From Wonder Woman #600
Art by Amanda Conner
So, following the immense popularity of my 5 Essential Character Redesigns post, I decided to take a more thorough stab at revamping DC Comic’s Justice League. I’ve already mentioned before that I think their current “New 52” reboot, aimed at gaining new readers, is terribly ineffective, so I will attempt to present DC’s top characters in a way that achieves the basic goals that a reboot should:
- Make the characters appealing to new readers, not just old ones
- Create new story opportunities while staying true to the core themes
- Update, correct and redesign where necessary
With these goals in mind, here’s my take. I’ve written out each character’s “reboot” in detail, including my justification for the changes.
Superman (Kal-El/Clark Kent)
Origin: The Kryptonian civilization once spanned hundreds of worlds, their technology and knowledge unrivaled in their corner of the galaxy. Kryptonians had long since advanced to a point where technology and biology were indistinguishable, making them virtually immortal and omnipotent in the eyes of less developed races. Over time they grew overconfident, and wished to introduce their technology to undeveloped worlds, in direct violation of the most important rule of the galactic community: the Omega Law.
In an attempt to assimilate the natives of the planet Mars, Krypton finally gained the attention of Colu, enforcer of the Omega Law, and was marked for extermination. A Kryptonian Scientist named Jor-El, specializing in passively and remotely observing nearby Earth, witnessed this and rapidly set a plan forward to save his infant son, Kal-El, from their fate. By sending him in a conventional rocket toward the backwater planet Earth, he guaranteed Kal-El’s safety from Colu. The rocket took over a thousand years to reach the planet, and upon reaching the surface, restructured Kal-El’s body so he would appear as a human.
Raised by simple farmers, Kal-El (now called Clark Kent) eventually learned of his heritage when examining a recorded message from his rocket. His father informed him of his fate, and that he must never dominate the planet with his immense power, as it would warp the fate of all life on Earth. Not content to passively observe humanity, though, Clark decides to inspire others through his actions as Superman.
Superman has declared that he fights for those who cannot defend themselves, owing no allegiance to a particular government (though still obeying their laws). He has particularly targeted corporate corruption and the military-industrial complex as enemies of human progress, his most prominent opponent being billionaire industrialist Lex Luther and his company, LexCorp.
Powers: Superman can “shed” his human form and appear as a Kryptonian, though he chooses not to, as to avoid violating the Omega Law. He possesses superhuman durability and strength, as well as the ability to move himself through the air. His senses are also much more sensitive than an average human’s. Being a Kryptonian, he is actually capable of near-godlike feats, but for the safety of the Earth and his mission, Clark deliberately avoided learning of what he is truly capable.
Notes: I wanted to bring Superman back to his depression-era roots, where in the earliest stories he was mostly concerned with social justice more than representing specifically American ideals. It was only after World War 2 that he became a more “boy scout,” authoritarian character. I wanted him to be closer to the Nietzschean “Superman” (the earliest inspiration for the character) whose morality can be independent of traditional ones.
Visually, I wanted to have him look a little more working class, with the buttons suggesting the image of overalls and the sleeves appearing rolled up. With the cape and high boots, though, he still has the appearance of an adventurer. I wanted the overall look to be more of a friendly guy who wants to help people more than a demigod who watches over them. He’s more of a fireman than a police officer.
Also, as an aside, Colu was the original home planet of Braniac, so I used that name for him instead.
Wonder Woman (Diana)
Origin: Since antiquity there had been a remote Mediterranean island, Themyscira, inhabited by near-mythical women, often called Amazons. They mastered many arts of combat, but also had a knowledge of mysterious crafts regarded by outsiders as “magic.” Over time their numbers dwindled, but they created a special keeper of their island, a living statue whom they named Diana. Over a thousand years later, long after the last of the Amazons had died out, Diana remained. Her vigil was finally interrupted by the plane crash of an American pilot, Steve Trevor. Taking pity on him and nursing him back to health, Diana decided that the “world of men” was too fragile and needed protecting, or at the very least investigating.
Powers: Diana is composed of nearly indestructible “living marble,” which gives her superhuman strength and durability. She also possesses a sword that contains the lightning of Zeus and a shield containing the wisdom of Athena (which, when using its reflection, can reveal a person’s inner self and compel them to tell the truth).
Notes: I wanted to push the mythological angle further, not just for story possibilities but because it can make her more unique from Superman. Too often is Wonder Woman defined by as “the female superhero” rather than anything especially unique about her. The novelty of a superhero being female may have been acceptable in the 1940s, but now it’s quaint at best. Presenting her as a literal living statue is actually not far from her regular origin (she was formed by the Queen of the Amazons out of clay and given life), and it also provides an added Pygmalion or Telos mythological angle, which I think suits her character to begin with. Visually, I gave her something more Greek-like and battle ready, more so than the little bathing suit Wonder Woman usually has. Like most of the Justice League, she’s an alien in the regular world, but she also provides a unique perspective. This, I believe, is an essential theme of the team.
Cyborg (Victor Stone)
Origin: Born with a degenerative nervous system, Victor Stone nevertheless became a technological savant and eventually overcame his disability with cybernetics of his own design. Having always been obsessed with human enhancement, he instantly became enamored when news of a “Superman” circulated the world. In an attempt to win the favor of the newly formed Justice League, he proceeded to hack into their systems and even physically challenge them to prove his worth. Despite being ultimately defeated, Victor was accepted as a member and serves as their “IT guy.”
Powers: Cyborg possesses higher than average human strength, the ability to connect himself to and to control most computer systems, and a greatly enhanced intellect. He also possesses an impressive (though not always fully functioning) array of personal armaments.
