The New Superhero Playbook

A look at the greatest gift of DCeased, and how the team behind it turned a familiar idea into a potential future for superhero comics.

Since the title was first announced, I had a very specific nickname for Tom Taylor, Trevor Hairsine, Stefano Gaudiano, Rain Beredo, and Ken Lopez’s DCeased, and one that wasn’t all that creative or kind if I’m being honest. I dubbed it “DC’s Marvel Zombies,” a sobriquet that made me laugh at the time 1 even if there was never a doubt I’d buy its first issue, if only because of my faith in Taylor as an idea man.

Greg Capullo’s cover to DCeased #1

Now, on the surface, DC’s Marvel Zombies is a moniker that fits DCeased. It tells a story of a DC universe of unknown number being infected by the Anti-Life Equation, as Darkseid successfully deploys it through people’s devices thanks to the compelled aid of Cyborg, transforming the bulk of the world into bloodthirsty (sort of) zombies because it turns out we really like our devices. 2 Cue a whole lot of death and destruction, as DC’s heroes endeavor to save the day, save the world, and save the ones they love over the first six-issue mini-series.

As amusing as Marvel Zombies may have been and as apt as my pet name is on a very surface level, DCeased is a completely different animal in actual execution. It’s also something that has proven to be much more than I expected, just like the Anti-Life Equation was a heck of a lot more than Darkseid was predicting. 3 What began as an idea we had seen elsewhere before – at least in theory – has turned into something completely different over an array of mini-series, one-shots, and digital first titles.

While it very easily could have just been a variation on an existing formula, an entertaining interlude from a talented creative team, it – either accidentally or intentionally – may have revealed a way forward for superhero comics. A version of superhero comics that isn’t just endless tangles of personal histories, but high drama executed in an approachable way. By simultaneously embracing and denying continuity and through its reliance on atypical and typically frowned upon formats, Tom Taylor, Trevor Hairsine and the team supporting it at DC might be onto something special here, if only comics can recognize why DCeased has been the smash it is.

But just in case they can’t, let’s take a look at the elements that make this – dare I say it – franchise not just a great comic, but the playbook to a more accessible future for superhero comics.

Before we get into the deep nerd part of this piece, we’re going to start with the sizzle, not the steak, and by that I mean the comic itself. And it all begins with one of the most polarizing words in superhero comics: continuity. Depending on who you’re talking to, continuity is likely either a four-letter word or everything that makes these stories special. The spectrum between “lifeblood” and “anchor” is a broad one, and it’s something that many writers and editors struggle to balance, with its usage often ranging from laissez-faire handwaving to sacrosanct obsession.

From DCeased #2, art by Trevor Hairsine, Stefano Gaudiano and Rain Beredo

This is not a problem for DCeased. That’s by design, as this story was always destined to be its own thing. After all, it’s a comic that so far has largely been about the death of the Earth because of the Anti-Life Equation. The sequel mini-series to the first volume is literally called “Dead Planet.” This is not your standard Earth One or New Earth or “whatever Earth DC is currently on” type tale; this is an Elseworlds-like story. DCeased operates within its own continuity altogether.

And yet, it doesn’t at the very same time.

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  1. And still does, simply for its absurdity.

  2. The Anti-Life Equation can also be transferred from person-to-person through traditional zombie means like scratches and blood in this case, which is a problem when combined with billions instantly getting it, including superhumans.

  3. Shouts to my guy Darkseid who *spoilers* finally releases the Anti-Life Equation and then kills his own planet and self in the process! That might be considered victory for him, though, so…maybe it’s congrats?