any stories about Wonder Woman in the early years of the League, or debuting around the same time as the other two points of the Trinity. There’s been nothing done in the way of nailing down or delineating Wonder Woman’s new history or timeline, which makes the rejiggering of it even more confusing.
As far as I can tell from what DC’s published since, the sole reason Wonder Woman’s entire history was retconned was so that Brad Meltzer could write the first few issues of the JLoA relaunch however he wanted, whether they contradicted prior stories or not.
(Must…resist…urge…to talk about…Meltzer…!)
So, the Trinity—I’ll buy the concept, there are certainly arguments to be made that those three heroes do indeed belong together as the co-monarchs of the DCU, but I never see anything in the way of evidence to support that theory, while I do see evidence to suggest otherwise.
Evidence like this.
Now, this is completely anecdotal, and not exactly the best criteria by which to judge whether or not Wonder Woman (or Superman or Batman) is worthy of her (their) place in the Trinity, but it’s a criteria, so let’ see how they stack up.
This then, is the popularity contest…or at least, the popularity within the direct market contest. (And it should be noted that this doesn’t have any bearing as to whether or not the Trinity would be looked at as a Trinity within the fictional DCU; good universe comic writing has to be done under the belief that the characters are all “real,” and thus what happens in the real world shouldn’t really have any impact what happens on their “real” world).
First, let’s look at the number of books the various DC heroes move each month. Looking at the numbers available here for the DC books sold in the direct market in the month of July, and removing all of the books that exist outside the DCU continuitiverse (the All-Stars and the like) or feature teams or ensembles instead of individuals (JLoA, JSoA, Countdown), here are the rankings of the individual DC superheroes in order of popularity:
2.) Green Lantern
4.) Wonder Woman
7.) Green Arrow
8.) Black Canary
Okay, I admit, this reallllly caught me off guard. I expected Wonder Woman not to be in the top three, but I certainly didn’t expect her to be beaten out by GL and Flash, or for all three of them to be out-selling Superman.
Of course, this is just one particular month, and there are factors that could account for the rankings here—Flash going through that weird death of one Flash, return of another thing and its accompanying solicit fake-out returnability scam thing in July, Green Lantern seeing a Sinestro Corps spike, Superman suffering from a never-ending string of fill-ins, etc.
But just going by this month’s chart, Wonder Woman is DC’s fourth most popular character, not one of it’s top three. And Superman’s it’s fifth. So if we were to pick a trinity by the number of books being sold in July, well, it looks like Batman, Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Flash Dead Bart Allen would be our Trinity.
The other, and perhaps more accurate way, to test a characters' current popularity would be to look at how many books they’re able to support in the current market place. And by that standard, Superman shoots back up to the top of the heap, and Wonder Woman still can’t break the top three.
If we eliminate Justice League of America (which, if one wanted to argue the point, is kinda sorta a Wonder Woman book…but not any more so than it is a Batman or Superman or Hal Jordan or Black Canary or Red Tornado book), and the books from different continuitiverses (although it’s telling that Superman and Batman are the only characters with ongoing monthlies set in the DCU and set outside of it), here’s how the heroes stack up:
1.) Batman (Batman, Detective Comics, Batman Classified and co-stars in Superman/Batman. The argument could also be made that Robin, Nightwing and Catwoman are all Batman books too, in that they star Batman’s supporting cast. No other hero in the DCU has a supporting cast popular enough to support spin-offs featuring them, save the next two, who have one spin-off each).
2.) Superman (Superman, Action Comics, Superman Classified, and co-stars in Superman/Batman. Supergirl is a sort of spin-off, and that spin-off has it’s own spin-off in Supergirl and the Legion of Superheroes…the Legion also being, at least historically, a spin-off of another Superman spin-off, Superboy).
3.) Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) (Green Lantern, and various elements of the Green Lantern franchise currently appear in Green Lantern Corps)
4.) Flash and Wonder Woman (Flash, and Wonder Woman. It’s worth noting too perhaps that Blue Beetle, like Flash and Wonder Woman, has his own solo ongoing and appears in a super-team book now).
So based on this also not terribly scientific method, Wonder Woman is vying with the Flash for fourth place on the Trinity, which is made up of Batman, Superman and Green Lantern Hal Jordan.
A third way to measure the DC heroes’ popularity is to look at the numbers of trades featuring each of their heroes that DC has published.
In the past, DC generally only collected well-received, in-demand comics that had become too hard to find as singles into the trade paperback form. Increasingly, original graphic novels started appearing, as did collections of books that were perceived to have some sort of historical importance (within the history of the medium, or the history of the fictional universe).
Of course, these days, when the direct market is slowly lumbering toward a straight-to-trade business model (whether it admits it to itself or not), DC seems to collect just about everything they publish in trade, whether the series are widely reviled (Flash: The Fastest Man Alive), or sells extremely poorly in singles (Manhunter, Blue Beetle).
Still, if we look at dccomics.com for available trades, will find lists compiling trades that fit each of these criteria. Going back to my original statement that DC superheroes are actually separated into Batman, Superman and Everybody Else, DC’s DCU books are broken up the exact same way on their home page. Batman and Superman each have their own pages to hold the huge list of trades featuring them and their supporting casts and villains, while Wonder Woman’s books appear on a page simply marked “DC Comics”, which features the rest of the DCU books—team books, crossovers, those of individual heroes.
Doing a quick count, (and just of the page that says "DC Comics," it looks like this is how the heroes stack up, if we assume Batman and Superman are #1 and #2 on this particular list:
3.) Green Lantern (25)
4.) Wonder Woman (21)
5.) Flash (16)
6.) Green Arrow (11)
7.) Hitman (5)
8.) Hawkman and Aquaman (4 each)
9.) Lobo and Manhunter (Kate Spencer) (3)
10.) Martian Manhunter, Hawkgirl, Plastic Man and Blue Beetle (2 each)
By this not terribly scientific (and questionably accurate) criteria, Green Lantern would appear to be the third most popular…until you realize a few of those are Green Lantern Kyle Rayner books, which may be enough to push Wonder Woman back up into third place (How to separate the GL books is kind of tricky though…Is Emerald Knights a Kyle story or a Hal story? What about Emerald Twilight/New Dawn?)
So by this criteria, Wonder Woman probably does deserve the third spot on the Trinity, but man, what a huge difference there is between her and Superman and Batman, in terms of trade paperbacks published.