The lure of superhero comics is the unfolding narrative, the way decades’ worth of creators can weave together stories about iconic heroes and villains. DC has been going for over eighty years, chronicling the adventures of fiction’s biggest icons. DC history can be rather tangled, as years of events were retconned or rebooted, making consistency difficult to maintain.
Inconsistency in characterization can be a problem for many DC characters, as there have been so many versions that creators have been known to pick one they like and use it. For other characters, the inconsistency is the point, making them more interesting. Finally, some are inconsistent because of the seismic changes in their circumstances.
10 Lex Luthor
Lex Luthor is an iconic DC villain, and his inconsistency has actually played a part in that. The Lex Luthor of today is quite different from the one of the Bronze Age. That one is different from the one of the Silver Age, and that one is different from the Golden Age. While some things stay the same – the hatred of Superman and the arrogance – everything else changes.
Luthor has been a mad scientist, a cackling supervillain, an evil businessman, and a combination of all three. Some stories call for one, and some call for another. Luthor’s ability to evolve with the times makes this inconsistency work. In fact, he’s a better character because there are so many stories he can work in.
Hawkman has existed for over eighty years in some form or another, and few characters have been as abused by DC’s continuity as he has. The original Golden Age Hawkman is the reincarnated pharaoh, the noble leader of the Justice Society. The Silver Age Hawkman is Katar Hol, the space policeman known for his conservative attitudes. The modern Hawkman is a mishmash of various eras of the character.
Hawkman’s history is the definition of tangled, which is what makes him so inconsistent. Hawkman’s character has gone through so many changes in order to make sense of things that it’s easy to have one creator make him a violent and mouthy conservative, while another makes him into the Golden Age paragon or virtue. He’s often been a mess of a character, and it seems there are always new explanations as to why he is the way he is.
8 Barry Allen
Barry Allen is an example of a character whose inconsistency hurt a lot. The original Barry was a Silver Age science dad, a character that was so lame that he looped back around to cool. Post-resurrection Barry became a boring superhero cop cliché, made even worse when he was given the edgy origin retcon of having his mother killed by Reverse Flash in the past.
With Barry, it feels like they were trying to make him into something he wasn’t for a long time. They tried to roll back the clock and weld the whole thing to a wannabe Batman origin to make him “cool,” but they missed what actually made him cool. Reading Barry’s comics appearances over the years gives a reader a massive case of total tonal whiplash.
7 Conner Kent
Conner Kent is an iconic Superman replacement, but there’s so much more to the character. Starting out as an edgy ’90s teen with a heart of gold, he’d soon find a new and more angry characterization in the mid-’00s. He was completely different as a Teen Titan than when he was with Young Justice, a state of affairs that has dogged him for years.
With Conner, no creator has ever really settled on a consistent way to show him growing as a character. Either he doesn’t grow at all, or he’s taken in a more serious direction that doesn’t feel earned. The only consistent thing about the character is that no one can decide where to take him next.
6 Power Girl
Some DC women aren’t written well for a variety of reasons. Power Girl’s unfortunately been endemic to several of them. Originally the Earth-2 Supergirl, Power Girl became something different after Crisis On Infinite Earths, or more specifically, several somethings different. There’s been nothing consistent about her for years, to the extent that it was made into a part of her origin.
She was sometimes portrayed as a no-nonsense hero, other times a woman searching for a place to belong, and other times something completely different from both. Her multiple origin retcons didn’t help the matter. For years, she was a character without an identity, and even today, this still afflicts her sometimes.
5 The Joker
The Joker and Batman have had every kind of battle under the sun. Their rivalry is a classic, and it’s been acted out in every artistic medium imaginable. The Joker has always been an inconsistent character, but that’s been made into a part of the character over the years. No one knows what version of the Joker they’re getting until they read the story.
Sometimes this works, and other times it doesn’t. Every reader has one Joker story that stars an anachronistic Joker that just doesn’t work. It’s one of the pitfalls of the character, as sometimes his inconsistency is a strength, and other times it can get quite annoying.
4 Red Hood
Red Hood’s corruption arc became so pronounced that it forced a retcon of who Jason Todd was. Fans going back to the old Jason Todd Robin stories will see a pretty standard kid sidekick, not the brooding, angry hero that his origin retcons have put in place. Todd’s characterization was even changed upon his return, as he was eventually given a redemption arc to rejoin the Bat Family.
Since then, his portrayal as an anti-hero has been pretty uneven. Sometimes, he’s hyper-violent and ready to kill. Other times, he’s a sarcastic guy making the best of a bad situation. He can go from mean to everyone to just another team member on a dime.
Darkseid was created by comic legend Jack Kirby as the main villain of the Fourth World. Darkseid was meant to be a character who exemplified all the worst things about humanity, but not every creator has been able to pull that off successfully. Instead, many have written Darkseid as the DC version of Thanos. Darkseid as a “big bad” works, but too many have made him into a stereotype.
Darkseid is an extremely easy character to get wrong. In the hands of creators like Grant Morrison or Tom King, Darkseid is exactly what he needs to be. Other times, like during Geoff Johns’s Justice League, he was just a generic bad guy playing off his reputation.
2 Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman is a DC mainstay, but being a major female superhero is something that has changed a lot in the last eighty-odd years. Diana of Themyscira has been through more changes than most, from a heavily queer-coded bondage queen to the secretary to the stars to the warrior readers know today.
In some ways, her inconsistency has been a favor to the character. She was often pigeonholed into sexist representations, and things have gotten better in that respect. However, even her current portrayal as a warrior has its problems, as creators play her differently every time.
Batman has changed a lot over the years, and his various portrayals prove that. The evolution of Batman as a character has seen him go in pretty much every direction that a comic superhero can go in, from the smiling friend to the children of the ’50s to the hard-boiled fascism of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. However, Batman’s inconsistencies in the modern age deal more with how he is than with who he is.
Some write Batman as Batgod, the unstoppable force of nature who can defeat any hero or villain. However, this doesn’t always work, so they also have to write Batman as fallible. Otherwise, there would be no dramatic stakes. This Batman dichotomy – both unstoppable enough to beat Superman and weak enough to lose to Joker – is remarkably inconsistent.
NEXT: 10 Best DC Villains With Confusing Origin Stories
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