web stats

CSBG Archive

Same Stuff, Different Day?

In the comments to last week’s Star Trek column, someone asked a question that I thought was worth taking a full column to answer, especially since this phenomenon seems to be driving so many superhero comics today. So I’m going to answer it here now. Or try to, anyway.

It was from Edo Bosnar, and his question was, “It’s really unclear to me why such a sound and readily-adaptable story-telling engine (thanks Mr. Seavey!) like the Star Trek franchise even needs a re-boot. Am I missing something here?”

That is a really good question, when you think about it. Not so much for Star Trek — I think we hashed that over pretty well last week – but just generally. Why do superhero comics keep doing this? Characters that originally anchored a long-running series are getting canceled and re-started almost annually these days. Even company mainstays like Batman and Spider-Man aren’t immune to this sort of thing. As for the B-listers, or the team books… good luck keeping up with those changes.

Why keep picking at your characters like that? Why not spend some of that effort getting things right the first time? Is there a reason? More to the point, is there a good reason?

Well, we’ll see. But first let’s define our terms.

There are people who define a superhero “reboot” and a “relaunch” and a “reimagining” and all those other press-release terms as each being different animals, but I don’t really. When I’m using them here, I’m talking about simply re-starting a book in a new way. More than just a “startling new direction!” (although there are a couple of those mentioned here too) this is when your re-start means you are turning the book into something completely different.

Got that? Other people might classify it differently, but I’m going to try to stick to just the examples where the basic premise of the book or the character was changed somehow…. even if the title itself wasn’t canceled, it nevertheless became a different book for all practical purposes.

It occurred to me that there is a character out there who has, at one time or another, served as an example of almost every different kind of relaunch you can do in comics. The poster child for corporate comics desperation, for longer than I’ve been reading comics, is Green Lantern.

The weird thing is, Green Lantern has been a consistently successful property. The title has had several periods in the last few decades where it’s been so successful it’s been used as a launching pad for other new titles and crossovers and what-have-you– currently, the book is the linchpin of this year’s big Blackest Night hoo-ha at DC — but for whatever reason, editors can’t stop screwing around with it.

Edo’s question seems to me to apply even more to Green Lantern than to Star Trek. Why can’t anyone ever leave GL alone? Is it something inherent in the series concept itself that gives it such a short shelf life? The history of the character is such an amazing roller-coaster of big successes to low-sales cancellations and back again, one can’t help but wonder.

Let’s review the patient’s file, so to speak, and see what we can turn up.

To begin with, we had the original incarnation of Green Lantern, in the 1940′s.

In the beginning we have the magical genie idea.

The idea was simple — a superhero version of Aladdin and his lamp. At first the character was even going to be called Alan Ladd, but it was changed to Alan Scott… the story goes that it was to avoid confusion with the actor Alan Ladd, but I’ve also heard that it was deemed too cutesy a reference to the “Aladdin” idea that creator Martin Nodell started with.

At any rate, the adventures of a costumed crimefighter with a magical wishing ring caught on and soon Alan Scott had his own magazine.

I have to say... if I had a magic ring, I don't think I'd choose a bonehead cabdriver as my sidekick.

Even then, there was a certain amount of tweaking going on. Alan was given a comedic sidekick, Doiby Dickles, and eventually also Streak the Wonder Dog, who even headlined the book a couple of times.

Okay, the dog might be impressive... ...but does he really deserve to headline the book more than the guy with the MAGIC RING?

The thing you notice when you read the Golden Age Green Lantern stories is that the ostensible hook of the whole series, the magic ring, really is played down a lot. More often than not Green Lantern just dons his costume, runs after the bad guys, and punches them in the face; you don’t see Alan Scott creating a lot of the green animated ring constructs that later versions would depend on, or even using it to shoot force beams. Alan Scott usually just used his ring to fly around or to shine a light on things when it was dark, when he used it at all. One suspects that the writers simply didn’t think it through — there are dozens of examples of plots where if GL had actually employed his ring’s powers to their capacity, the story would be over by page two.

Nevertheless, Alan Scott did pretty well for himself, lasting throughout the 1940′s in both his own title and also headlining All-American Comics, until 1949 when he fell victim to the waning popularity of superhero comics in general. There weren’t any major “re-imaginings” of his character to speak of — he stayed pretty much the same guy throughout. You could argue that the addition of Doiby Dickles added a lighter comedic tone and changed the nature of the series, but that was so early on that I’m disinclined to count it, not even as a ‘new direction.’ (Especially since it was almost an industry-wide phenomenon — Plastic Man had Woozy Winks, Wildcat had Stretch Skinner, even the Spectre had Percival Popp. Etc.) Still, you can see that the writers were flailing around a bit even then, trying to find the magic story formula that would really make the strip go.

Ten years later we got the first relaunch, the Silver Age version of Green Lantern from editor Julius Schwartz and company.

Probably the most perfect realization of the Schwartz square-jawed sci-fi hero.

Schwartz threw out all the magical Aladdin stuff and started fresh. The only thing he kept from the original concept of the character was the name– Green Lantern — and the gimmick of the ring that could manifest anything the wearer wanted it to. But the series itself owed a great deal more to E.E. Smith’s Lensmen series than the 1940′s Green Lantern comic book. It’s a pretty short hop from Doc Smith’s Gray Lensman to Schwartz’s Green Lantern.

squint a little and you can see it's Hal Jordan.

Like the Lensmen, the Green Lantern Corps were a galactic force for peace and justice. Instead of a Lens that served as a telepathic amplifier, Green Lanterns were given a power ring that amplified the bearer’s willpower. (In fairness, I have to add that both Julius Schwartz and John Broome denied they were thinking of the Lensmen when they created the Green Lantern Corps. On the other hand, it’s hard to believe that Schwartz, especially, wouldn’t have made the mental connection between the two, considering that he knew Doc Smith personally.)

At any rate, the revived GL strip itself was a textbook example of Schwartz’s gift for blending superheroics and science fiction… to my mind, the Silver Age Green Lantern is probably the most fully-realized example of the classic Schwartz science hero. Earthman Hal Jordan, “honest and fearless,” is drafted into the Corps when the Green Lantern assigned to protect our sector of space crash-lands in the desert. Soon he finds that he is now part of a galaxy-spanning police force recruited from hundreds of different worlds.

The concept was a winner and Hal Jordan soon got his own book, as well as membership in the Justice League. One of the strongest things the book had going for it was the idea that Hal was just one of many GL’s scattered throughout the galaxy, and stories that included other members of the Corps were always popular.

It was the GL Cops itself that fired fans' imaginations, as well as the character of Hal. For a guy who was always sold as being the best GL of all, Hal's not very competent.

Nevertheless, sales dropped after a few years and again, the tweaking started. Hal Jorden started as a square-jawed, Yeager-esque test pilot, brimming with that New Frontier spirit… the perfect hero for the dawning Space Age. But — one assumes in an effort to shake things up — Hal had one crisis of confidence after another. Writer John Broome kept changing Hal’s private life, giving him new jobs (and occasionally girlfriends) but nothing seemed to work. Again, none of these things were full-on relaunches, but nevertheless there was a certain air of behind-the-scenes panic that hung over Green Lantern in the mid-to-late sixties. And again, the power ring itself is de-emphasized. (At one point Hal even decides that he is depending on it too much, and vows to use his fists more.)

None of these new directions really stuck, and Schwartz finally decided it was time for a full-on revamp of the book, with a new creative team. The character of Green Arrow was added and it became a team book instead of a solo. Additionally, the stories focused on “real life issues.” These changes are extensive enough that I’d call it a relaunch.

amazing at the time, but in hindsight... not perhaps the best vehicle for these stroies.

A great deal has already been written by comics scholars about the groundbreaking run of stories that Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams did on Green Lantern/Green Arrow, and certainly their place in comics history is an important one. However, I’m not really interested in going over how the new, “relevant” focus of the book put “superheroes in the real world” or anything like that.

This particular story is a favorite of mine, for sure. But is it still really a GL-type story?

The truth of the matter is that as innovative as the new approach might have been — and it was every bit as groundbreaking as people said — in light of the actual Green Lantern concept, it comes off as a bit silly in hindsight.

I find it hard to believe that GL would crumple like this after getting lectured by an old black man.

In Denny O’Neil’s earnest attempts to dramatize the real-world issues he wanted to focus on, he often portrayed Hal Jordan as weak, full of doubt, and occasionally just flat-out stupid. (I find it almost impossible to believe that as a member of the spaceborne Green Lantern Corps, Hal Jordan had never encountered anyone asking him to use his power ring to alleviate poverty before, or even that the confident, fearless Hal wouldn’t have a ready answer for the crabby old black man bugging him about it.) Eventually the reader starts wishing Hal would just get over himself, demonstrate some of that fearlessness and willpower we’ve been told he’s famous for having, and kick some ass already.

Anyway, despite all the accolades and awards, the bottom line was– the new direction didn’t save the book from cancellation. Green Lantern ended with #89. A pretty fair run, and more than Alan Scott had managed.

A few years later the book was revived again, still with Hal Jordan and co-starring Green Arrow, but this time with more of a focus on the science-fiction adventure the Schwartz-Broome version was founded on.

This is actually one of my favorite issues of GL. I love it just for the Vulcan cameo.

It did moderately well, but in the same way that it doesn’t make a lot of sense for Green Lantern to be so earthbound, it didn’t really work to have Green Arrow in the outer-space milieu, either, and he often came off as looking a bit useless.

The ugly truth is, trick arrows aren't much good against galactic-sized threats.

After a couple of years of stuttering along without much of a direction, it was decided that Green Lantern should be a solo title again.

Still kind of flailing, despite that confident cover.

