Again, I may stop talking about this one day, but probably not for a long time.
DC seems to be doing a soft reboot in order to create the DCNu. I have read it being described as turning back the clock on many of the heroes so the experience level is lower and therefore makes them less infallible.
My contention is this is a huge mistake and the only way to fix all the problems is to let the characters age, Not a natural aging, but after 20 years of someone being under the mask, absent some anti-aging gimmick someone new needs to be the hero. I have preached this over and over and over again and people always disagree with me. They are wrong and I am right.
To try and provide some level of objective evidence for that rather bold statement, let’s start back in the sixties. Except for Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman almost every super hero book had bite the dust and were gone from the newsstands. Multiple reasons abound, but cape and cowl comics were almost gone. DC decided to revive the genre and when Julie Schwartz pushed for the revival he instinctively knew he needed to update the heroes. Jay Garrick became Barry Allen, Allan Scott became Hal Jordan, Carter Hall became Katar Hol and the silver age was born. Julie was not thinking about a reboot or anything else he just wanted to create comics that could sell and he revived some old concepts. Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman were already around so nothing really changed with them. Immediately DC had a hit on their hands and the super hero was back.
Marvel saw DC was selling super hero books again and decided to jump into the fire. Marvel had no clue what to do and Kirby, Lee and Ditko went about and created the Marvel Age of comics. Since Marvel was run totally different from DC and no one was worried about what these characters were worth for marketing and movie making purposes they went out and had fun. The big thing was that Marvel let their characters change and grow, to make them more like “real” people. Ultimately this led to Marvel becoming number one in the industry and they have been for the last few decades. Once they reached number one and the exploitation of what was being created started to come about, Stan Lee has been rumored to have said, no more change, just the illusion of change. Whether true or not, Marvel has been stagnant since the seventies and all you have to do is look around and see that little has changed for the baseline of the characters. Tony is still Iron Man, Peter is single Spider-Man, Reed, Sue and Ben are the FF, Thor is around, Daredevil, the Punisher and the beat goes on.
DC has constantly tried to overtake Marvel and in 1985 they made a bold move by having Crisis on Infinite Earths. All the various multiple universes DC had built up to explained what happen to Jay Garrick and other Golden Age heroes was deemed too dense for the reading public. In a move that totally missed that the market was getting older DC was trying to simplify things. The plans were to have new people in some roles, like a black Green Arrow and basically diversify away from the white bread world that both companies were built on. This was not because of racism; it was more a product that reflected the times. DC chickened out and instead did a sort of soft reboot. This created numerous continuity glitches and hiccups that were constantly being rewritten. Power Girl was the prime example of this as her “true origin” changed at least twice after COIE. Since then Zero Hour, One Year Later and other gimmicks have been tried to revive the DCU to the point that we know have 52 universes again, Jason Todd coming back to life and that origin has been retro-con already.
Marvel saw that the “real” MU was stale and decided to do the Ultimate Universe, of course never abandoning the “real” MU so the Ultimate Universe was a restarting of the MU from ground zero but was doomed to be the ugly step-child of the MU. Now the Ultimate Universe is killing off their Spider-Man in an effort to get people to care about it again since it is also stale already. Of course Bendis keeping Spider-Man 15/16 years old for ten years was bound to drive the story into the ground.
Finally we come to DCNu and the latest soft reboot. For all the change and dramatic shifts 95% of it is very safe and the dynamic impact will dissipate and die overtime. Turning back the clock just means down the road you have to do it again and again and again to get the dynamic of the character being new. All of these efforts are an attempt to make the characters fresh and new. One More Day was a classic example of a company trying to make Spider-Man the cool single guy again as the thought was that his marriage was holding back the character or the story.
By letting characters get older and new people take over the roles you can create new dynamic for the character and at the same time not have to jettison was has gone before. What ticks off many fans is the idea that all that they have invested in following some characters adventures is now subject to did event “A” every happen or not. Or in the case of Tim Drake his entire career never happened. Of course they are all imaginary stories, but every fan understands my point. By letting Dick and Damian be Batman and Robin the team was fresh and new again and yet everything that had happened to Bruce as Batman still occurred. My contention is that bringing back Bruce Wayne was the problem. DC has managed with many, many B, C and lowered tiered characters to just replace them with the exact same character but make them younger, a daughter, a son, a protégé, or someone who followed and was inspired by the hero, examples are Black Canary, Dr. Midnight, Dr. Fate, Mr. Terrific and on and on.
