I received a box from my brother today containing some Christmas gifts. All of them were wrapped in some old DC superheroes wrapping paper from 1980. I have no idea where he found it, but he included about a three foot square, which I assume is what he had left after wrapping my presents...
This was pretty typical of how DC sold itself up through about 1985. Plastic Man is included here because his cartoon show was on the air. The rest of the heroes were regulars on The Super Friends. Hawkman and Plastic Man are playing with hero-themed vehicles which were available to kids. (I believe they were all being produced by Corgi at the time.) It's something of a soft cross-sell, meaning that while you're being shown other ways to spend your time/money on DC, they still require you to do a bit of work on your own. If you didn't know who Plastic Man was, for example, there's nothing here to even name the character, let alone tell what time/channel his show is on.
But the broader idea of the DC universe is clearly present here too. All of the heroes are friends, smiling and chummy with each other, and they're eager to set aside battling Lex Luthor and the Joker to help Santa bring his goodwill message to all the hopeful boys and girls around the globe.
Now, lest you think I'm getting all nostalgic on you, I'll also point out that there's only one female repesented here and she's playing with a stereotypically female toy. And even blatant tokenist heroes like Black Vulcan, Apache Chief and Samurai are absent. That wasn't something I would've really noticed back in 1980 when my parents first used this wrapping paper (cut me some slack; I was eight!) but it's part of what made Marvel more appealing for me shortly thereafter. There was some attempt at representing everybody, and not just those in charge of producing comics.
It was actually just a year or two later that I began considering giving up comics entirely because the ones I was reading (almost entirely DC at that point) and the associated shows I was watching (again, based largely off DC) were getting very bland. The heroes' "personalities" were largely interchangeable with the main differences among them being costumes and powers. I had seen the introduction of John Stewart as Green Lantern, and the O'Neil/Adams team were making Green Arrow something of a stand-out from the crowd, but Superman and Batman tended to overshadow them.
Of course, things changed in 1986 with The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen when everything went all grim-n-gritty. Which I think was necessary for DC at some level; their stories had become pretty predictable by that point. Did they need to apply that thinking to everything they did? No, but they definitely needed to shake things up.
But the point I'd like to make today is to compare that image above to what DC is doing now. Their heroes are less friendly and don't seem like they'd be as likely to all join in for a merry celebration of helping Santa, but the cast looks pretty much the same. And if you've got the same cast, but they're angrier, that doesn't seem like much of a holiday tiding, does it? That seems like a step backwards to me.
I know Alan Moore, and I think Frank Miller, have both said that everybody took the wrong message away from their seminal 1986 books. Looking at this wrapping paper and comparing it to what DC is doing now, it seems to me that anyone would be hard-pressed to disagree.
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