The emphasis was back on space adventure and the GL Corps, who got a series of backup strips and occasionally their own spin-off special.

This was a fun little mini.

However, the book still blew hot and cold and no one really was able to figure out how to make it go. There were good stories and memorable runs — for example, I rather liked what Marv Wolfman and Joe Staton did during their tenure — but nothing lasted, the book never felt like it stabilized. Hal went through another series of jobs and girlfriends before he was back at Ferris Aircraft as a test pilot, having come full circle — Hal’s revamped status quo was actually the one he’d started with.

This started Green Lantern’s pendulum swing between ‘startling new direction!’ and ‘getting back to basics!’ that’s dogged the title to its present day, in all its incarnations. Hal was exiled to outer space…

I lost interest about this time.

Then he came home….

These are damn hard to find, by the way.

Then he was replaced by John Stewart….

I loved this whole era, actually.

Then Guy Gardner was made a Green Lantern in addition to John…

Many people like Guy best of all the Lanterns, which seems weird to me... but mileage varies.

Then Hal Jordan was reinstated but John and Guy both stayed too and it became a team book…

My favorite era of the Lanterns. Englehart-Staton.

And so on. Now, a lot of these stories were great. And the Wein-Gibbons stuff, followed by the Englehart-Staton run, really was a pretty stable era for Green Lantern. It lasted from #172 all the way up through #224, fifty-some issues and a couple of Annuals. And it’s actually my personal favorite of all the different incarnations of the series.

But I have to admit that even though the various changes to the book’s premise felt natural and organic at the time (Steve Englehart’s scripts, especially– each change he made seemed to grow out of the previous one) nevertheless, over the course of those fifty-plus issues there were still dozens of changes to the book’s cast and there were at least two different times I’d call those changes full-on reboots. That’s a lot of tweaking.

Then DC decided that it would use the success Englehart and Staton had achieved on Green Lantern to anchor its relaunch of Action Comics as a weekly anthology title.

The era of GL we're all trying to forget.

The trouble was, Englehart and Staton didn’t want to do the strip in that format and so Green Lantern foundered again. Lots of different writers and artists followed, many of whom made changes that seemed aimed directly at undoing everything that had been done by the previous creators. Supporting characters killed off, Hal’s private life revamped, all the old standbys were trotted out in an effort to get readers to pay attention. It stank of desperation, it was a mess, and by the time the Action Comics Weekly experiment was done, I think Green Lantern fans were largely just relieved it was over. Certainly I was.

After a hiatus of a few months and a couple of one-shot specials, the Green Lantern concept was dusted off and given a brand-new relaunch in the 6-issue Emerald Dawn, a mini-series in the spirit of DC’s other “Year One” flashback stories that were doing well.

Back to basics... AGAIN.

The pendulum had clearly swung to the Back-To-Basics side of the equation again; the emphasis was squarely on SF space adventure and the galaxy-spanning GL Corps. Shortly after that, Green Lantern was launched again, this time as a sort of rotating-roster team book variously starring Green Lanterns Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, and John Stewart, as well as new characters like the canine G’Nort.

Another big success that gave us a lot of spin-offs.

This was, again, a successful version that spun off into several different titles, largely under the careful stewardship of writer Gerard Jones.

I bought this mostly for Alan Scott. I still can't make up my mind about this series, almost twenty years later. It was... interesting.

Even after Guy Gardner was kicked out of the Green Lantern Corps, he was still popular enough to get his own series and continued as a member of the Justice League.

Fans have a lot of love for Guy, but I never could see why he could carry a solo book. He's a team-book kind of character.

A lot of these spin-offs and relaunches were experimental, particularly Mosaic, but still based on the idea of the Green Lanterns being a galactic peacekeeping force having adventures in a science-fiction milieu.

Then came The Controversy. You all know which one I mean.

In a move that to this day I don’t entirely understand, DC gave editor Kevin Dooley a mandate — they decreed that the entire Green Lantern concept was outdated and needed to be drastically revamped in hopes of drawing in a new audience. I’d have thought a relaunch that did well enough to justify three companion titles was good enough, but apparently not; sales on the books had been slipping.

However, judging from interviews and reminiscences from the people involved in the years since, I think part of it was a desperation money grab. Remember, this was 1994. Everyone was looking for the next “Death of Superman” speculator bonanza. The hope was to create a big publicity storm, then cash in when there was a collector’s run on the book. Story was hardly a consideration for superhero publishers in the early 90′s. Not when Todd MacFarlane’s Spider-Man and “Death of Superman” showed you didn’t need a story to make money. You just needed “buzz.”

Gerard Jones submitted an idea for a new direction that would climax in the 50th issue of Green Lantern but it was decided that it wasn’t interesting or shocking enough to generate any buzz. Enter new writer Ron Marz and the infamous “Emerald Twilight,” the story that destroyed the Green Lantern Corps, killed the Guardians and turned Hal Jordan evil.

I was actually okay with this.

Confession time — I am not one of those Green Lantern fans that goes into paroxysms of rage when the subject of “Emerald Twilight” comes up. For one thing, I have to be honest…in my case, the story did the job DC wanted it to do. I hadn’t been reading the book and curiosity about all the furor got me to pick it up again, and it was interesting enough for me to stick with it.

I didn't hate Kyle Rayner as GL. I did, however, hate his costume.

I kind of liked the idea of a fresh start. Even though I’d grown up with Hal Jordan, he was my favorite DC character other than Batman, and Green Lantern had co-starred in the first comic book I ever bought… even so, I was willing to buy into the idea that a new lead character in the role could revitalize GL the same way installing Wally West had revitalized The Flash. I thought it was worth a look.

Also, I had the opportunity, that summer of 1994, to chat with Ron Marz at a show here in town and hear his thoughts on the approach he hoped to take with the book. It was still early enough in his run that he wasn’t exasperated with having to explain himself to Hal’s fans, and the case he made for having just one Green Lantern that was unique, as opposed to a corps of 3600, was a pretty good one. I still think DC threw the baby out with the bathwater there– I  discovered, reading “Emerald Twilight,” that I was far more attached to the the concept of the GL Corps than I was specifically to Hal Jordan–  but I did come away from that conversation persuaded that even though I missed the idea of the Green Lantern Corps, nevertheless Ron Marz was a guy who was putting serious thought into what he was doing and trying his damnedest to bring his A-game. (As luck would have it, there’s a retrospective with Mr. Marz covering a lot of this stuff right here on CBR.)

So I stuck with Ron Marz, Green Lantern and Kyle Rayner for quite a while and enjoyed the experience, for the most part. It wasn’t my Green Lantern, exactly, but it was good solid superheroics, reliably entertaining, and back when comics were cheaper that was enough for me.

Interestingly, for a writer who’s generally only mentioned in GL fan circles as being “that heretic who destroyed Hal,” it’s worth mentioning that Ron Marz was remarkably successful. In spite of all the rage from internet campaigns and groups like H.E.A.T., not only did sales on the book rise to where it was one of the top titles at DC, but Marz was on Green Lantern longer than any other writer to date. Ron Marz did Green Lantern from #48 to #125, and that’s not even counting the additional mini-series and specials and so on. Well over seventy-five issues, quite a respectable run.

However, despite the fact that I think Ron Marz is unfairly vilified for his Green Lantern work a lot of the time, I have to admit that the new direction (with its mandate of making Kyle Rayner the only Green Lantern left in the DC universe) did a lot of collateral damage in terms of the revamps it forced on the other characters in the GL orbit.

So, so wrong. Please God never let the 1990's style of comic ever come back.

Guy Gardner, in particular, suffered the worst kind of ‘bold new direction!’ indignities as DC tried to decide what the hell to do with him, before his book finally staggered into cancellation.

Likewise, Hal Jordan bounced around for a while as the recurring villain Parallax, then he was killed in The Final Night, then he was relaunched as the new Spectre, a move that was even more muddle-headed than the decision to make him a villain had been.

an idea so staggeringly stupid I still can't find words for it.

I confess that, as baffling as I found the decision to give fearless test-pilot Hal Jordan a breakdown that turns him into a murderous villain, it’s not nearly as nutty as following it by turning him into a mopey ghost. DC managed to alienate both the Hal fans and the Spectre fans in one stroke. What were they thinking?

I won’t bore you with all the additional various ancillary Green Lantern revampings of characters like John Stewart or Jade or Sentinel… this is already getting too long as it is.

Kyle and Jade... uh, what are her powers again? Um, yeah, okay. That teeth-gritting look really differentiates Alan from every other 90's hero...

Suffice it to say that to an old-school Green Lantern fan, the characters and even the core concept of the series had morphed into something almost unrecognizable.

When you get that far away from where you started? Why, it must be time for… c’mon, you know the words, sing it with me! “Getting Back To Basics.”

The minutiae covered in this mini-series is nothing short of astonishing in its sheer monomaniacal pedantry.

Again.

Actually I think this is a great compromise, all things considered.

And so the pendulum swings back once more. I have to admit that when I started this I hadn’t quite realized how thoroughly the GL concept had been revamped, retconned, and generally mauled by various editorial regimes through the years.

And it’s not even the worst example — but I think it would take a book’s worth of synopses to try and account for similar changes in direction for, say, the X-Men over the last twenty-five years. Or the Hulk. Or the Teen Titans. Or… pick your own candidate.

After all that, I still don’t have an answer for Mr. Bosnar. Not really. Why do people keep tweaking a perfectly good concept? Why mess with a good thing?

The best I can do is a guess, and here it is: times change and audiences get bored. Sooner or later, even the most popular series runs out of gas. So the only reason to do any kind of a revamp or a relaunch is because you think you can get a bigger audience. The only reason.

