Now, it is said of super heroes that the two ends of the spectrum are Superman and Batman and every else is somewhere in between.
There's a bit of a problem here. It's flat. Nobody likes flat fiction. That's its own problem. It's a problem relating to this subject in that nothing exists two-dimensionally. We need a three-dimensional model for this thing to exist properly.
Through this necessity we can examine the super hero genre and the parts that comprise it. The DCU offers prime examples of these three dimensions and through them some insight into the genre.
This diagram is simplistic of course, but it makes for a decent base to move from. Let's go through these dimensions briefly.
Superman represents the science, or more aptly science fiction, in this equation. A being from another planet, and a futuristic one at that. He is also considered one of the most powerful characters in comics. His nickname "The Man of Tomorrow" invokes the image of hero performing fantastic deeds in a world we can barely image, but is getting closer every day.
Wonder Woman is a direct link to mythology with her origins and powers stemming from Greek Myths. This is magic. This is the unexplainable. This it the pool from which the genre sprang from. Superman was not the first super hero. Odysseus, Gilgamesh, Arthur Pendragon, the Monkey King and many other preceded him by centuries. Wonder Woman is the representative of the past.
Batman is the best of humanity. He has taken personal tragedy and used it as a catalyst to transform himself into an ideal. His skills are vast and varied, encompassing multiple physical and academic disciplines. He has taken the lessons of his past, applied them to his constant preparation for the future and thus made himself incredibly formidable in the present.
So we have out three dimensional construct. Time to put it into motion.
The Fourth Dimension is time. Nothing stays static. We are all moving forward on the timeline. When we are discussing movement in relation to super heroes, there's only one character that exemplifies this:
The Flash moves the genre. We have had the Golden Age, Silver Age and the modern Age of comics. The Flash has been key to each transition. The creation of Barry Allen marked the beginning of the Silver Age. Barry Allen meeting his Golden Age predecessor Jay Garrick introduced the concept of the "Multiverse". The concept of the Multiverse was shelved during the 1985-86 series "Crisis on Infinite Earths" which included the death of Barry Allen. This series also transitioned the genre out of the Silver Age.
With Barry's death, we saw Wally West take up the role. This was the first time a "sidekick" has moved on to permanently graduate up. Wally West as a character was also at the center of DCU moving past the 90s grim and gritty trend. Writer Mark Waid spent the 90s taking Wally West, who was a well written and very unlikable character, and turning him into a model of character development. This was the beginning of a mini Renaissance for the genre which led to Waid and Morrison launching JLA. The exploits of the heroes took on a scope that was usually reserved for major "events", and this was due to amazing writers pushing their way to the forefront. This was made easier by The Flash, courtesy of Mark Waid, paving the road with a red blur and lightning strike.
Grant Morrison wrote in "Batman R.I.P." that the Fifth Dimension was Imagination. This brings us to a character that can create anything he imagines.
Green Lantern like the Flash has had different characters taking the name. The common element to these characters is that each had a ring that could manifest anything they imagine. What is fun to note here is that the three main characters to take one the role of Green Lantern also represent each of the three dimensions I wrote of earlier. The Golden Age character was Alan Scott, and his ring was powered by magic. In the Silver Age, Hal Jordan received his ring from an alien race. Kyle Rayner took up the role and although he received his ring from the same aliens he brought out a different aspect to the character in that he was an artist. It was his humanity that set him apart from the others.
So, could the Green lantern Rings have a connection to the Fifth Dimension that is home to the likes of Mister Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite? Well, that's speculation for another time, but the possibility is there. It's fairly evident in the mechanics of the Rings. Previously, when charged, the rings could create nearly anything for twenty-four hours. Currently, it is usage to depletes the charge. Perhaps the rings tap 5th dimensional energy and the process and mechanics of tapping the source has changed.
Speaking of Mxysptlk and Mat-Mite, since the Fifth Dimension is imagination, were they created by characters within the DCU? Did Superman creat Mxyzptlk? Time to move on.
FINAL CRISIS crystalized the concept of something outside the genre preying upon the genre. The Multiverse changed them and then they changed the Multiverse. The Fouth Wall was broken and we were introduced to the Fifth Wall. We are shown a mechanism containing 52 universes, each containing stories. These stories influenced the Moniters, which in turn had influence in the 52.
The Multiverse or 52 is the in comic representation of the superhero genre. It is something created, which has taken on it's own life and now influences the culture. It nourishes young minds and imaginations, only to have some of those minds grow up to contribute new stories to it. It's a symbiotic relationship. The genre has a will of it's own. It has a voice speaking to us in the gutters of the comic page. It has reached out beyond it's original medium to capture new minds and imaginations.
It grows. It consumes. Yes, it even poops.
The DC Universe is at the heart of the super hero genre, and the DC Universe is alive.