Filing Cabinet of the Damned

Friday, June 16, 2006

Impractical, But Hey, It's Not My Company

An impractical idea I've been chewing over, brought to the fore by Focused Totality's recent piece on Why Marvel Can't Reboot.

Comic companies have to clear the decks one in a while, chucking aside the past, since so much damn backstory builds up that it forms a choking mass. (e.g., "Batman can't dance the polka! It was established in Detective Comics #412, back in 1987. Doesn't this new writer know that?") It's better for storytelling sanity to scrape off the barnacles once in a while and start fresh. Or fresh-er, in the case of comics. And I say this as a big ol' fanboy.

DC just did a halfway-reboot with Infinite Crisis and the One Year Later setups, and that's groovy. Marvel's never really done one. Instead, they spawned off the "Ultimate" universe, which is what a rebooted Marvel would look like. But they left the old Marvel Universe intact.

So for both companies, there's a big freakin' backlog of backstory, the sense that it's all been done, and that everything's going in circles. (At least to me. I know a lot of fans disagree, but hey, my blog.)

So...how about this for a dumb idea:

First, have one or both of the Big Two do a full-blown reboot. It's never been done--the closest was DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths back in the mid-eighties, which was about a three-quarter reboot. This time, everything starts from issue #1, everybody. Old backstory is gone, lost, it's Casper.

Then...

Second, and more importantly, give the "new universe" an expiration date in real time. Say, seven years. At the end of the seven years of publication, the entire universe of stories wraps up and ends.

This would not only allow for fresh starts and new takes while keeping the icons in play, it would face the problems of serial storytelling head-on. Everything would be going somewhere. The end would always be in sight. Rather than running in circles, the super-stories could have definate ends, be it a simple wind-down or a giant freakin' Ragnarok.

Then, when the old universe is wrapped up, blammo...a new one, different from the old one, though not necessarily all-new.

I like this idea. I do. Stories that end have much more power and potential than stories stuck in a status quo. Ends in sight would prevent boring-ass meandering. Old-tymey continuity could be used or ignored as the creators saw fit, without resorting to Superboy punching the walls of the universe to create time hiccups.*

There are drawbacks, of course. A healthy chunk of the fan base would have me boiled alive if somehow I made this happen. Plus, let us count the ways that this plan would be business suicide. One, two, three, four...hm...five, six...oh, yeah, can't leave out seven... And there's always the chance that rebooting everything time and again would simply result in tired-ass rehashes or idiotic change for the sake of change. ("It's Spider-Man! He's back! But this time...he's a drum major and a NASCAR driver!")

I still like it.

What say you, o comic fans?

--------------------------------
*To my small non-comic readership: please don't ask. Just don't.

11 Comments:

  • I like the idea, but think there's something inherently flawed about the expiring universes concept: as soon as one creator/character combo gets well-loved, or something unique about Universe X is useful to creators, the publisher is going to keep going back to that well time and again, regardless of whether or not the universe has technically "expired". And then we get 35 series playing in 5 different universes, as people write sequels, revisit old ideas, etc.

    I would also make it 10 years real time. I have no rationale for this.

    By Blogger Chris, at 10:31 PM  

  • A ten-year cycle would be good.

    My thinking was that they already do this, so it might make less of an impact to recycle whole universes than we'd expect.

    There are all kinds of drawbacks to this plan. How many times do we need to see the X-Men form? How many times do we need to see Clark tell Lois who he really is?

    In a best-case scenario, the "new universes" would vary enough to keep the basics fresh, so that people don't think "yeah, yeah, Tony Stark builds the Iron Man suit to protect his heart again," but rather "I wonder how they'll re-do Iron Man this time!"

    Of course, this same thinking led to Heroes Reborn, a fiasco I'd rather not think about.

    There's no way they'd ever do this. The constant, planned churn would alienate a large chunk of the fanbase. "Why should I care about this Wolverine when everybody knows he's going to be rebooted and changed in six years?" they'll say. "He's not the one I grew up with." My opinion is that it wouldn't matter much and that good reboots are healthy, but it'd be business suicide.

    The MC2 universe is undergoing its conclusion right now in the miniseries "Last Planet Standing." That's pretty dang cool.

    By Blogger Harvey Jerkwater, at 7:41 AM  

  • Actually, the DCU went through a bigger, unplanned reboot 30 years before CRISIS, when they made the decision to start whole new versions of The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, et al., rather than reviving the heroes of the Golden Age.

    If "The Big Three" and a couple of obscure back-up features hadn't just continued uninterrupted, it would have been a complete reboot of the type Harvey mentioned.

    Remember, the "Golden Age" proper only lasted a little over a decade. When Jay Garrick had been The Flash as long as Wally West has been, he'd been Barry Allen for three years.

    Heroes Reborn and the Ultimate Universe were like watching reruns on a grainy VCR, because they didn't go far enough. If a company was to do a Total Reboot, I'd want to see heroes as New And Different as DC's Silver Agers were next to their WWII counterparts.