However, and here’s the part that drives us all a little nuts — unlike other entertainment franchises, superhero comics are aimed at an audience of hobbyists who regard these stories not so much as light entertainment, but rather as historical dispatches from an alternate universe. What I see when I look at the history of all these different versions of Green Lantern is this — the common factor to all of them is writers laboring under the lunatic misconception that this fictional entertainment really is history.

That’s a handicap that forces creators to twist themselves into knots to get over. Unlike, say, the James Bond movies which have reinvented themselves a number of times without any thought to what came before, or licensed Star Trek books and comics that contradict one another right and left, comics fans insist that their superhero relaunches must all somehow acknowledge and account for everything that’s been done up to that point.

So you can’t just do a new Green Lantern series from scratch, not the way Julie Schwartz did it in the late ’50′s. No matter what fresh angle you might bring to the idea, first you have to somehow doubletalk your way into a rationale for doing it. Maybe it’s having Hal Jordan go nuts so you can replace him with Kyle Rayner, or having Kyle step aside and Hal come back from the dead so he can be GL again and not the Spectre. That’s where these incredibly pedantic, minutiae-driven series like Green Lantern: Rebirth come from. We can’t just start with “Brand New Day,” we have to have “One More Day” first.

DC seems to think so, anyway. Honestly, I doubt that it’s really the case. Fans have shown that they’ll go along for the ride and never mind continuity if it looks to be a ride worth taking: DC’s New Frontier, Marvel’s Ultimate books, All-Star Superman.

Maybe the question isn’t so much, why keep tweaking the good idea? Maybe the question should be, why not just do the new version instead of first killing yourself trying to appease all the fans of every previous version ever?

Because you won’t ever appease those fans. It can’t be done. No matter how awesome your new take on their old favorite might be, they’ll still call you a heretic. But in trying to humor them, you inevitably will be boring the pants off any new folks who might have happened by to give the revamped version a look.

For example, I’d love to see new versions of the Flash, or Aquaman, or any of another half-dozen superhero concepts that I think still have plenty of miles on them. But I’m not really interested in reading the in-continuity justification for doing it– especially this current DC trend of doing a six-issue series to explain how you are about to start to do a new ongoing series. That’s really a case of the snake swallowing its own tail. So many DC superhero comics seem to be in the business of simply setting up other DC superhero comics that it’s become ridiculous. You know, give me a call when the story actually starts.

By contrast, even though Marvel has gotten a lot of flak over the years for being continuity-obsessed, I gotta give them credit. They do Marvel Adventures Avengers side-by-side with The Ultimates and neither one of those has anything to do with New Avengers, or Mighty Avengers. Each series has its fans and no one seems to have any “continuity” issues with any of them. We really are smart enough to keep up and I appreciate Marvel’s willingness to gamble on that.

I don’t actually mind when a publisher decides to slap a new coat of paint on an old franchise and give it another try. What I find tedious are the ridiculous attempts to explain in the story itself why it’s okay to do it. It’s a ball-and-chain that writers simply don’t need to drag around behind them.

I used to think creators did this because the fans insisted on it, but the more I think about it, the more I consider all the successful examples of the times readers rewarded creators who said screw it, the hell with continuity, let’s go… the more I think this handicap is something self-inflicted by nervous editors.

Honest. If the story’s good enough, we really won’t care who or what you contradict. How many more times do you need readers to demonstrate it?

See you next week.

111 Comments

I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed those early Kyle Rayner issues. And I never knew they relaunched GL/GA as a more space-y adventure series after they axed the relevant run.

But yes. Too many comics are about themselves these days, rather than about… well, you know, things an actual story should be about. But we’re seeing less “new direction!” relaunches these days, and more “old direction with more angst and violence and better coloring!” retreads. It was bad enough that we needed a six-issue mini-series to tell us why Hal Jordan was so great and explain away all the GL continuity no one cared about, but now we’ve got a six-issue mini-series telling us why Barry Allen’s so great that explains away all the Flash continuity. Or something. I don’t actually give a crap about any of that. In the end, I just want fun stories, not excuses for future issues.

Ahem. Thanks for another good column.

Great write up! I too loved the Green Lantern Corp concept, and some of those annuals from the 80′s done in anthology formats were amongst the best written comics of the time. That one by Alan Moore about Abin Sur is an obvious one, but there were others I remember like the one member of the GL who is one a perpetually dark planet so he has no concept of color or light and has to base his ring’s abilities on the properties of sound. And I had a real soft spot in my heart for the Green Lantern Corps run of the book with Ch’p, Katma Tui, Salaak, Arisia, and Kilowog. It was a nice mix of aliens and humans in whimsical scifi adventures.

On the topic of reboots, relaunches, restarts, etc, etc, etc. I think the big issue is that we modern day fans are suffering from fatigue at this point. I know why these things happen, as changes and tweaks lead to a straying from the original concept and then it is reverted and then the cycle begins again. What is bothering these days is the rate at which these things are done. Go back and read this article again and notice the frequency the changes are being made as you go down the timeline. They start to accelerate as the popularity of the medium breaks into more mainstream ground. Same thing with scifi TV/Film properties such as Star Trek. Larger and broader audience means more money, which means more non-writer/editors from the top ranks sticking their noses in and looking for buzz. It is a corporate mandated cycle. There is an old saying about the economy that it goes in the cycle “Boom, Bust, War” and it is true for comics as well, but you might say “Buzz, Bust, Reboot”. The cycles are just much shorter now.

Excellent writeup.

No offense to Marz, but Emerald Twilight, along with the Clone Saga, helped drive me away from comics for more than half a decade. Terrible, terrible idea, and I’m glad that the GLC is back in place.

I enjoyed GL Rebirth, but mostly because it was bringing back what I loved, the characters, the concept, the milieu, and it was easy to swallow the continuity fanwank that encompassed it for those reasons.

“Self-inflicted by nervous editors” is an explanation, but I don’t think it’s the only explanation. You have to remember that a lot of these readers are laboring under the “historical dispatches from an alternate universe” delusion are, themselves, fans, often of the most obsessive stripe. They’re essentially playing to themselves and fans just like them, and they’ve had quite a bit of success doing so, as current GL sales figures show.

And the fans don’t always reward the “to hell with continuity” approach. Just look at Final Crisis: Grant Morrison essentially said, “I’m going to do a big event series, but instead of making it about upending the status quo and rewriting the multiverse and all that crap, I’m going to make it about the eternal battle of good and evil, and the epic scope of superhero storytelling, and about the future of the DC universe, as opposed to its past.” And you saw how well that worked out for him. Even DC itself rebelled against the concept, instead marketing the book as upending the status quo and rewriting the multiverse and all that crap, which only fed the flames once the book actually came out and fandom was horrified to discover that it was not yet another stylistic retread of Crisis on Infinite Earths.

And Streak the Wonder Dog would eventually change his name to Rex. Okay, not really, although I’m kinda surprised some continuity-obsessed writer at DC hasn’t done some lame attempt at tying the two together, continuity-wise.

Huh, according to Comic Book Urban Legends, Rex was essentially a revamp of Streak:

http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2006/02/16/comic-book-urban-legends-revealed-38/

Wish I had known that before posting the earlier comment.

I add to my previous statement by noting that the editors themselves are also, quite frequently, obsessive nerds.

Couldn’t disagree with your conclusion more.

You say you don’t want an excuse as to why the new changes or direction, but even putting under a new label such as “ultimate” or what have you is just such an excuse. And as big an atrocity as OMD was (in my opinion) how much of an uproar do you think there would have been if, in the main marvel universe, suddenly Spidey just simply wasn’t married any more and there was no rational reason given? That would be even worse then a bad relaunch which at least tries to give an excuse.

If we take your suggestion seriously then next issue of Spider-Man he could take off his mask and for no reason the guy underneath has an afro and is named Tito. Hey, why not?! As long as the story is good right? Ridiculous. There needs to be an explanation.

The answer isn’t to stop giving rational explanations, it’s to write actual good stories with the situation given. Sadly, instead of doing that many writers/editors opt for the cheap excuse (ie bad storytelling) in hopes of a quick cash-in. It’s not giving explanations that’s causing the problems, it’s lazy writing and greedy money grab attempts. People, including those in the industry, need to start respecting comic writing as an actual art form and we’ll start seeing a lot less crap out there.

“The weird thing is, Green Lantern has been a consistently successful property.”

The funny thing is: that’s true. It has. How many humans being have made most of the money they’re going to make in their lives by working on Green Lantern? At least five. Maybe ten. This is a persistently successful product that has allowed many people to make a nice living.

And yet DC has always seemed somehow embarrassed by the whole thing. They’re not proud of Green Lantern. They’ve never said “hey folks, welcome to DC, home of Green Lantern!” They’ve never said “Hey kids, like comics? Then you’ll love Green Lantern!” No movies, no TV shows… He’s not welcome in the ‘trinity.’ They begrudgingly added him to Superfriends for one season and his costume would change colors in every other scene.

DC has always acted like Green Lantern was a burden unfairly placed upon them and now they have to put out a damn book every month.

Why? I think the biggest issue is that writers don’t like him because the ring is too powerful. And I can sympathize with that, but man up and solve the problem. And no, “the javelin he’s throwing at me is painted yellow!” doesn’t solve the problem. Like everybody else, I have some problems with Johns, but he deserves a lot of credit for solving many of the problems the character has. I think his most clever innovation is simply having the rings constantly announcing what their power drain level is. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Now every time a Lantern uses his ring, I think “uh-oh, he’d better not use it too much because he’ll use up his power.” Wow. That totally solves the biggest problem with the character. There’s finally a believable downside to over-reliance on the ring. Bravo, sir.

Wow. I have never read a single Green Lantern comic in my life but I still read through all of that. Very interesting. Thank you for the hard work.

