Thursday, September 08, 2011

Rebooted Out

I think reboots are becoming a problem.

In any medium where different groups of creative people manage a property owned by a company, you will always have to deal with jarring changes in creative direction. For instance, when Grant Morrison took over X-Men, he came in with a new look and a new approach that largely jettisoned the feel and content of the stories that had immediately preceded it.

As long as there are new creative teams, this will always happen. Old story elements will be discarded for new ones. And that’s fine. I don’t want to live in a world without the possibility that someday, some writer of Green Lantern will choose to start ignoring the fact that Hal Jordan ever existed.

But these as drastic as creative changes can be, they aren’t reboots as we have come to know them. Reboots as we know them mean rewriting and restarting a character’s history. DC’s many reboots since 1988 are all examples of this and so is Marvel’s handling of the Spider-Marriage. What drives me nuts about reboots is how fundamentally lazy they are.

9 times out of 10, when a company does a reboot, they are not doing it to introduce exciting new changes to a character or tell interesting new stories, although these can certainly be a byproduct. They are doing it because they have run out of ideas, so they have decided to go back to stories they know have worked.

Why does DC keep rebooting Superman’s origin every five minutes? Is it because they are really that fickle over what the people of Krypton should be wearing? No, it’s because with Superman’s origin they know they not only have at the very least the skeleton of a good story and something that readers respond to. Why does DC bring back Barry Allen and Hal Jordan? Because the creators at DC fell in love with those characters as kids so they know that there’s something about them that works. The same explanation could be used for why Marvel made Peter Parker single again. It worked, so let’s do it.

This is why reboots drive me crazy. Reboots almost always stem from a book that isn’t quite working. Like, say, the Flash. Leading up to Infinite Crisis it had become a bit of a mess and lost momentum (har har). So they put Impulse in the costume and that got even worse thanks to a poorly chosen creative team. After ANOTHER ill advised (and probably stalling) tenure of Wally under the mask, they decided to bring back Barry Allen and his bow tie cause it worked once and we know it’ll work again! Instead of giving us a new character or doing something new, they brought back old reliable Barry.

Nostalgia is enough of a problem in comics without every new story simply being a rehash of old storylines and tired status quos. I never need to see Batman fighting cops or Superman again. I never need to see Peter Parker losing a girlfriend because he was saving a kitten as Spider-Man again. I never need to see Superman’s origin ever again. You know why? I’ve seen it already and most of the time, I’ve seen it done better.
Granted some good stuff can come out of reboots. We never would have gotten Batman Year One without Crisis. Byrne’s Superman redefined the character for the modern age. And to be fair to DC, some of these new titles look to be taking a different look at different characters, like Simone on Fury of Firestorm or Morrison’s Action Comics. But most of them seem to be EXCITING AND NEW retellings of stuff we’ve already seen.

For the love of God, stop making everything the way it was. Make something else.


  1. > Reboots almost always stem from a book that isn’t quite working.

    Well, maybe. Certainly Alan Moore's reboot of Swamp Thing is a good example. I can think of two other reasons:

    1. We've painted ourselves into a corner and can't figure any other way of this.

    2. We've become so insanely complicated that we need to start over.

    I honestly think that #1 covers the Spider-Man One More Day fiasco and the attempt to create Teen Tony (Stark).

    #2 covers company-wide reboots. At the time of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the powers at DC honestly thought that Earths 1, 2, 3, Prime, Shazam, Fawcett, and Zoo were too complicated and that rebooting with everyone on a single earth would be simpler.

    I for one think that DC continuity with Final Crisis, Identity Crisis, Countdown, HyperTime, the origins of Hawkman and Hawkgirl and Power Girl, or the thirteen versions of Supergirl, have made the DCU ridiculously over complicated. I welcome a new start.

    Of course, while it is true that this is a good jumping-ON point for new readers, it's also true that this is the perfect jumping-OFF point for old, disillusioned readers like me.

  2. >For the love of God, stop making everything the way it was. Make something else.

    To which the companies would answer: we won't make something else till you are willing to buy something else.

    Think about it: Bruce Wayne dies, or Captain America dies (or whatever) and we know they have to come back, because otherwise people would say, that's not Batman, or Captain America. And most people do not buy books about new characters, only about the same old favorite characters. Therefore, the publishers do not want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg, and we are doomed to see the same stories retold time and time again. There can be no change, only the illusion of change.