What I thought of The Flash #22

It all ends and begins here! The DC Rebirth/Watchmen clustefuck hits a new level as the four-part ”The Button” storyline comes to a close with a cover featuring Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash promising the return of everything the New 52 cleaned out, but before we get there there’s a bit of matey banter between The Flash and Reverse-Flash, not to mention some prime product placement.

During all this Barry Allen mentions Hypertime, the Grant Morrison/Mark Waid idea that DC dabbled with in the 90’s to try to explain all the inconsistencies of their superhero universe.

Eventually the Reverse-Flash encounters the mysterious figure behind all of this (It’s Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen which we know anyhow), gets horribly killed and the Flash and Batman end up adrift in time and space heading towards an unknown voice.

That’ll be the Golden Age Flash.

However Barry and Bruce have no idea who Jay is because of that evil Dr. Manhattan chap and his big blue willy.

After Jay vanishes back into the ether, Barry and Bruce wrap things up while leaving things dangling, and talking about dangling, here comes Dr. Manhattan.

Which leads to the issue plugging November’s Doomsday Clock in which Superman and Dr. Manhattan will punch each other and ensure, once and for all, that nobody working at DC from Dan Didio to Geoff Johns actually read and understood Watchmen. As a roll of the creative dice this is a massive blank, but in terms of sales (and I speak now as someone diving back into the world of comics retail) this will sell books. They won’t be very good books but such is the power of Watchmen that it’ll propel DC along for a few years and then the novelty will have worn off.

See, Watchmen will continue to sell. It’s a classic book. Every time I read it I find something new in it. You will never, ever say that with Doomsday Clock. But hey, it’ll sell and in 2020 when this has all died down DC will try to work out what to do next and realise they’ve nothing left in their tank and creatively, they’ve worn out the bottom of the barrel but certain people will have kept their jobs which ultimately is what all this has been about…

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DC bring Watchmen into their universe so there can be big fights

DC Comics are releasing a mini-series where Superman (the first superhero as we know it) fights Dr. Manhattan from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen which is an adult orientated story that DC have been trying to exploit in this way for decades and now their dream is nearly complete as this series is being billed as the one that brings Watchmen fully into the DC Universe.

This is all part of the DC Rebirth event that started last year and now looks to close with a full-fledged fight between Superman, who looks like this currently…

And Dr. Manhattan who looks like this…

This is all being masterminded by Geoff Johns, a writer who is more popular, not to mention successful than his talent belies. Of course it’ll annoy people like myself who find the idea of integrating Watchmen into the DC Universe, but it shows the lack of creative thought at DC as make no mistake, this is a last throw of the dice for some people who want to retain their very well paid jobs.

As a piece of creative bankruptcy this is probably one which will pay off. Readers and speculators alike will be drawn to it in some cases in the same way one is drawn to a car crash on the motorway, but it’ll sell, it’ll save people’s jobs and it’ll sully the one piece of Alan Moore’s work for DC that DC’s not managed to shamelessly exploit. Question is though in a year or two when this is all settled what do DC do next if there’s nobody creating new works of the quality of Watchmen? Gimmicks are fine but they’re short term sales tricks and won’t help when people are bored of Superman punching Dr. Manhattan.

Some of the reactions to DC Universe: Rebirth and Nazi Captain America is depressing

Yesterday saw the release of two comics. Yet another Captain America #1 and DC Universe: Rebirth #1, the latter I’ve handled with care in a lengthy blog yesterday. today sees the fallout around both comics start to congeal like fat  on a plate of a cheap full English breakfast.

For those people who missed it, or don’t especially care the jist is this. Captain America is and always has been, a Hydra agent and in the Marvel Universe that basically makes him a Nazi.

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This is of course disgusting and Marvel would never have made Cap a Nazi at all in the past.

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Oh.

This is of course a sales gimmick to get people talking about Captain America and as such, it’s hugely successful. It’ll also be overturned by no later than the release of the next Avengers film in a couple of years as the Red Skull or someone will have done something with the Cosmic Cube, or something and the status quo will return.