[...] There’s an interesting (and well researched) article on Comic Book Resources by Greg Hatcher. Inspired by the new Star Trek revamp, or relaunch, or reboot, or whatever you want [...]

I dob’t know about Streak and Rex but some continuity nerd did establish that Rex and Pooch (from the “Gunner and Sarge” and “Losers” series) were brothers. How they resisted throwing Ace the Bat-Hound into the litter, I’ll never know.

There’s a related syndrome at work in some of these reboots too: the idea that if the creative staff is growing stale on a strip, you should change the characters instead of the creators. The most notorious example of this is the Detroit-era JLA, created because Gerry Conway had run through all the plot variations he could think up for a League populated by the Big Guns. Common sense would suggest it was time for Conway to stand down but, no, we get Vibe instead. Oy.

I lost a bit of a sentence up there. I’ll re-try:

Except for your opinion on Ron Marz’s awful run on GL (in fact, his GL and the revamp of both JLI to that unreadable Dan Vado era and Legion getting rid of all the evolution done by Giffen) which drove me away from comics for at least 10 years, you got mostly right. Emerald Twilight was a (bad) example of how to ignore everything that came before to a character for shock value. There was NO WAY Hal would act like that jumping from issue 47 to 48. That’s for me bad writing. The same thing as to why Identity Crisis is a bad example of characterization, because Blue Beetle was never ignored by all heroes, and Max Lord was never that evil one month before.
That’s why, in my opinion, GL is Johns most successful revamp, because he nailed both the character and the concept. He has failed with the recent Legion of 3 Worlds (which is everything but a Legion book) and Identity Crisis, because he missed the point at both.

Bill: “If we take your suggestion seriously then next issue of Spider-Man he could take off his mask and for no reason the guy underneath has an afro and is named Tito. Hey, why not?! As long as the story is good right? Ridiculous. There needs to be an explanation.”

Bill, you seem to be mistaking “have no explanation” with “having no STORY explanation.” Yes, if you reboot, you have to tell the readers: put a note in the comic, send out a press release, announce it on the internet, etc. What you DON’T need is to explain the change as some sort of magical event in the comic. This would be the “ridiculous attempts to explain in the story itself” that Greg is talking about.

We didn’t need to see James Bond get a facelift and go back in time to accept Casino Royale, we were told out of story that there would be a change so we accepted it. If Quesada wanted BND, he could have just put a page in the front of the comic saying “this is what we are doing” and it would be done (which is basically what happened in the Spiderman comic strip). What we didn’t need was OMD, which is the point that Greg was making.

As somebody who read Ostrander’s entire run on the Spectre, and also as somebody who liked the Rayner-relaunch, I wholeheartedly looked forward to Hal-Spectre. I liked the setup in “Day of Vengeance” (hated the art), and the prequel in JLA where it was established that nobody could recognize Hal as the Spectre. It’s just that when they started the monthly, nobody could figure out where they wanted to take the darned book. Hal did better as a cosmic guest-star in other books (I’m thinking Superman and Supergirl) than in his own title.

Hell, when they brought in Sinestro as a demonic foil to Hal, I thought they’d finally found their legs. Nope.

ParanoidObsessive

May 23, 2009 at 10:23 pm

>>> I add to my previous statement by noting that the editors themselves are also, quite frequently, obsessive nerds.

To this day, I honestly believe that some of the most horrific abominations that have ever occurred in comics took place because the inmates started running the asylum.

For decades, comic writers were basically work-for-hire freelancers or frustrated writers whose basic formative experience was rooted in other media. And then, eventually, we reached a point when many of the writers and artists getting into comics were themselves massive comic book fans as kids, and that opened the doors to a lot of bad ideas and borderline bad fanfiction slipping through the cracks as ascended fanboys basically forced characters to fit their own personal vision of what the character SHOULD be, rather than trying to actually write good stories or please the target audience.

Sure, a writer who grew up reading comics can bring a lot of interesting things to the table, but they can also bring a lot of horrible ideas as well.

I think this is the first time I’ve heard Final Crisis called a “stylistic retread of Crisis on Infinite Earths” by anyone. Wasn’t the major cry from fandom that the story shouldn’t have had a “Crisis” label at all, since it was hardly related to COIE or IC?

To me, the challenge has always been that Hal Jordan lacks a really clear motivation that lasts beyond whatever the current story arc might be. The best superhero concepts can be expressed in one sentence. For GL, that sentence has very little to do with the character of the protagonist. It is the story of a guy who finds a magic ring that allows him to make anything he has the will to make. The “guy” could be almost anyone.

Jacob: “I think this is the first time I’ve heard Final Crisis called a “stylistic retread of Crisis on Infinite Earths” by anyone.”

Considering Michael said it was “NOT yet another stylistic retread” I guess you still haven’t.

Stephane Savoie

May 23, 2009 at 11:51 pm

Reading that Marz interview, I’m irritatedto see that he doesn’t understand the problem with killing Alex, and the whole “Women in Refrigerators” syndrome. He shows not only his lack of talent as a writer, but a lack of insight and intelligence.

Personally, I don’t see why having continuity-based stories is any better or worse than those which don’t. When I got into comics, the DC and Marvel Universes were already decades old, and I had no trouble “getting it.” The problem comes with the stories themselves- as someone once pointed out, every comic has the potential to be somebody’s first, and should be written so that who and what it is about should be easy to discern, while at the same time not having too much exposition. It’s tricky, but it can be done.

On the other hand, it is true that, as comics’ readership has become stale, we pay too much attention to old continuity. I would not mind it if DC or even Marvel really rebooted all over- heck, I was all set to accept it 1986 after the first Crisis. And what happened? DC’s own people failed to abandon the old continuity- some editors did but others didn’t, and that only caused problems. Let’s face it- it was the comics people themselves that caused the whole obsession with continuity, not the fans. They merely jumped in the bandwagon.

Maybe comics need a good reboot after all… but, it also needs to be handled correctly. Oh, and more efforts need to be made to bring in new audiences, to keep things from stalling.

Hey Greg I’m having trouble getting at the original Star Trek article which the forum reckons should be here.

I get headers at the top and sidebars to the right. Just no article or comments. Any ideas ?

I wonder if the ‘endless narrative’ nature of comics contributes to the pressing need reboot things every few years. Writers would not have as much problem writing stories with a married Peter Parker if he had not been married and essentially ageless from our point of view for the past 25 years. Freezing characters in time reeks of corporate cowardice and the drastic short term deaths/changes to generate sales only further increases the rot in the medium.

It’s probably fair to say that “Look the other way” reboots of the type that transitioned from Alan Scott to Hal Jordan don’t work these days because the audience is more sophisticated (relatively). The sentiments about the fans being in charge ring true in a lot of ways. The scary prospect is that the current fans reading are going to be the fans who will be writing in 10 years time — I shudder to think of how they will be trying to ‘fix’ the perceived wrongs of todays books.

Here’s a novel idea for comic companies:

Have your characters age in real time and grow old. Have them die and stay dead. Have newer, younger people (sons, daughters, protoges) take on the mantles of heroes gone by. Have some pride in the legacies of your characters.

It’s sad, but they’ve now frozen characters like Ted Grant and Jay Garrick in time — they are now the token ‘old men’ who will perpetually be old and mentoring, and nothing else.

Matt Bird said:

“And no, “the javelin he’s throwing at me is painted yellow!” doesn’t solve the problem.”

Yeah. I always thought the Green Lantern should just uproot a tree and slap the javelin. The ‘yellow’ thing never worked for me.

They yellow thing never made a lot of sense. Use the GL ring to throw up a giant umbrella to block out all light and the yellow javelin isn’t yellow any more.
The current Rainbow Bright Lanterns is even more idiotic though since there’s no reason why it should be confined to the visible spectrum of light, why colors correspond to emotions, or that indigo isn’t even considered a separate color by color scientists.

Hey Greg, I’m having trouble getting at the original Star Trek article which the forum reckons should be here.

I get headers at the top and sidebars to the right. just no article or comments. Any ideas?

It comes right up for me through your link in both Mozilla and IE, Philip. Sometimes Jonah messes with upgrades to the server and so on in the middle of the night, if that’s when you tried it — you might have hit once of his maintenance cycles. Try it now.

“For decades, comic writers were basically work-for-hire freelancers or frustrated writers whose basic formative experience was rooted in other media. And then, eventually, we reached a point when many of the writers and artists getting into comics were themselves massive comic book fans as kids, and that opened the doors to a lot of bad ideas and borderline bad fanfiction slipping through the cracks as ascended fanboys basically forced characters to fit their own personal vision of what the character SHOULD be, rather than trying to actually write good stories”

Right, which is why the Silver and Golden age stories are so well-writen. Give me a break. You are harking back to a time that didn’t exist. The only way to enjoy VERY old superhero comics is out a sense of nostalgia because they are just awful.

Bernard the Poet

May 24, 2009 at 8:26 am

Green Lantern is one of those characters that falls between two stools – there’s too many superhero stories for space fantasy fans and too much space fantasy for superhero fans. Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Thor all have the same problem.

On the question of re-boots, I suspect that the problem is simply that all characters have a shelf-life. No matter how great the story telling engine is, it’s going to wear out sooner or later.

I once read somewhere (maybe here) that it is considered bad manners for a writer to go to an editor and pitch an idea around a character who already has a creative team in place and it is considered arrogant for a writer to go to an editor and pitch an idea for an entirely original character, so writers are forced to pitch ideas for old characters that aren’t currently in their own series. Hence the endless reboots of Aquaman/Hawkman/Dr Strange etc, when really these characters should allowed to fade away and newer fresher characters be brought in.