Notes: Cyborg’s current origin (troubled teen who gets in an accident) seemed played out, so I went the technophile angle, which I think is more relevant. It also places a more positive light on Cyborg’s prostheses, as the original origin has a very antiquated “Darth Vader” vibe to it. Here I’ve basically based Cyborg off of Richard Ayoade’s character Moss from The IT Crowd, making him much geekier and emphasizing his intelligence over brute strength. When you’re on a superhero team with the likes of Superman and Wonder Woman, having a gun hand isn’t your greatest attribute. With that in mind, my Cyborg is valued more for his technical skills and madcap ingenuity.
The Martian Manhunter (John Jones)
Origin: Thousands of years ago, there existed a civilization of changelings who inhabited Mars. Unaware of greater galactic affairs, they were contacted by a Kryptonian ship wishing to advance them with their immense technology. This was in violation of the Omega Law, and both civilizations were immediately doomed to extermination. While this occurred, a single Martian was accidentally teleported to the present time, on Earth, by an experimental teleporter in LexCorp labs. Despite this unusual arrival, LexCorp did not believe him to be an alien but a mutated version of John Jones, the astronaut they were attempting to teleport to Mars. There the Martian was kept for several years before being rescued by Superman.
Inspired by Superman’s heroics, the Martian took on the name Manhunter and vowed to bring justice to Lex Luthor and others who abuse their power.
Powers: ”John Jones,” like all his kind, can change his physical form at will, though it takes some effort to keep any shape that isn’t his natural one. He is only limited by the amount of matter in his own body.
Notes: I removed most of the Martian Manhunter’s powers and focused on shapeshifting, since his other abilities are covered thoroughly by Superman and the rest of the Justice League. This version is also much less trustworthy of human beings, and with his special skill acts as the League’s detective and infiltrator. Visually I went with something more gangly, and with an outfit that he made himself to mimic Superman. He’s explicitly meant to look awkward and out of place. I like John being more alien and focused on simply understanding the world around him. The first Earthlings he really encounters are all heroes so he thinks “Well, I guess I’ll assimilate into this ‘super’ culture.”
Green Lantern (Midori Ota)
Origin: Oa is a planet that stands apart from the galactic community in that its leaders take great interest in underdeveloped civilizations. So great is their concern that, in violation of the Omega Law, they secretly send devices of significant power to backwater worlds that allows a single individual of utmost character to defend their planet from existential threats. Upon its arrival to Earth, the device chose a young animator named Midori Ota for her creativity and strength of will. While she eventually embraced this new power, Midori does not realize this “green lantern’s” origins or why she must truly wield it.
Powers: The “Green Lantern” itself is a device of Oan technology that binds itself to the chest of Midori when in use, and can project a stream of microscopic machines that can take on virtually any form she imagines. The only limitations are ones of concentration and total amount of the machine particles. She can also fly by encasing herself in a thin layer of the material.
Notes: The only significant visual change is the removal of the ring. I did this partly because I think a visually central source of power fits with the symmetry of the outfit better, but more importantly I wanted a device that was more universal and would make sense with an interplanetary effort to empower multiple species. It also cuts out the middle man and make the Green Lantern someone who literally uses a Green Lantern to fight. You wouldn’t call Batman “Money Man” or “Cave Man” because that’s where he recharges. Also I went with a plucky, younger character like Kyle Rayner, who I think was the most interesting to hold the title. Midori is a person who enjoys being a superhero and revels in the action it brings, at least for now.
The Flash (Ananth Patil)
Origin: While attempting to replicate what he believed to be the origin of Superman’s invulnerability, Dr. Ananth Patil accidentally accelerated his own metabolism to a superhuman degree. While he has gained extraordinary abilities in the process, his body has become unstable, requiring him to eat enormous amounts of food simply to stay alive and making regular sleep impossible. He currently seeks out other superhumans, hoping to find a way to cure his condition.
Powers: The Flash can and move at incredible speeds, well past Mach 10. He has also devised a helmet that compensates for the Doppler blue shift he sees at very high speeds as well as the equivalent for sound with his ear microphones.
Notes: I wanted a different take on the Flash than what’s usually seen, namely someone who saw it more of a curse than a blessing. Ananth is a scientist first, he’s more like Hank Pym or Bruce Banner: adventuring is a means to an end. Visually I wanted to give him a build that was more like a sprinter with larger thighs and a leaner overall shape. His outfit is very deliberately designed (by the Flash himself), with an emphasis on comfort and practicality.
Power Girl (Karan Starr)
Origin: Superman is considered a security liability by the US Government, as he does not recognize their authority over most matters. As a response, the CIA secretly worked with LexCorp on replicating the Man of Tomorrow’s abilities in human beings. The only test subject to survive the process was Lieutenant Karan Starr, who was given the codename “Power Girl” and tasked with being the United States’ counter to Superman. However, instead of openly opposing him, Karan was sent to infiltrate the newly formed Justice League as an independent “superhero.”
Powers: Strength and invulnerability comparable to Superman, though she does not have his more unusual abilities like flight. However, since LexCorp did not know that Superman is an alien, their methods of replicating his abilities were very different. This may lead to Karan experiencing side effects later on.
Notes: Power Girl’s origin story has always been a mess, so I just started from scratch. Since my version of Superman both makes him much more antiauthoritarian, it seemed natural to have a character that exists as the government’s response to a superhuman acting independent of their own interests. Karan is essentially a Captain America character with a much more morally ambiguous origin, and is sent to basically watch over this crazy (in her eyes) band of superpowered people- I think that has story potential. Visually I wanted to keep her curvy, stout build, but place emphasis on her strength instead of her sexuality.
And there’s my take on it. Overall I wanted to place emphasis on character over costume, meaning that I tried to develop the superpowers to fit each character’s personality. I also tried to develop a lineup that could provide a lot of new stories as well as various character relationships.
I’d love to hear your thoughts!