So, roughly nine months ago, something happened. DC Comics had just ended their last multi-title crossover, Flashpoint, replete with no small number of tie-in mini-series, merchandising, and the well-worn promise that everything would change. But it was all just empty posturing. Mainstream comics are notorious for clinging desperately to their status, doing their best to keep their existing fan base pleased. This big change would be just as meaningless as the others.
Except not quite.
The big change proposed for the DC Comics universe was a mass cancellation, followed by a complete re-launch of 52 recent titles, all with brand-new number one issues. Even the long running Action Comics and Detective Comics (the company derives their name from the latter). These reboots would range from soft resets (Green Lantern and Batman suffered condensed timelines) to brand new conceptualizations (the sadly short-lived OMAC) led by a flagship Justice League title by company big guys Geoff Johns and Jim Lee. The new Action Comics #1 would have idea-man Grant Morrison at the helm.
The reboot consisted of an unhealthy portion of Batman series and associated spin-offs, and various families of titles: the Justice League group, the Superman group (which follows the trio of Superman, his clone “son” Superboy, and newly rebooted Supergirl, the big guy’s famous cousin), the Green Lantern group, the Young Justice group for the company’s teen heroes, as well as the Dark and Edge groups. The Dark was home to various supernatural books, including Vertigo imprint veterans Animal Man and Swamp Thing, both written by up-and-comers Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder, respectively. The Edge was a kind of catch-all for science fiction, war books, and “edgy” titles like Deathstroke (better known as Teen Titans antagonist Slade). Six titles were cancelled for low sales in April, with six new books coming in as replacements in May.
The first week of #1 issues will be coming out in the first week of June, so the question emerges: how did this reboot work? What exactly changed? Was it worth it?
Here’s the thing: as I said earlier, titles like Batman and Green Lantern saw scant few changes compared to the other comics included in the reboot. And why would they change anything? Both books are consistently among DC’s best sellers. But all of DC’s “New 52” books are in the same fictional universe. So while Batman has his same history, other characters have been reworked, like Superman. This is a symptom of a larger issue with the universe’s continuity. The DC Universe timeline has been condensed down to five years. Superman first began his career five years ago, the Justice League forms six months after that, and so on. So how did Batman have all his adventures, plus train multiple Robins, and have a ten-year-old son with villainess Talia Al Ghul (daughter of Ra’s) in that time? Solutions have been suggested (such as Batman operating in secret for five years before the events of Justice League #1, giving him a ten year history) but it has left certain groups of hardcore fans upset. Besides that, it actually hasn’t been much of an issue. Any universe of fictional titles written by dozens of writers at the same time is going to have issues. Shrinking the timeline down serves another purpose: DC editorial wants to keep their iconic characters young and relevant.
So, was this massive re-haul worth it? The answer is still foggy. There have been plenty of bad spots: Static Shock suffered from a degree of executive meddling that got it canned early on, and Johns’ Justice League, despite selling well, has only recently found its footing after an overly decompressed opening arc. The same could be said of “Justice League Dark” which just had a switch of writers, with Jeff Lemire taking over for Peter Milligan. That series follows a roster of occult heroes and happens to suffer from having a terrible name (Justice League Dark? They could’ve gone with Justice League Arcane but decided Dark was a better adjective. ) Other titles have started with interesting concepts (Fury of Firestorm is a metaphor for the arms race, Mr. Terrific featured a super-genius black character as the lead in an industry that suffers from an abundance of WASP leads) but have ultimately fallen flat.
Of course, everyone knew DC wasn’t going to put out 52 hit series. Among the failures and the mediocre, there are gems that have been selling well. The reboot has produced multiple critically lauded titles. The aforementioned Animal Man and Swamp Thing are critical darlings as well as sales successes headed for a much-anticipated crossover titled “Rotworld.” The recent second wave of replacement titles gave us the excellent “Earth-2” that gave us something of a miniature superhero epic in a single over-sized issue.
There’s something else that any casual fan/non-fan should know: as historic and big as this reboot is supposed to be, it’s not the first time this has been done. In fact, the first reboot on this scale was back in 1986, when your dad was probably reading comics. Or not reading comics. I don’t actually know your dad, but if he was reading then, he’d remember the reboot of DC’s catalogue from “pre-crisis” to “post-crisis” including a much-advertised Superman reboot (then written/drawn by former X-Men artist John Byrne) and a big multi-title crossover (Crisis on Infinite Earths).
So what lesson is there from all of this? In the words of one of my favorite TV series, “All of this has happened before, and it will happen again.” Reboots are nothing new to comics. They go back even further than the big 1986 re-haul to 1955 and the introduction of Barry Allen as the second bearer of the “Flash” Moniker. Of course, there’s something very basic behind the reboot. In the end, this was about advertising. DC got people excited about what they were doing, more excited than readers were a year ago when DC was lagging behind Marvel comics. So while it wasn’t earth-shattering, DC’s latest reboot seems to have been a success.