You know what the saddest part of DC’s “New 52″ “soft reboot” (apparently they’re calling it that now, apparently out of a realization of just how reboot-like it is) is? A hard reboot isn’t really that bad an idea.
I can understand why they don’t want to do it. Aside from alienating existing fans, they have some critically-acclaimed storylines going in their Batman and Green Lantern books, and they’d rather not kill that golden goose. It’s really the same sort of thing that screwed up Crisis on Infinite Earths, when they didn’t want to screw up well-praised runs on books like New Teen Titans and Legion of Super-Heroes. That, coupled with poor editorial control, resulted in continuity being more of a mishmash than it had any right to be, and screwed up some properties to a state of confusion beyond repair. (Ironically, Legion wound up more rebooted than the rest of the DCU as a result of CoIE.) The solution is to announce the reboot well in advance, allowing all storylines to be wrapped up (if the old continuity is abandoned entirely) and preventing anyone from starting new critically-acclaimed storylines you’ll want to keep until after the reboot, much as Eric Burns(-White) suggested a while back.
But Crisis on Infinite Earths was also an opportunity, an opportunity to shake up DC’s stable of superheroes and tell their stories afresh, stories not possible in the mature universe CoIE replaced, stories about superheroes in the early days of their careers and going through the associated trials and tribulations. The only other time in DC’s history that has produced this sort of opportunity until now was at the very start of the Silver Age, but DC was more interested in telling their “iconic” style of superhero story, so while they refreshed many old concepts, they didn’t spend much time going into the story potential of their just starting out. Marvel did, however, and when CoIE came around, DC made up for lost time. Most of the core concepts of their heroes remained the same (most of the changes coming to villains and minor heroes), but despite CoIE depositing readers in an established universe not that different from the one left behind, DC took advantage of the opportunity to retell the early days of their classic heroes in books like The Man of Steel, Batman: Year One, and George Perez’s run on Wonder Woman (who was retconned to not have existed before CoIE).
With this reboot, DC has/had another opportunity to start afresh, shake up its core concepts, and tell new stories about superheroes just establishing their careers. DC seems to be taking the Silver Age approach: many if not most of their heroes are being shaken up, but aside from Superman and the Justice League, no stories set in the unique, ever-changing, uncertain period early in the age of superheroes, and precious few origin retellings, with everyone being thrown into the five-years-on continuity minefield I’ve talked about, and complained about, before.
While I’d prefer that DC go whole-hog with their reboot and start at the beginning, that’s not to say I disdain the importance of shaking up their old concepts. The whole reason DC is going through with this reboot is to make itself more relevant to today’s audience, especially outside established superhero comic fandom. From virtually the instant Marvel declared independence from the restrictions of a DC-controlled distribution system, and for virtually the entire time since (the major interruption coming at the turn of the millennium when Marvel declared bankruptcy), especially following the rise of the direct market, DC has placed a distant second to Marvel in the comic book sales charts. They just haven’t captured the zeitgeist as well as Marvel for the better part of 40 years.
This might be explained by Marvel’s product being better suited for the existing hardcore comic book fanbase, but Marvel’s movies have done ghostbusters at the box office while DC’s have had mixed success at best, and Marvel first struck a chord with audiences when comic books were a lot more popular among the general public. Marvel revolutionized the superhero in the 60s, presenting heroes that seemed more human and relatable and touching on important themes, and since then DC has had to fight the perception that their stories and heroes are still stuck in the 40s and 50s, that they’re too committed to an unrealistic Platonic ideal of the superhero, that their stories and heroes are too idealistic, too abstract, not human enough.
Now, there is certainly a place for idealism, and it’s certainly possible that DC’s commitment to those ideals has been overstated. I think there is still room for DC’s heroes and the ideals they embody, but I think their presentation needs to be modernized, made more relevant to today’s audiences, to make the message of those ideals all the stronger. Here, then, is my proposal to, for lack of a better word, “Marvel-ize” DC’s properties. I’ll skip Batman, the most Marvel-esque of DC’s properties, and perhaps not coincidentially the most successful and popular, both in comic books and the box office; he doesn’t need any major updates. But I will take a look at DC’s other major properties to find out how to improve their appeal to modern audiences while preserving and strengthening the core of their character, and to what extent DC is achieving these things with the present reboot, starting after the jump (because this will be a long post). Read More