Reboots have reigned in Hollywood for most of the last decade. From a business standpoint it makes sense—take a proven franchise, familiar characters, add CGI, and begin printing money.
The financially beleaguered comic book industry has taken the same approach from time to time. Marvel launched its Ultimates line as a way to cast off decades of continuity and start characters anew, but kept their core Universe intact.
In 2011 DC turned their reboot up to 11.
The publisher of Batman and Superman, didn’t simply create an alternate line, they rebooted their core line and in doing so wiped the slate clean…sort of. Titles like Action and Detective Comics, which have been published for nearly 75 years, have started over at #1. Long story short, an event miniseries called Flashpoint has “changed everything forever.”
If you don’t own thousands of comic books, here’s a how things were for DC’s two most iconic characters before Flashpoint:
Batman is actually on his 4th sidekick. Dick Grayson, the original Robin, had taken up the mantle of Batman in Bruce Wayne’s year long absence. When Wayne returned he had Dick continue, allowing Batman to be in more than one place at once. Jason Todd, the 2nd Robin, had been killed by the Joker – resurrected – and became the Red Hood. Tim Drake, the 3rd Robin, had matured and become Red Robin. The 4th and current Robin is Damian Wayne, son of Bruce and Talia al Ghul, the daughter of Batman villain Ra’s al Ghul. Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) was Oracle, basically the research and communications arm of Batman Inc. Barbara had been confined to a wheelchair after the Joker shot and paralyzed her in Alan Moore’s classic The Killing Joke.
Superman (Kal-El/Clark Kent) was married to Lois Lane, and had been for years. His adoptive father, Jonathan (Pa) Kent, died several years ago, but his mother Martha (Ma) Kent survived. Lex Luthor fought Superman for years, briefly served as President of the United States, had an orange power ring (similar to Green Lantern’s), and had most recently fallen into the Phantom Zone.
And here is how it is now:
Batman’s history is largely intact. Bruce Wayne is the only Batman; he and his four Robin sidekicks have been operating in secret for years. Batman is still friends with Commissioner Gordon, but is openly hunted by the Gotham police. Barbara Gordon was Oracle for a time, but she recovered and has become Batgirl again.
Superman was never married to Lois Lane. Clark Kent’s adoptive parents both died and then he moved to Metropolis. He is a bachelor, works as a reporter, is friends with Jimmy Olsen, and just donned the “S.” In Action Comics, which is set several years in the past, Superman wears jeans and a t-shirt with an “S” on it, plus the classic cape. Superman is hunted by the army, under the orders of General Sam Lane (Lois’ father) and Dr. Lex Luthor. Superman takes place in the present and his costume is more of a Kryptonian battle armor.
In sum, the results of the relaunch are mixed. In some cases, like Batman and Green Lantern, things have mostly stayed the same. In others, like Superman and Justice League, continuity has been completely erased and things are truly starting from scratch.
Of the series I read regularly, the new Batman and Action Comics are very good, but I think this is more of a credit to the writers of those series than the fact they have been relaunched. Scott Snyder, current writer of Batman and Vertigo’s excellent American Vampire, just finished a great run on Detective Comics before the relaunch. His Batman would be a good story with or without changes to continuity. Similarly, Action Comics works because of Grant Morrison’s writing. Superman’s long continuity and seeming invulnerability were seen as a barrier to good Superman stories. Morrison’s All Star Superman from a few years ago was amazing, and really showed what could be done with Superman in the hands of a good writer. In Action Comics, Superman can’t fly and isn’t invulnerable, but he is “more powerful than a locomotive,” can “leap tall buildings in a single bound,” etc. Morrison presents him more like an alien Hercules, showing what he can do with action packed trials.
Contrasting those series are Superman and Justice League. The writing in Superman makes me feel like I am reading something out of the 70’s. Not cool retro 70’s either—lame predictable 70’s. Rather than feeling modern, it seems more like the character has been set back decades.
Justice League is poorly executed for DC’s flagship team comic. It’s consistently cliché and strains the reader’s credulity. For instance, despite the fact they had been operating for years, the series shows Batman and Green Lantern meeting for the first time and grudgingly deciding to team up… to track down the dangerous alien Superman. Of course they find him, battle it out, and eventually figure out they are all on the same side. Batman’s portrayal in particular bothers me; he is brilliant and experienced, yet knows nothing of Green Lantern and upon meeting Superman tries to take him down with tear gas and a taser.
It’s a trite and predictable scene—“What my taser is ineffective against this alien super-being who is physically capable of leaping over towering buildings?” It’s disappointing that DC handles Batman so ham handedly in Justice League.
Batman through all the books he’s in is a good metaphor for the reboot in its totality. A reboot can’t make poor story telling good, nor can it hamper the writing of good storytellers. In the end, all that is different is the same.