The ’90s were an interesting decade to say the least. On one hand, it was a black hole of creativity that stagnated the mental growth of an entire generation with heavy-handed pandering which attempted to capitalize on ‘extreme’ marketing. On the other hand, it gave the world theshow and kickstarted the DCAU so it couldn’t have been all bad. Still, it was an era defined by the cultural mistakes it made and nowhere is culture more blatantly exploited in media than in comics.
As such, one of the two largest comic book companies in the world, DC, made several critical mistakes with characters it may have intended to make iconic, forever dooming them to obscurity or to hilarity. Even now, some twenty-seven years down the line of time, the company still hasn’t been able to fix the damage it’s dealt to these poor, innocent (some not so innocent) characters. Clearly time doesn’t heal all wounds, especially wounds that look like garish costumes in an era of ill-defined tack. Perhaps the worst part of these tragic tales is that, for the most part, preventable or at least reversible. Only a decade as tubular, radical, and X-treme as the ’90s could have made these irredeemable characters.
With a name like ‘Beefeater,’ you’d expect one of two things: either a hulking minotaur warlord or a ridiculously-dressed comedy character. This one is the latter. Created in 1990 under the Justice League Europe line, Beefeater was a British security guard who stumbled upon a suit and power rod and decided to try and join the JLE. In his first appearance, the Justice League security system attacked him and the rest of the league, eventually destroying the JLE’s embassy.
He was never seen from again until the funeral of more famous hero Booster Gold where he was somehow coerced into being a pall-bearer for a guy he didn’t really know. His latest appearance was in the Batman and Robin line as a prison guard. How the not-so-mighty have fallen. Beefeater was based on British sitcom character Basil Fawlty, played by Monty Python alum John Cleese. He probably was not amused.
Donna did not first appear in the ’90s but went through such a battery of bad decisions and retcons in that vacuum of a decade and has been so shaky in her recovery that she’s more than earned a place on this list. She began the ’90s by being hunted down by heroes from the future who wanted to kill her so she wouldn’t give birth to a supervillain. To save her son, she gave up her powers, then changed her mind and tried to get them back. Her marriage and life fall apart right before her ex-husband and son died.
As the decade arched towards its close, her origins were retconned to be an extradimensional plot device cursed to continuously live alternate versions of a terrible, pain-filled life while she and the rest of the world forgot about her previous existence. Literally a fate worth than death.
The original General Glory debuted in 1991 as a blatant parody of Marvel’s Captain America. Joseph Jones was a time-displaced WWII hero who got superpowers from an overly-patriotic chant. He had a dog named Liberty, once lost a bidding war for his own comic book to Guy Gardner of all people, and his sole lasting impact was helping Maxwell Lord with his alcoholism. The second General Glory came in 1994 when Donovan Wallace was hospitalized next to a weakened Jones and inherited the “spirit of Lady Liberty.”
This General was more overtly nationalistic and his origin story was a copy-paste job from the Punisher but with Nazi’s backed by Vandal Savage instead of gangsters. He had no major storylines and died off-page. Which is really too bad because an American nationalist superhero has become depressingly relevant in this day and age.
Imagine an animal-based hero who suffers from memory problems and has a rigid, aggressive personality. They purposefully separate themselves from the rest of the team, has been known to succumb to berserker tendencies, and has some kind of designation with the letter ‘X.’ And it’s not Wolverine. Pantha was a South American powerhouse whose alarmingly 90s’ name should have been the first hint that her staying power was short lived.
She first appeared in New Titans in 1991 with no memory of her origins save for the moniker ‘X-24.’ Her time on the team was brief because writers thought she’d be the perfect surrogate mother for Baby Wildebeest and had this hardened warrior become a housewife. She was killed unceremoniously during “Infinite Crisis” when Superboy-Prime backhanded her head off by accident.
