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mygif

Might possibly be related to the massive digital launch too.

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I think where you’ve got it wrong is in which things reboots are trying to sweep under the rug. There are lots of people who actively advocate reboots, and they’re not trying to get rid of the frigging Spider-Mobile. What is it they’re trying to get rid of?

“Spider-Man shouldn’t be married! We need to erase that!”

“Hawkman’s bacsktory makes no sense! We need to erase that!”

“Iron Man was turned into a teenager? We need to erase that!”

“It’s confusing that some of our major characters live on Earth-2! We need to erase that!”

Note that none of these things are mistakes, they are merely storylines that the editors liked at the time and don’t like anymore. My advice to said editors is, when a big idea comes along, don’t say “Well, if it doesn’t work we’ll just pull a Crisis to fix it,” but instead ask “Is this going to be the next Avengers: The Crossing? Do I want that on my head?”

In any event, you don’t need a reboot to correct mistakes and absolve regrets. When John Byrne thought Steve Englehart shouldn’t have revealed Jim Hammond and the Vision are the same guy, he didn’t reboot have to reboot the Marvel Universe or even the Avengers, he just told one story to retcon it. And when Kurt Busiek wanted to undo that, he didn’t need a reboot either–he just told a second story to retcon the retcon. I think in 1995 everyone would have agreed that it would take a Crisis to bring back Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps, but in 2004 Geoff Johns did it in six issues, no reboots necessary.

The biggest problem with reboots is that sweeping your problems under the rug doesn’t eliminate your problems, it just masks them. Rebooting Hawkman in 2011 sounds like a great idea, until you consider that they main reason Hawkman has so many problems is that they partially rebooted him in 2001, 1994, and 1989, and each reboot asked that you remember part of the prior continuity but never the same part. Reboots don’t solve problems, they create them. Look at the Legion–people think the Legion is confusing, and it’s not because the Bronze Age stories were too complex, it’s because nobody can keep track of which reboot we’re on, and expect more reboots to come.

This is usually where people say “That’s why they should do a total, holistic reboot like Marv Wolfman wanted after Crisis!” but that’s never going to happen (certainly not now) so it’s a moot point. The bottom line is that DC is stuck with the continuity they have, and sooner or later they will peek under their rug and find themselves faced with the exact same mess.

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Jim: for people who don’t read all the books all the time, picking up a random issue and finding out that Vision suddenly isn’t Jim Hammond is confusing and annoying.

Problem being that reboots, whether partial or total, have been horribly overused. It is a part of the extremely limited Superhero Comics Bag o’ Tricks, which contains only five tools: Deaths, Resurrections, Companywide Events, Retcons, and Reboots. Nobody cares anymore, and why should they?

Here’s a question for John, MGK, or anybody else who feels like answering: doesn’t any and every form of saying “Whoops! Changed our minds!” every five minutes defeat the purpose of having this level of continuity in the first place?

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@Jim Smith: One man’s “thing the editor doesn’t like” is another man’s “mistake”, particularly when that man is the editor. I’m sure if you asked Joe Quesada, he would tell you that the Spider-Marriage was a mistake, and not a small one.

You’re absolutely right, though. You don’t need a full reboot when you can do a small retcon, and you don’t even need to do that if you have a little forethought. But I’m not talking about why reboots “should” be done, I’m talking about why they appeal to editors. Not the same thing. :) Reboots cut through the Gordian Knot of previous bad decisions (and good decisions that the current editor doesn’t like, which are to them the same thing) and fix a lot of continuity problems at once. Which is easier: Fix Aquaman’s wife, kid, sidekick, kingdom, supporting cast and hand…or just start over fresh?

@RAC: Yes. Very much so. In case it didn’t go without saying: I’m not a big fan of reboots, I don’t think they solve any problems, and I think they’re terribly overused (especially at DC, where it worked once in ’85 brilliantly and now they do one every five years or so just to keep their hand in.) But I wanted to talk about why editors keep doing them despite fan hatred, so I had to kind of put myself in the editor’s mindset.