Great article. I think there are two clear reasons for all the re-booting:

1. They sometimes work really well in attracting new readers.

Personally I had zero interest in GL until recently when I heard people in my local comic store enthusing about the reboot. I don’t remember exactly why, but I picked up Rebirth and Recharge, swiftly followed by all of the trades up to the Sinestro corps war, and then added it to my pull list. As a GL, and indeed DC, naive reader, it was very easy to get involved, whilst still incorporating references to earlier continuity (esp the Alan Moore stuff) which made it worth checking those out. I don’t think I’m alone in being converted by the current reboot.

2. Check out the cover of Green Lantern (corps) #201 above: “Collectors Item – Premiere Issue!” – this (or similar) is repeated on several of the other covers. People like to buy #1′s. If you reboot, you can renumber and boost your sales. Marvel seems to have this affliction particularly badly at the moment.

“GL is Johns most successful revamp, because he nailed both the character and the concept. He has failed with the recent Legion of 3 Worlds (which is everything but a Legion book) and Identity Crisis, because he missed the point at both.”

Johns didn’t write Identity Crisis. That was Brad Meltzer.

As for the issue of continuity…it CAN be a crutch, but I don’t really think it is. It’s one of the things that seperates comics from any other medium. And once you get into it (and it’s not as hard as you think…I got into post Crisis DC as a six year old and I was just fine) it;s a lot of fun to track character evolutions.

Also, the reason no one had a problem with the books you listed not referencing continuity is because they were specifically denoted as being out of continuity. Marvel Adventures Avengers really isn’t any different from Johnny DC Superfriends. It’s clearly shown as an out of continuity series for kids. As for the Ultimate line…it’s just a seperate line of continuity which is slowly becoming too big for its own britches as well by way of multiple crossovers. You know…just like mainline Marvel.

As somebody who read Ostrander’s entire run on the Spectre, and also as somebody who liked the Rayner-relaunch, I wholeheartedly looked forward to Hal-Spectre. I liked the setup in “Day of Vengeance” (hated the art), and the prequel in JLA where it was established that nobody could recognize Hal as the Spectre. It’s just that when they started the monthly, nobody could figure out where they wanted to take the darned book.

I think the main problem with that series was that it was written by DeMatteis. Mind you, he’s not a bad writer, but his new-agey, moral-relativism sensibilities were completely wrong for a wrath-of-God character like the Spectre.

Brendan T: I meant Infinite Crisis. Both were bad, by the way.

Nice column as always, Greg.

I think the “nervous editor” explanation for these continuity justifications is a result of a larger trend. From the late 60s on, we’ve gotten a lot of creators of comic books who GREW UP reading comic books. In other words, fans. That wasn’t the case in the Golden Age or the early Silver Age. Folks like Julie Schwartz were fans of other things besides comics, and that gave them license to be more bold in their revamps. Ex-fanboys (and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way) tend to come at it from a different perspective. Someone like Roy Thomas, Marv Wolfman or Len Wein is MUCH more inclined to use continuity than a Stan Lee or a Julius Schwartz.

One other point: I think it’s worth noting that the “Hal Jordan goes nuts, becomes a villain & destroys the Green Lantern Corps” plotline was not Ron Marz’s idea. GL# 48-50 had already been solicited under the title “Emerald Twilight” when Gerard Jones’ revamp was rejected, so a new story was conceived by Mike Carlin, Denny O’Neil & Archie Goodwin either overnight or over a weekend (I forget which). Ron Marz was the guy who executed those plans & was (again, IIRC) largely responsible for the creation of Kyle Rayner. I’ve never thought it was very fair that Marz has gotten so much flak over the years for something that wasn’t even his idea, but I think it speaks well of him that he still takes responsibility for that decision.

Working now. Ta Greg !

Check out the cover of Green Lantern (corps) #201 above: “Collectors Item – Premiere Issue!” – this (or similar) is repeated on several of the other covers. People like to buy #1’s. If you reboot, you can renumber and boost your sales. Marvel seems to have this affliction particularly badly at the moment.

No doubt, this is a factor. I am sure someone knows the actual math, but I’d guess that an average Big Two superhero title loses 20% of it readers between issue #1 and #2. Then, maybe another 20% between issue #2 and Issue #12. From there on, it is probably pretty steady (+/- 4% every month) until a big creative team change. If the new creative team is well known (i.e. Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert on “Batman”), then you get a bump from their fans. If the creative team is unknown, then you get a decline as the prior teams fans follow them to the new thing until positive word of mouth builds for the new folks.

So, let’s assume you launch a title with 25k readers, which is pretty typical for mid-list DCs and Marvels. Cover price is $2.99, so your gross is $75,000. However ….

Distribution and Retail take 60% of that, so the Publisher grosses $30,000. Let’s say publishing is $0.10 a page, or $2,500. That leaves $27,500, but your Editors, Salespeople and Marketing folks need to eat. The phone bill needs to get paid and the rent. Let’s say that is 20% of the gross, or $6,000. That leaves $21,500.

Now, the creative folks need to get paid. $100 a page for the writer and $200 per page each to the penciler and inker. Then, the letterer and the colorist. So, maybe $750 per page for creative, or $16,500. That leaves a $5,000 profit on issue #1. Nobody is getting rich, but everybody is making a living

However, if sales have fallen to 15k by the end of year one, the enterprise becomes far more marginal. Your gross has fallen to $17,940 and you have lost $3,348. At this point, you wonder if a cheaper inker might not be necessary, or a price increase …

That other Bill:

If we take your suggestion seriously then next issue of Spider-Man he could take off his mask and for no reason the guy underneath has an afro and is named Tito. Hey, why not?! As long as the story is good right? Ridiculous. There needs to be an explanation.

I wouldn’t care if Spider-Man was Tito Jackson as long as the story was good, no— but I also haven’t bought a Spider-comic in a decade or more. You’re confusing continuity with consistency, however. Spider-Man will always be Peter Parker, but he’s not necessarily the Peter Parker who had a friend fight in ‘Nam or who was married in 1994 or whatever.

HMH:

The only way to enjoy VERY old superhero comics is out a sense of nostalgia because they are just awful.

Yes, and in fifty years they’ll say that about today’s comics. I think Golden Age stories are fun and Silver Age stories are awesome– I’ve had a better time reading through Showcase presents Doom Patrol than I’ve had in some time reading other comics.

Bernard the Poet:

so writers are forced to pitch ideas for old characters that aren’t currently in their own series. Hence the endless reboots of Aquaman/Hawkman/Dr Strange etc, when really these characters should allowed to fade away and newer fresher characters be brought in.

Except Aquaman and Dr. Strange are awesome and should have their own series. As the story goes, every comics writer has an Aquaman or Strange pitch up their sleeves– but it seems the only folks who like those characters are writers. I would give up my firstborn to write Aquaman.

Brendan T:

As for the issue of continuity…it CAN be a crutch, but I don’t really think it is. It’s one of the things that seperates comics from any other medium. … Marvel Adventures Avengers really isn’t any different from Johnny DC Superfriends. It’s clearly shown as an out of continuity series for kids.

Don’t soap operas have continuity? I wouldn’t know– they’re terrible and confusing and I don’t watch them. But don’t people say that about comics? Hmm…

It shouldn’t matter if it’s in continuity or not, though. This is getting back to Greg’s idea of “dispatches from history,” or whatnot– anyone who thinks a story “doesn’t matter” because it doesn’t arbitrarily fit into some fan-built canon is, quite simply, a mook.

Coming from general fiction/manga/anime circles, it seems that the issue with such long running series is the absolute need to keep them going no matter what (barring the occasional cancellation). I’d rather see one of the following done (this would work better for DC, but Marvel could probably use something ‘like’ this):

1) Kill the crossover events in multiple titles, by replacing ALL titles with 4 “storyarc” miniseries (~12 issues each). Print only the best stories, give characters much-needed breaks, and publish one of each arc weekly. You’d never have to reboot a character, could pace at a level the fan could keep up with – and quite possibly restore some value to the individual books/character appearances, as well as bring in new readers, who don’t need to worry about suddenly going from one book to 7 before giving up in frustration. If there’s enough demand, then yeah they could pop out direct to trade stories (elseworlds, that sort of thing), but it’d serve both to streamline the business for longevity without destroying the characters slowly with crappy day to day storylines. What if there was a world where there was nothing wrong/special about not reading a single standard-continuity GL story for a year?

2) Just end titles when they run out of steam. Having the corporation own the characters means that the characters need to be “always working” to earn their keep – again, something that is not in line with good storytelling. The best series, across any medium, are those where the creator’s vision are maintained – and mostly in the American context, that means full ownership of the characters, concepts, etc. If stories end, there will be a greater potential aftermarket for non-diehards – again, there is a “finite” amount to read, and comics are generally appealing to someone who picks one up. Is it any wonder that non-fans love things like Watchmen, Sandman, etc on that ground alone (though, true, they’re some pretty nice stories, too)?

Anyway, it’s doable without reboots conceptually, but instead of making all these story-based arguments as to why it “must” happen, just recognize that it’s all on the business end. New titles are riskier than even bloated, story-diluted Bat-books.

I also have to say, that right up until the apocryphal ending of Secret Invasion, that the Avengers has held up pretty well between maintaining a consistent “superarc” story, while having a largely non-serial-dependent set of one-off stories. Okay, maybe it broke down a bit for Civil War as well… :/

@Panda

“1) Kill the crossover events in multiple titles, by replacing ALL titles with 4 “storyarc” miniseries (~12 issues each). Print only the best stories, give characters much-needed breaks, and publish one of each arc weekly. You’d never have to reboot a character, could pace at a level the fan could keep up with – and quite possibly restore some value to the individual books/character appearances, as well as bring in new readers, who don’t need to worry about suddenly going from one book to 7 before giving up in frustration.”

