In the course of talking to comic creators this year, I started to think about their unique talents and what I think they would be best suited to. Inspired by all kinds of wonderful ideas I’ve seen online and heard from creators, I’ve put together my New 52. These are the 52 books I would publish if DC’s offerings were up to me and, as my friends and I have had a good time discussing them, I thought I would share them with you.

I tried to consider the actual feasibility of these titles, not only in the sense of immediate sales but in their ability to expand DC’s brand long-term. I also recognize that this is a dramatically simplified version of what DC actually has to do. As such, I made a couple of rules for myself. First, as I don’t have the same knowledge of the creators’ availability and timeliness as an actual editor, I decided that I would allow myself access to any writer currently working in comics, but that I could only assign a creator to one book. Second, I tried not to put a writer on the same book that they’ve already worked on, though some were moved to similar concepts or allowed to expand short work they’ve already done. Finally, while an actual relaunch might do well to include some new books, I limited myself to preexisting titles and IPs for this project.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, on why I’m right, why I clearly screwed up, who should be illustrating the series, etc. But, regardless, I hope you enjoy.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking of ways to diversify DC’s lineup on this project. Superheroes are great and I love them dearly, but as comics’ presence in popular culture grows I think it makes sense to try to expand a little into other genres. Horror and hard mystery are natural choices, much beloved in the 40s and 50s. Science fiction’s never gone out of style. If you do it right, fantasy comics are amazing, having sparked many an imagination in the 80s. And of course, the 50s nearly belonged to westerns. But there’s another genre that sprung up in there for a spell, a product of the 1970s. Forget the old west, I’m looking the other way to consider a child of the strange, sometimes uncomfortable world of the Kung Fu boom. Let’s see if we can’t build a solid martial arts comic!

 

THE TIGER AND THE DRAGON BY BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS

Richard Dragon has a somewhat complicated history, but the short version is that after an attempt to cash in on the Kung Fu craze, in the form of a novel called Dragon’s Fists, failed, Denny O’Neil refused to give up on his story and reworked it as a comic called Richard Dragon: Kung-Fu Fighter when DC asked for a martial arts comic.

Richard Dragon debuted as an angry young man wandering Asia for kicks when a jade statue caught his eye. Devoid of purpose or a sense of consequence, Dragon broke into a dojo at night and attempted to steal the jade Buddha, only to discover that the owners were not pleased. He was promptly defeated by another American, a young man named Ben Turner, who was already studying at the dojo under a man called O-Sensei. That could have been the end, had not O-Sensei seen potential in the brash young thief and agreed to train him.

The point of origin: Richard Dragon, Kung-Fu Master

The point of origin: Richard Dragon, Kung-Fu Master

In true 70s style, these two Americans quickly became some of the most talented martial artists in the world and, in even truer 70s style, they were eventually snatched up by the brilliantly backronymed Global Organization of Organized Defense, an espionage agency that needed two martial artists to keep world peace…because that’s how espionage works.

The title suffered once it introduced too many elements of the standard DC Universe, which sapped away at what made it unique, but Dragon went on to a prominent role in O’Neil’s acclaimed run on The Question. His compatriots fared even better. As the Bronze Tiger, Ben went on to join the League of Assassins and then the Suicide Squad. The final major character of the Kung-Fu Fighter series was Sandra Wu-San, Lady Shiva. Overshadowing both her teammates, Shiva also played a major part in The Question before being picked up and brought to prominence by Chuck Dixon’s seemingly endless Batman family titles in the 90s and early 2000s, becoming a major player in Birds of Prey, particularly.

It seems these three characters owe much of their success to the sheer resistance of their writers to let them die. Nonetheless, even in writing this, there’s a certain energy about the idea of the three great martial artists, gone their separate ways. While none of them, especially Dragon, ever really returned to prominence in their own right, the trio play integral parts in many beloved stories. Especially with the Bronze Tiger appearing on Arrow, it seems a fine time to revisit the early period of their fictional lives.

Whether we do the series in flashback or de-age the characters a little bit, I think a reboot of Richard Dragon, Kung-Fu Fighter has potential. The hook, for me, would be the relationship between these two young men, different but bound together by their teacher and their need to channel the anger they feel.

The destination: Richard Dragon, zen master.

