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:

1.) Batman

2.) Green Lantern

3.) Flash

4.) Wonder Woman

5.) Superman

6.) Supergirl

7.) Green Arrow

8.) Black Canary

9.) Nightwing

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 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.


Nerites said...

Wonder Woman is there in The Trinity because she's the longest running female hero in the world.

She is strongest above everyone except Superman and he as well as Batman respect her strenth and strategist intelligence above everyone else's.

The icons are there in the Trinity: Superman, the first, Batman, the second but most often the most popular, and Wonder Woman, the first woman.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I've always found the Trinity to be a lame in-story concept because there's really no reason for these three to be best friends at all (or at least, they wouldn't be closer with each other than they are with, say, Hal or Dinah).

But as for why Diana and not Hal gets to be the third leg, I think the answer doesn't lie in the number of books being sold. I vaguely remember a Comic-con panel about a year ago that focused on the Trinity, and one of the fans brought up the fact that Green Lantern regularly outsells Wonder Woman. The panel members chatted for a bit about her legacy, but it was Busiek who got right to the point: Wonder Woman sells a lot more underwear and other crap around the world than Green Lantern. The real value of the character is in licensing, and she is, in fact, the third most valuable intellectual property after Superman and Batman.

As for my own little anecdote, I was visiting relatives in Chile about three years ago, and ended up shopping for clothes with my cousin in a department store. In the children's section, I saw clothing and other junk featuring Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. But thinking back on it, I didn't see any Green Lantern or Flash merchandise.

JohnF said...

I love me some Matt Wagner art. I have the utmost respect for any artist that resists the urge to put WW in bikini briefs.
The "trinity" thing is lame an unnecessary. Who really cares? It's not like they sit around making executive decisions, except in Brad Meltzer's dreams, I guess.
"Well Clark, what do you think we should do?"
"I'm glad you asked Bruce. Diana and I were just talking this over with Brion, and then Reddy chimed in with his two cents. But it was Mari who ultimately gave the best advice!"

Anonymous said...

"Then I ran it by my childhood pals from the future, and, who have thought Chuck and Tenzil would solve the whole problem."

Anonymous said...

Though licensing is the biggest reason she's the third of the "Trinity", personally, it comes down to who the alter-ego is. With only a few issues exceptions Batman is always Bruce Wayne, Superman is always Clark Kent and Wonder Woman is always Diana Prince. There are, what, five or six Flashes and anywhere from five to 7,000 Green Lanterns? There's no long term consistency with the other major characters like there is with the Trinity.

This is why I was never much of a DC fan and more into Marvel as a kid. It's the norm for multiple version of the same hero to be running around in the DC universe so I never had the guarantee that the book I picked up a few months ago would even be about the same character even though the title was the same. Wolverine, Spidey and the Punisher were pretty much and still are the same people as when they debuted.


Anonymous said...

I'm going to go ahead and side-step the main discussion to point out that there's only 3 Kate Spencer Manhunter trades on that list, not 4. The fourth one listed, "Special Edition", is a Paul Kirk Manhunter trade.

I mention this only because you made my delighted heart skip a beat in the belief that there may be more Kate Spencer stories out there that I've yet to read. And then you brought me crashing down to the painful land of reality where the last Manhunter issue we've seen promises new issues in Summer, yet here we are at Summer's end with still no Manhunter to satisfy my demanding appetite.

DJK said...

I buy the idea that Licensing is what keeps Wonder Woman at the top. They need a superheroine to sell to girls and women, even if they're not reading comics. As a kid, I always thought of Flash and Green Lantern as the next tier down from Superman and Batman. I thought of Wonder Woman is somewhere below those four. There's something too cheesy about her look and origin to have the kind of resonance the greatest characters have.

Chance said...

I think good and legitimate reasons exist to place WW firmly as the third side of the triangle, reasons having to do with the characters' psyches and real-world icon status rather than sales.

But I'd love to read a Matt Wagner story about Bats, Supes and GL as well.

JohnF said...

Hey don't get me wrong. I love WW. I just don't think she's been written properly for the majority of her career. I feel like she only really started being a great character during the Potter-Perez run. They understood what made her a good character and a good hero. They gave her an interesting, epic back story. They amped up her powers to the point where she could fly under her own power and engage Superman in a fistfight. That was the kind of character who could be legendary, who could command respect among other heroes. The only drawback to that portrayal was the fact that for some reason they had her debut so much later than the other heroes. That was the only real misstep in their re-imagining.
The WW that's running around now in the Mrs. Peel catsuit and the secret identity, the one who doesn't know about Starbucks or how to tie her own shoes? That WW is a loser and a joke. That's not someone who belongs in any kind of trinity.

