The Hype and Creative Failure of the DC Reboot
By Alex Cranz
DC 52–not to be confused with 52–was supposed to change the game. The baby and the bath water were getting tossed and the world was going to be introduced to a whole new age of superheroes. Not like the Gold or Silver or Bronze or Modern Age heroes. This was going to change the game. This was going to be a huge universe with cast of thousands starting from scratch. It was the most daring thing anyone has ever done in the history of narrative. 52 stories told concurrently and each being a perfect place for a neophyte to hop into the world of spandex, leather and highly marketable emblems.
The hype and hyperbole the DCnU rode into town were over the top. Nothing could possibly compete with the pitch Dan Didio and company were selling. Crisis on Infinite Earth was a child’s tale in comparison to the world shattering event DC was going to bring us.
Then, slowly, like the flow of crystalline honey at the bottom of the jar, bits and pieces of Dan’s Great Reboot came to light.
Many stories would begin in media res. Some comics would be origin stories and some would be simply good stories and some would defeat the purpose of the entire reboot and presume the audience had some understanding of the character.
Timelines started getting muddled. Some comics would begin five years ago and some would begin two years ago and some occurred concurrently and if you weren’t a superfan pouring over every blog, press release and Tumblr diatribe you’d be in the dark.
Dan’s Great Reboot was supposed to find a new audience. It would find the women and men who’d scorned comics or set them aside or never even noticed them and it would drag them into the fold kicking and screaming. It would entice them with bold new stories. The parody comics had become–the stilted dialogue, the cheesecake poses, the impossible physiques–they’d disappear.
Only covers were released and women still undulated across the covers in bras and men still had twenty abs and the dialogue was still about five steps below a Brett Ratner film.
But there were gems. The best of the best were being brought on board. Grant Morrison and Gail Simone and JH Williams III. These are people who consistently refine and redefine comics. Morrison and Simone have perfected the comic like a good Noh performer. They’ve taken lessons from every point in comic history and applied them. They go through the same motions as the giants before them but they’re so precise that something remarkable is eked out each time their pen touches a page. And Williams makes comics art. Any page from his comics could find themselves on the wall of a home or an art gallery without a second glance.
Even now what Grant Morrison and JH Williams have done in this first month is nothing short of perfection. They’ve created comics that would be critically hailed with or without a relaunch. Morrison’s Superman blends the good of 70 years of characterization into one perfect entity. He doesn’t have the girl or the accolades but he’s like the lead in a tv pilot. You can’t wait to see him woo Lois and explore his powers. Williams didn’t have the same responsibilities Morrison did. His character was fresh. New. And the story he’s put Kate Kane into is haunting. But poor Gail Simone, saddled with characters less prone to magniloquent criticism and more prone to controversy made some beautiful of something horrible.
Dan Didio took Oracle back behind the barn and put a bullet in her head. And for good measure he tossed Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown back there with her. Then he found a Barbara Gordon doll and trussed her up and taped a bandage on her spine and called her a revelation. And Simone had to back up his words. She had to make you forget Oracle and Cain and Brown and remind you of a kinder and gentler time. In thirty-two pages she had to convince you that the editorial staff at DC Comics weren’t the biggest professional idiots around.
As an Elsewhere story, a what if to a cosmic question, Batgirl is a wonder. What if the bullet’s course through Barbara Gordon wasn’t as catastrophic as Alan Moore made it out to be. What if years later she was walking and leaping and carrying the joy Joker stole from her. What if she found her old costume and set out to fight crime just for the sheer love of the pursuit.
We might not say it but it’s a comic we’ve all wanted to see and Simone’s take on the question is engaging and features a prepossessing characterization that finds the balance between the calculating women in the chair and the winsome girl in the air.
But is this Barbara’s survival worth it as Batgirl worth it?
To the super fan no. To the people who regularly buy comics and trades and attend conventions and gnash their teeth online this new Barbara Gordon, this emblem of the potential and the waste of the reboot, isn’t worth it. 70 years of continuity have been discarded so Barbara can get a kickass apartment and woo Nightwing all over again.
But what about those new fans? The forgotten or the never have been fans the reboot wooed into the fold? Is it worth it to them? Their existence is anecdotal rather than quantitative. DC has been reluctant to release actual sales number. Instead they’ve used big words and pointed to blogs where comic book store owners extol the financial virtues of the reboot. A recent (and as yet unreleased) study by Nielsen Ratings hopes to change that.
Until then we can only judge Dan’s Great Reboot on the creative content and the marketing.
The comics themselves are the same as they ever were. Some require encyclopedic knowledge and some require no knowledge. Some are well written and other are so offensive their horror makes it into mainstream media. There’s nothing to debate–to discuss–creatively because nothing changed. Reliable creators are still infinitely reliable and Rob Leifeld is still being employed.
Marketing wise things are actually worse. The old adage “any publicity is good publicity” has been firmly embraced by Didio and company. Kid role model Starfire is showing off her nipples and acting out a date rape fantasy? Catwoman is going all softcore? The comic with Joker removing his face is as appropriate for 13 year olds as the one about Supergirl fighting robot communists? These are all great things.
And they reveal what we fans often forget. DC is a business first. That’s why it took them forty years to acknowledge the creators of Superman. It’s why Bob Kane’s name appears on everything Batman and Bill Finger’s name does not. It’s why we get mind boggling crossovers and Sue Dibney gets raped and we have four super marketable male Robins and only one Batgirl. DC is out to make a profit and they’ll be as ruthless as Wall Street to do it.
You’re upset with the reboot? You hate the repeated marginalization and objectification of women in superhero comics? You’re black, hispanic, gay or disabled? Too bad.
This reboot–ostensibly done to improve readership–was about two things, reinvigorating DC’s core audience of 18-35 year old white males and getting publicity. All that talk about new audiences? It was bunk.
As one of the people this reboot was allegedly meant for (former comic fan and a woman) I was thoroughly excited about it. But it was silly. It’s like thinking those stupid toner shoes actually work. It was hype and I, and many fans, fell for it. So I’m going to be a little cross about falling for some wonderful marketing and I’m going to go back to be a former comic book fan because Dan Didio and company have made it clear it’s about money first and the fans a distant distant second.