Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Superman and Batman Get Yet Another Bloody Reboot

WARNING: This post is a bit boring, but I had to get it out of my system. Ah well!

Fair go they want to try and make them approachable for the casual reader and everything, but why announce it like it's the most amazing news ever? Batman and Superman get "rebooted" every damn year! The last four or five years in particular have seen the whole DC universe repeatedly re-started like a cantkerous computer that refuse to connect to the wireless (as mine does from time to time). Well, I guess it's about making some sort of connection, because DC seems to be losing market share little by little every year. They seem to have lost it to independent rather than Marvel, who've seen some fall in market share but have been sitting on the late forties for a while.

Now, lemme level with you, I'm a born again Marvel zombie. Here's the background (skip ahead a few paras if this kind of kiddy nostalgia bores you, you heartless creep!):

I was a Marvel lad in the early seventies as a wee fella in the UK (via the black & white weekly reprints like Mighty World of Marvel) then in New Zealand I used to enjoy the pocket-money friendly black & white DC reprints from Australia (twenty-five cents for sixty four pages, and no ads except for the eternal stamp-collectors club in the inside back cover). These presented whatever stories were to hand in any order and following continuity was simply not possible. There'd be a Legion of Superheroes from the seventies next to Superman from the late sixties and then some oddball thing like Manhunter or Kamandi. My uncle David (who is Down's Syndrome) had a huge trunk of these when we arrived in NZ in 1975 and joyfully shared them with me.

They were happy times. I hardly knew anything about DC in those days apart from the Batman TV show, and the Batman who was in the comics was nothing like that! Similarly the old George Reeves Superman who fought gangsters and ... well, more gangsters couldn't hold a candle to the Superman in the comics with his bottle cities, robot duplicates and secret artic bolt hole. And add to that all those strange fellas like the Geen Lantern, the Flash, the Atom and Wonder Woman, plus the occasional glimpse of something really whacky - Dr Fate, the Phantom Stranger or Dead Man. Brilliant stuff.

Later, there was 2000AD of course (subject of another post one day, maybe) and then distribution of US comics improved and I discovered Marvel again. Marvel offered something that those black & white DC reprints never could: a story that lasted more than one issue. The X-Men's problems went on and on, and extended into the New Mutants, and then there was the Avengers and the West Coast Avengers and all that and it was like my mind expanded, like I discovered a whole new way to tell stories (I write a bit about that in this review of The Essential Fantastic Four vols 1-3).

Well, that was all well and good, but then Alan Moore moved to DC and I discovered the comics shop in Wellington. Well, suddenly Marvel wasn't good enough any more. DC seemed to have a kind of moral superiority that that Marvel lacked. Marvel appeared venal and tawdry beside DC's noble heroes with an ancient lineage. Hell, they'd invented the whole shebang, as I discovered through fanzines and oddly layed-out small press comics histories (before the internet, gasp!!)

One title I liked in particular was Roy Thomas's All Star Squadron, which told the story if the DC universe during World War II, retconning a number of properties they'd acquired over the years into their "Earth 2", the alternative universe where Superman had appeared in the 1930s quickly followed by Batman and Wonder Woman and all the rest, and where the Flash wore a soldier's helmet, Green Lantern had a cape and the Sandman was an oddball in a gasmask rather than an annoying mopey goth. You see, to keep their comics current they'd had to update them from time to time and... well, if you don't know what I mean when I say "Earth 2" then there's no real space to explain it here.


Just as All Star Squadrom was really hitting its stride, DC made the first of their massive reboots. Earth 2 was suddenly no more, eaten up by the Anitmonitor All Star Squadron was now about these rather uninteresting second stringers. Superman was rebooted as a yuppie. Barry Allen the Flash was dead replaced by the Kid Flash. All the wierd and quirky elements were eliminated and replaced by something that looked a lot like the Marvel universe I'd seceded from just a couple of years before.

Then the twin body blows of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, and suddenly the whole super heroes idea seemed a bit embarrassingly stupid. DC had somehow managed to hug their golden goose to death.