The problem is that writer Nick Spencer seems to have just pulled this out of thin air (having not read Captain America regularly since Roger Stern and John Byrne were the creative team I can’t say) but a better idea surely if Spencer and Marvel wanted to explore a right wing Cap would be for him to slowly become less trusting of democratic institutions, more libertarian til A Big Event pushes him to become more and more right wing. He’d still do heroic stuff but rather than being an American liberal’s caricature of a conservative , he’d be something more nuanced so Spencer really could explore what’s happening with the likes of Donald Trump than bluntly just make Cap a Nazi which is like taking a sledgehammer to a peanut?

Moving aside from my fanfic, what’s interesting to me is the reaction. It simply veers from informed comment to the insane where Spencer is receiving death threats, something no writer should have to deal with. In 18 months to two years this will be gone and forgotten like all the thousands of superhero comic plot twists have after they’ve caused people’s knickers to get into a twist. But for fuck’s sake don’t threaten to kill someone because they’ve done something to a fictional character you love, that’s insane!

As for DC Comics they released DC Universe: Rebirth  #1 which incorporated Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen into the DC Universe.

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I’ll be totally upfront for those unfamiliar with my blogs. I’m an Alan Moore fanboy that prays to a statue I made out of potatoes of him every night. He is my god!

Not really, he’s by far my favourite comics writer, but I’ve admitted his flaws and readily admit when he’s wrong, but I’m not going to send Geoff Johns or Dan Didio a death threat because they’ve done themselves a shite and called it a comic. I’ll criticise it and rip the piss out of it because that’s better than getting angry over something which actually proves Moore’s point he made around the time of DC’s Blackest Night event, also written by Geoff Johns..

The comics that I read as a kid that inspired me were full of ideas. They didn’t need some upstart from England to come over there and tell them how to do comics. They’d got plenty of ideas of their own. But these days, I increasingly get a sense of the comics industry going through my trashcan like raccoons in the dead of the night.

That comment that so outraged fans and some professionals at the time has now had the truth firmly rammed home because if DC are going back to mine Watchmen (which they are) then there’s a clear lack of creativity here that should be indefensible as with the Captain America stunt, it’s a sign that they’re running out of ideas.It’s something that should get fans rallying for a more creative, more intelligent form of superhero comic and many are, but there’s still those clinging onto the faith that DC will be right in the same way dogshit sticks to your boot.

One of those people is Anghus Houvouras. A man who bravely stood up for white people being represented on film and rallied against political correctness. At this point when people talk about ‘political correctness’ this Stewart Lee clip has to be brought in…

Anyhow, our Anghus did write himself a piece which sums up the argument of those defending DC entitled Why Alan Moore is wrong about The Watchmen. That’s right, The Watchmen, not Watchmen. From there it gets worse.

As a writer, I love Alan Moore. He is, without question, one of the most talented writers to ever grace the la bande dessinée.

The only thing anyone can sanely reply to this is ‘fuck off’.  However let’s dig our hands in deeper for a wee bit…

At some point Alan Moore became the comic book equivalent of the Old Man on his front porch shaking his fist at the machinations of the ever evolving comic industry.

This is of course bullshit. It makes it easier to disregard Moore’s often sharp comments on the American comic industry than deal with the comments themselves. Also, seeing as Moore only works for Avatar being allowed I believe the freedom to do what he likes rather than writing superheroes which he’s not done in some time then he’s every right to comment upon something he’s such a major part of. His shadow is after all cast over DC’s big event for 2016.

Trying to devalue his comments by making him a ‘crazy old man’ is frankly, a cunt’s trick. Play the ball, not the man.

And there are things that Old Man Moore has been absolutely right about.

Patronising arseholery doesn’t help.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a series of stories based on preexisting characters that Moore himself had no hand in creating. If Moore believes that Hollywood studios are lazy for taking his concepts and adapting them to film and television, isn’t it just as accurate to call Moore lazy for using borrowed characters for his own comics?

