The following couple of posts refer to the New 52 series recently launched by DC, now just finished the second issue. Be advised that $310 is a lot of money so I did not read every new 52 title. The posts are based on the 9 I did read.
About 2 months ago, DC comics launched a soft reboot of their entire line-up; 52 titles with new plot lines, altered storylines or canon histories, and occasionally new writers and artists. As a recent convert to the world of printed comics, I’m offering my 2 ½ cents worth, now that the hype has died down a bit and there’s been a chance to see what this reboot is all about.
That's the appeal of a reboot. In theory, non of the previous history matters anymore. The storylines are fresh and clean, the timelines are straight (so far) and who cares what came before. So bring on the newbies! Supposedly, a reboot is meant to draw in new readers who can start fresh with the characters not caring about earlier stories, as well as old readers who maybe fell out of comics for a few years and don’t want to worry about what they missed. Note the ‘supposedly’ in there. As I mentioned, I’m relatively new to comics. My exposure to the DC universe relies almost exclusively on TV shows. So I happily sit near but not at the newbie level. This gives me a surprising amount of familiarity with the mainstream DC universe, but enough distance to know what the real newbies are looking for. Distance that the writers at DC are lacking.
The problem is that this is not a complete fresh start. The girl at my comic book store refers to it as a “soft reboot”. Basically what this means is that the new 52s take place in an alternate universe. The characters all still exist, but just a little bit different. What make this different from a “hard reboot” is that there are no origin stories**. With a couple of notable exceptions, the issues pick up with the characters as established heroes (or not, more on that later), for the most part after a turning point, following or leading to a notable event, or early on in their career. This is where the problems lie, as well as where a lot of the fuel for the DC!hate that’s currently seeping through the internet is found. SOME aspects of the character’s backstory, personality, costume, etc. change, and some don’t. Someone familiar with the universe can pick up what they should remember and ignore the rest of the history. A NEWBIE CAN’T.
A newbie would have no idea what happened in a mentioned event, or who a random side character is, or if either of these are important. The cling of stories past bogs down the new 52s and tracks it’s mud through their nice clean kitchen. Mythology nods and in-universe systems are the spring up to choke what might otherwise be a welcome intro to further geekery. This is only partly due to the lack of origin stories (although at the moment that makes the many characters look like they woke up one day and said ‘I think I’ll be a superhero!’). Notable examples include:
Sometime in the 80’s Barbra Gordon as Batgirl was shot in the spine confining her to a wheelchair, permanently. Normally comics characters are given carte blanche on injury recovery, but Barbra stayed in the chair for the next 20+ years, working behind the scenes as Oracle and being utterly badass. I know this because someone mentioned it to me so I made a point of looking it up. Also because of a relatively unpopular live action TV series based on the Birds of Prey comic. The new 52 version of Batgirl has a chairless Barbra Gordon swinging through Gotham as the titular hero. According to the new backstory, this is Batgirl’s first mission after physical therapy. She only needed the chair for about a year and a half, and now has to deal with coming back: regaining her old skills at field detecting and crime fighting. Enough people have argued both sides of the accessibility debate that I’m not going to touch it here (yet). Instead I will point out what probably most newbies will say after reading Batgirl #1: “SHOT IN THE SPINE??? BY THE JOKER??? WTF!!!!!!!!” Without that single season TV show and geekier-than-I-am friends, Batgirl to me is Batman’s sidekick. A Robin-by-another-name if you will. Mention of the joker-shot-her story further illustrates how much I am missing from the history. Newbies are given a character they may or may not have any familiarity with and are told “she used to be something, then she wasn’t, now she is again”. How do we treat a character like that? Who is this girl?
Apparently Batman is establishing Bat_____ all over the place. This is the origin of Batwing, one of the new 52 original titles (so he gets an origin story…ish) THAT’S ALL WE KNOW. Batman Inc. is mentioned in both Batwing and Batwoman as this organization of Bats that answer to Batman. What is this thing? Is it new? Is there more we’re supposed to know about it? Where did it come from and why? Or does that even matter? Stop being so secretive Brucie, corporations are supposed to be accountable to their clients!
Other than those two, Nightwing talks about filling in as Batman while Bruce was… somewhere, Justice League includes Green Lantern making a reference to an adventure with the Flash that involved a talking gorilla, Batwing refers to a team of now retired Superheroes known as The Kingdom, and Batwoman’s protégé was apparently on a now defunct Teen Titans and constantly refers to some incident involving Batwoman’s father. So what’s what? Will these stories be expanded on in time? Are they just side mentions to establish a continuous universe? Which ones matter, which ones are old news, which ones are neither? Am I reading too much into this? The other problem with a “soft reboot” is that according to the guy at my comic book store, the new 52s may or may not merge with the previous continuity in some way. So I’m left with a comic series that occasionally makes NO sense, and might make even less in the future
With that said, each title I’ve picked up has so far passed the 2 issue test. We’ll see which ones hold out.*Multiple Earths, parallel dimensions, crossing timelines, retcons, alternate universes… I wouldn’t be surprised if every single title character has died and come back in regular syndicated comics at some point in the past 80 years (that’s not counting side stories, which don’t count).
**For an example of a hard reboot, see Marvel Ultimate Universe, which I would love to talk about but don’t want to bore you, more than necessary