While, done wrong, it can be exceedingly trite, the character being burned up by an anger with no place to go has always interested me. Perhaps I’ve seen too much of it myself, but it has a natural arc to it, a tension and a fear that begs the reader to wonder whether the hero can find a positive outlet before it takes its toll. The idea that O-Sensei is training both men to channel their aimlessness and frustration definitely speaks to me and it clearly spoke to O’Neil, who gave the pair another foil in the form of Shiva.

A fondly remembered appearance by Bronze Tiger in Batgirl.

A fondly remembered appearance by Bronze Tiger in Batgirl.

In a bit of kismet, Turner’s path to reinvention would take him into the League of Assassins and a complex brainwashing and redemption arc, leading him to adopt the codename the Bronze Tiger. As you’ve seen, I think a title can and should capture a lot about the content of a series and the Buddhist concept of the Tiger and the Dragon seems too perfect to pass up. It explains the relationship between the two characters and the roles they play beautifully and adds to the sense of poetry the story already possesses. The title also plays up Ben, who I think deserves an upgrade to equal partner.

I imagine The Tiger and the Dragon would read more like an indie title than many of DC’s offerings. My vision sees a highly serialized comic, with middle length arcs full of b-plots and c-plots that blur where one begins and the other ends without making it impossible to pick up midway. The focus would be on the two heroes’ relationship, with Shiva lurking around the corners of the title, building narrative power, until it’s time for her to enter the story.

I don’t know whether the story would restrict itself to adventures during Ben and Richard’s training, try to justify G.O.O.D., take a new path, or transition between the three, but all of them seem true enough to the concept and I think that decision should rest with the writer.

As a more realistic, character-driven piece, I chose Brian Michael Bendis for this title. Bendis is a controversial writer to many, though often more for his effect on the industry than the actual problems with his writing. The extreme wordiness and decompression that defines Bendis’ writing is occasionally a problem, however, it wouldn’t have become a serious trend in comics if he couldn’t pull it off. That’s not to say that Bendis’ flaws are imagined or illegitimate, but the issues that properly connect his vision with the readers’ experience are absolute gold. If you can give him the proper chance to use his talents, you’ll have a winner on your hands, and I think The Tiger and the Dragon does that.

It may take him more than a few words to express it, but Bendis definitely gets his characters.

The serialized structure and emphasis on the development of individual characters’ philosophies about life gives Bendis plenty of room to employ his wordy, written for trade style and the almost Shakespearean relationships provide him an opportunity to indulge the thoughtful foreshadowing and symbolism he calls upon.

There will be those who read that and, not without reason, hear a call for something different, an argument filled in with years of flame wars, and among those there will be some who see in it everything wrong with the American comics industry of the last ten years. I see that. Your tastes may not be everyone’s taste, but they skew closer to my own than the alternative. However, while that’s one way of looking at it, I see a different way to read it.

A paragraph ago I highlighted three elements of the proposed series: grand relationships, serialization, and characters developing philosophies through their adventures. While Bendis’ name conjures the idea of American decompression, there is another school that employs the same tricks in a different and beloved manner: manga.

While we often remember only the most broad examples of the shonen genre, and then pretend that the elements that thrilled us in middle school were the only ones there, there are countless great manga titles that have taken that exact formula to great places. Yes, it’s cliche to turn to Japan for guidance on a martial arts series, especially one about a Chinese discipline, but the themes O’Neil wove into the Richard Dragon mythos are staples of manga and the level of thoughtfulness and maturity with which manga handles many of these issues is often something that American companies could aspire to.

Not least in importance to DC, manga sells. Admittedly it isn’t quite the omnipresent wave of the future we expected a few years back, but it’s still a huge part of the comics market with enormous reach. I think considering the series from this perspective would be a great boon to a hypothetical editor and possibly to Mr. Bendis as he crafted his take on the material.

The long and short of it is that Bendis does write amazing characters and, utilizing the same techniques, he’s proven more than capable of writing great fight scenes. For me, those are the two most important ingredients for this series and, on top of that, Bendis’ name recognition would be a blessing for a series based on an 18 issue 1975 comic series based on an obscure 1974 dimestore novel. It’s a different prescription for DC, but I think that this series could be a solid seller and open up new avenues for the shared universe, following in the footsteps of its unlikely predecessor.

Richard Dragon, Kung-Fu Fighter 01 - 01

Tomorrow… The FIRST and GREATEST HERO of THEM ALL!

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