Marvel did something like this for Brand New Day in Amazing Spider-man and I enjoyed it. Looks like it was only a 1 year experiment or either the book is starting to run late though. Publishing a single title weekly has its advantages in this age of ever shrinking attention spans.

I agree that some characters need to be rested to avoid the “status quo for years on end with sudden head jerking changes to bring characters in like with recent movie adaptions”.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

May 24, 2009 at 11:23 pm

Because you won’t ever appease those fans. It can’t be done. No matter how awesome your new take on their old favorite might be, they’ll still call you a heretic. But in trying to humor them, you inevitably will be boring the pants off any new folks who might have happened by to give the revamped version a look.

Except in the case of GL, where the reboot, Rebirth, got me on board and has kept me on board (well Rebirth got me on board, the series has kept me on board).

On the other hand, Waid’s cold reboot of Legion got me on-board, and nobody else!

I guess I should say something at this point since my question inadvertently got this ball rolling (I’m actually a bit honored – I inspired an entire awesome column by Greg Hatcher!). The fact is, as far as comics go, I pretty much understand why there are re-launches, given that they usually involve a single character, like Superman, Batman, Spiderman, etc. or groups (e.g. FF) in usually monthly serial publications that have been ongoing longer than most of our lifetimes. I may not agree that they are necessary, at least not in the sense of a major, drastic cut (relaunch! reboot! re-imagine!), but I do understand the need to do some tweaking here and here at the very least.
My question, though, was specifically meant to address Star Trek, and I really don’t think the discussion in last week’s column really got to the root of what I was asking. As I see it, the original series was there to tell some stories, and the creative team behind it did not seem too bothered by the things fans obsess over, like continuity or “canon”. They created an interesting and enjoyable little universe to tell some great stories, and that was that. The movies, and later series like TNG, DS9 and Voyager took the basic idea and ran with and did some awesome stuff, too. Since Star Trek is a live-action series (I never read any of the novels or comics, nor ever had an interest in doing so), keeping the series/franchise alive and running means you have pretty much have to keep moving on, as eventually actors age, find better paying gigs, or, given how long Star Trek has been going, die. But why cast new actors to play characters like Kirk, Spock or even Picard, when the basic premise allows you to just create a new situation? All you really need is some Federation starship (or space station as the case may be), a solid cast of characters and a good hook, and you’re ready to go.
That’s why in the case of Star Trek specifically, I don’t understand the need for re-boots or re-launches. Like I mentioned in my original question, the basic idea is so infinitely usable and adaptable that it seems entirely unnecessary to me. I still haven’t seen the new movie yet (although I definitely intend to), so I can’t praise or criticize it either way, but I have to say I don’t see the point in seeing a whole new set of actors playing the original crew. This seems to me like the ultimate in fan service or fan fiction, or (and I may be wrong here) a matter of the creative team thinking “ok, those guys back in the ’60s had their shot, now we’re going to do it better!” To an extent, this seemed to be the vibe I got from “Enterprise”, which did not even come close to matching the class and feel of the original series, despite all of the latter’s many shortcomings. Nor did it even tell any good or memorable stories. In this last respect, at least, I’m holding out the hope that this latest movie will be better.
Anyway, that’s my two bits, and sorry for the long post.
p.s. as for the subject of this specific column – excellent rundown. Personally, I like the whole idea of the corps and the focus on all kinds of intersteller and intergalactic adventures and think that’s where the focus on Green Lantern should always be – maybe because in a way it’s a bit similar to the Star Trek idea…

Edo, I would guess that the reboot is a purely financial decision. I’m guessing that the thought must have gone like this, DS9 didn’t rate as well as THG, so we better put them back on a ship, Voyager didn’t rate as well as DS9, so we better put them back in the Enterprise, Enterprise didn’t rate as well as Voyager, so we better recreate the original set-up (ignoring how well the original series when at the time). Hollywood seems bitterly afraid of any new ideas, so the more they can recreate the better.

I could see that the new creative team might think that the existing continuity had too much baggage, they could have made a film in continuity that ignored that baggage, but that would be as good as a reboot anyway. However, in terms of recreating the original set-up, I would just put that down to money and fear.

Michael Mayket

May 25, 2009 at 7:18 am

I get it. You find in-story explanations for revamps tedious and unnecessary. What I find tedious and unnecessary was that you said it over and over and over again for the final 10 or so paragraphs. Seriously, you make the exact same point like 5 times.

I did really enjoy the article overall though.

On the Star Trek point – I agree it’s different, but it’s also the same… In the same sense, the “DC Universe” SHOULD be able to support ongoing development/new storylines and characters. I guess that was implied by my first “no reboot” suggestion a bit…

And yes, I think there would be legs in the case of ST for an ongoing ANTHOLOGY series – one off vignette stories of the Star Trek universe ala Twilight Zone/Outer Limits, that would allow for good stories that didn’t need to cohese with each other or risk contradictions by using the same cast of characters week in, week out… Such a series would also allow for better guest stars – people who wouldn’t take time out of their schedule to be a relatively minor character on a TNG ep might revel at the chance to “own” an ep, without necessarily committing to a hard schedule (though, as with the newer Outer Limits, popular stories could be revisited, as well).

All that said, though… SEE THE MOVIE. It defies the traditional logic of what a reboot is, answers your questions directly, and somehow is also very entertaining! Just go see it, stop stressing about what it means, and you will likely be very pleasantly surprised.

These are my personal opinions on continuity:

1) ALL serialized fiction (not just comics) needs continuity. It’s the whole point of having a *series* in the first place, not to mention it’s what even the average person expects. The exceptions to this are anthologies (with different characters each issue/episode) or utterly unreal stuff (cartoons such as Looney Tunes, for example) where realism doesn’t matter. (And note that reality is the “default” condition of fiction- it may sound odd, but it’s true- we live in a world that HAS continuity, and we expect it in fiction too, because that’s what we are used to; every author *needs* to tell the audience how their fictional worlds are unlike the real one, including such things as where continuity starts and stops.)

2) Continuity and story quality are two separate things. Some people think that “too much continuity” is bad for a story; this isn’t true. A good story is self-consistent; it gives you all the information you need to understand it. Even if a character has a convoluted backstory, just mention the parts you need for THAT specific story. For example, in most Cable stories, he’s just some mutant mercenary. If the fact he’s a time traveler, or the son of Cyclops, isn’t needed, don’t mention it. Leave it for when it matters.

Note that the reverse is also true- even a brand-new series can get so bogged down in details made up in a short time -even a single story!- that it confuses the readers. Morrison’s penchant for “far out ideas” is an example of this.

2) The owners of the franchise (its creators or copyright holders) are who determine what is canon and what is not, not the fans. We need to deal with it. They can even have the same characters in multiple continuities if they wish. Heck, doing so is a good way of keeping fans with different tastes happy; give them both family friendly and “adult” versions if you want.

However, THEY NEED TO BE CLEAR ABOUT IT. They should not have books whose continuity is “nebulous” the way many Vertigo books were for years. That’s a cop out, and isn’t fair to those fans who care about continuity (those who don’t care would not mind anyway.) And if you make an announcement about your continuity, STICK TO IT- don’t say “the continuity will be entirely new!” and then drag old stories back in the way DC did right after the first Crisis; or say “we will not undo Spider-Man’s secret identity reveal with magic” and then do exactly that only two years later. As I said, they CAN do it if they want- but they have no right to complain about fan backlash afterwards.

Well, the movie industry doesn’t like original ideas, so if you’re wondering why they needed to reboot star trek rather than come up with something new, that’s why.

What, you think people were clamouring for a remake of Land of the Lost?

“I’ve never thought it was very fair that Marz has gotten so much flak over the years for something that wasn’t even his idea, but I think it speaks well of him that he still takes responsibility for that decision.”

Considering Marz was – and this point can’t be emphasized enough – wildly successful with his GL run, I think he’s happy to take the good with the bad.

Admittedly, he was helped a lot my Morrison working on Kyle’s characterisation in JLA, as the early version was a bit rougher (typical 90s “… with ATTITUDE!” hero) than the what Kyle eventually morphed into (sort of a more competent, less troubled version of Peter Parker, but with a respectful attitude towards the history he was thrust into).

And, again, for every person who left the book in anger, three more picked it up and generally kept buying it. That’s not a sign of a failure in my eyes.

let me state clearly and definitively,

i read GL before Emerald Twilight, and i’ve read it pretty consistently through till the Sinestro Wars,

Kyle Rayner is a way better character than Hal Jordan.

there, i said it.

@ Michael Mayket

Considering Bill Janzen missed the point completely I guess Greg should have made the point a few more times.

Right, which is why the Silver and Golden age stories are so well-writen. Give me a break. You are harking back to a time that didn’t exist. The only way to enjoy VERY old superhero comics is out a sense of nostalgia because they are just awful.

If you adjust for the time period of the stories and the age group and demographic they were targeted to, then yes, the golden and silver age stories are much much better written than the modern ones. I’ll take a Bob Kane/Bill Finger Batman story way before I read a Jeph Loeb one.

On the other hand, Waid’s cold reboot of Legion got me on-board, and nobody else!

Hey, *I* liked the Waid/Kitson run. In fact it’s my favorite version of the Legion. My students really like it too; those trades always get looked at when I bring them to class.

So of course it got completely mishandled and bogged down in crossover crap. I was very annoyed that it apparently got overwritten by something Brad Meltzer did over in Justice League. Really, if you want to see the classic example of a long-running fan favorite that no one quite knows how to make go, the Legion’s another example of something that’s been rebooted nearly to death. The two times it’s been successful for modern readers, oddly enough, both came from Mark Waid. I think he may be one of the only guys in comics that got to do a from-scratch relaunch of the same property more than once; the post-Zero Hour Legion and then the latest one with Barry Kitson.

