Monday, February 09, 2015

Everything New is Old Again

The Marvel Universe is rebooting.  The Archieverse is rebooting.  The DCU is, well, 'converging', if not exactly 'rebooting'.  It's hard to tell what 'rebooting' would mean in the modern DCU any more..  Rebooting, in the DCU, is no longer an event, it's an on-going state of being.

Whether hard or soft, universal or partial, continual or sudden, premature or long long overdue--

the comics-based universes are all rebooting.

Comics aren't alone in that; many other fantastical properties, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, The Terminator, and, of course, Little Orphan Annie, are being rebooted whether YOU think they need it or not.  Leprechaun reboot?  Absurd! How could one hope to improve on the Leprechaun series!?

I mean, what are they smoking?!

I have certain friends and fans who are, frankly, fed up with reboots. On the one hand, I feel their pain.  When you've invested so much (time, energy, emotion) in a literary universe, it's sad to feel like it went to waste.  Characters you cared about, that meant something to you are suddenly reset at square one, or completely re-imagined, or in limbo, or flat-out nonexistent/impossible.  Particularly if  you were with them during a period where they had a lot of character development to which you were committed and liked. But, as I was moved to say to one of them:

"If you want character development, don't read comic books."

It's ironic, really, Given that some comics, and the characters born in them, have been going strong (more or less) for some seventy years now, there's no better venue for carrying out long-term character development. Very very very long-term.  In fact, longer than most humans get for character development.

But that can't happen and if it does it's generally terrible (q.v. "Gasoline Alley"). So instead, such characters live in an ephemerium, an eternally renewed present that adjusts its past accordingly.  Retcons-- and reboots when retcons are just not enough-- are built into the very genre.  For example, do you know the original reason the brilliant surgeon Dr. Ekhart wasn't available to repair Harvey Dent's face?  He had been captured by the Nazis.  That's not really an evergreen element in an origin story.

For some people, this sort of thing is a downside of comics (and things like comics).  They want to see Wally's kids grow up and Dick marry Kory. Or Barbara. Or Mary Sue.  But for me, in the final analysis, it's an upside of comics.  Whenever a character's story takes a turn you really don't think it should, one that just changes things too much, or goes too far, or is just, well dumb, you can wait it out, knowing that eventually time will erode it away.  It may be a large and imposing castle of a story... but it's still made of sand, all of which time will at some point push through the hourglass. becomes part of the myth.

Did you read Scott Snyder's "Death of the Family" storyline, about the Joker wanting to rid Batman of the encumbrance of the rest of the Bat-family?  One of its plot points was the Joker doing 'call-backs' to highlights of his career in fighting Batman.  Problem is, this was pretty much only the second Joker story since the New52 reboot.  Plus, how many times could the Joker have encountered Batman in the "five years previous"?  So a vague reference was made to poisoning the reservoir (something everyone just feels that the Joker has done, even though no one has read a story where's he actually done that and the closest thing is the time Cesar Romero turn Gotham's water supply into strawberry jam)

If there is an exception to Rule 41, it's Chief O'Hara covered in jam.

and another to killing Henry Claridge (the Joker's first victim, in his first story).

"If ya gotta go...go with a smile!"

But other classic Joker stories -- the Joker's utility belt, the Jokerfish, killing Jason Todd -- gone, really.  Only shooting Barbara Gordon remained, and that was only because that's part of HER story, not his.

These things stresses out those who do not truly embrace the mythic nature of DCU denizens.  They aren't 'characters'.  Characters have development; characters have continuity.  Batman; the Joker; heck, even Jim Gordon; they are now myths.  Your 'version' of them, the one you remember most fondly, the one imprinted on your brain during whatever your formative reading experiences were: THAT is a character, around whom specific stories were told.  But characters only become mythic when there is more than one version of them.  The Batman of  "Brave & Bold' animated, or the Stupid Bronze Age Batman, or the Adam West Batman, or Tim Burton's Batman-- they may not be YOUR Batman, but that doesn't make them as less "Batman".

Each of what you think of as a character is actually only an instantiation of the platonic form that is the myth.  Each of the stories you read with, say, 'Batman versus the Joker', is just a different way of presenting their conceptual conflict.  This is when things REALLY get interesting, when the characters become more that just literary people and become literary concepts.  Something like Star Trek, for example, was epic almost instantly; but didn't become truly 'mythic' until the Abrams reboot where Kirk/Spock/McCoy/et al.  were finally 'freed' from the actors who created the roles (regardless of how you feel about the reboot otherwise).

This is the aspect of comics (and similar pop culture lit) that I find most interesting and in which I find most value. And, in the long run, it's well worth stories that you love being excised from continuity.  Stop viewing continuity as some sort of Comics Code Seal of Approval, without which a story has no meaning.  Stop pretending that you can no longer enjoy a story if it's no longer "in continuity" or that you can no longer enjoy continuity if it doesn't contain a particular story.  Don't get so hung up on particular characters that you can't enjoy the myth that underlies them.