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I think your reasoning is fairly sound John, though I think everybody convinces themselves that this time it will be that elusive commercial success and that it’ll “fix” everything. Really, retcons and reboots both smack of the poor business decisions I see in a lot of other fields. Particularly the two hallmarks of a bad manager: “I’m going out of my way to undo everything the old manager did whether anybody else thinks it works or not!” and “This previously-failed plan will work now, because I’M the one trying it!”

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damanoid said on June 4th, 2011 at 2:49 pm

I am somewhat out of the loop re: DC continuity, on account of being unable to keep up with the many crossover events of the last few years. What are the major storytelling obstacles that would necessitate another continuity-wide reboot at this point?

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mygif

The one main argument I can see in favor of a reboot is to provide an entry point for younger readers. Kids are still interested in superheroes — no end of toys, cartoons, and other merchandise that my son and his friends flock to moths-to-flame style. But kids want monster-of-the-week stories. They don’t care about continuity or a lot of character development. Back when comics were seen as fodder for kids and teenagers, the writing could be really crappy, but it also provided monthly doses of excitement without needing an encyclopedia to keep track of events.

I’m not saying publishers should return to a “golden age” that honestly I don’t think was that golden, but I remember the appeal reprints of those early stories had for me as a kid. They were fun, full of action, the characters were interesting, sometimes you even learned something, and the universe the stories took place in were coherent. As a teen, I remember getting overwhelmed by cross-overs and other complex story line gimmicks that didn’t seem to add anything all that meaningful to the characters. There were brilliant exceptions, of course, but they weren’t in the main.

I don’t think younger readers are the target, however. From what I can tell, adult fans of superheroes remain the bread and butter. Which is why reboots don’t make sense and why they don’t work. Older fans don’t like getting invested in the history of a character only to see it all thrown out the window with the bathwater.

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ralphdibny said on June 4th, 2011 at 6:41 pm

Another problem with the “reboot” is that all those mistakes that everybody wanted to just go away are suddenly transformed into forbidden fruit, and sooner or later writers will succumb to the temptation to return to them. For example, if Johns restores Aquaman and Mera’s child, don’t you know that within a year that child will be placed in danger? Superhero family members are getting kidnapped all the time, but this one will have that added kick of recognition–will Johns kill the kid again? And even if he doesn’t kill him this time, do you really expect that Johns will able able to resist murdering Aquababy for cheap emotional drama?

As you rightly point out, comic book creators are constantly under a severe deadline crunch. Reboots mean that there are all these old stories that can be told again, which is a lot easier than coming up with a new story. Reboots aren’t used to make things easier for the reader–they make things easier for the writer.

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fsherman said on June 4th, 2011 at 8:53 pm

What I’m curious about is the announcement that everyone is going to be de-aged. When I was a kid back in the Silver Age it never bothered me that everyone seemed to be late twenties/early thirties or even older (to have fought in WW II Ben and Reed must have been late thirties/early forties when FF started). Are younger readers today that put off by adult heroes? Or is this just one of those assumptions (“We’ll make them all younger! Then we’ll be hip!”) that get made?

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mygif

Non-comic geek type people aren’t reading Wonder Woman because they don’t give a shit about Wonder Woman. It’s not how they’re presenting the material that’s keeping the civilians away, it’s the material itself.

There’s an old saying about silk purses and sow’s ears they need to look up.

And after that, they should sit the hell down and really think about the medium they’re using and what they really want to do with it. Aside from trying to convince the general public they were wrong and Wonder Woman is actually really awesome because geeks are smart and cool…

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Jim: for people who don’t read all the books all the time, picking up a random issue and finding out that Vision suddenly isn’t Jim Hammond is confusing and annoying.

Agreed, and this is why Byrne shouldn’t have stuck his nose into it, and why Busiek felt it necessary to kinda-sorta undo Byrne’s retcon. My point is that neither of them used fan confusion about the Vision to suggest that the whole Marvel Universe needs a reboot because there’s so much confusing continuity. That’s curing the disease by killing the patient.