Pity DC ran it into the ground. I left with Waid, but I was hearing enough good stuff about Shooter that I was thinking about looking at those stories too…. and then bang, book’s dead and Geoff Johns is doing another pedantic mini-series trying to resolve everything again. But for a while there it was cooking — I got the first two trades and loved them so much I went looking for all the others.

Also, just as an aside; I know mileage varies, but I have to side with those folks defending the Golden and Silver Age. Those of you that are willing to make allowances for the fact that you’re not the intended audience for those stories will find extraordinary craft on display in that work. A lot of the 1970′s Marvel books that I’d remembered as being WAY too mired in continuity and ‘inside baseball’ — Avengers, Tomb of Dracula, Invaders — when I reread them in these new reprint volumes, I’ve discovered that they are actually remarkably self-contained issue-by-issue compared to today’s superhero comics. We didn’t know how good we had it.

Really, if you want to see the classic example of a long-running fan favorite that no one quite knows how to make go, the Legion’s another example of something that’s been rebooted nearly to death.

Reading the first Showcase volume of the Legion, I was struck by how little of it is set in the future. By and large, the various legionaires are traveling back in time to visit the Superboy cast and, later, Supergirl. This has three beneficial effects:
1. It makes things a lot easier to relate to. Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad were superheroes who happen to be from the future in pretty much the same way the Claremont-Byrne X-Men were superheroes who happen to be mutants. It only matters when it has a direct bearing on the plot.
2. It adds a sense of mystery to the 31st Century. You only see glimpses of what the world looks like 10 centuries from now. Again, it reminds of the X-Men. Wolverine’s origin was doled out piece-by-piece in the same way.
3. It connects them to the legacy of Superman. The bits of the 31st Century we see look an awful lot like Krypton. In a metaphorical sense, the example of Superman has transformed Earth into a Krypton style Utopia. However, it is pretty hard to build drama in a Utopia…

Interesting article, but like Bill Janzen, I disagree with your conclusion, and also with the assumption you seem to be making that those who do disagree with it are necessarily (a) wrong, (b) in the minority, or (c) obsessive nerds.

Continuity is a necessary thing in stories, because it maintains the illusion of verisimilitude that keeps the reader involved. When the story is effectively infinitely open-ended, as with a serial on television or a comic, it can indeed become limiting, but no really good writer ever shied away from limitations–they can bring out the best in us, if we embrace them.

Having said that, I see nothing wrong with ending one story and starting another with different continuity. I do, however, feel that it should be made clear in that case that there is *no* connection between the previous story and the new one. If you want a new Green Lantern, then you either establish a connection between the new one and the old one and keep the continuity consistent, or you make a clean break and start the story afresh, with *none* of the old characters or settings. In fact, ideally, you would create a new hero for your new story: if Green Lantern is not doing it, why not start with a clean slate with Heliotrope Hatstand or something? This “relaunching” and “rebranding” and so on is trying to have it both ways, to trade on old good will while junking the elements that created that good will, and the writers know it. Hence all the uneasy fudging.

On the third hand, ParanoidObsessive made a very good point back there:

“For decades, comic writers were basically work-for-hire freelancers or frustrated writers whose basic formative experience was rooted in other media. And then, eventually, we reached a point when many of the writers and artists getting into comics were themselves massive comic book fans as kids, and that opened the doors to a lot of bad ideas and borderline bad fanfiction slipping through the cracks as ascended fanboys basically forced characters to fit their own personal vision of what the character SHOULD be, rather than trying to actually write good stories or please the target audience.”

Which is, of course, what happened with the “rebranded,” “relaunched” Doctor Who. Which is hugely successful. Hmmm…maybe we *are* in the minority…

On the other hand, Waid’s cold reboot of Legion got me on-board, and nobody else!

I was on board too!

I loved that series, and it was the only version of the Legion I’ve ever read (aside from some selected reprints of the older stuff).

Afraid I have to disagree with the most basic assumptions of the article and that is your definition of a “reboot” as per your use, almost any change with the status quo is a “reboot”. A reboot has a specific meaning as does a re-launch and the two can both be done at the same time but they aren’t the same thing. Reboots, relaunches, revamps, retcons, new directions: all have different shades of meanings and connotations.

By your definition, it doesn’t address the original question regarding STAR TREK because by your definition, Star Trek, Animated Star Trek, The Next Generation, Voyager, Deep Space Nine, Enterprise and the various movies would ALL be reboots. They are not. Only the most recent movie is remotely a reboot which is what the questioner was getting at: why reboot the Original Star Trek characters, when the way the concept has evolved with all the franchises, a new series with new characters can be set at any point in time without re-writing all of continuity? A younger cast could have just as easily picked up where the original series left off and continued from there without re-inventing the wheel. And, I say that while saying I loved the movie.

A reboot is a reset of continuity. It’s to turn something off and start it up again from scratch. In terms of comics, it’s invalidating previous continuity and status quo, just wiping it out. “Emerald Dawn” is the closest to a reboot that Green Lantern has gotten and even then it changed GL’s past but didn’t really effect the character and status quo that was currently in place. Hal Jordan is not a reboot of Alan Scott nor is Kyle Raynor a reboot of Hal Jordan. They are different characters. MAN OF STEEL is a reboot of Superman as old continuity is just jettisoned, there is no Earth 1 Superman, Earth 2 Superman, it’s just the one Superman. However Wally West as Flash is not a reboot of the Barry Allen series any more than his was of the Jay Garrick Flash.

Thus, there are different reasons for doing a reboot than to launch a new character as part of the franchise, or just a new character with similar concept. Reboots have their own problems, especially in a shared universe such as Marvel and DC which must have some interrelated continuity for it to work (or it’s not a shared universe). When one title reboots, depending on how integral it is to the overall continuity of other titles, it ripples into other titles. Thus rebooting Wonder Woman and Superman would adversely affect titles and characters like the JSA, JLA, Teen Titans, Legion of Superheroes, Supergirl, Huntress, Power Girl. Thus, it’s no surprise that we’ve had a steady stream of reboots and retcons of many of those characters and concepts as successive creators are not happy with the answers that the previous ones came up with.

Greg said:
Also, just as an aside; I know mileage varies, but I have to side with those folks defending the Golden and Silver Age. Those of you that are willing to make allowances for the fact that you’re not the intended audience for those stories will find extraordinary craft on display in that work. A lot of the 1970’s Marvel books that I’d remembered as being WAY too mired in continuity and ‘inside baseball’ — Avengers, Tomb of Dracula, Invaders — when I reread them in these new reprint volumes, I’ve discovered that they are actually remarkably self-contained issue-by-issue compared to today’s superhero comics. We didn’t know how good we had it.

IF you see that as a positive. I got into comics in the early 80′s, and given how comics evolved then everyone must have felt that, economically, non-self-contained was the way to go, because that’s how it turned out everywhere.

So did young entzauberung. He loved dark, strange, slithering, never finished (as X-Men, Spider-Man, Teen Titans etc grew to be at the time). He still does, to an extent.

I tend to ignore the event itself and juudge the reboot on its own merits.

For instance (and I do like Hal before people jump on me) Emerald twilight was absolute twaddle, but I really liked the stories that having Kyle as the only Green Lantern gave us.

One More Day? Total rubbish. Brand New Day? It is actually quite, quite good (and I don’t have a prblem with MJ either, OK?)

In fact, ideally, you would create a new hero for your new story: if Green Lantern is not doing it, why not start with a clean slate with Heliotrope Hatstand or something?

Zander, the reason you don’t start fresh is that the comic book companies are businesses. The characters are their property and are protected by copyrights and trademarks. I am fairly sure that they need to roll those characters out every few years to keep those rights.

So, DC Comics really don’t want to hear a “Heliotrope Hatstand” pitch. They don’t own “Heliotrope Hatstand”. They own “The Peacemaker”, paid Charlton real money for him and need to work him into a comic somewhere. Therefore, a creator stands a much better chance of actually chance of seeing those ideas in print by tweaking Heliotrope into the “All New, All Different Peacemaker”, or Goliath, or pit him against an Alien and a Predator.

The problem with Legion is that one of the core ideas is that the world is a utopia.
Eventually, some writer wants to destroy Utopia.
But that’s not the story..it’s what happens next is the story.
Some writers can pull it off…some can’t.
In the Pre-Crisis/V4 Legion..it got dark..then darker..then darker…then they blew up the moon…then the Earth…then they wanted to take out the sun…..it just kept going darker and darker. So they rebooted into the shiny Post ZH Legion which was great….til someone wanted it all dark again..so civilization crumbled, and plague rampaged across the stars and so on into cancellation,..so they rebooted into the up yours grandpa, Threeboot Legion…which went for a bit.

Now we’ll have a Geoff Johns back to basics Legion that’s going to all about a bunch of future teens sitting around masturbating over Superboy. Until it fails when people realize that people sitting around talking about how awesome Kal-El is is really boring.

The reason for keeping these reboots in continuity is the superhero universe concept. Because all of the DC universe heroes exist in a shared space, you can’t reboot one of them without either explaining it in the context of the universe or rebooting the entire universe. If you wanted to start Hal Jordan fresh and throw away everything that came before, what happens the first time he meets Batman? The new Hal Jordan has never met Batman, but Batman has known Hal Jordan for years. Can all of the other characters in this universe forget, or pretend that they never knew the character previously? That seems like it would be even more awkward than explaining the reboot.

Because all of the DC universe heroes exist in a shared space, you can’t reboot one of them without either explaining it in the context of the universe or rebooting the entire universe.