To call Moore lazy is in itself a lazy assumption. Moore’s put a lot of thought into using the public domain characters that make up the core of the League. The ones that aren’t are changed to keep them legal or so clearly parody they’d not be a case against Moore, or artist Kevin O’Neill.

And our Anghus misses the point. Moore’s point is that he as creator or co-creator deserves to decide what to do with his work, not multinationals so bereft of imagination that they mine 30 year old works in order to make money in 2016 because they know the name ‘Alan Moore’ attached to a comic will help sell it. Even obliquely in the case of DC Universe: Rebirth. That’s what Moore meat with his the comics industry going through my trashcan like raccoons in the dead of the night comment.

When DC rolled out the Before Watchmen prequel series, many fans were perplexed by how to feel.Watchmen has always been treated as sacrosanct. One of those singular works of artistic perfection that should never be expanded upon. A story told completely and not in need of embellishment. And while fans and Moore are quite clear on their position on the subject, there are those of us who are actually excited by the prospect to see more stories with these characters

Why? That story was told. Everything you need to know about those characters is in Watchmen. Can you imagine if DC had published Art Speigleman’s Maus? Would there be a demand for new stories of L’il Artie? Or something like The New Adventures of Vladek where Speigelman’s father is brought back from the dead to fight Nazis in 2016? A complete work is just that. It’s done, it’s there but let’s move on to something new rather than trying to capture something with the same characters you’ll never capture again.

Alan Moore is wrong about The Watchmen.

There’s no ‘The’ here.

The original Watchmen series was based on the Charlton Comics characters that DC had acquired in 1983 which included Blue Beetle, The Question, and Captain Atom. Originally Moore wanted to use these characters for the Watchmen series, but because they were being integrated into the regular DC Comics Universe, Moore and artist Dave Gibbons decided to created thinly veiled versions of these characters. While the names may have changed, it borrowed heavily from the iconography of many DC owned characters. That was always the intention: to create a more mature story in a familiar world. Mission accomplished.

What’s missed out here is the fact Moore initially had the idea using The Mighty Crusaders, but as the story evolved he ended up creating new characters with artist Dave Gibbons who were archetypes of superheroes who could serve the purpose of the story.

Where Moore errs is thinking that these characters should stop existing outside of the originalWatchmen series.

Trying marketing something with an existing name. Why do Coca Cola guard their property so much? It’s because it has value to them and those trying to piggy back off it are trying to buy into that value for their own gain as Richard Branson tried to do with his Virgin Cola, yet even Branson learned the lesson that the bigger beast in business will crush you. Same thing is true of DC using Watchmen without Moore or Gibbons permission, and yes, they did sign what was proclaimed a great contract at the time but as as both admit, they were stupid. It doesn’t make the points Moore’s made about exploitation of creators and creator rights any less valid.

I’m not here to throw stones,

Says Anghus, throwing stones everywhere til one eventually lands on his head.

I suppose the core argument from fans would be that further uses of the characters diminishes the original work in some way. That’s another argument I never could take seriously. The Dark Knight Returns was an amazing series. The Dark Knight Strikes Again was a hot mess. The jury is still out onDark Knight III. None of these average works have lessened the impact of the original. Much like the two flaccid Matrix sequels didn’t end up sullying the majesty of the original. Caddyshack is still hilarious no matter how terrible Caddyshack 2 turned out.

Ah, The Matrix (which ”borrowed” from Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles) and Caddyshack, giants of cinema.  But sad cash-in’s don’t diminish the original, they just make it clear there’s a paucity of creativity as companies chase money in the hope they might recapture what they had, again one of the points Moore has made over the decades.

The point is, it’s kind of nutty for Moore to think that these characters should stop existing

They’re not real. They only exist in the medium they were created for and by their creators. Plus Moore’s never said that, he just wants control of his work.

Only time will tell if it’s a good use of the characters or a pointless cash grab.

Took me 0.2 seconds to work out it’s a cash grab.

When it comes to the subject of originality in regards to Watchmen and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Moore has a little too much glass in his house to be chucking stones.

For the nTh time. Moore’s issue is creative ownership and control. Listen to his words.

