Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

August 17, 2011

The DC Reboot: What I’m Getting

Filed under: geekery — lexifab @ 12:27 am

Warning: this is really very long, and it’s about comics. I’ll understand perfectly if nobody gets to the end of this. I certainly struggled with it.

Edit: My conclusion disappeared, so I’ve rewritten it. It’s just before the footnotes.

I’m a bit of a comics dilettante, mainly because I can’t afford to be anything else. I would love to have a standing order at Impact Comics (my friendly neighbourhood comic shop) of the fifty most interesting titles coming out in a given month. I shudder to think what that would actually cost, leaving aside secondary considerations like when I would get time to read them, where I would store them all and the small matter of the immediate divorce such a decision would guarantee and warrant.

So for going on twelve years now I have cut my comics intake to the bone, surviving on a meager diet of trade paperback collections of what seem like they will be worthwhile series [1]. Occasionally I’ll get to wade through piles of whatever friends have collected, so I maintain a remote but patchy sense of what is going on in the Marvel and DC spheres.

One of the features of DC over the past couple of decades is its (increasingly frequent) tendency to have some universe-shattering event – typically involving the machinations of alien gods, horrors from beyond the dimensions of sanity or irresponsible time travellers – rewrite, erase or irrevocably reorder reality. Shit gets confused, often. So in that sense the planned don’t-call-it-a-reboot of the DC Universe coming in September is nothing new, from a story point of view.

Except that – instead of the usual rigmarole of a wildly-incoherent summer crossover event into which is dragged every character with a monthly title – this time they seem to be following the thinking through with a publishing shakeup. Following a bridging story called Flashpoint [4], DC are cancelling all their titles [5] and launching 52 new first issues in September. That’s 52 new monthly books, almost [6] all of them featuring well-established characters who have been reset to their original state. Superman is no longer married to Lois Lane, Wonder Woman is back to being a fresh-off-the-boat princess new to the World of Men and so on.  Also, everyone’s costume has been redesigned and now they all have sculpted plastic pecs and collars. Well, whatever.

Right. So, now you’re caught up.

The reason I went into all that tedious detail is because, to my great surprise, a small sliver of the mass launch of new titles has actually piqued my interest. I am quite shocked to discover myself buying into some of the hype surrounding the September launches, to the extent that I’ve decided to actually pick up a few of the new number ones. I really don’t expect to be so overwhelmed with excitement that I will revert to the habits of old and collect things month-by-month, but I am going to give a few titles a chance to convince me to pick up the collected editions later.

I have decided that I will buy five comics [7], though I have not quite arrived at a final conclusion about which five. What follows is a not-very-shortlist of titles I’m considering (in order of publication).

Justice League: On the one hand I find writer Geoff Johns can be annoyingly heavy on the gore and adult themes for a medium that is at least nominally aimed at cashed-up yoofs, and I am not a devotee of artist Jim Lee either. On the other hand, both are solid storytellers, and I’m more drawn to the Justice League, the premier super-team of the DC Universe, than I ever was to the Avengers (who occupy the same niche over there at Marvel). Done right, Justice League stories tend to be over-the-top romps featuring ridonculous threats and big stupid battles – which is something for which I have a definite appetite. On the other hand, I am probably just being nostalgic for the impeccably nutso Grant Morrison run on this title from about eight or ten years ago.

I notice that Cyborg (a character who started out in the justly-famed Wolfman/Perez run on Teen Titans back in the eighties) has replaced the Martian Manhunter in the opening JL lineup. On the surface of it, it’s hard not to see the choice of the African-American Cyborg as a lynchpin of the new universe as a feet-shuffling colour correction from the previously predominantly Caucasian roster of characters. To me it smacks slightly of tokenism to have the green guy step aside to make room for the black guy. I’m not convinced that Aquaman, for example, has so many fans that he couldn’t have been the one to be replaced. But I doubt that I am really in tune with the subtlies of racial (in)sensitivity in American culture, so I might be reading too much (or perhaps not enough) into this.

I do think they could have dropped Aquaman, though. C’mon, who gives a shit about that guy?