    Legacy is nice, but so is starting fresh.

    By Anonymous Athelind, at 2:55 PM  

  • I don't think Superheroes as a genre are really suited to close-ended stories because most of them are about fighting the good fight and it's not as if that ever stops. Even Jack Knight, the poster-boy for close-ended superhero stories, only retired after he made sure there'd be heroes to replace him in Opal and a heir to carry the Starman legacy.

    By Anonymous Flidget Jerome, at 3:01 PM  

  • I agree with Flidget -- but that's part of what makes the finale of Justice League Unlimited so satisfying. It was definitely the end of a story, and a satisfying coda to fourteen years of the Bruce TImm/Paul Dini version of the DCU -- but it also promised that, even though we were leaving these old friends behind, the Neverending Battle, the Good Fight, the Adventure continued.

    By Blogger Your Obedient Serpent, at 8:23 PM  

  • Ah, but comic book companies have zero interest in creating a mass "jumping off the bandwagon" point, which is exactly what events would turn out to be.

    Reboots are like death; it's better that they happen only when continuation becomes impossible not a predetermined date you've already been informed about.

    By Blogger Scipio, at 9:15 PM  

  • Yeah, I know it would be business suicide to do this. With each end-of-universe-n-reboot, readers would certainly leave in droves and probably not return.

    My thinking was that a preplanned end date would allow for a few good things, none of which would be good for business, but all of which I'd like:

    --Actual buildups and actual conclusions to major stories and series. It's a solution to the traditional "motion in stasis" problem of serial storytelling.

    --An increased willingness to mess with the status quo. Partially to avoid the naked repetition from previous universe iterations and partially because hey, the end is a real thing in sight, so why the heck not? "Lois Lane is dead? Oh, come on, they'll bring her back in six months." Maybe not, fanboy. "Iron Man has been replaced by Squirrel Girl? He'll be back in a month." Again, maybe not this time.

    --Overall character arcs that make sense. Characters could progress without having to worry about "doubling back" and undoing everything later on. Because the "undo" is in the cards anyway.

    This dumb idea is an acknowledgement of the nature of serial storytelling and its cyclical ways, and a way to broaden its possibilities. With predefined cycles of renewal, the tempation to broaden the stories would be much greater. This idea appeals to me.

    Now, would this actually happen, even if my Evil Master Plan were enacted? Of course not. We'd almost certainly get borderline-identical stories with each reboot and a hewing to a conservative approach.

    But one could argue, and I do, that's not unlike what we get now.

    I have many bad ideas. You should hear about my "death polka" idea.

    By Blogger Harvey Jerkwater, at 9:20 AM  

  • I wish something like your plan could work out, but the mainstream comic book industry is too addicted to its old characters to make this work. Marvel and DC have hooked old readers on a stable of decades-old characters who simply aren't allowed to fade away; most readers, for their part, don't seem actually interested in the medium itself or even the suprehero genre - they're just interested in the same old characters. Disposing of them would never work with the serial monthly business model Marvel and DC both rely on right now.

    Creator-owned comics are always going to end up being far more satisfying simply because they can provide for their characters what Marvel never can for Spider-Man: an ending. We want our stories to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. That's why Dark Knight Returns and Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow felt so potent: they provided an ending for characters that will never see one any other way.

    By Anonymous Moose N Squirrel, at 10:01 AM  

  • "This dumb idea is an acknowledgement of the nature of serial storytelling and its cyclical ways, and a way to broaden its possibilities."

    See, I'd go further than that. The serial storytelling model comics currently operate under right now is bad - bad and stupid and self-destructive. It's a relic of a time when comics were legitimately cheap, disposable entertainment, not when each pamphlet you picked up was supposed to be one part of a 132-part intertwining series. You can pretty much insert Greg Hatcher's most recent rant into my comment here, but the point is not only does the serial monthly format add nothing to the appeal of comic books, it actually detracts from it. Comic book readers are only buying these things out of habit.

    By Anonymous Moose N Squirrel, at 10:05 AM  

  • i just really love this idea, and maybe it's a wimpy thought, but I don't see any reason why DC couldn't do this RIGHT NOW as their version of Marvel's "Ultimates."

    TV is showing us that there is an audience for serialized fiction with a beginning, middle and end--see every season of Buffy, 24, prison break, etc. only difference is that at the end of these stories, everything really goes boom and disappears.

    if there are really popular characters, hell, milk them for years with miniseries that take place somehow within the seven years, or just before them, or in an alternate reality. who cares? at that point, the experiment is complete.

    an Earth-2 line built around this exact idea would rock every inch of my body.

    By Anonymous Matt, at 3:05 PM  

  • ("It's Spider-Man! He's back! But this time...he's a drum major and a NASCAR driver!")

    It's The Flash! Except instead of a guy who runs really fast, it's a perky teeny-bopper with light powers!

    By Blogger Andrew-TLA, at 1:25 AM  

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