- Category: Comicology
- Created on Thursday, 29 December 2011 17:23
- Written by Marco Sumayao
- Hits: 11993
Unless something drastic happens, DC will eventually head towards another reboot. We don’t know when exactly it’ll occur, but it’s a near-inevitability. They’ve even planted the seeds for it in Flashpoint #5’s (and all the New 52 launch titles’) Hooded Woman:
As history has shown, so long as there is one character in the DC universe with prior knowledge of splintered worlds/timelines before a great merging, there’s always a convenient out. Crisis on Infinite Earths, for example, merged the entire multiverse into a single universe, but kept Alexander Luthor, Superboy Prime and a few others’ memories intact.
Their experiences eventually led to the rebuilding of the multiverse in Infinite Crisis. In that very same storyline, the multiverse is once again condensed into a merged reality.
Within a month of Infinite Crisis, DC came out with 52, which establishes that the multiverse still exists, albeit with only 52 worlds instead of infinite ones.
The Hooded Woman already hints that three timelines were united against a common threat, so what’s stopping them from breaking apart again once the emergency’s over?
Simply put, whatever DC puts together, DC can always (and usually does) break apart. This includes the New 52 universe. The very reason DC is stuck in this cycle of reboots stems from a very basic element of their heroes: the emblems.
Let’s try a little thought experiment – in 30 seconds, think of as many emblems belonging to individual DC characters as you can. Team logos, such as the Legion’s, aren’t allowed.
Odds are, many of you thought of the following off the top of your head: Superman’s S shield, Batman’s bat, Green Lantern’s lantern, Flash’s lightning bolt and Wonder Woman’s double W’s. There’s also Robin’s R and Captain Marvel’s own lightning emblem.
Now, do the same for Marvel characters.
A lot of you probably found it more difficult to think of individual emblems this time around. The Fantastic Four and X-Men are automatically disqualified on account of their team logos. Iron Man, Hulk and Thor don’t have one. Spider-Man’s chest spider is almost insignificant without his trademark web pattern and even then, it’s his mask that gets featured more on memorabilia. This leaves us with Captain America, who’s more recognized for his shield than for the A and star on his costume, and Daredevil’s double D’s. If you thought of Iron Fist’s chest dragon, you’re a bigger dork than average, and I salute you.
Spider-Man in increasing degrees of recognition.
The fact that the DC characters are recognizable through their emblems alone is a double-edged sword – while it makes the characters more accessible (and therefore easier to market), it also ties them down in terms of character growth. The emblems mean something to people; they’re symbols of their respective characters’ established traits and ideals. If you wear Superman’s S, you’re either a paragon of virtue and justice, or you’re an imposter. Deviating too much from what’s been established is a betrayal of that symbol – something alluded to in Superboy Prime’s outrage at how dark and gritty things had gotten by the time of Infinite Crisis, and the resultant altering of his logo into a bloody etching by the story's end.
When the character is stretched beyond a given breaking point, the symbol demands a return to the basics, to what gave the character’s emblem its meaning. Unfortunately, all the experiences the character goes through on the way to that breaking point tend to instill permanent changes in the perception of that character. As I wrote in my reflection on the then-impending DC reboot, a character’s identity is shaped by his history. The death of Gwen Stacy forever changed Spider-Man, while M-Day and subsequent clusterfucks shaped Cyclops from Xavier’s idealistic lapdog to militant mutant survivalist. The only way to completely return a character to a desired point in his past is to erase all that had occurred after it – in short, a reboot.
DC’s characters are intimately tied to their emblems. In many cases, it’s a direct effect of their creation during the Golden Age; emblems were often the design aspect relied upon to distinguish one hero from another. Many of Marvel’s hallmark characters were created during the Silver Age, when character design and comic writing had evolved to a point where creators no longer had to depend on logos. By the time we saw Bruce Banner turn into a gruesome gray giant, most of DC’s marquee characters (and their costumes) were already well-established alongside their respective symbols.
The more sophisticated standards of the Silver Age also led to significant milestones in DC’s publication history. The reinvention of the Flash in 1956’s Showcase #4 is widely viewed as the birth of the Silver Age. DC followed this up with a revamp of Green Lantern three years later. The 1960s saw the birth of the Justice League and the concept of parallel worlds in the landmark “Flash of Two Worlds!”, in which Barry Allen meets his predecessor, Jay Garrick, by stumbling into Earth-Two. In many ways, the Silver Age was a zenith period for DC.
Naturally, this would make it a key point that DC would like to return to, as correctly observed by Trevor Gentry-Birnbaum from whatculture.com. As of the New 52, the Silver Age Flash and Green Lantern (Barry Allen and Hal Jordan, respectively) have been re-established as marquee heroes after languishing in comic limbo for most of the late 80s to early 2000s. The Justice League has mostly returned to its original lineup, with the Martian Manhunter traded for Cyborg to bring in an aspect of racial diversity. The characters have been relatively de-aged, and are somewhat closer to their levels of experience back in the 60s.
What’s interesting, however, is that Marvel’s rise to prominence and subsequent overtaking of DC as the industry leader also happened in the same era. With everything going well for DC in the early Silver Age, the company decided stick with its tried-and-true formulas. As IGN.com’s Peter Sanderson put it:
Marvel, on the other hand, went on a tear by challenging superhero conventions. Spider-Man was a nerdy kid struggling with everyday problems. The Fantastic Four didn’t have secret identities. The X-Men didn’t have elaborate origin stories; they were just born different. Marvel as a whole was different, and they ran wild in all the creative space they opened. Stan Lee and his cohorts may have made mistakes along the way (the original run of the X-Men was a commercial failure), but they took on all challenges and adapted to the readers’ response.
This has been DC’s problem all along. Because they have put so much weight on what’s worked in the past, they find themselves stuck in a place from which they can’t really move forward. Too much time has been invested in what led to the Silver Age that they keep finding themselves going back to it when sales go down. Their characters must periodically go back to their most iconic forms because the alternatives are worse. DC has no choice but to stick to what their characters’ emblems represent. As a result, the company’s reboots have become more of a necessity than a gimmick.
It doesn’t have to be that way, however. Two of DC’s current top-selling characters, Batman and Green Lantern, have been able to grow beyond their emblems by dispersing the logos' relevance outside of the core character. Grant Morrison brilliantly developed the next logical step in Batman’s mission by creating Batman, Inc., which transformed the bat emblem into a symbol of global heroism, not just Bruce Wayne’s obsession. Geoff Johns, on the other hand, metamorphosed the willpower of a Green Lantern into the fulcrum of the emotional spectrum, creating an entire universe of lantern corps in the process. He did have some solid foundations to begin from, though, with the previous creations of Guy Gardner, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner and the rest of the Corps.
What ties these two together is that fact that the writers found new stories to tell while building upon the existing mythos. They let the characters and the ideas grow naturally from the past, regardless of whether or not those experiences had been wiped out by previous reboots. Unsurprisingly, it was these two characters that were least changed by the reboot. From the Black Dossier to Black Hand, it was the respect for and acknowledgement of history that led to the success of these titles, not a forced return to former glories. It’s what made Morrison’s work on Action Comics #1 so compelling, and the New 52’s Superboy a travesty. It’s what caused the furor over Barbara Gordon’s return as Batgirl and the public distaste for Batman and Catwoman’s sudden masked tryst. It’s what actually works.
So long as DC clings to the iconic status embodied by their heroes’ emblems, their universe will continue on its cycle of death and reboot.
And fanboy angst.