Caleb said...

Hey gang, thanks for all the thoughtful replies.

Just to clarify, I've got nothing against Wondy, and I'm not saying she doesn't have a place on a "trinity" or doesn't belong to stand shoulder to shoulder with Bats and Superman, I'm just saying that I never felt really sold on the idea, and that it's always seemed kinda forced to me. There are plenty of arguments to be made, which a lot of you mentioned (marketing, merchandising, recognizability, not being another dude, etc); my point with this post is that dm popularity/sales isn't one of 'em.


Yeah, Matt Wagner is great, and that Trinity series is thus far my favorite thing to come out of the idea that these three sit around doing each other's hair and talking about boys together. I'd love to see Wagner tackle a larger swathe of the DCU, New Fronteir style. Maybe a new JLA: Year One to nail down the new continuity; he's seems to work in that period quite well.


Yes, I agree that Wonder Woman being a person more than a position definitely elevates her above a lot of the other big DC heroes. She, Batman and Superman didn't have the sort of reinvention that Hawkman, Flash, GL and the Atom had in the Silver Age; I think Flash and GL's popularity now is an extentision of their Silver Age iterations, which is far different than their Golden Age versions, and so while DC's had "a" Flash for almost as long as they've had these three, it's not quite the same as having "The" Batman.

Oddly, DC's gone and retroactively made Wonder Woman a legacy character. Like, if we were citizens of the DCU, we'd think of her as Wonder Woman II, since, as far as we know, Polly was Wonder Woman decades before Diana was even born. (Also, her secret identity has shifted a lot over the years; in the current continuity, "Diana Prince" has only been around for a few months DCU time, whereas Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne have been around for decades).


You're right; I'd better fix that. As you can see, my counting wasn't very careful. I wonder what the heck's up with Manhunter; DC made a big deal out of not cancelling it, but isn't publishing it anymore either.


I'd buy a Matt Wagner GL story in a hearbeat. Like, I said, I've love to see him tackle more of the DCU, either a League related book, or maybe even the next volume of Brave and the Bold, if Waid and Perez are only doing 12 issues.

Mike Haseloff said...

Y'know, even if it doesn't quite make up for the bigger picture, that ZERO issue of Meltzer's JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA did wonders to at least build a case.

If you recognise that they're put together largely for their market value (beyond comics), and that "The Trinity" is an external reference for the group, then the Meltzer #0 really makes it's case on the strongest platform.

If you consider their momentum based on personal relationships, and their status an inadvertent one, then it makes some sense.
They don't have to appear as 'the trinity' in the public eye, but as senior SUPER powers within the superhero community, they've formed a bond out of nothing more than operating on common ground, and caring about the greater good.

I think Meltzer's #0 shows (through a vignette of implication) just how well that relationship would have developed throughout key points in history, and how their situations and perspectives make their union logical.

Still, I don't think it's gone far enough. I've been talking lately, and I think it's clearly time - like any good concept - DC whore it stupid! We need MORE trinitys!

- Harsh International Royal Justice Trinity: Wonder Woman, Black Adam, Aquaman
- Golden Age Trinity: Alan Scott, Jay Garrick, Hourman
- Alien Trinity: Superman, Martian Manhunter, Gnort
- Speedy Trinity: Wally West, Jay Garrick, Flash-O-The-Week
- Marvel Trinity: Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr, Mary Marvel
- OTHER Marvel Trinity: Captain America, Sub-Mariner, Human Torch
- YOU Said It, NOT Me Trinity: Steel, Black Lightning, Mr. Terrific
- SHE-Trinity: Wonder Woman, Powergirl, Black Canary
- Space Cop Trinity: Hawkman, Hal Jordan, Adam Strange

Then we can countdown to an crisis of infinite trinitys. Ooohhhhh yeeaaahhhh!!!

Patrick C said...

If you go up to a random person on the street and have them name 3 heroes (excluding Marvel responses), you would probably get Superman, Batman and Robin.

That's anecdotal evidence that Robin should be the third leg of the trinity!

Anonymous said...

Why are you even looking at sales? If sales were to affect opinions within a universe then Spiderman and Wolverine would be the most respected people within the Marvel Universe - as opposed to Captain America.

I don't know much about WW - but this does seem a bit silly.

-arch 14