The solution to confusing backstory is to simply writer stories that don’t bring up so much confusing backstory. For example, the origins of the Eradicator is extremely convoluted, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t bother Action Comics readers today because Paul Cornell doesn’t bring it up. On the other hand, you can barely understand what’s going on in Green Lantern these days unless you’ve been reading Green Lantern since 2007. The continuity isn’t the problem here, it’s the writing.

Your suggestion that casual fans are confused about Vision continuity is a little hard to swallow. I doubt casual fans are picking up random issues that deal with the Hammond/Vision retcon, unless they are digging through copies of West Coast Avengers or Avengers Forever in dollar bins. The vast majority of Avengers comics simply don’t mention it. Now, if you’re a casual fan who remembers Hammond and Vision were supposed to be the same guy, and you’re confused that they aren’t anymore…well, you clearly aren’t a casual fan because you have a pretty solid memory of 1970s storylines, and you know enough to check Wikipedia.

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Reboots are the symptom you get from comic book stories not being able to just end. A good writer should be able to create a self-contained, internally consistent story that makes the point they want to make about a character and that’s that. Instead comic books have to pubish every month, which means a lot of filler, a lot of different writers and increased chances of narrative conflicts that (someone out there thinks) requires retconning. Or an entire reboot.

It’s one of the reasons I think that superhero movies have been so successful – they are short, self-contained narratives. Yes, they get rebooted, but that’s to include a new actor or to tell a story a different way*. “Superman Returns” arguably did a comic-book style reboot – this part of the continuity exists, but not that part – and it wasn’t well received by audiences who just wanted to see Superman do Superman-ish stuff.

*Or due to pure, unbridled greed.

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Walter Kovacs said on June 5th, 2011 at 8:52 am

Another issue with the reboots is that, there is a lot of build up at the moment. With Superman, Supergirl, Power Girl, Superboy, the Eradicator … it’s possible to have a Kryptonian in the JLA, the JLI, the JSA, the Titans and the Outsiders simultaneously (if they wanted). See also Barry, Wally, Bart, Jay and Jesse for the speedsters. The four human GLs in the Corp, plus Alan and Jade. Even without Batman Inc, there is a solid number of former/current Batgirls and Robins. They could concievably have 5 or 6 team books that have their own versions of Superman, Batman, Flash and GL on each team. Even Wonder Woman has two people following in her footsteps, and could concievably have more.

Also, most of the clutter from Superman’s past has caught up with him. Lex as super scientist in a green power suit? Check. Multicolored Kryptonite? Check. Kandor as bottled Kryptonian city? Check, although they got rid of it. Krypto, and Supergirl running around. Superboy hanging out with the legion. Lex and Clark knew each other as friends (although I’m not sure if that was re-retconned out again … shrug).

It will be interesting to see how they go with the Who’s Who series. If they figure out BEFORE the reboot what the backstory/status quo is for most of the characters, basically built up a series bible establishing the general timeline of stuff that is in canon, etc, they might be able to do a better job than previous reboots which were basically “Things are more or less the same, but we can choose to ignore stuff we don’t like, or insert things we do and have an excuse”. Short of stuff like the Man of Steel mini, or Batman: Year One, etc … a reboot isn’t very helpful if you don’t know what has been changed. In the retold origin stories, you at at least go in at the point where you aren’t expected to know anything, so you aren’t guessing if a past event occured or not. Barring that, since odds are even a reboot isn’t going to be a reSTART, they will probably need the Who’s Who to give a basic idea of “X Y and Z are still canon, but A and B no longer happened”. [Also, in addition to Who’s Who … Booster Gold, or any similar Rip Hunter/Time Travel type series, should hopefully take some time hoping around the ‘recent’ past of New New New Earth 1A 2.0, so that we can see some of the retconned events described in Who’s Who play out.

It will be an interesting intellectual exercise if it’s done with some foresight and planning. Otherwise it will be a haphazard patch to let editor’s and writer’s write the stories they want to tell without it breaking continuity. Of course preemptive breaking continuity to avoid breaking continuity is pretty flawed logically.