The burden of continuity is not on the shoulders of these characters and at the same time as a fan we can still know the stories that we read and invested ourselves into still “counted’ as they “really” happened. Anytime a company gets a great story using the first version or whatever of the character it can be told as an unknown tale of that character or an elseworld or whatever. If you want to leave one person as that character then create the infinite formula for Nick Fury. Or you can have a Steve Rogers and leave him as Captain America forever just say the super solider formula made him immortal, you don’t have to say he was frozen from WWII till 2000, he could still have woke up in the sixties.
Doing it this way actually frees up writers to have characters age and let a character actually die from in a heroic attempt to save the world to dying in bed. Bruce gets to marry Selina and disappear, Superman deals with having to see his friends get old and he lives on staying young, but now each time we get another Blue Beetle the stories can be fresh and new again. The Fantastic Four can be Valerie, Franklin, Johnny and Ben, Spider-Man can be a genetically altered high school prodigy who decide to give himself powers like his favorite hero and on and on. John Byrne had some fun ideas in his generations sage he did over the years, which DC needs to do a nice hard cover collection on, but the point is to keep the characters new and fresh. De-aging, deals with the devil, and all the rest are band aids on gaping wounds. Instead of cutting out the cancer, we get soft reboots, Marvel trying to reinvent Matt Murdock every five years, One More Day and the Ultimate Universe.
If DC wanted to really hit the reset button that would have been a true change. This is yet another soft reboot with more marketing pizzazz and splash behind it. My way accomplishes the goal and moves characters off the stage so you don’t have the ridiculous baggage that is generated by 50 years of stories being told about Scott Summers or even my favorite Dick Grayson. Heck at this point Tim should be Batman with Damian as his Robin.
Having true growth and change is what allowed Marvel to beat DC. Since then both companies continue to perform the illusion of change trying to be daring, but not too daring and instead of leaping over the chasm the motorcycle crashes into the canyon. Batman and Spider-Man can live forever; it does not have to be Bruce Wayne and Peter Parker who live forever.
The soft reboot is the worst solution. It leaves a universe more muddled for people who like continuity than ever before. A fan has no clue what did happen and what did not happen in a characters life. It creates false surprises because we don’t have a roadmap of what happened before anymore. The rabbit out of the hat loses its effect when you know how the trick is done.
A full reboot is better, but here you have to start your entire universe over and you can’t ran another line that maintains the old status quo or else it becomes a step child and a second tier line. From a marketing standpoint it is too risky because you also create a perfect jumping off point for all of your fans who have nothing vested in this new universe. It never works if you keep the old universe. Finally no corporation would back this type of gamble.
My concept allows for a company to shed the continuity of a character without alienating the fans and at the same time giving us the new character. Also it does not all have to happen at once, we can get a new Batman today and five years later a new Green Arrow. It never has to be a straight legacy thing either as Mr. Terrific and other characters have proven.
Marvel used the idea of change and growth in the beginning, not planned, and became the dominate comic company for almost 50 years, I predict DC will shake things up but after the smoke and dust clear they will still be number 2, hopefully a stronger publisher, but until they make the commitment for making real changes that do not invalidate what has come before they are just aping Marvel.
A friend of mine e-mailed me his thoughts on DCNu and stated
“Marvel and DC just keep going over the same patches of land that they've tread on so many times before. Look at what Aaron is doing on Punisher. Another re-telling of Frank's beginning? I like it, but it sure ain't new territory. We need new characters. New blood. New life for a dying industry. But any time any new ideas come into being, they are quickly discarded for the status quo. What happened to all the mutants Morrison created for X-men? What happened to Impulse as the new Flash? What's wrong with Dick as Batman?
Superhero comics are so f**ked up right now I don't know if they can be fixed. Continually regurgitating the same stories over and over ain't gonna cut it no more, not at $3.99 an issue. It's just fricking crazy. Can you imagine if Vertigo worked the same as the DCU? Vertigo
started with Animal Man, Doom Patrol, Shade the Changing Man, Sandman, Hellblazer and Swamp Thing. According to the DCU manifesto, Vertigo would be stuck with these characters and titles forever. We'd never have Fables or Y the Last Man or Scalped. Nope. Gotta stick with the Old Guard. I just think it's more natural and healthy if series are allowed to finish in their natural course. I can't imagine Transmetropolitan still being done today just to keep the line going. Scalped will be over soon and I'll miss it. But a new love will turn up. Heck, I got over
100 Bullets saying good-bye. And I just learned that Chew will end with issue 60. Sad to see it end, but it's gotta be. Look at how Invincible and Walking Dead are floundering now that Kirkman seems to be trying to keep them around forever.”
In conclusion DC is doing a nice marketing job, but is failing to make the change necessary to make these books relevant again. Once again the companies are treating the symptom and not the disease.