Whhheeeesh wheeeessh, winds blow and I wander in the wilderness, enjoying the outer reaches of Alan Moore for a while and the post-underground black and white guys like Dan Clowes and Joe Sacco and then, suddenly, I'm not reading comics any more. Years go by, dark years, empty years. No one punches anyone through a wall. No one agonises "Oh, Betty, if only you knew the real reason I ran out on our date!". No one I read about has unfeasible pectoral muscles.

Then, one day, I decide it's been too long. Inspired by online debates about Marvel's Civil War, I jump in again with World War Hulk, a series where the Hulk returns to Earth and... well, look that's what wikipedia's for, right? But the point is I found a new way to read comics. Instead of following individual title or characters, I started reading "events". I read World War Hulk and its attendant specials and cross-overs, without getting any of the other series (well, I did end up siging on for the Incredible Hercules, which is sublimely brilliant). Then I read Secret Invasion (skrulls invade!) which morphed seamlessly into Dark Reign (Norman Osborne, aka the Green Goblin becomes director of S.H.I.E.L.D; hilarity ensues).

People complain about these mega-crossover events but I like them. I think it's a development in the story telling technique as powerful and interesting as the original idea of a shared universe. I'm wierd that way.

Anyway, these are all good fun series about people being punched through walls and missing dates and having unfeasible pectoral muscles, so I'm happy, but I feel bad! I have the residue of my old worry that DC is where the real oil is. Indeed, Grant Morrison, another alumnus of 2000AD's golden age, is working at DC and doing some amazing stuff. Aside from his Vertigo books (like The Invisibles and The Filth) he's planning big cross-over events, too, so I read Inifintie Crisis and then the weekly multi-character book 52, and then Final Crisis. Well, they're all good. 52 is excellent, in fact, and extends the idea of the superhero comics being about continuity rather than particular characters in a really interesting direction, but it can't be maintained. The Crises, in particular, come hard on each others heels redefining the DC continuity again and again until it's not even a recognisable continuity anymore, but a kind of meta-continuity which self consciously references its own artificiality and gets all crazy whacky and occasionally brilliant, but more often unreadable.

So, in the last year or so DC has retrenched a little, put Mr Morrison back on the strong tranquilisers and launched a Green Lantern-based mega epic, Blackest Night. Unfortunately it's a pallid version of the sort of thing that Marvel have been doing for the last few years, but without Marvel's wilfully vulgar brio. I dunno why, but there's an energy that still comes through from Stan Lee that allows the Marvel creators to be histrionic, melodramatic and silly that DC lacks. DC seems stolid and boring by comparison. Blackest Night opens with about eight pages of dense of dialogue as superheroes attend a series of memorial services on superhero day, remembering fallen comrades, mulling their heritage and oh Christ I JUST WANT SOMEONE TO KICK SOMEONE ELSE IN THE FACE!!! Is that so wrong?

So, well, what did I actually want to say here? I guess, where this is heading is saying that DC seemed to lose the superhero plot sometime in the 80s. Something about the Vertigo deal meant that they could never again just do superheros kicking each in the face and revelling in their unfeasible pectorals. They seem obsessed by dignity and legacy and history in a way that Marvel are not. The Marvel comics aren't great art but they're great, cheesy superhero thrills. Other people probably watch Heroes and stuff for a similar kick (I'm not much of a genre TV fan) but for me well, Make Mine Marvel!

What makes DC's annoucnement all the more stupid is the wonderful All Star Superman produced by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely which did everything they claim their Straczynski Superman is going to do in a single eloquent 12 issue run last year. Having read that, I just don't see how anyone (and certainly not a hack like Straczynski) can top that. Okay, Miller's All Star Batman was a mixed bag (if you mixed vomit, shit and weevils) but then the wonderful Mr Morrison's been doing superlative work on the mainstream Batman title for several years (yes, I've been reading that and it's been truly magnificent stuff).

So, please, DC, don't pretend this is some Earth shattering new idea that's going to revive your properties. It's the same old bollocks in the hands of a bunch of annoying hacks. Raaargh! Nerd Rage!!!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.