Action Comics: I’m not a huge fan of Superman. But I am a big fan of Grant Morrison (in case it has somehow escaped your notice). Things may have improved in recent years, but my experience of Superman stories has always been that there are only two ways to write a story about him – either you threaten him with something implausibly powerful (evil planet, ancient Kryptonian killing machine, surly god of some sort) or you hamstring his near-limitless power so that he has to face less utter menaces with one hand tied behind his back. I would like to see if Morrison can do something different with the concept. He certainly impressed with the first few issues of All-Star Superman, but I didn’t read the whole thing, so who knows?

Batgirl: Thanks to her work on the twisted and wonderful Secret Six (which this month became a tragic cancellation victim of the impending reboot) I have become a big fan of Gail Simone in recent months. She has an enviably deft touch with absurd comedy and wrenching tragedy and her characters have genuine human warmth even when they are being crazy bastards. Here she’s taken on a tricky assignment: Barbara Gordon was the original Batgirl up until the late-eighties publication of The Killing Joke, in which the Joker shoots Gordon in the spine. Kim Yale and john Ostrander resurrected the wheelchair-bound Gordon as the hacker genius Oracle, one of the very few characters anywhere in DC comics with any kind of real, irreversible disability.

For more than two decades she has been an icon for a segment of the audience otherwise little catered to. As you can imagine, there was a fair amount of consternation around the company’s decision to have the reboot restore Babs’ mobility and put her back in the batgarb [8]. Gail Simone has responded to upset Oracle fans – many of whom have poured strong emotional investment into the character – with sensitivity and reassurance. The rest of DC management could learn some lessons from Simone. Batgirl’s not a character I have any real nostalgia for [9]. Nevertheless this is a title I want to read.

(Addendum: I just discovered a good summary of the history and development of the Barbara Gordon character over at the excellent Sequential Tart site. I don’t agree completely with the author’s conclusion regarding the soundness of the decision to reverse of Bab’s spinal injury, but it’s still well worth a read)

Stormwatch: Apparently the DC reboot is going to mash characters from the off-to-one-side Wildstorm publishing imprint into the DC universe proper (unless that happened some time ago and I just didn’t notice). Apollo and the Midnighter are the hardcase Superman and Batman-equivalents from Warren Ellis’ brilliant run on The Authority from the late 90’s. They and other Authority alumni appear here alongside DC regulars like the Martian Manhunter (who I’m sure has maintained a dignified and stoic professionalism about his dumping from the Justice League).

My excitement for this title is partly because they are cool characters (Apollo and Midnighter are a bitchy, argumentative and gloriously happy couple, and their relationship is one of the highlights of the original Authority stories) but mostly because it will be written by Paul Cornell. Cornell was one of the writers who emerged out of post-cancellation Doctor Who fandom to create the New Adventures series of novels, and created one of my favourite Who stories of all times (Human Nature). I trust him. Of course if it’s anything like the Authority, there will be ridiculous “Extinction Level Threat” plotlines, which is what I think superhero team comics should be.

Demon Knights: Cornell is writing this one too. It features the Demon Etrigan, who speaks in rhyming couplets and is a self-serving bastard. Another team book, the rest of the cast appear to be complete newcomers. I know next to nothing about it, other than the fact that Cornell’s presence is a compelling argument in its favour. It’s also one of two titles in the reboot – the other is All-Star Western – set in the past, in this case the dark ages. I am curious as to whether this means that the reboot will have overwritten the past of the DC Universe as well as the present. That is a secondary consideration besides whether there will be lots of cool sorcery and horror and sarcastic rhyming smackdowns, however.

Suicide Squad: The early 90’s John Ostrander/Karl Kesel version of the Suicide Squad – in which super-powered criminals are offered early releases from prison sentences if they will do dangerous and deniable black-ops jobs for the government – was one of the first series I collected. It was violent and paranoid international counter-terrorism/espionage noir with unstable and untrustworthy characters in close confinement – a situation which was always potent, if not always executed with perfect precision. So I have a great nostalgic investment in the resurrection of the concept.

