Monday, August 29, 2011

DC should stand for “Destroy Continuity”

First, thanx to Funny Steve for the title idea.

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Fantastic Four Issue One (and with it, the birth of the Marvel universe) Marvel did…nothing. 

DC on the other hand, is beginning an aggressive campaign to get me to read more Marvel comics.
Is this the new future of the DCU?  The JLA will fight Darkseid first...
We now stand on the brink of yet another reboot to DC Continuity (at least the parts that the new guys in charge haven’t written themselves).  However, I have reached the point where there is simply no room left in my head for any more fictional universes.  There’s a ridiculous amount in there now, and frankly DC has already used up too large a percentage of them compared to anyone else.

In a nutshell (for those of you with actual lives): all of DC’s comics will be numbered “1” in September.  This includes Action, Superman, Detective, and Batman; the last remaining Golden Age comics with their original numbering; the first two stretching back to the 1930’s.  This idea in and of itself is wrong at an insane level of wrongness.  Also, they’re not fooling anyone.  In about five years we all know that “Action Comics 1000” will proudly be displayed wherever comic stores are still open.  I think this is all a trick to annoy the generally OCD mentality comic collectors whose boxes cannot both be ordered chronologically and numerically anymore.  Either that or this is a sneaky way to roll the “issue zero” and “issue one million” promotions into the total series count behind the scenes.

Aside from fiddling with numbers, (Why they don’t number comics by year, i.e. next June’s issue of Overpriced Man and Expensive Boy would be 2012 #6, to get annual number ones is beyond me.) the fictional universe will get yet another rewrite.  Changes include Superman, Batman and the current generation of crime fighters debuting only five years ago. The heroes are all younger hipper and groovier (probably so much so that they wouldn’t understand “hipper and groovier”).  Action and the Justice League comic will explain what happened five years ago, which will conflict with what was really happening five years ago at brain jarring levels. Everything else will start, at the new “now”, fresh…ish.

Here’s a little walkthrough of what this appears to mean for the Justice League big seven.

Martian Manhunter: A founding member of the JLA and often called “the soul of the League” is booted off the team. He’ll end up with some guys from a previously tangent universe (although not “The Tangent Universe”…too high a percentage) where Wildstorm comics existed. 

The good news is: in the hands of writer Paul Cornell, J’onn will likely get his best treatment in years. 

The bad news is: by being shunted into a title with that odd mix of leftovers, the amount of issues sold compared to the flagship Justice League book will highlight J’onn’s ability to turn invisible (to readers, that is). 

It is quite a punishment for the first DC Silver Age hero, simply because he was left out of the Super Friends cartoon.  Cyborg, who was in the Super Friends, of course, has been added to the roster, no doubt in the name of diversity. I’m not sure why having one African American guy replace one green Martian guy as the single non-white on the team is better for diversity when there’s still only one woman in the group.

Flash: Barry Allen was the Patron Saint of the Silver Age; Wally West was the first sidekick to successfully take over the mantle of his hero.  These concepts fueled fantastic storytelling and character development opportunities.  They also yielded one of the best legacy tales in comics, and a romance that highlighted how, even though you can never have enough time with those you care for no matter how fast you are, that time is the most important. 

Here’s a tip: for someone to be a Patron Saint…THEY NEED TO BE DEAD.  (Like Ted Kord, who is now the Patron Saint of the “Age We’ll Have to Find a Name for Since We’re Starting a New Modern Age”) The current creative leaders brought back Barry, and then no one seemed to know how to handle him, Wally or the rest of the gang for a while.  Eventually Mr. Allen’s formerly sunny Silver Age past was transformed into something suitably modern, dark and depressing. Rewritten thusly, he ran his way into Flashpoint, the temporary alternate version of a fictional universe that paves the way for the new permanent alternate version of a fictional universe. (Too high a percentage.)   A reality where I’ve so far seen no sign of Wally, who not only starred in the Justice League cartoons, but was also the Flash longer than Barry was.  Perhaps this really is “Earth Super Friends”.

Green Lantern:  If any franchise needed simplification, it’s this one.

- A rainbow of fruit flavored ring wielders
- Sinestro reinstated as a Green Lantern (through a highly convoluted path, which is odd when they could have just rebooted back to when he was in the corps in the first place)
- Two members of the JLA who chose to slay opponents, stemming from a rewriting of Oan law that changes the fundamental concept of the characters from non-lethal Galactic Police, to  “shoot to kill” Space Soldiers

However, the myriad Green Lantern titles all seem to be ending with cliff hangers saying “Tune in next month, same lantern time- same lantern channel,” for the new number ones.  There’s no indication, other than character age, of change.  It must be nice to be the creative head of a company AND one of the creators.

Aquaman:  The king of the seas is finally restored to his classic look and getting a high profile relaunch! 

A relaunch by the same guy who darkened Barry Allen, made Hal Jordan and John Stewart killers, and turned Superboy Prime, former symbol of Silver Age innocence, into a homicidal lunatic fanboy that beat the symbolic Original Superman to death…

Sorry Arthur, hope your hand still tastes good, because good taste may not be an option here.