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Candlejack said on June 5th, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Walter Kovacs, Gail Simone’s column on Comics Alliance talks about how exciting it is for writers to have a wide-open field, unconstrained by the clutter of things past, so I’m guessing there’s no story bible. I’m also guessing that within five years we’ll see such exciting new stories as Superman finding out he’s not the last survivor of Krypton, discoving the bottled city of Kandor, and fighting Brainiac for the very first time. But I hope I’m totally wrong about that.

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fsherman said on June 5th, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Jim: “The solution to confusing backstory is to simply writer stories that don’t bring up so much confusing backstory. For example, the origins of the Eradicator is extremely convoluted, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t bother Action Comics readers today because Paul Cornell doesn’t bring it up.”
That’s one thing that annoyed me about the post Infinite Crisis re-establishing WW as one of the founding leaguers. It confused things (was Black Canary a founder too? Did the events of JLA Year One happen but with Diana added?) but doesn’t produce any benefits other than “there, continuity is back the way I remember it.”

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Jim: “The solution to confusing backstory is to simply writer stories that don’t bring up so much confusing backstory.”

Hear, hear! I remember Grant Morrison taking over Doom Patrol and just…not really talking about what happened to some of the characters from the previous writer’s run. He picked up what he thought he could use and discarded the rest. I’m not sure why comic book stories have to all make sense down to the last detail these days. It makes for boring, flat story-telling.

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Carlos Futino said on June 6th, 2011 at 7:14 am

@Thom,

that’s because it’s what “we” demmand. A lot of fans will go berserk if a writer igonores what happened before.

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Sofa King said on June 6th, 2011 at 8:47 am

Yip yip yip!

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David Fullam said on June 6th, 2011 at 1:10 pm

I loved the Zero Hour revamps of Fate and Manhunter. Give me something new over raping the dead corpse of the Golden and Silver Ages, brought to you by the latest hotshot at DC. Give it ten years, they will Reboot it all over again.

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Carlos: “that’s because it’s what “we” demmand. A lot of fans will go berserk if a writer igonores what happened before.”

Sadly, I think that’s true for a chunk of comic book enthusiasts. What’s worse is that DC and Marvel don’t seem to realize that the rest of us exist right now. You know, the fans who want quality, self-contained, long-form stories starring compelling characters. And without having to explain every little change in continuity with a 6 issue story arc.

Don’t get me wrong — there are little pockets of continuity-light books on both sides of the fence. My favorites right now are Xombi and Uncanny X-Force. I just wish there were more. And I’m afraid that this line-wide reboot at DC is going to wipe that concept out completely.

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@David Fullam: I really liked the post-Zero Hour Manhunter reboot, too. I don’t think it was a critical failure; I think it was a strange, sometimes goofy, usually entertaining comic that never found an audience. The Fate reboot I was less enthralled by, because it felt too much like pushing the Play-Doh that was Doctor Fate through the “Grim and Gritty” mold.

But in both cases, I was talking about sales figures, not critical success. Audiences didn’t follow the new versions of the characters, plain and simple.

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Mitchell Hundred said on June 6th, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Just out of curiosity: what exactly is the difference between General Nerd Crap and General Nerd Shit? Because a cursory examination would seem to indicate that they are remarkably similar.

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Greg Morrow said on June 7th, 2011 at 1:25 pm

ObPedant: Jewel Kryptonite was a hoax.

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Kid Kyoto said on June 8th, 2011 at 4:34 pm

Seems to me the problem is the industry and its fans’ addition to serial stories, continuinity, shared universes and characters with 50+ years of history.

The most successful comic industry in the world is Japan’s where books are primarily creator owned and self contained. What happens to Sailor Moon has no effect on Dragonball (yeah, yeah I’m stuck in the 90s) because they have nothing to do with one another.

It seemed for a while in the 90s we had a chance of new characters becoming hits but that’s mostly gone now replaced with 70 year old characters running the same laps again and again.

Harry Potter, Ben 10, Pirates of the Caribbean etc prove that new properties can take off and be as popular as the old ones, but comics does not seem able to develop their new ideas into hits.

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Jose Bueno said on June 14th, 2011 at 11:47 am

By the way… you just described software development as well.

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