Thursday, June 02, 2011

Culture Shock 06.02.11: Batman, Superman get the reboot

The rebooted Justice League of America.
(Image courtesy of DC Comics.)
Superheroes have never been more popular, with four big-budget superhero movies hitting screens this year. But the comic books that gave birth to those heroes are in desperate shape.

Sales of monthly comics are taking such a beating you'd think they'd made the Hulk angry, and the only bright spot has been an increase in sales of trade paperbacks collecting those same monthly comics. The two major publishers, Marvel and DC, have waded into digital comics, but neither has really taken the plunge.

Until now.

DC Comics made two announcements Tuesday. The first is, starting Aug. 31, DC will release digital editions of its comics on the same day the print versions go on sale. In a world of iPads and Kindles, that was bound to happen, and you can bet DC's chief rival, Marvel Comics, won't be far behind in making the same move.

The second announcement, however, is more baffling. It's a sign of desperation.

DC is rebooting its entire superhero universe. No one is safe. Not Superman. Not Batman. Not Wonder Woman. All of the company's superhero comics are going back to square one, which includes each of them getting a brand new issue No. 1.

But that's just the window dressing. Inside, familiar characters will be younger, their costumes altered. (They're intent on making Wonder Woman wear pants.) DC is, if not going back to the beginning, at least turning back the clock.

Apparently, DC's powers that be — primarily Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns and Co-Publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio — have decided they've done such a lousy job of running DC Comics for the past several years that the only thing to do is blow up their superhero universe and start over.

They're half right about that. Virtually the only readable DC superhero comic of the past decade, apart from an occasional gem like Paul Cornell's "Knight and Squire" miniseries, has been Grant Morrison's "Batman," which actually did something remarkable: It changed the status quo.

But changing the status quo is unforgivable when it comes to corporate-owned superheroes.

Morrison had a similarly adventurous run on Marvel's "New X-Men" in the early aughts, which Marvel promptly undid the moment Morrison jumped to DC. (Joss Whedon's followup, "Astonishing X-Men," was in some ways better, but it was also decidedly old school.)

Now, it looks like Morrison's hard work on Batman, which has included making the new Robin a son Batman never knew he had, is about to get rebooted into oblivion. (Maybe not, but I don't see how it squares with DC's announced plans.)

But as bad as most of DC's non-Morrison books have become, is wiping the slate clean, or almost clean, the answer? I guess it is if all you're comfortable doing is rehashing the same old stories: A new retelling of Superman's origin, with some new but pointless wrinkle?

How nice. I haven't seen that before.

DC has been rebooting its heroes every few years for the past 25 years. The only difference this time is they say they really, really mean it this time. For a promise of something new, it sure seems familiar.

Marvel has its own storytelling troubles, but at least it's trying.

With Marvel, it's typically the execution that undermines otherwise OK ideas.

But DC's reboot is just an old idea dressed up to look new. But at least you can read DC's new comics on an iPad. That way you can reboot them yourself.

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