Ah, comic books. Where decades worth of history can be rewritten through a convoluted plot device typically revolving around super speed. Before films and television caught the “reboot” bug, the word was introduced to pop culture through comic books. DC started the trend after they began playing with the idea of infinite universes, using them as a way to play around with new ideas, characters, and concepts. But when the growing number of alternate time lines and continuities reached an incomprehensible and impenetrable level, they began an event forever known as “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” In 1985, the world saw its first comics reboot, as the various universes were streamlined into one continuity. And the rest is history, as both Marvel and DC have blown up their comics line up various times.
And this May, DC will once again be rebooting their timeline with DC: Rebirth. But ask one of DC’s high profile creators, and they will insist it is not a reboot, but rather a return to form, or bringing back the “legacy” of DC comics. Publisher Geoff Johns referenced his famous “Green Lantern: Rebirth” and “The Flash: Rebirth,” which brought back classic characters and reset them as the leads. He even went as far as to tweet an ad stating: “It’s not a reboot, and it never was.”
Unfortunately, I will have to disagree with Mr. Johns on this one. Based on what he has said, Rebirth follows an almost three decade tradition of blowing up their timeline in one of two ways. Since “Crisis,” DC has been in a continual cycle of either rebooting the continuity for newcomers or “rebirthing” the continuity of fans.
The original Crisis was created as an attempt to counter the impenetrable continuity and make their comics welcoming to newcomers. While that worked for the short term, fans who had grown up with countless universes took the change poorly, and when they grew up to be writers, they decided to “fix” things. In the early 2000’s, DC began a massive saga that included “Infinite Crisis” and “Final Crisis.” To save time on explanation, the net result was bringing back the multiverse in spectacular fashion. Once again, the continuity was big, epic, and pretty incomprehensible. The “fans” won.
But in the 2010’s, DC once again made a stab at winning back casual and new readers with the now infamous “New 52.” The company-wide reboot tried to create modern origin stories for many of its characters, while otherwise were dropped into a more easily digestible place in their timeline where most of their previous escapades could be shrugged off. Unlike the original Crisis, however, this streamlining has not gone over so well. While a few good books have come out of it, the treatment of female characters has been routinely troubling, the comics themselves have been a mixed bag and the constant presence of the same main franchises brought very little new to the table (how can they justify up to 8 Batman comics at a time?). Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me that Rebirth is just an attempt to wash hands of 52 all together.
But Johns laid out the broadest intention very clearly. When discussing the Rebirth, he pointed out that it is more for the fans, and that casual readers may find it confusing. Once again, as sales lag again, DC is reaching to older fans. When they say “legacy,” they mean veering back into the past. Honestly, I would be glad to get rid of the New 52 if it’s biggest problem was solved, but we are still facing a crisis of banality. In a medium where anything that can happen, a Rebirth of old ideas doesn’t sounds like a rebirth in the slightest.
Carter Glace is a staff writer for Washington Square News.