What Makes DC 'DC'? Inside the formula for success for Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, and more
Pulling back the curtain to how DC works
Detective Comics. What an institution, right? DC ushered in a love for superheroes for countless nerds like me. To this day, the likes of Batman and Wonder Woman indoctrinate the masses into this nerdy fandom we love so much. But what about these characters and DC makes it so appealing? WarnerMedia's current turmoil, the uneven DCEU, and its hopeful resurgence under James Gunn and Peter Safran haven't dampened fans' love of the perennial classic known as DC Comics.
As Dawn of DC (and seemingly a new DC in 2023) approaches, we ask: what makes DC 'DC'? In a word, fantastical. The bombastically colorful, wholly absurd multiverse DC has built since 1934 hangs its hat on the incredible. Let's explore the elements that define what it means to be part of the DC Universe.
What makes DC 'DC': Fantastical absurdity
DC Comics is absurd. I mean that in the best possible way. The more you ground their larger-than-life heroes in reality, the less they make any sense. We don't need or want them to make sense. We want Superman to punch Mongol in the face a bunch of times while careening through space on Warworld. We need Batman to be the strongest entity with his vast files of contingency plans in tow.
DC is full of intelligent, powerful people doing ridiculous things in the name of good or evil. Any attempt to put that into real-world context removes the joy and fun DC is so good at delivering. Marvel makes a point to give you heroes you can relate with. Characters you can empathize with and see yourself as. Not one of you can identify with Red Tornado, but you love when his legs turn into whirling gusts of red wind. DC is the pantheon of gods who choose to walk among the people.
What makes DC 'DC': Gods among us
Let's unpack the Ganesha-sized elephant in the room. DC superheroes are gods. They rule on high from their technological Mount Olympus (The Watchtower) and protect us, tiny humans, from harm. Sure, there are the occasional street-level heroes like Wildcat or even a Mr./Mrs. Terrific. Heck, throw a Green Arrow in there for good measure. Most of DC's major heroes are unstoppable, unkillable, unwavering titans who engage in cataclysmic showdowns with other unstoppable, untrustworthy warmongers.
Let's take Batman as an example. Within the DC Universe, Batman is the smartest, strongest, most agile person. There are full debates about how Batman could take down the Justice League alone. 'Prep time,' that's what they call it. Bruce has stood toe-to-toe with Darkseid, brought Superman to his knees, and returned from a broken back. That's full-on god behavior. My knees hurt when I sneeze after leg day. Humans can't do what Bruce does. He is a titan among the gods. The influences from Greek and Roman gods in unmistakable in the likes of Flash, Wonder Woman, Shazam, and more. This allows DC to tell equally god-like tales of good vs. evil.
What makes DC 'DC': There is good, and there is evil
The DC Universe is pretty Black and White. There is good and evil, and you fall on either side. Superman is uncompromisingly good. It's his whole schtick. Joker is chaos incarnate. Darkseid lives on a planet named Apokolips that farts fire from the pits of his creation. That's not the act of a fellah who might spare a sob story one day. There are full Elseworld stories dedicated to 'what if' scenarios to add some gray to the mix. Contrived plot points are used to shift the character's alignments.
The Injustice franchise exists solely to ask, 'What if Superman was, like, super duper bad?' As well as to off a bunch of characters and see if the Ninja Turtles could beat Hellboy in a fistfight on Brainiac's head-shaped ship. There are exceptions to every rule, but the roads lead to the same place. Heroes are good and fight super-evil villains. Heck, even spies like Power Girl choose a side eventually.
What makes DC 'DC': Unburdened and unwavering
Our petty human problems like doubt or conflicts of conscience do not burden DC superheroes. Batman never wonders if what he does is right. He knows. Superman isn't at home broken up about whether he did the right thing. Wonder Woman has no issues with her fury. Every hero is 100% on board with their own right and wrong decisions and is often entirely correct.
Someone like Tony Stark feels bad for selling weapons and may head back to his bajillion-dollar mansion and drink his sorrows away. Bruce Wayne not only knows Waye Tech doesn't make weapons, but he's also prepared the company to create anti-weapon weapons that disarm other weapons when they weapon. And it works.
There is no question to DC characters what they are meant to do, how they will do it, and not a second thought when they are in the thick of it. Second thoughts are for weak humans with short lives and no capes.
What makes DC 'DC': The superhero blueprint
DC Comics superheroes are without question the archetype for the concept of 'superheroes' in pop culture. It's hard to argue against Superman's look and feel representing the classic ideal hero. Search for a superhero illustration, and the aesthetic will fall within the DC 'tights and flights' playbook. They made undies on the outside a fashion statement instead of a sign of mental instability. In terms of supers, you name it, DC brought it to the table. Their 'super' look is replicated throughout superhero fandom and remains the benchmark.
What makes DC 'DC': The great escape
I don't know about you, but sometimes I need a break from reality. A fantastical escape into a land of wonder. DC has always offered a magical, colorful, bombastic universe to dive into. Where the competitor Marvel uses real-world locations, events, and even people to tell their tales, DC opts to build larger-than-life versions of recognized places.
Marvel at the skyline of retro-futuristic Metropolis. Lose yourself in the magical halls of the Tower of Fate. Explore Ancient Greece reborn in Themescara. Or be a '50s gangster in the filthy streets of Gotham. The DC Comics pages have long served nerds like me as a vibrant, mythical break from daily grinds.
What makes DC 'DC': The guide to greatness
I know what you are wondering. Is there a guide to the superhero multiverse we love so much? There is. The 1982 DC Comics Style guide made its way onto the internet thanks to the Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez Fan's Facebook page. The guide features art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and depicts iconic DC heroes in classic posses and aesthetics. The unassuming gray binder is stuffed with color palettes and reference images for future artists working on DC's major heroes. There isn't a better depiction of DC's overall vibe than this guide. Give it a look and drink in the design bones of DC Comics.
For many, the bold multiverse of DC Comics introduced them to superheroes and pop culture. The influence the comic company's pantheon of characters has on not only fans but the industry at large is unmistakable. The fantastical absurdity of the DC Universe makes it unique and accessible to millions of nerds like you, me, and the next generation of cosplaying, fandom-loving DC fans to come.
Want more? Make sure you've read all of our recommended best DC Comics stories.