The DC relaunch is folding the Wildstorm Universe into the DCU proper. Is this a good idea?
Many many other people have already criticized the way the reboot seems to be taking all of the worst ideas from the 90s and creating something that’s instantly dated, but what the inclusion of the Wildstorm universe into the DC proper makes pretty clear is that DC’s current editorial direction is one that’s wildly in conflict with its traditional tone, the one that produces its best stories. Tonewise, you can’t run DC like Marvel, or Image, or anything else. A company’s properties do, to some extent, dictate the stories you can tell within that company.
For an excellent example of this in the context of a different company, consider the Sentry at Marvel, who was just terrible and awkward no matter what Marvel tried to do with him because once you got past the premise of a forgotten Superman analogue, you suddenly had to deal with the fact that a Superman analogue just doesn’t work in the Marvel universe, and not just because of power level (because, honestly, Dr. Strange or the Silver Surfer could, in any properly written story, kick his ass). A Superman analogue doesn’t work because Marvel’s core tone is one of pseudorealistic storytelling in a superhero universe – even the truly ludicrous story elements are treated as completely realistic and plausible, and part of realism and plausibility is that even Captain America and Spider-Man, on occasion, will lose their shit and get depressed or enraged or what have you. You can’t really do that with Superman: his real superpower, as so many have said, is his bottomless well of compassion, and in a Marvel context you need to go really high up the food chain to get to beings with that sort of power over themselves.1
If Marvel’s core tone has always been pseudorealism, then DC’s has always been fantastic. Marvel doesn’t just lack Superman analogues; it lacks Batman analogues too, because Batman is just as implausible a person as Superman is and in the “real world’ Batman would be kind of crazy or a douchebag. Like Nighthawk, for example, who has been both. It was DC that first went to the alternate-universe crack pipe and who still has crazed explanations for everything even today (as opposed to Marvel, which decided that its multiverse would be casually policed by a number of organizations, be they multiple Captain Britains or multiple Reed Richards2 because in Marvel a multiverse means another stab at plausibility in an otherwise insane setting); it was DC that constantly comes up with variations on its core characters reverberating through all space and time so it can have an explanation for why Pirate Batman is on Earth-71 or whatever it is this week; it was DC that let Grant Morrison write Final Crisis.
I mean: people love the idea of Wild Dog being the DCU’s Punisher equivalent, but Wild Dog can only exist as a series for so long before people ask “when is Superman going to notice the insane vigilante?” See also: Vigilante, any non-cowboy incarnation. See also: Hitman, which ended on a grace note in JLA/Hitman when Garth Ennis rightly pointed out that Superman might not morally judge Tommy for being an assassin, but wouldn’t be able to let it slide, either. The Punisher works in the Marvel Universe precisely because there are no Batmans or Supermans there to stop him: there are only your Daredevils and Spider-Mans who are not godlike beings and can’t necessarily stop him, and your Nick Furies who instead try to exploit him. “[DCU hero] fights [murderous supposedly-heroic vigilante]” is one of DC’s storytelling staples, and that’s because it’s a core part of their tone: the noble knight rather who defeats Sandor Clegane every time.3 Which is fantastic. And that’s fine. That’s the story the DCU is good at telling.
DC’s incorporated other superhero universes into their core universe before, of course, with diminishing results. The Charlton and Quality characters slipped in smoothly enough; the Fawcett ones, less so, because Captain Marvel’s tone is cartoonier and lighter than DC’s, even when DC is at its lightest, and the result has been a horrible “champion of magic” role for Captain Marvel that has never really fit. The integration of Milestone worked even less well because most of Milestone’s heroes have their genesis in a giant industrial accident/government conspiracy and many of them are out-and-out killers, because the Milestone tone was even grittier and more cynical than Marvel’s was. (Blood Syndicate was a fantastic comic book, but it’s also about a freaking superpowered gang and never pretended to be anything else.)
So: Wildstorm. Which just seems like a clusterfuck from the beginning, because look what they’re incorporating directly: Grifter as the superhero equivalent of Roddy Piper in They Live, Voodoo reimagined in a solo “misunderstood hero” role, and Apollo and Midnighter and Jack Hawksmoor (at least) in a new Stormwatch along with the Martian Manhunter. The Grifter idea sounds like an attempt to do an end-run around DC’s core tone without having to deal with the “when DOES Superman arrest Wild Dog?” problem, the Voodoo thing could be perfectly normal or suck (because the DCU shouldn’t have misunderstood heroes, because Superman is always willing to sit down with a rookie hero for five minutes over a hot pretzel with mustard and have a chat), and the Stormwatch book is such a massive clash in tone – teaming up Authority members, and remember these are characters from a book whose core tone was “this is what the Justice League would be like if they weren’t stupid,” with the Martian Manhunter, a character who embodies the DCU’s core ideals better than almost anybody.
And that’s just what we know about. For all we know there’s a WildC.A.T.S team somewhere waiting to debut with Geo-Force on it for some reason. Which would be a bad, bad idea, but not as bad as putting the Authority in the DC Universe proper.
EDIT TO ADD: Apparently DC editorial feels really, really strongly that Superman should not rescue kittens from trees, which makes absolutely no sense to me.