So I saw a few days ago where artist Patrick Zircher was advocating a Marvel Universe reboot along the lines of the one DC is doing. And basically I think that’s a stupid, stupid idea.
Case in point–DC has spent the whole summer running from the term “reboot.” They even have a FAQ somewhere where they explain to retailers that it’s not a reboot. They know nobody who was reading the comics before September wants to hear that. All I know is that Superman continuity seems to have been totally jettisoned, so to me that sounds like a Superman reboot. Does that make it a line-wide reboot? Well, if the Superman reboot means that Robin is meeting Superboy for the first time ever in Teen Titans #1, I’d say 99% of Teen Titans stories from the last ten years don’t count anymore, so that sure smells rebooty to me. Shared universes don’t get “a little” rebooted.
The general idea of Zircher’s argument is that Marvel needs more readers, and decades of backstory creates an obstacle preventing new readers from getting into the product. A line-wide reboot, then, has all the series and characters start over fresh at the same time, so that new readers are not “put off by storylines wrapped in 50 years of arcana” and do not have to “read a wiki entry to know what the hell’s going on.” Setting aside personal feelings about Marvel canon, this may sound very appealing. And indeed, I’m always seeing some guy (often in the comments on this very site) proposing a series of reboots, so that every few years everything gets reset, so nothing has time to get old or convoluted.
Here’s the problem: It will never happen.
I’m not saying Marvel won’t ever try a line-wide reboot; I’m just saying Marvel will never succeed in doing a total reboot of every single property in their entire catalogue. DC has been trying to do this for 25 years and still hasn’t gotten it right. A Marvel reboot might sound like a fine idea when you look at Spider-Man continuity, where Flash Thomspon is Venom, and Spider Island something something, and nobody’s sure what happened to all that marriage continuity. The trouble comes when you decide to wipe away everything at the same time, and then you notice that Daredevil just started a new direction and it’s a shame to start over again so soon, so you decide to keep DD’s continuity even as you eliminate Spidey’s. So what happens to all the stories where Daredevil teamed up with Spider-Man? Uh, nobody knows. That is why people need wikis to know what’s going on.
You may say “Fine, screw it, reboot everything at the same time, no mercy,” but that’s not realistic. There will always be a handful of sacred cows that the publisher won’t want to touch. You’d better believe someone at DC wanted to reboot the Batman books in September, and somebody else pointed out that they can’t because Grant Morrison’s storylines need at least another year to wrap up, and they’ve spent years building up the new Batwoman. So they just slapped a fresh coat of paint on Batman and called it good. That’d be fine except it undermines the concept for the event. (Why is Batman: The Dark Knight starting over at #1? Because Superman has a new costume? Because it’s September? Why does Superman’s marriage need a reboot when Batman’s bastard son doesn’t?)
For the sake of argument, though, let’s say Marvel could tear off the band-aid and reboot their whole universe–no exceptions, everybody’s origin is redone in a new #1 in the same month. This would achieve Zircher’s goal–a fresh start, no cumbersome backstory, no trying to remember all the character’s complex relationships…for a month. The problem with “all-new 1st issue!” is that it is invariably followed up by “2nd issue that expects you to have read the last one,” which isn’t a whole lot different than the 17th or the 603rd.
Zircher dismisses the idea of doing a reboot in an alternate universe, and I’m pretty sure that’s to avoid comparisons to Ultimate Marvel. But let’s face it, whatever problems the Ultimate Universe has would be the same if it were the one and only Marvel Universe. No matter how clean the start is, after ten years you end up with a mess of continuity, and stories people would rather forget, and deaths people would like to undo, and resurrections people would like to retcon. And that’s not even counting the various callbacks Ultimate Marvel makes to its forebearer, so that you have to familiarize yourself with two universes to keep up. DC does the same thing–how many times has the post-Crisis DCU expected you to get a reference to the pre-Crisis DCU that DC tried so hard to get rid of? Whoever you get to write your reboot is going remember what came before and cannot help but hint at it. If you reboot X-Men tomorrow, I guarantee that a year later they’d be teasing Jean Grey becoming Phoenix and Warren Worthington becoming Archangel.
This is where we get into the problem with scheduling reboots at regular intervals, so that every generation of new readers gets to get in on the ground floor. It’s possible the new readers might like that, but the old readers (who were your new readers five years ago) are going to quickly get sick of seeing the same stories re-told over and over. Now, with a character like Spider-Man or Captain America, I suppose you can argue their early adventures are the best material for stories, and there’s merit in revisiting those ideas repeatedly with different creative teams. But remember, we’re talking about a line-wide reboot. How many times do you need to see the Thunderbolts exposed as the Masters of Evil? Does anyone want to read about Professor X training the New Mutants and to be X-Men for about sixty issues…until it starts over and he recruits the same kids in the next reboot? Can Spider-Man finally save Gwen Stacy if he gets ten more tries at it?
You can say that we only have one story about Hamlet that gets told again and again, but I’d argue that Hamlet hasn’t exactly made waves in the field of ongoing serialized fiction. In that format, the point is what happens next. To be sure, Zircher is right to complain about the overreliance on what came before. But a reboot doesn’t fix that–it just stitches next to before in a continuity ouroboros, where it no longer matters what happens next because nothing actually does.