Intrinsically, the Heckler is a good idea for a superhero. Designed as a “superhero Bugs Bunny,” Heckler used not superpowers but rather a dry, comedic wit and a theatrical personality. He was daring, colorful, and fairly well-written for a period where if something wasn’t ‘extreme’ it wasn’t considered marketable. Unfortunately, Heckler only appeared in six issues of his own comic line in 1992.
His short shelf life was attributed to the dying popularity of humor comics and creator Keith Giffen killed the series prematurely after poor sales. Ironically, the rise of characters like Deadpool and Squirrel Girl marked a resurgence of comedy superheroes only a few years later. In the years since, DC has had ample opportunity to revive the character. It would be a risk, but it would also capitalize on a renaissance of comedy in comics.
The introduction of Bane, Batman’s long night, and the image of the former breaking the latter’s back have become staples of comic book lore, but that was only the first quarter of 1993’s “Knightfall” storyline. The rest of the story was about Jean-Paul Valley, an assassin Batman had met only a few issues previously, taking over the mantle in weaponized bat armor and a brutal mentality. Though he’d been introduced a year previously, this was where Azrael took centerstage for the first time.
Readers had always suspected/hoped that Batman would eventually be replaced by his ward, Dick Grayson, who had more than earned a turn under the cowl. But instead they got Azrael. After his turn as Batman, he got his own comic title called Azrael: Agent of the Bat. Batman almost never featured, but the line would never have sold without ‘bat’ in there somewhere.
DANNY THE STREET
It’s a street. A street that’s sentient and somehow a superhero. Give creators Grant Morrison and Richard Chase points for creativity and immediately take those points away because it’s a teleporting, cross-dressing street for crying out loud. Debuting in 1990, Danny was initially a member of the Doom Patrol before he was kidnapped by the Brotherhood of Dada who only wanted him for his ability to instantly transport large groups of people anywhere in the world.
Like an immediate Stockholm Syndrome victim, Danny passively and happily complied with his captors. Later, he expanded to become Danny the World and was maimed to become Danny the Brick. He is currently under strict protection and is still as weirdly conceived as he was nearly thirty years ago.
Despite having a fair bit of mainstream exposure through various mediums, the Electrocutioner has and probably always will be a defined C-list villain with a comically smooth name. Though the character is older than the ’90s, the current incarnation of Lester Buchinsky first appeared in 1992 when he was immediately trounced by Batman. In his next fight, he lost to Robin almost instantly. Then he teamed up with Cluemaster and was beaten by Spoiler who hadn’t even known he was there.
His main problem as a character is his complete dependence on his electrical hardware and inability to adjust. It’s hard to take him seriously as a threat or even a plot device when Batman famously knocked him out in one punch in the first mission of the Batman: Arkham Origins game, the commonly accepted worst installment in the franchise.
Alexandra DeWitt debuted as the sometimes-girlfriend of fresh-faced Green Lantern Kyle Rayner. Her notable contributions to his narrative was helping him design his costume and that was more or less it. Her death was supposed to motivate him further to be a hero, but it instead had a very different effect. She was brutally murdered and eviscerated by Major Force and stuffed into her refrigerator for Kyle to find.
Her use as a basic plot accelerant drew criticism for its pointlessness and the waste of what could have been a meaningful character solely for the purpose of motivating an already motivated character. This created the ‘girl in the refrigerator’ trope which some would argue persists in comic books to this day and debilitates female side characters as narrative enzymes rather than a supporting cast.
At first glance, Tally Man seems like he should be a major Batman villain. The product of a tragic and crime-riddled childhood that culminated in his first murder when he was twelve, he went insane when he returned from juvie to find what was left of his family died. Years later, he became Tally Man, a tax collector who collects debt for underworld figures. He featured prominently in the “Knightfall” storyline where he was viciously scarred by Azrael who was posing as Batman for a time. This left an ingrained hatred for the Dark Knight that should have led to a series of epic battles.
