Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The new DC (once more, with feeling...)

Hey, have you heard the news?

DC Comics just went nuclear.

Today DC announced, via their blog, that after August 31st they will be cancelling their entire comic book line, renumbering everything from number one and doing a hard reboot to the entire DCU.

I’m sorry, what?

I’ve got mixed feelings about the whole endeavour. On the one hand I think the entire DC brand could do with a shot in the arm. They’ve been rebooting, reimagining or rethinking individual franchises for years now, but part of the problem is trying to reinsert these rejigged franchises into a larger continuity that resists any substantive change to the accepted status quo.

The end result is a patchwork mess of back stories that are confusing, contradictory and, most importantly, off putting to new readers.

From that perspective, taking the entire line back to square one is a good idea. This way everyone starts at the same place and writers don’t have to worry about making sure their character needs a continuity patch or two somewhere down the line.

But DC has an abysmal track record when it comes to making these reboots stick. They couldn’t do it in CRISIS OF THE INFINITE EARTHS, ZERO HOUR, INFINITE CRISIS or any of the other attempts to streamline their comic book output. They lacked the cojones to see the process through to the end or they failed to stick to the changes they made, often reversing them when it became clear the new versions weren’t working.

Which means as time goes on DC was left with an increasingly confusing and insular continuity that was only made worse through subsequent rebootings.

In reality, DC has been bumping its head against the same problem for years, the near impossibility of publishing the same characters for so long without them getting stale. All jokes aside, I imagine it’s pretty hard to get kids interested in heroes who have their moral foundations set somewhere in the 1960’s, waltz around in tight spandex and wear their underwear on the outside. I think it’s unrealistic to expect these stories and characters to resonate with today’s readers in the same way.

THE DARK KNIGHT is their Batman, not Adam West.

Essentially what DC is doing is Ultimizing their universe and that’s really not a bad thing. Although its heyday is long past, Marvel’s Ultimate imprint changed comic books as we know them. Suddenly readers got to see their favourite heroes through a modern lens, without all the overused comic book trappings that had come to define the genre.

It brought characters back to basics and ditched decade’s worth of stifling continuity. It was accessible to new readers and wasn’t hemmed in by what had come before.

Nowdays the Ultimate imprint is pretty much in disarray, a victim of time and its own success. It just isn’t fresh and new anymore. But many of the lessons of the Ultimate universe were absorbed into the Marvel 616, so it wasn’t a complete loss.

Despite several attempts DC has never managed to achieve a successful revitalization of its status quo that has any real staying power. Instead it lurches from event to event, always reinventing itself but never confident enough to stay with any one version for very long.

And the final product suffered for it.

So in theory I’m not against the idea of rebooting the entire line. Providing they can stick to their guns, tell quality stories and not back off in the face of the inevitable fanboy backlash I think the whole thing could be very interesting.

That’s not to say I don’t have reservations. I’ve been a comic book reader for nearly 20 years now. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth to think that all the stories and characters I’m invested in are suddenly ‘out of continuity.’

Continuity is a double edged sword. The common perception is that it prevents new readers from coming on board, but, in my opinion, used wisely continuity also informs and adds context to characters and stories.

And not everything that DC is putting out these days is crap. I’m genuinely curious to see where Morrison is planning to take BATMAN INC or Hester’s interpretation of the ‘new’ WONDER WOMAN. I’d hate to abandon these genuinely interesting stories just because they’re being told at an inopportune time in their publishing history.

In fact, why should I read anything from DC between now and August 31st? None of it will matter, none of it will ever be built upon. I might as well save myself a couple bucks until DC starts publishing the ‘important’ stories again.

I hope DC doesn’t use this reboot as an excuse to abandon originality and just retell classic stories through this new Ultimized status quo. That was part of what sunk the Ultimate Universe in the first place. As it is, it will be frustrating enough to go through characters’ origin stories for the umpteenth time, as well as being introduced, yet again, to their supporting cast and new versions of their classic villains.

I have enough confidence in Geoff Johns to believe that he might be able to pull this off. He’s got a proven track record of rescuing stagnating franchises and breathing new life into them. This is that same idea, only writ a hundred times larger.

But despite all that, in my heart, I still think a reboot is lazy writing. DC has a rich publishing history and I have reservations that the best solution to their problems was to simply chuck the baby out with the bathwater and start all over again.

What, was Batman not making enough money or something?

Every comic book is someone’s first. I sure as hell didn’t get hooked on comics because I happened to get my hand on a particular title’s first issue. I started reading comics because something about their creativity and their energy drew me in. If I didn’t understand everything that happened in the story then I was compelled to go out and find the issues that preceded it, just so I could figure it all out.

I imagine that’s how a lot of people got hooked on comic books.

So in a way, no matter what happens, I’ll always going to be disappointed that DC has decided to go this route, no matter how good the end product is. But I’m also willing to judge the Nu-DCU on its own merits and not through my own personal biases.

(Isn’t that big of me?)

1 comment:

  1. A very well assembled post Chris.

    You know me, I'm still fairly new to the DCU in general, so the renumbering is fine by me cause I kind of get to start at square 1 with everyone.

    That said, I agree with DC trying to reboot individual franchises and failing. Like for example, SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT by Mark Waid (a version of the origin story that I think is the best I've ever read) was made canon in 2004....then in 2006 they had Geoff Johns write SUPERMAN: SECRET ORIGIN...and that became the new canon.

    I think you are right...done well, this all needs to stem from origins into full fledged titles that continue on...FULLY AWARE of one another. It's like the DCU has lived on different dimensions till where most things don't really jive...we need them in the same one.

    As to reading between now and then...yeah, I'll likely only bother with FLASHPOINT anyways, as that seems to be the lead-in to the big renumbering. Beyond that, I am with you...why should we bother.

    Though you and I both know you'll bother cause the ones between now and then will be collectors items down the road. ;)



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