It’s no secret that DC Comics has been taking a beating from Marvel Comics for quite some time now. As the second of the two biggest comic book companies, it’s been in a decades-long struggle for dominance that, at least in the last couple of decades, hasn’t quite been able to catch the world’s eye as vividly as Marvel has (DC’s been firmly in the number 2 slot every year since 2002). The irony of this is, of course, that when you think of the most well-known superheroes of yesteryear and today, you’re likely to think of DC characters — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman — all DC products, dating back decades.
The problem with DC — if we’re being intellectually honest, the problem with comic books, full stop — is that they’re confusing as a motherfucker. Comic books have been ever-evolving, constantly getting revamps and reboots and reimaginings, so much so that if you really paid attention to these constantly shifting stories and origins, it’d be hard to get too outraged at any cinematic reboot. Think the idea of X-Men: First Class is bad? Wade through a bit of comic book history and see just how puzzling things can get. Marvel is certainly guilty of it — one has to but look at Wolverine’s history to see just how bizarre and ridiculous retconning can be.
Yet no culprit is quite as guilty as the DC Comics universe has been. It’s bad enough that there exists what are conventionally known as the Bronze, Silver and Golden Ages of comic books — those are mainly based on history, storytelling maturation and artistic styles. But DC had so many conflicting storylines and ideas rattling around, involving different earths and origins for its characters, that it was simply dizzying. Different powers, costumes, origins, you name it, it was all there. Their solution was a series in the 80s called Crisis On Infinite Earths, which was sort of a “When Worlds Collide” storyline that was intended to simplify these various stories and formulate a common canon.
It didn’t exactly work. While some of the Crisis storylines were engaging, the whole product only barely helped clarify things. Then, DC went and fucked with things again with Infinite Crisis, and things remain, to this day, confusing as hell. It’s not helped by there being 100s of heroes and villains. To make matters worse, even killing them off isn’t reliable — either they’re somehow resurrected, or someone else takes up the mantle. This is how we ended up with a half-dozen Flashes and Green Lanterns. Christ, I don’t even think Bruce Wayne is Batman anymore. Seriously. If you really want to torture yourself, start at any DC hero’s Wikipedia page and just start to plunge through the rabbit hole. You’ll come out feeling like you just got kicked in the brain.
Anyway, after that long-winded and likely factually perilous introduction (I confess, I’m far more of a Marvel guy than DC), we come to the crux of today’s story. Rumor has abounded for quite some time that DC has been brewing crazy juice in the kettle again, and on Tuesday it was confirmed. In an article in USA Today, DC Comics’ co-publisher Dan Didio stated that they’re going back to square one — literally. Beginning in September, over fifty titles are simply going to start over. As in, they’ll revert back to issue one, and the stories start at a sort of zero-point. They’re literally re-numbering their series, and rebooting the whole damn universe. Sort of. In a clarification post, VP of Slaes Bob Wayne said:
“We have taken great care in maintaining continuity where most important, but fans will see a new approach to our storytelling. Some of the characters will have new origins, while others will undergo minor changes. Our characters are always being updated; however, this is the first time all of our characters will be presented in a new way all at once.”
Whatever. Regardless, they’re changing their game plan sustantially. They won’t be telling origin stories, per se, but rather, according to USA Today, “introducing stories that are grounded in each character’s specific legend but also reflect today’s real-world themes and events. (Jim) Lee spearheaded the costumes’ redesign to make characters more identifiable and accessible to comic fans new and old.” Meaning that they’re starting in the present, but essentially trying to eliminate much of the complexity, redundancy and flat-out insanity that comes with the history of some of the characters.
The first issue to be released will be “Justice League #1,” which will return the League to it’s most well-known lineup — Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash (no word on which Flash), Green Lantern (same question applies), and Aquaman (that’s right, no J’onn J’onzz). It’s a logical starting point, since the Justice League has always been sort of the central power base of heroes in the DC universe. From there, more than 50 titles will start to come out, all beginning with issue number one. To make things more interesting, all of the titles will also be released digitally. Although I’ve never really been able to enjoy digital comics — I’m a big Kindle fan, but reading comics on my computer or worse, my phone, has never appealed to me, it’s a smart step for the company, enabling fans to receive new issues instantly. But that’s hardly the main point of this discussion.
Personally? I think it’s a phenomenal, if risky idea. I freely admit that one of the things that’s kept me from catching up with DC titles is that I simply have no goddamned idea what’s going on. I drifted away from comic books for about 10 years after college, and then randomly started reading Marvel’s “New Avengers,” and you know what? I was able to slip back into the universe relatively easily. I recently picked up the Green Lantern graphic novel Blackest Night, and I had no fucking clue who 60% of the characters were. DC is just too goddamn complicated. This is a clean, if almost mercenary, way of cutting ties and starting over, without actually starting over. It’s likely to draw fans back into the fold, as well as hopefully generate some new ones. The effort is being spearheaded by writer Geoff Johns and artist Jim Lee, who are practically legends in the field. It’s got vast potential.
What does this mean for DC Comics-based films? Probably not much, to be honest. If anything, it’ll hopefully get the comics more fans, which will open the doors for more characters to get the film treatment. For years now, the real good stuff has come out of DC Animated’s films and television shows, which are almost universally loved and renowned. They’re usually excellent, but they also typically don’t delve too far into the complicated universe, and instead stick to the basic origin stories. Yet animated films are mostly for either kids or the hardcore fans, and everyone knows that major motion picture releases are where the money’s at. But DC is already gaining ground with movies like Green Lantern, which despite not being a particularly conventional character in terms of the layperson’s superhero knowledge, was cast and marketed in such a way as to pique the non-fan’s interest anyway. If anything, this revamping will simply create new opportunities.
I still don’t have much hope for Zack Snyder’s Superman, though.