It’s not hard in the year 2016 to find out exactly what Moore thinks about creator rights or that Marvel have pulled cheap stunts to sell comics once or 300 times before. Yet people still get angry or fill a swimming pool full of pish as they repeat what they’ve read other people say in order to get clicks. It’s a total nonsense yet the real problems of mainstream superhero comics sail on and on with an imploding readership and a creative community either scared to create new works in case they’re exploited to the hilt as Moore has been, or they end up being so devoid of imagination they make Captain America a Nazi.

What people like Moore want to see is better comics with creators treated like people who end up with control of their work. It shouldn’t be a battle, and fans should slavishly leap to the defence of multinationals because all they care about is ‘their characters’.  Here’s a bit of news, if you do then that makes you part of the problem, not the solution.

What I thought of DC Universe: Rebirth #1

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It’s 2016, so it must be time for another DC Universe reboot, but this one masterminded by Geoff Johns brings back the hopeful, cheerier DC Universe that Johns apparently loves, ditching the dark, miserable one that Johns played such a major role in creating. Except as revealed in leaks last weekend, it’s nothing to do with Johns, or DC chief Dan Didio, or the miniseries Identity Crisis but rather it’s Watchmen (the book, and it’s creators Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons shoulder the blame according to this extraordinary comic)that  is the real smoking gun as to where DC went wrong over the last decade or so according to Johns and this already controversial comic.

Before getting stuck into Rebirth, it’s worth spending time having a wee recap of Identity Crisis. This was a 7-issue miniseries released in 2004 which was to redefine what DC’s superheroes were, so no longer were they these shining figures of hope, but instead they were darker, more ‘gritty’ and instead of fighting bad guys they were busy fighting each other. To make the point that the brighter days were over, Sue Dibney, wile of the Elongated Man and part of the jokey, fun Justice League International was raped by Dr. Light.

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It’s clear what DC were doing here as this at the time was massively controversial, and although Identity Crisis sold,  it’s worth paying heed to the comments of creator Kyle Baker at the time.

BAKER: This is a business, and all this stuff revolves around giving people what they want to read. All of the trends that you see in comics are a direct response to sales. DC and Marvel do what sells, and they repeat what sells. If the Atom is a villain, it’s because audiences respond to superheroes that have turned into villains, and that’s what they want to read. We were talking about how you have to change things over the years. Everything is a response to trends; public fantasies change as a response to trends. Someone like Captain America is created as response to Nazism. He’s a fantasy of beating up the Nazis, a fantasy of America. You could probably sell a character like that today, but that character was created because of the times, and the fantasy that people were the hungriest for. Even the name “Plastic Man” — when Plastic Man was created, plastic was this new miracle polymer. All of the Marvel characters were created by radiation, and Iron Man’s superpower was transistors, because that was hot at the time. That was what had captured the public imagination. I think the last superhero fantasy that really grabbed the public that way was The Matrix. [laughs] That fantasy of breaking out of your shitty office job and fighting crime, instead of being some cog in a cubicle somewhere. That really resonated with people at the time.

So if people are fantasizing about their heroes becoming murderers, that’s just what’s in their heads right now. That’s what they want to see. That’s what they’re dreaming of.

FARAGO: Yeah, it’s, uh —

BAKER: Weird.

FARAGO: I thought the industry was moving away from it, and there were all these signs that people wanted the noble heroes again —

BAKER: Isn’t that [Identity Crisis] the biggest book of the year?

FARAGO: Yeah, easily.

BAKER: Every time people buy it, they’re going to do another one. That’s common sense. If the biggest book of the year features brutal rapes, you’re going to have to top it next time. You’re going to have to come up with, what’s worse than that? What’s worse than raping and killing a character’s wife? We’re going to have to top that. Maybe we can cut Lois Lane’s head off and shove it up her ass. That’s what’ll be at the next meeting. We’re going to have to figure out how to brutalize the rest of the DC universe.

