As many of you may have heard, this September DC Comics is relaunching ALL of their comics, apparently rebooting their shared universe again (it’s the fourth time in 25 years- and the last time was just FIVE years ago!) Why are they doing this, and what effect will it have on the characters and the readers?
Let’s look back at the their other reboots first:
In 1985, they did the first official reboot with Crisis On Infinite Earths, a limited series where all of their fictional universes were combined into one. The idea was to start over fresh- after 50 years of publication, it was getting too though even for the best writers to remember who did that what to whom when (this was before the Internet, remember.) A good reason, indeed, but because of editorial in-fighting (some editors wanted to keep at least some of the old stories in continuity, others wanted a completely new beginning) the reboot wasn’t a total success- in fact some characters (such as Hawkman) got so muddled up by contradictory stories that DC actually eventually forbade their use! Overall however their comics were still pretty good, with fresh takes on characters like Superman and even completely new characters like Booster Gold.
Ten years later, DC published “Zero Hour”, a similar miniseries in which history gets rewritten (by Green Lantern Hal Jordan, of all people, who had gone insane after failing to save his entire city). The real reason however was that DC was trying to fix some of the problems caused by the first reboot. Some changes worked (Wonder Woman was now old enough to have been a founding member of the Justice League after all) others only got worse (Hawkman) and some made no sense at all (Batman was now an urban legend- gee so who’s that guy in the Justice League?) It also did introduce some interesting characters though such as the new Starman.
In 2005, Infinite Crisis, a direct sequel to the first Crisis, again changed their universe- why? Your guess is as good as mine, because it wasn’t as if they really needed it now. In fact, the changes were vague, presented by way of jumping ahead a full year with the promise of things being explained via “52” a year-long weekly comic. In the end few of the changes proved good (Wonder Woman was now a secret agent) and some utterly bombed (turning Batgirl into a bad guy.) And none lasted long either. Also, in the end it was revealed that The Multiverse had been recreated (but only with 52 Earths- for no reason other than justifying the series’ title it seems.)
The current reboot is the result of “Flashpoint” a storyline centered on The Flash were history gets screwed up by one of his foes, resulting in a horrible version of Earth that will however soon get undone (very similar to marvel’s Age of Apocalypse and House of M series.) Then DC revealed that the universe would not get back to COMPLETE normality afterwards, but will have many differences. So far, it just looks like there will be many costume changes (which the fans hate already) and lots of minor characters getting their own books (including people like BatWing, The African Batman.) They insist this isn’t a “reboot” it’s just a “relaunch” but many of the details leaked (such as the fact that Superman is no longer married) seem to belay that.
Why did DC do this now? I believe it’s for the following reasons:
-First, the DC company itself has been reinvented recently by their owners (Warner Brothers.) Their focus now is in creating properties that can exploited in other media (Marvel’s recent movie successes probably had a lot to do with that.) One of the purposes of the relaunch is to try to attract new readers by offering digital versions of their stories on the same day the comics are printed. Makes you wonder why they even bother with the paper version (they might also be setting themselves up to survive the predicted death of printed media.)
-As a result of the above reshuffling, Dan Didio, the guy behind many of the Infinite Crisis changes, is no longer in direct control (but he still has an important position). Geoff Jones, who has written most of DC’s recent big event stories (including Flashpoint) was also given a lot of control- and so was Jim Lee, whose own comics universe he sold to DC years ago. Judging from this, I think that a) not much is going to change, storywise, and b) a LOT of Lee’s “Wildstorm” characters are getting introduced into the DC Universe, as if they always were part of it (and having their own series again.)
The digital distribution part, I can understand and even agree with- no matter how much I prefer reading on paper, that medium seems on its way out like radio when it was replaced by television. Though I have to wonder if making the digital versions available on the same day is a good idea- isn’t it like making the DVD version of a movie available while it’s still playing on theaters?
Storywise, I don’t think the DC universe will get any nicer, which has been my big problem with it since Didio took over (and has led me to stop buying their comics since 2006). The Wildstorm characters were even more grim, so that doesn’t help either. And Johns is the kind of writer who loves to be “The One In Control”- HE gets to define Green Lantern AND Flash AND Superman AND Aquaman etc. So expect few stories that don’t meet his personal beliefs.
Overall, I think the relaunch will be a mess. In fact it may finally “kill” printed comics (in America anyway.) Though the stories will survive online. I really doubt I will start reading them again, though I will give them a chance. But if I see gross deaths everywhere, I’ll drop them just as fast.