First, a little addendum. In my ranting on the inevitable resurrection of comic book characters, I theorized the death of Johnny Storm was a ploy to re-start the FF with low and less intimidating issue numbers. My friend with the subscription informed this didn’t actually happen, which leaves me somewhat confused. I can only guess it was a ploy to get readers hooked on the whole “Future Foundation” storylines before re-introducing the FF.
Ok, on to today’s rant, but I’m starting with a shout-out to the fabulous itsjustsomerandomguy on YouTube. He seems to share a lot of opinions I do with some of the awful ways comic books are treated (he HATES the retcon of Spider-man’s marriage). His current storyline (Zero Hour) very much expresses how I feel about re-boots and is frankly quite brilliant.
Here’s the thing – I HATE comic book re-boots. I really do. They never really work out. Both DC and Marvel have tried this in various forms over the years with I think minimal success. Whether it’s Superboy-Prime punching reality, or Magneto almost literally nuking the Ultimates universe, the re-boots never seem to last very long. If the companies are lucky, the re-boots last long enough to pick up a few new readers without completely alienating their old readers. Outside of the ridiculous cosmic gymnastics writers go through to explain a re-boot, here are the two main problems with a re-booted universe –
1) They changed it; now it sucks
2) They didn’t change it; it still sucks
I will explain.
In the instance of problem 1, the writers change the origin and/or powers and/or personality of a well-known character. I’m sure this is done so the writers can say, “This isn’t the Well-Known Superhero you used to know!” as though this is a great thing. I’m sure the writers think this is a great thing or they wouldn’t to do it. It gives them the freedom to put their own spin on a well-known character without all those years of history to take into account. It’s a clean slate, a fresh start, and there will be a lot of long time fans who will hate this. They like those characters just they way they are. That’s why they are long time fans. Why make Wonder Woman into an Amazonian refugee with no memory of her home and powers? I don’t know, but someone at DC thought that was a great idea. It’s not as though there isn’t precedent for such re-boots. In the 70s, Wonder Woman was re-imagined as an ass-kicking kung-fu master. But you know what? That 70s kung-fu master Wonder Woman disappeared, as did amnesia Wonder Woman. There are some things fan expect to happen, and when the writers don’t have those events occur, they get upset. Do you think the Ultimates X-men could have not done a Phoenix storyline? No, they couldn’t.
In the instance of problem 2, the writers really don’t change much about a character’s origin and/or powers and/or personality. What they do instead is re-tell the old stories but with their own spin. This is frustrating for long time fans in a completely different way. They already know how events are going to unfold, and they get frustrated waiting for said events to happen or are frustrated with the spin the writer is putting on the story. For example, in DC’s rebooted universe, Sinistro is currently part of the Green Lantern Corps. Anyone with a passing familiarity with the mythos of the original universe knows exactly how this is going to turn out (spoiler alert – it’s going to end badly). The details may be different, but the end result is the same. So for many fans, a reboot is annoying because they have to wait for certain events of the rebooted universe to play out before anything new happens. It’s not quite like a re-run; it’s more like an OVA.
DC is gamely trying this experiment again. I expect it will fail, as every other re-boot has failed before. And here’s my take on this – a re-boot can actually work, but the comic book companies do it wrong. The reason it never works is because they start over with the same characters and then run into problem 1 and/or 2. The companies are never brave enough to really start over in which they only problem they would run into is 1. Marvel is frustrating the hell out of me right now and I’d love to re-boot that universe properly.