And they did figure out how to brutalise the rest of the DC Universe (DCU) as it veered from one major event to another and the DCU five years ago went through the New 52 revamp which made all their heroes a bunch of pricks. Superman? Prick. Batman? Prick. Green Lantern? Prick. You get the jist…

Thing is the sales of Identity Crisis were never reached by DC by the time it got to the New 52, barring a few titles like Grant Morrison’s Superman stories in Action Comics. Even then the diminishing returns for moody, grim, violent rapey, angsty superheroes were minimal, especially with Marvel’s film arm producing bright, cheery heroes who save people and act generally like superheroes. So in 2016 we come to DC Universe: Rebirth where for the last decade and everything that happened in it is blamed on Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen who created the New 52 to see what a universe without hope is like. It’s been posited this is a ”gutsy work of comics criticism’, but that is frankly, a load of fucking shite. If it was Johns would turn this so-called criticism upon himself, and his superiors who for a decade have shaped the DCU into what it is now, not a comic produced 30 years ago that still makes DC money. Maybe it’s the fact it’s a constant reminder of what DC’s lost in terms of talent and prestige that clearly annoys Johns about Watchmen, I dunno, I don’t live in his head.

The comic itself makes it clear with it’s opening 9-panel grid opening page where it’s coming from and it’s a jarring sight, but unlike Grant Morrison’s Multiversity event last year, there’s no sign of Johns having read, or grasped what Watchmen was.

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The disembodied narrator could be Johns himself speaking, and it probably is even if it’s odd that someone who helped get DC’s superhero titles in the mess they’re in is saying there’s ‘something missing’. As for the story, if you’re hoping to jump on board picking things up from scratch then forget it. This is a comic with three Jokers.

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So this is a reboot not for new readers as such, but for older readers who’ve perhaps ditched DC and this is to attract them back, which if so, is extraordinary. Why not just wipe everything out and start again from scratch rather than make it needlessly convoluted in the first few pages for anyone that hasn’t a knowledge of 75 years of DC history?

Anyhow, the narrator is Wally West, former Flash but back in his Kid Flash outfit, and he’s touring the New 52 world trying to find a connection with someone to pull him out the Speed Force so he can return to this world and warn them of some threat or other. Frankly, it doesn’t really matter. The art is so painfully bland/awful/uninspiring and reeks of the conformity of the last decade of DC’s art by numbers policy that when added to a remarkable for all the wrong reasons script, this becomes a hard package to read if you’re not a serious DCU fanboy/girl. if you are then you’ll be glad to know everything is back. Even Crisis on Infinite Earths is back.

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As said, new readers turn away now. This isn’t for you, this is for the people who lap up DC continuity like an alcoholic licking a spilled tin of Special Brew off a pavement.

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That’s the hand of Dr Manhattan who is behind the darkening of the DCU, and as you can see in the dialogue, Johns is blaming the ‘darkness’ on one thing, and one thing alone and that’s Watchmen which is remarkable. Watchmen is a multi-tiered work that acts among other things as a criticism of the darker comics which were becoming more in vogue in the mid 1980’s, a fact Johns totally overlooks here. By the end of the book it’s dripping in hope with  a cautious note that the bad times always lurk round the corner. It’s a complete artistic work.

The New 52, and indeed, the last decade of DC is as said, the decision of a number of people who’ve looked at sales figures and decided rape, violence and ‘dark’ = money. It’s a decision of a large multinational corporation and a handful of it’s employees to impose a philosophy upon it’s comics because they think running a line of superhero comics can be done by committee and accountants. The creative instinct is suppressed to ensure creators create product, not art. What Johns should be railing at is DC’s consumerist obsession with marketing a superhero universe where everything is the same, rather than as it was previously, where there was a mix, something Johns hints is returning to the DCU which may in the long run be a good thing if it actually happens. Right now it’s a mess.

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And indeed, since Watchmen DC’s taken the topic of darker superheroes on before, most notably with the excellent Kingdom Come series, but the deeper one gets into Rebirth the more insane the meta aspects become. None as much as the scene where Pandora, the character behind the New 52 is murdered by Dr Manhattan.

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Subtlety isn’t a Johns strong point here.