It’s a shame that the COMPLETELY FRAKKING GODAWFUL redesign of Harley Quinn’s costume – from madcap clown-princess to psychotic streetcorner hooker – kind of detracts from my desire to see what will be done with the idea under the reboot banner. Jesus, that’s one eyesore of an outfit! However the fact that two refugees from Gail Simone’s now-late-and-lamented Secret Six – Deadshot and King Shark – have also wound up in the Suicide Squad along with Quinn is one more point in its favour for me. Call this one a dubious maybe.

Birds of Prey: This one has caught my eye for author Duane Swierczynski, of whom I had never heard until I caught his name in passing in a blog completely unrelated to comics. His Fun and Games is, I gather, a slick and well-regarded pulp crime novel, a field for which I am developing a new taste since the Kindle started feeding me a steady diet of new reading material. That alone might have been enough to hold my attention, but I am also a bit fond of the tough-chicks-kicking-arse genre, from which genetic pool Birds of Prey most definitely springs. I suspect that I could talk myself into this one in the month or so between now and when it comes out.

Wonder Woman: [10] Another character for whom I have no special regard or nostalgia (aside from admiring what George Perez did with her back in the early ‘90’s [11]). What I do like is – again – the author. WW will be written by Brian Azzarello, whose book 100 Bullets was a breathtaking look at the American criminal underclass, with a byzantine ancient conspiracy wrapped around it like a crazy paranoid bow. Azzarello is the sort of writer who might make Diana cool. Plus there is that whole tough-chicks-kicking-arse theme I’ve got going. That might be a fetish. I’ll let you know. [12]

The Fury of Firestorm: Firestorm is this nuclear elemental person-thing with two guys somehow bound together in the one body except when they stop being Firestorm and originally it was an old white professor-guy and this young white student hipster jerk and instead now it will be the jerk and a young black guy and…oh god I have no idea what I am even talking about. I am pretty sure I collected Firestorm for a while, possibly while I was still in high school, but thinking back on it I have no recollection of why I would have done so. Something must have appealed to me, I guess. The real reason that The Fury of Firestorm is even on this list is that Gail Simone – her again! – is one of the writers. Having slavishly followed her energetic Twitter output for the past couple of months, I figure I will really like her long-form writing in the 22-page format as well.

Justice League Dark: The concept for this one is just stupid. The mystically-inclined heroes of the DC Universe – Deadman, Zatanna, John Constantine, Madame Xanadu and, for some reason, the other-dimensional Shade the Changing Man – are teaming up to stop sorcerous threats that the regular old JLA can’t cope with. On paper it looks a lot like a clumsy callback to DC’s Vertigo Comics heyday when Swamp Thing, Hellblazer and Sandman were by far the most interesting books they were producing. This feels like a slightly cynical attempt to rebottle lightning BUT: a) I almost always like stories about Deadman and Constantine, so putting them in the same book may slake my unwholesome geek thirsts and b) I like it when author Peter Milligan just goes mad, as he often has on titles like Hewligan’s Haircut, X-Force and Shade the Ch– (Oh, so that’s why he’s in there? Huh). Well, anyway, Milligan is fun when he throws all sense and caution to the wind, so I’m prepared to give this one a shot.

And for my weird what-the-hell-am-I-thinking pick? All-Star Western. Set just after the Civil War, it features a teamup between scarred bounty hunter Jonah Hex and criminal psychologist Amadeus Arkham. It seems to resemble CSI: Gotham. I’m tempted to get it just because I think it will be cancelled in under six months, and I do like a scrappy underdog…

I’ve talked about 10 titles out of the 52 on offer. If I’m honest, there’s probably another five or six that I would consider buying if I were sitting on some hefty bank. From where I’m sitting, the dross – in which I include material that does not seem to differ at all from what is currently on offer, like the Batman and Rainbow Lantern titles, as well as titles I personally would not touch with a firelighter on the end of a long stick, like Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE and O.M.A.C – outweighs the shiny new pretties by a wide margin. I could easily be wrong. In most cases I am more or less literally judging them by their covers.

My guess is that this won’t do much in the long term to arrest the slow decline of the industry, which DC is feeling far more than Marvel at the moment. Sooner or later they are going to have to accept that their business model – monthly collectibles in the dead tree medium – is going the way of the dinosaur. It might take them a few more years, and a lot more pain, but eventually the current model is going to have to give way to direct-to-customer digital releases, cutting out the friendly local neighbourhood comic shop. How they’re going to avoid going under is another question entirely.