First, I will explain why Marvel is frustrating, and I will see if I’m right about the unfolding of events in five months or so. I have already expressed frustration at the New Avengers because people are not behaving in a logical manner (I.e., choosing to fight the Dark Avengers instead of just outright arresting convicted felon/escaped convict Norman Osborn). In other words: chomper logic. The next big event is the Avengers vs the X-men over the return of Phoenix. This incurs yet more annoying chomper logic and frankly is the result of a previous mini re-boot called “House of M” (in which the writers/editors said, “Whoops, there are too many mutants in the world and it’s painted us into a corner about them being a persecuted minority; what can we do to get out of this? I know! A mini re-boot via a deus ex machina!”). Hope Summers is, I think, the reincarnation of Jean Grey, and supposed to be the Messiah of mutant-kind. Cyclops has gone so far around the bend that when Magneto said, “Hey, you sound a lot like me,” and Emma Frost said, “This is a bad idea,” which are two giant red warning flags, he totally ignored them. The Avengers are trying to stop the Phoenix and the X-men are trying to use the Phoenix to save mutants. This is chomper logic on so many levels. Iron Man is talking about building a box to contain the Phoenix force. Cyclops is talking about controlling it. And Wolverine says nothing. He was there at the time of the original Phoenix saga. Why doesn’t he pull Captain America aside and tell him to keep the Avengers out of the way and tell him exactly what he saw the Phoenix do? Phoenix single-handedly beat the entire Shi’ar Imperial Guard. Phoenix destroyed a sun. Phoenix destroyed at least one Shi’ar battle fleet. In the Endsong mini-series, Phoenix undid a black hole. The only thing that ever stopped Phoenix was Jean Grey. So exactly what the hell do the X-men or the Avengers think they’re going to do? So I predict three or four issues of pointless fighting which will end when Hope accepts the Phoenix force and then promptly kills herself (as Messiahs tend to die) but allows new mutants to be born into the world again, thus saving the mutant race (I.e, the writers/editors said, “Whoops, there are now too few mutants and we’ve painted ourselves into a corner about them being the next evolutionary step; what can we get out of this? I know! A mini re-boot via a deus ex machina!”). It’s supposed to be awesome, but it will only be lame. If you just want to see your favorite characters fight each other due to an incredibly contrived and unbelievable premise, get a video game (I.e. Marvel Vs Capcom or DC vs Mortal Kombat).
My idea is that Chris Claremont had the right idea back in the 70s – let the characters move on. Unfortunately, any time someone is brave enough to actually try this, it seems a re-boot inevitably follows. For example, Bruce Wayne was finally retired as Batman. It made sense; he’s in his late 40s or early 50s. That kind of life has got to be incredibly physically difficult. How many times has Bruce Wayne had bones bruised or broken? His body just can’t take that kind of punishment for so long. It made sense that finally Dick Grayson would take over. I was glad to see some progress in the universe. But it was not to last. The re-boot set everything back to just the way it was, and now we’re back to problem 1 and/or 2. So here’s how you re-boot properly (in my not humble at all opinion):
1) This is not an alternative universe. This is THE universe. Comics effected by the re-boot stop publishing. New comics start. No Ultimates. No 2099. No New Universe. No Universe-893. This is the new paradigm.
2) No ridiculous world-changing explanations for how the reboot occurred. Use the hand wave of, “The world has always been like this.” This saves the embarrassment of punching reality.
3) Start in the modern day (or close to it).
4) Take the original 60s Marvel characters and figure out their ages when they were introduced. Peter Parker was 15 or 16. Johnny Storm was 15 or 16. Rick Jones was 16 or 17. Scott Summers was 17. This provides a baseline for the new timeline.
5) Time-jump. I would start the universe somewhere between 2010 and 2015. Characters who were between 15 and 18 when the universe started (I.e, the 60s), would now be 44 years old. Why not make them their actual age? Well, assuming Peter Parker was 16 in 1964 (I think that’s when he was introduced), makes him born in 1948, so he would be currently 64 years old. That’s a little bit older than I would want for the reboot, which I will explain in a minute.
6) The characters would be the same, but different. How? That’s why I would want Peter Parker to only be about 44. Here’s the example – there would be an Amazing Spider-man, but it would be the son of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, Benjamin Parker (do you really think Peter would give his son any other name?). If Peter’s about 44, assuming he and MJ had a kid in his late 20s, then that makes the new Spider-man about 16 years old. New readers can then start on the brand-new adventures of a teenage Spider-man without trying to learn all of Peter Parker’s history. Long-time readers don’t have to deal with yet another re-tread of Peter Parker, or a writer wrecking all the stories they already know and love.
7) The universe retains continuity. The new characters would be logical extensions of the state of the universe at the point of the time jump. If any writers want to fill in what happened between 30-something single Peter Parker and 44 year-old married father Peter Parker, they can do so with mini-series. Peter Parker can still have some things to do in the comics, but it’ll be new stories if he is.
8) Some comics will continue pretty much unchanged, like “Thor.” He’s practically immortal and what happens in Asgard doesn’t necessarily have a lot to do with Earth anyway.
9) Characters will age and move on and die. The problem of course is that action in the comics takes place in a weird extended time frame anyway. An arc of two months can take one full year of comics. But it also implied that the characters do get some down-time. The comic re-cap page should just make note of time passing, and if anything of note happens, it gets a mini-series.
This would give the writers freedom to actually try to do something different, but still retain the familiarity of the old universe. This would finally allow a comic book universe to be dynamic. That’s really the problem with comic books universe. The real world moves on, but the characters never do. They really don’t age, and nothing really changes in the universe. Someone needs to be brave enough to allow the universe to be dynamic. I would be grateful if there was a proper re-boot that start up a truly dynamic universe. I don’t think I’m alone in that opinion either.