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That, if rumour is believed, is Ozymandias from Watchmen. Even John Constantine and Swamp Thing turn up in this jumbled, disjointed mess.

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Then when you think it’s all coming to an end at last, Johns pisses in your face again as he hammers home the point that Watchmen was really miserable as far as he’s concerned and is responsible for dark superhero comics, Simon Cowell and cancer.

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After the much publicised page of Batman holding up the Comedian’s smiley badge, there’s an epilogue where it’s driven home that now Watchmen is part of the DCU.

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DC Universe: Rebirth takes a complicated mess of continuity and makes it worse. it throws in Watchmen as a scapegoat for a decade’s worth of bad corporate creative decisions in order I presume to absolve people like Johns from any sense of responsibility for what they’ve helped create. It takes one of mainstream comics best, most respected books, a book that changed comics, brought in tens of thousands of new, fresh readers and is still selling massive amounts 30 years after first publication, and crams it into a mess of a book in order to give it a kicking.

Yet by doing so Johns proves Alan Moore’s point that DC Comics are so creatively bankrupt they have to mine works he did three decades ago to help them sell comics. This also isn’t going to fill creators who may create new, exciting works with joy or confidence as after all, they’re seeing Geoff Johns metaphorically rub his balls all over Moore and Gibbons creation while shouting ‘IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT‘ loudly at the top of his lungs at a picture of Alan Moore he’s stuck on his bathroom mirror.

This doesn’t crap all over Watchmen as a work, because that’ll always be there, and anyhow, DC’s already done that with the inept Before Watchmen crap from a few years ago. What this does is show that Paul Levitz deserves much more praise for protecting Watchmen from this sort of exploitation as it protected not just it’s artistic integrity, but showed that although DC were bastards, they weren’t fucking bastards. They are now.

DC Universe: Rebirth is trying to have it’s cake, eat it, and after it’s thrown it up force it down your throat because it’s what you want, honest. Rather than do a flat out reboot it’s chucking everything in because one has to keep the hardcore continuity geeks happy, and fuck new readers. If they’re not up with seven decades of DC history then tough. Here’s a bit of New 52, here’s a bit of pre-Crisis, here’s a bit of something new, here’s some Vertigo. It’s all there. It’s all a mess. A fresh start will piss off the 30-50 year old core readership of DC Comics, but it clears everything out. It leaves a blank slate. It gives creators freedom, rather than have to throw in a mention of say, The Killing Joke, because going back in time to draw inspiration rather than try something different and new is all they know. Didio,Johns and the others making decisions at DC are locked into a spiral where after this they’ve left themselves with two options: to do a fresh start or fiddle round the edges yet again and lose readers til it’s just a small core of bitter fans clinging on because ”their” characters are what’s important to them.

In short. This is bollocks.

Superman Kills!

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That’s a panel from Justice League #22 written by Geoff Johns, the man who seems to be single handedly making DC’s superhero comics grim, dark, depressing things that you wouldn’t wipe your arse on.

Yes, I know that Superman is possessed and it’s not really him, but if there’s an image that defines superhero comics now it’s probably going to be this which is designed to make as many people pissed off as possible and create chatter online for DC’s range of titles.

It’s only designed to to this. That’s it. It’s a fuck you to people who might be more than a bit fed up by this constant  pandering to those who think ‘adult’ is just more and more empty violence or thought Man of Steel was kewl and hey, people are going to die right?

It’s clearly an attempt to reconcile Man of Steel with the comic version of Superman and I’ve made my thoughts clear on that film, but this is yet another example of bad writing from bad writers in order to pander to people with a video game’s sense of morality.

It’s dull, it’s boring and it’s frankly offensive to see DC do this. Will they change anything? No, of course not as it’s a cynical attempt to cash in while removing another little piece of joy from the world as if you make everything dark, grim and depressing then what’s the point? Where’s the optimism? You can’t sustain drama when the tone is that of someone standing over a sink with a razor over their wrists thinking whether or not to slash them open? You can’t make things grimmer and grimmer because you don’t have anything in this world that anyone wants to fight for?

And that’s the problem. Why should we the readers bother anymore?