Footnotes (there’s so many of them they need their own title block)

[1] Current favourites still in production include Powers, Invincible and Secret Six, but there are always a million other things drawing my eye. I am sorely tempted to assemble the last five years of the various Batman series written by Grant Morrison, who is like unto a god of comics [2] to me.

[2] Speaking of Morrison, he’s recently released a book on the history of superheroes as manifestations of human self-deification [3] called Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, And A Sun God From Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human. I’m keen to read that one. It will be brimming with cool madness, I expect.

[3] Something like that, anyway. It’s Morrison, so I’m not going to assume that anyone who’s read it has actually understood it well enough to explain it, and I’m working off reviews here.

[4] Flashpoint features the Flash stumbling about a DC Universe where time has been altered and nobody knows him and everyone is at war and dying horribly. In this respect it is remarkably like many other Flash stories, except that on this occasion it seem all these time-travelling shenanigans will have actual consequences. By the way, that link goes to a rather good essay that asserts that Flashpoint is not a mindless bridge between the Universe-that-was and the reality of the new 52-verse. I don’t necessarily accept the thesis, but it’s well argued.

[5] Controversially this includes the veteran Action Comics, which recently passed its 900th issue, having been in more or less continuous publication since the last 1930s. It now seems unlikely to hit a venerable four figures. If anything makes me suspicious about the planned longevity of the reboot, it’s that I can’t see DC completely forsaking the publicity to be trumpeted with the arrival of issue #1000 of their premiere Superman title. I harbour the sneaking expectation that sooner or later the antediluvian titles like this and Detective Comics will resume their old issue counts, although probably not for a year or two.

[6] I say almost: for some reason it seems like the Green Lantern and Batman storylines – both of which are nightmarish tangles of continuity featuring hundreds of supporting characters and many years of stories spread across multiple concurrent monthly titles – are not going to have been significantly changed by whatever event has turned back the clock on everyone else in the universe. If the point of the reboot is to attract new readers who might otherwise be put off by complex, inaccessible storytelling, it seems like a crazy misstep to preserve two of the most involved chunks of the established continuity and ditch all the straightforward ones.

[7] At least five, I should say.

[8] To say nothing of the cancellation of the current Batgirl book with another character, Cassandra Cain, in the title role. I hear that one was good as well.

[9] Well, not unless you count a long-standing infatuation with Yvonne Craig’s portrayal in the 60’s Batman TV series, but that was not strictly a character thing…

[10] So this is weird, but I have just realised that, of DC’s so-called Big Three characters – Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman – the only one I am not currently contemplating following in a new monthly title is Batman, who is by far my favourite. I am not sure whether that’s a reflection of my changing tastes or just that I don’t happen to care about any of the listed writers. I’d like to think it’s the latter. I shudder to contemplate a world in which I have become so old and jaded that I no longer consider Batman to be, like, totally awesome.

[11] Are you beginning to detect a theme in my ramble down memory lane here? I haven’t been hardcore into comics in nearly 20 years! A lot of stuff probably happened between ‘95 and ‘09…

[12] No I won’t.


  1. Some good thoughts and comments here!

    I’m a trade-waiter (or ‘trade-traitor’ if you talk to some people), and I’m not going to change that, but there are a few titles that I’ll definitely buy when collected.

    ACTION COMICS – It’s Morrison, so duh. And I’ve been really intrigued by his comments about the original socialist-crusader-Superman in SUPERGODS. Also, you really need to finish reading ALL-STAR.

    BATMAN – It’s Batman, so I’m already hooked, and while I haven’t read much Scott Snyder I’ve heard nothing but very good things about his recent run on DETECTIVE.

    BATGIRL – Pretty much solely on the strength of Gail Simone. I’m very dubious about the return to teenage walking Barbara, but if anyone can make it work it’s her.

    BATWOMAN – I love JK Williams’ art, and this is such a great character. Plus I want to keep supporting a book about a GLBT character

    FRANKENSTEIN – Because he’s awesome, and Jeff Lemire is a good character.