Go back and read how Milton Fine became Brainiac or how They Saved Luthor's Brain.

I just LOVE that story.  One of the ballsiest Superman stories ever.  And it was NOT a hoax, NOT an imaginary story!

Then get ready for a whole new set of stories that will be told after Convergence.  You are allowed to enjoy them all.  Don't be mad that 'continuity' (whatever THAT means) isn't large enough to contain all the stories you love.  Rejoice that there are SO many comic book stories and characters that you love that there is simply no continuity large enough to hold them.


John said...

There are a few things I don't like about reboots.

First, and probably most importantly, they seem to always just be an excuse to rewrite old Spider-Man stories. Immature guy with powers learns about responsibility and wonders if a secret identity is worth it. And they want to retell origins, as if there's anyone left on the planet that needs to know that Bruce's parents were shot in front of him after leaving a theater and can't find it reprinted.

Second, at least at DC, it's always a "reboot, except," where anything that's making decent money is immune. In itself, this is smart business, but these are the seeds that undermine the continuity they're going to claim to carefully build up over the next few years.

Third, every reboot is a reboot to the Silver Age, where everybody's a straight, white guy and they all wonder why the only people who read comics are a subset of the people who were reading them thirty years ago. I'm not even sure that we have multiple versions of Superman. He comes from different Kryptons, sometimes has different friends, and is occasionally a tormented killer vigilante, but it's still nerdy Clark at the Daily Planet.

(Also, welcome back.)

SallyP said...

I don't really know what to expect... which has me both intrigued and very very nervous.

Scipio said...

"Third, every reboot is a reboot to the Silver Age"

That's an interesting observation. I need to think about that. Not sure it's entirely true but even as partial truth it is significant.

John said...

True, I didn't mean that literally, just that every reboot I've seen has meant that nobody's married and the teams revert to "classic" lineups with "classic" identities.

Though part of Marvel's upheaval is apparently restoring the Parker-Watson marriage, so "maybe it'll be different, this time."

(And let's face facts, if they could get the sales from the Silver Age, they'd sell their souls to do it.)

Bryan L said...

Thank goodness you're back. And bringing clarity with you.

I hadn't really thought hard about the mythic nature of comics, though it had crossed my mind (Mostly in terms of comics being a "new" mythology, like Greek, Roman, Norse, etc. Though that's hardly a new line of thought.)

I have found myself embracing various comic character iterations these days without stressing about them. Heck, the new Flash TV show even has me willing to give Barry Allen a fair shake, which I NEVER thought would happen.

I even liked the thought of new Star Trek movies (I hate to see those characters die with the actors that originated them -- it's foolish and shortsighted).

I also find myself not reacting to developments that I find unpleasant. As you point out, another reboot will be along, just like buses, so why get worked up?

However, I had not summed it up, and your mythic explanation does that nicely.

Anonymous said...

Good to see you again, Scipio!

I know I got a lot happier with comics and reboots when I started thinking of them like Arthurian legends. They don't have to agree on all details (are the sword in the stone and Excalibur the same thing?), but if they're more or less good stories, I'm happy.

Reboots give us a chance to take characters that have gone down the wrong track and put them on the right track again. But of course there's a lot of subjectivity in there.

Of late, I've taken to asking myself, "what are three things I want to see in a good story about ______?" Now, everyone's going to have slightly different answers to the question, but it's a question that I think comics creators should ask, and don't. For example, with Superman, the three things I most want to see are:

1) Superman has time for anybody who needs him. Nobody is insignificant to him.

2) Superman tries to inspire the best in people.

3) Superman uses his powers creatively and pulls victories out of what seems to be certain defeat.

That's "my" Superman -- and I suspect it's a lot of other people's too, at least somewhat. He's basically been MIA since the 1960s.

What about, say, Lobo? I'm not a Lobo fan, but I'm pretty sure that the appeal is the over-the-top, cartoony levels of violence and crudeness that cannot be taken seriously, but are inspired and creative. I bring this up because of the new Lobo: he brings exactly NOTHING that people liked about Lobo. How didn't anyone at DC recognize that? Why didn't anyone think it might perhaps be a problem?

Redforce said...

I don't know about fucking Dan Didio... is he a top or bottom?

As much as this blog extols the virtues of DC characters as myths, the comic book business itself has been struggling for years. Mr. Didio didn't do anything that his Marvel counterpart Mr. Quesada would not do- remember, comics are an industry, and as such have a business model and are beholden to shareholders and/or a board of directors.
If I was a billionaire-
I'd buy DC lock, stock, & barrel. Then I'd reboot the WHOLE THING AGAIN, making about 10 years of comics. At the end of 10 years, I would release the characters into the public domain. Yes, like Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes, Hercules, and the rest. That way, DC heroes could truly be the mythical icons they were meant to be.