Instead, he completely disappeared, only returning during the No Man’s Land arc which saw him side with Two-Face. In the story’s novelization, Two-Face casually killed Tally Man, making it clear that the comic writers didn’t know what to do with the character.
The best thing that happened to comics in the 90s’ was the DCAU, a series of popular cartoons that left an intrinsic stamp on the comic landscape. It introduced are Harley Quinn, Mr. Freeze’s new origin story, and a small side character called Roxy Rocket, a spirited stunt double who played both sides of the law while straddling her jet-based namesake. Writer Paul Dini confessed that Roxy was one of his favorite characters and made sure to include her when he wrote for Detective Comics.
It was several years before she made a follow-up appearance as a member of Roulette’s crusade against Stephanie Brown’s Batgirl. She made sporadic appearances before ending her comic run in Batman Li’l Gotham, of which the less said about the better. It’s a real shame too because an adrenaline junkie anti-hero would have made for a good permanent addition to the DC Universe.
The infant son of Donna Troy and Terry Long was born with the curse of being the son of Donna Troy and Terry Long. The relationship between nineteen year old Donna and her college professor was already one of the creepiest in comic book history before she got pregnant. Still, writers Robert seem important. His future self came back in time shortly after his birth as the villain Lord Chaos.
With the combined powers of the gods, he’d oppressed the world and the only way to stop him was to pull a Terminator and go back in time to kill his mother. That didn’t really work, but things worked out in the end as Terry and Robert died in a car crash not long after the Zero Hour event. Their combined legacy was a brief return during Blackest Night which only served to depress those who remembered their existence.
It’s no secret that the popular Marvel character Deadpool was largely ripped off from DC’s Deathstroke the Terminator. In an act of revenge for this blatant theft, Marv Wolfman created the character of Wade DeFarge, a carbon copy of Deadpool who took the Ravager moniker and happened to be Deathstroke’s long-lost half-brother. His origins had him lose the love of Adeline Kane to his then-unknown sibling and go insane with jealousy as a result.
Years down the line, he royally angered Rose Wilson by slaughtering her foster family and she took her brutal revenge by murdering him and taking the Ravager name. The entire time, it was constantly made clear that Wade was the D-list of assassins in the DC universe, the last option in a long list of options of various prices. Even if he’d lived, there was no way he could have recovered from such a bad reputation.
All of the members of DC’s Legion of Superheroes suffer from relative obscurity, but a name like Kent Shakespeare stands out. Mostly because it’s the single most ridiculous thing in a comic series that takes place in the 31st century. His origin story involves him going into a coma after being infected with a virus slowly replaces most of his cells with mostly identical cells that improve upon his original physiology. That’s right, his superpower is stem cells.
He took the name ‘Impulse’ which of course would later be used more successfully by a more famous speedster. He was not involved in any major storyline except his own origins and quickly got shifted to the back of reader’s minds when the Legion disbanded soon after he joined them. He’s made some cameo appearances since Zero Hour and Infinite Crisis, but mostly just to prove he still exists in new timelines.
First appearing in 1994, Kyle Rayner was designed as a replacement for Green Lantern Hal Jordan. And that’s all that people ever saw him as. He began as a freelance cartoonist, which indicated his powers would be more imagination than willpower based. The last Guardian of the Universe, Ganthet, handed Kyle his ring personally for reasons that thirty-odd years down the line still haven’t been explained. He let his on-again off-again girlfriend Alexandra design his costume, which was about as ’90s as you can imagine, complete with a chunky mask that has inexplicably survived to this day.
Apart from a ridiculous look, Kyle was defined by his girlfriend’s controversial death, his lack of defining character flaws, and virtually every hero universally agreeing that he wasn’t worthy to be Hal’s successor. Everyone from Wally West to Green Arrow to Batman said it openly and to his face. Readers readily agreed.
Which of these characters did DC screw up the most? Let us know in the comments!
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