Wonder Woman:  Diana’s costume has changed in the advertisements for the new number ones since the relaunch was originally announced only a couple of months ago. 

I think this shows:
1) If they’re knocking out details this late in the game, they probably didn’t think this whole change through as well as they should have. (She's not the only alteration we've seen.)
2) If they feel the difference between pants and shorts are more important to the character than the fact that they’ve drawn an Amazon tiny and waiflike, Wonder Woman was better off back in the Justice Society when she was made the secretary, but at least still looked like she could beat the heck out of the guys. 
I don't think it matters if the legs are covered or not when they're attached to that frame.

Batman: Similar to Green Lantern, Batman’s rather strange and complex recent history seems to be intact after the relaunch. This takes all the baggage of the latest storylines, (most of which is improbable - given previous stories), and adds it to the baggage of trying to explain how it can still fit in the new fictional universe storylines (most which is impossible - given upcoming changes.)   

Included in the new tales is still Damian Wayne, (Robin 5 not counting alternate realities…too high a percentage).  However with the timeline reset to a mere half decade, I think that means Jason Todd was only Robin 2 for about a week.

Also since Tim Drake (Robin 3, Red Robin 2) donned the costume in high school and Dick Grayson (Robin 1, Nightwing 2, Batman 3, cha cha cha!) at age ten (less than five years ago, remember), Mr. Drake should now be older than Mr. Grayson.

“Holy Fountain of Youth!”

Tim will continue to be known as Red Robin but with an “improved” costume. The improvement being instead of everyone saying, “You look like Doctor Midnight,” (who seems to be missing from the new fictional universe), they will now say, “You look like a chicken,” (which likely do still exist in the new fictional universe).  Dick is Nightwing again with a costume that is also new, if you haven’t seen Chris O’Donnell’s outfit in Batman and Robin. Way to pick a “well loved” version as a guide…at least it serves the purpose of making the high collar “Elvis” Nightwing costume look good.
Admit it, you love the collar too.

Tim may be older than Barbra Gordon too.  This is fine, as her waking up a teenager would be the only explanation I can think of for a woman who built herself up to be Oracle: the premier information broker to the super hero community, returning to calling herself “BatGIRL” whether or not there is any miraculous healing involved. Cassandra Cain (Batgirl 3) and Stephanie Brown, (Spoiler 1, Robin 4, Batgirl 4) must have both been deemed a 0 in the eyes of the new target 18-35 boys club, and are therefore Nobody 1 and Nobody 2.

New regular costume – modern looking armor
New flashback costume - jeans and a t-shirt
Some choice, eh?
This leads to some very important questions.
1) Why does a Man of Steel need armor?
2) Where does Clark Kent buy a Superman t-shirt before he premiers as Superman?
3) Why does flashback Superman look older than regular Superman?

And more importantly

Why are they doing this at all after recently releasing Superman Earth One, a surprisingly successful all new origin of Superman in yet another alternate new fictional universe? (Too high a percentage.)

The other super groups may be just as bad.  Although, half of DC’s fictional universes already are due to variations in the Legion (too high a percentage), so one more probably won’t hurt.

I can’t do a member by member look at the Justice Society, because almost all of them are M.I.A, except Mr. Terrific. He was inspired by both the Golden Age Mr. Terrific and the Spectre. In this fictional universe, these two characters either vanished from the scene decades before the newly young Mr. Terrific appeared, or didn’t exist at all.  This may make his inspiration as big of a mystery as how we have third and fourth generation legacy heroes in the Teen Titans in only five years.

I’d talk more about the Teen Titans, but the costumes are so ugly, I may go blind if I stare at them long enough to comment. (The aforementioned chicken suit being one of the better ones.)
For the love of God, avert your eyes!

If DC really wants to restart they could go with what worked before.

Crisis on Infinite Earths changed most of the DC Universe in ways that lasted almost a decade; before Zero Hour and the litany of hypertime, retcon punches, and not-so-Final other Crisises hit.  However, what lasted much longer than that was the coming of the Silver Age fictional universe. Though continuously published, Batman Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Green Arrow had been sufficiently retooled from their Golden Age versions to have virtually no connection. (Plus making all of continuity hold together wasn’t as important back then, but I get ahead of myself.)  A brand new Flash, Green Lantern, Atom and others were introduced completely ignoring the past.  Problems didn’t start until Earth 2 was introduced to try to connect with the Golden Age fictional universe.

If reboot is what they need, they should be serious about it.  Start a series called simply DC, have it be 26 weekly issues, use it to define the new fictional universe and set up a back story. This will give all the existing titles six months to do one final wrap up adventure each. 

The week after DC issue 26, release Action Comics 1 with the premier of the retooled Superman. 

Follow Action up with renaming DC to “Detective Comics” and premier the retooled Batman in issue 27.
The REAL 1st apperance...why Batman in Detective Comics #1 is an abomination.
After establishing the new fictional universe’s World’s Finest duo, start all the new number one’s and ignore all that has gone before, except as inspiration.

A radical idea, maybe, but honestly, I think they should break even further, and treat the characters like the legends they’ve become.