    STORMWATCH – I like the premise, I like the concept of many of the characters, and it’s Paul Cornell.


    There are other titles with potential, but there I’ll wait for reviews or maybe just borrow the trades once they hit the library.

    Comment by Patrick O'Duffy — August 17, 2011 @ 12:42 pm

  2. You do know that post is over 3000 words, right? Just tell me you made the whole thing up, and I will congratulate you on a stunning piece of postmodern fiction.

    Comment by The Once and Future Dr Clam — August 17, 2011 @ 1:47 pm

  3. I stopped reading DC about 6-ish years ago now, but I’ve heard a fair bit about this reboot because a netfriend is a massive, die-hard Stephanie Brown fan and is mourning the transition with gallons of fan-art (Stephanie Brown is the current Bat Girl, while Cassandra Cain was Bat Girl and is now Black Bat, or something, I’m so lost).

    This latest reboot makes me glad I stopped reading DC about 6-ish years ago now (which I did because of the LoSH reboot).

    That Harley Quinn costume is awful isn’t it? Truly, spectacularly bad.

    Comment by Andrea K Host — August 17, 2011 @ 2:07 pm

  4. Clam – Yeah, that’s 3000 words of my short story (or over half its length) that I could have been writing, instead of blathering about what comics I may or may not want to read in a month or two 🙂 I couldn’t help it though. Watching the DC reboot unfold has been compelling theatre, like watching a really beautiful and totally illogical movie.

    The postmodern fiction comment gives me an idea that I am going to quickly write down *for later* and then do my best to forget about until I’ve gotten my already-underway stuff back on track…

    Comment by lexifab — August 17, 2011 @ 3:50 pm

  5. Patrick – I agree about All-Star actually. Until I wrote that bit I’d forgotten that I’d even started reading it, but now that I see the whole series has been collected I’m going to pick them up. I’m almost certainly going to get Supergods at the same time (I’ve been enjoying your selection of quotes on Twitter – some prime Morrison deranged genius there).

    I *almost* put Batwoman on my list, but I have no prior experience of the character, apart from seeing an episode of The Brave and the Bold that she was in (I think) and hearing Greg Rucka talk about her on War Rocket Ajax.

    I’ll have to take your word about Frankenstein. I didn’t even know he was a character in DC continuity pre-reboot, so it seemed like a bizarre choice. I’ll go educate myself.

    Comment by lexifab — August 17, 2011 @ 4:19 pm

  6. Andrea – I don’t really do the whole DC or Marvel thing. I just read whatever looks good. But DC have spent the better part of 25 years doing their best to put me off, with the annual crossover events and the semi-regular retcons and the creeping rise in misanthropy, violence and neither-fun-nor-funniness. To be fair, Marvel’s guilty of this a lot as well.

    I’ve only heard good things about the Stephanie Brown Batgirl (Bryan Q. Miller, I think?) Hopefully those will be collected sooner or later as well.

    *Which* Legion reboot ruined it for you? They’ve had so many! I tried and failed to love the grim-and-gritty Keith Giffen “Five Years Later” series, then gave up on them altogether. I don’t think I’ve read any LSH since then.

    Harley Quinn looks cosmically, galactically stupid. Even though I *hated* her old costume, it looks impeccably restrained and elegant compared to the stripper’s kit they’ve got her in on that first cover. But (he whined) Deadshot is one of my favourite DC villains. I’m genuinely torn on this one.

    Comment by lexifab — August 17, 2011 @ 4:34 pm

  7. Batwoman – she debuted in 52, which was a fun series, and then did a stint in DETECTIVE. The first trade, ELEGY, is an excellent read.

    Frankenstein – if you’re not familiar with him, that means you haven’t read Morrison’s SEVEN SOLDIERS. Rectify this as soon as is humanly possible.

    Comment by Patrick O'Duffy — August 17, 2011 @ 9:52 pm

  8. Elegy and Seven Soldiers – so noted! I love recommendations. (I keep meaning and then forgetting to read Seven Soldiers. This should be the nudge I needed).

    Comment by lexifab — August 17, 2011 @ 11:48 pm

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