It’s time to stop using Soap Operas as a guide on how to write those with Powers and Abilities Far Beyond Mortals. 

They should use myths.

Myths were told and retold multiple times.  They changed, they conflicted, but the cores and the spirit stayed the same.

Egyptian civilization lasted so long that cultural changes altered some of the gods.  The Romans modified the Greek myths to suit their needs.  The Prose and Poetic Eddas of Norse Myth don’t always line up.  There are multiple origin stories for Excalibur in Arthurian legend.  (I do realize that much of the contradiction in these tales stem from tweaks the recording Christians made to transform the myths into their world view, but since the Gospels also contradict each other, that shouldn’t be much of a surprise.)

Just because Ragnarok was described, or the Death of King Arthur was chronicled, didn’t mean the whole legend was restarted in a new fictional universe. The tales were retold and added to, in the beginnings, middles, and endings of the legends. 

In order to have a good story, the protagonist has to change.  This leaves continuity drenched comics having to choose between the hero transforming away from its core concept…or a false progression that is really stagnation.

Some of the most famous DC comics of all time got around that by ignoring continuity all together.

Dark Knight Returns
Kingdom Come
Superman: Red Son
Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

Marvel has similar unofficial fictional universes, Earth X, Age of Apocalypse. Even line wide extensions like Spider-Girl’s MC2 Universe, or the Ultimate Universe came out of ignoring existing continuity.

Like Alan Moore said, “This is an imaginary story…aren’t they all.”
Why limit it to What If’s and Elseworlds?

It’s time to lose line wide continuity. Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight lasted well over 200 issues, and was often the best book I was following. It only acknowledged other titles for any extended period during “No Man’s Land” (aka “What If Gotham was cut off from the rest of the world?” A good year long story that really had no lasting impact on the titles, outside of the occasional thrown in, “Boy didn’t it suck when Gotham was isolated?”  And yes, I know Commissioner Gordon’s wife was killed, turning him into a lonely, extremely focused, police force leader, whose only true friend is probably Batman…in other words, his old status quo.)

That’s how all comics should be done.

Someone has a good story featuring a married Superman:  Do it.
Someone else has a good story with a young Superman flirting with Wonder Woman: Do it.
Two writers have a good cross over where Batman and Superman team up in both books: Do it.
A team of writers has a good idea for a multiple year, mutli-series arc that takes Superman and his supporting cast places they’ve never been: DO IT!

Do whatever will make good stories.

Gaiman’s Sandman was a complete story done in a full run with a beginning middle and ending, which stood apart from the rest of the DC Universe.  In contrast, Simonson’s Thor had the same characteristics, but interacted regularly with the rest of the Marvel Universe. 

Grant Morrison is inspired by nearly every comic book ever written, but tends to ignore any modern writer’s continuity except his own when crafting his corner of the fictional universe.

Heck, Bob Haney’s Brave and Bold routinely pulled characters from completely different fictional universes into the same stories with NO explanation whatsoever…all in the name of fun, loony-ness and storytelling.
The two most insane comics I ever read...published mere months apart, by (and co-starring) Haney and Aparo.

The point is: the rest of the toys in the sandbox should be available to enhance the narrative, not chain it down.

Don’t believe it can work at that large a scale? 

It has.

Thanks to the miracle of cable TV it has been recently been possible to flip channels in a single day and see multiple versions of Batman in different fictional universes:
Batman the Animated Series
Justice League Unlimited
Brave and Bold
The Dark Knight
Batman (the 1966 Series)
Young Justice


None of the versions are tied to the others, with the exception of where it was desired to enhance the story (Batman the Animated Series crossed over with Superman the Animated Series and eventually lead into Justice League Unlimited and Batman Beyond. Even then, elements changed show to show to serve the characters and tales.) Sometimes it’s just a reference (Brave and Bold’s winks at the 1966 series are fun for fans who know it, and mostly transparent to those who don’t.)  None of them were iron bound to what happened in other versions, but all of them have added to the Batman Myth. 

Just as Kryptonite first appeared on the Superman radio show, Harley Quinn stepped out of the Animated Series (along with the saner Renee Montoya) to have a presence in “real” Batman stories.  A well done item from any quality version can add to the myth. While “serious” Batman fans tend to deride the 1966 series (because they are absolutely no fun at all and refuse to embrace the awesomeness that is Adam West) it can’t be denied that when Frank Gorshin opened up a hugenormous box of crazy to play the Riddler, he turned a character with only a couple minor previous appearances into an integral part of the Batman legend from that day forward. 

Oddly, I couldn't find a picture of the radio version of Kryptonite.

I could go on and on complaining and suggesting (and much to the chagrin of my family and friends, this is very likely), but I think this picture sums up the biggest problem with the new reboot.

It’s not that the costumes are clunky looking.
It’s not that everyone’s appearance is young, pretty, and fragile.
It’s not even the glaring character omissions and changes.

The big problem here and what will keep me away from this new fictional universe is quite obvious.

I refuse to partake of a universe where Superheroes do not wear underwear on the outside of their pants.

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