Which is why I’d love to see a hard re-boot of everything every 15 years or so. It would give the writers a chance to tell a real Ragnarok type story. Just close the books on Earth-1 (or prime… or 616… or whatever) with real endings and deaths. Just like every Crisis and massive cross-over has promised since they were invented. Turn out the lights and start over from scratch.

It’ll never happen, because they’ll always be one, or two, titles that are really hot with creators that don’t want to wrap things up. The great irony was that the original COIE was spoiled by Wolfman himself. Had he rolled his Titans back to their early teens, it would’ve made the post-Crisis DCU continuity a lot more logical.

However, I still think it is the right thing to do.

As someone who has tried to get into Green Lantern and never could, I can tell you why Green Lantern traditionally has trouble holding on to fans.

1) He’s just one of hundreds or thousands with exact same power and even same costume. Spider-Man is my favorite character. If he was one of thousands of Spider-Men with the exact same costume and powers I would not have liked him so much. If Hulk was from a nation of Hulks the same thing. If the US Government created a military full of Captain America’s with exact same costume the same thing. A few redundant characters the way Superman had Supergirl and Krypto and Batman had Batgirl and Nightwing is not bad, but such a large amount of redunadancy down to costumes is too much. I think just the four Earth lanters is enough.

2) Too many goofy looking dork Lanterns. I understand the message of the goofball lanterns, to show that anyone could be one no matter how they looked or what their origin was. Very egalitarian, very mature. Unfortunately, also very uncool looking to kids. A Chip and Dale looking character, a guy who looks like diamond potato, a dude with a fin and bird beak, a dinosaur head dude, a fish head guy, etc….DORKY. I didn’t want to have a comic in my collection with stuff like that on the cover when I could have Wolverine, Spider-Man, Batman or Nightcrawler instead.

3) Hal Jordan was a whipped lackey too often. Comics should be escapism, being the top guy, being a free spirit. Hal Jordan was browbeated by bosses. His life looked like my parents’s life and all the adults’ lives around me, always getting chewed out and told what to do and worried about getting fired. How many GL covers did I see growing up consisting of Hal with a hangdog expression on his face standing in front of the Guardians getting chewed out for something he did wrong and having to slink away like a lapdog? Sure he’d end up vindicated in the end but Superman and Batman and others didn’t have people bossing them around. As a kid, Jordan came off as the Guardian’s bitch too often to me just from the covers.

4) The yellow weakness: I don’t mind a weakness for the ring but it ended up with too many stories where someone randomly turns something yellow to thwart him.

Marz’s Green Lantern sold so well I think because it got rid of so many of these things that were keeping fans like me away. Sudden;y he was not a lackey but an independent agent. He was unique, one of a kind. He wasn’t getting called out on the carpet over and over again like a whipped puppy by some cranky old blue midgets . He had no yellow weakness. The only problem I would say was that Marz milked the green (no pun intended) rookie shtick way too long. I liked Morrison’s characterization better. Morrison writing Kyle in the 90s would have been great, especially because he used to write entertaining and smart regular stories back then instead of the pseudointellectual metafiction narrative theses he writes now.

I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks the Johns-penned Green Lantern series are mind-bogglingly awful.

“I find it almost impossible to believe that … Hal wouldn’t have a ready answer for the crabby old black man bugging him about it.”

Seriously. I’m liberal enough to make Oliver Queen look centrist on most issues, but that cover has long seemed ridiculous to me. I appreciate someone else making the same point, so much that I won’t even go into a rant on about your apostrophe abuse in “the 1940′s.”

* Which is a good thing, given the boneheaded phrase “rant on about” in my previous comment. Weaseled out of a dreadfully embarrassing spot there. :-)

“On the other hand, Waid’s cold reboot of Legion got me on-board, and nobody else!”

…Yeah, you were the only schmuck buying the Threeboot debacle, weren’t you :-P

As a long time comics fan, it’s not so much change itself that gives me the eye-twitch, it’s the manner and nature of that change.

I think that, yes, you have to constantly update a character to keep him fresh not only for new readers, but for old ones as well. To me, the changes that are made are mostly in the ‘what in the world are they thinking’ category.

Legion is a good example: I loved theThreeboot era because, to me, it was a nice and useful update from the first era. The Legion as optimistic teen heroes. The dark, grim, dire universe Giffen created turned me off the second era of the book completely, and lost me totally after the five year downtime. The Threeboot was a significant change from the last 15-something years of Legion, and I liked it that change. Then what do they do for the last part of the Threeboot? Basically replicate that five-year-downtime disaster. “What were they thinking?”

Robin is another good example. Tim has been a perfectly acceptable Robin for many years now. Change in the book would be good; Tim has basically ‘graduated’ by now and he should be moving into his own ‘Nightwing’ era. It’s time for a new Robin. What do they give us? A psychopathic violent unlikeable little monster in Damien. What was the main reason Jason Todd (another classic example of WWTT) was allowed to die? He was simply unlikeable. He was a mistake, and they’re going to make it all over again. Again, “What were they thinking?”

I think Marvel has a fantastic idea with the quasi-elseworlds titles they do. Ultimates, Knights, Adventures, 616-continuity, etc; all those are good ideas and each serve a different audience. DC should probably think about something like that. I get the idea that the All-Star titles were suppossed to do that, but that idea just died a-borning due to editorial confusion or the simple inability to follow through.

If we’re going to ignore the previous continuity, maybe DC should just reboot the whole damn thing every 10-15 years. I mean, cancel everything and reboot every single title and character from scratch with new creative teams that have no connection to the past.

That’s where these incredibly pedantic, minutiae-driven series like Green Lantern: Rebirth come from.

*sputtering*

Green Lantern: Rebirth is a GREAT miniseries because it essentially transformed the past missteps into a decade length character arc, itself being the triumphant third act. “In the First Act, get the character up a tree. In the Second Act, throw rocks at him. In the Third Act, bring him down from the tree.”

Storytelling with stories–that’s the advantage to keeping your pen on the paper.

Comics are unique in that the same characters go on forever without aging. This makes the reboots necessary to keep them modern. Soap Operas go on forever, but actors get older forcing the characters to get older as well. Sometimes a character will be recast with a new actor for any number of reasons, but never to make the character younger, so reboots are not necessary. The soaps stay modern the same way we as real people stay modern. But since comic book characters either don’t age or, in the case of the sidekicks, age much slower than real people sometimes a reboot just has to be done.

With GL the way to go would be to just keep passing on the ring, like with John Stewart and later Kyle Raynor. However, eventually a new writer who prefers Hal jordan comes along and wants to write him as GL and the editors let him do the reboot. A shame, as Hal is the least interesting of all the Earth GLs.

I have to join the chorus that disagrees with the conclusions of the article. Continuity is part of the genre of superhero comic books. While writers may grouse about dealing with this aspect of the genre, fans, by and large, expect it. And publishers count on it to maintain sales and a consistent fan base.

I think the real reason that we are seeing endless reboots/remakes lately is simple: fear.

Reboots are safe in that they come with a built-in fan base and a recognizable “brand.” Fans tend to go to what they know– in both movies and comic books. How many “new” series and characters have caught on and become ‘iconic’ in the last 10 years? 20 years? 30 years? Thus, writers and publishers/producers often wrap new ideas in old garb in a “reboot” of an existing property: new Thor, extremis Iron Man, Star Trek 2.0, the many GL attempts, every Hawkman series in my lifetime, new school Battlestar Galactica, etc.

Ultimately, so long as the market demands the property they have “always known and loved” (even if it was never what they remember it to be), writers and publishers/producers will create product that meets that demand. The same old themes and characters will be “re-imagined” or given a “back to basics” to preserve the “original concept.”

For me, the solution is not less continuity but more willingness by fans to accept what was as in the past and allow the properties to grow and change over time. market demand to constantly trying to return to some never-existed “perfect” form of titles and characters is what motivates “reboots” these days.

I feel this way about the whole “who to blame” on the constant reboots.

Fans need to look no further than the mirror if they want to see who is to blame for reboots. If the reboots didn’t sell then the companies wouldn’t do them. Case closed.

If fans really respected and cared about the concept of continuity then those writers who actively indulge in the use and respect of continuity (Peter David, Dan Slott etc.) would be at the top of the charts. Marvel, DC, and any other comics company is a business at the end of the day. Their number one goal is to make money and stay afloat. We, the fans, control what will keep them afloat.

I refuse to believe that Marvel and DC are sitting in their boardrooms or whatever trying to think of ways to purposely piss off fans. That’s not even close to good business sense and its just not good common sense. Fans are buying the events, they’re buying the reboots, and they’re selling out writers who could give two craps about continuity.

We’re the problem. We’re to blame.

Devyn Rodriguez

May 26, 2009 at 3:42 pm

Things reboot because times change. Peoples change. That simple.

I think in regards to the question of Star Trek, you really have to look at it from the point of view of inception. The whole point of the movie, the hook, was what kind of adventures would the original crew, the most recognizable characters in the Star Trek cannon, take before they were THE ENTERPRISE CREW, still young and learning? It’s really a ‘what if?’ story, proposed by a writer that had no real connection to the Star Trek mythology. So assuming that conceit, is this a story that we know the ending to already, ala Star Wars Ep. 1, or can we add some drama and risk? In this case the writers decided to try and honor fans affinity for the previous continuity, while still wiping the slate clean for future adventures with the same characters. And having seen the movie, I think they did an admirable job doing that.

So that’s the long answer. The short answer is everybody likes Kirk, Bones and Spock, but no one wants to see 80 year-old’s shuffling around the bridge of the Enterprise. New crews, points in the continuity time line, and ships have had decreasing returns for 20+ years, and the last non-original series Trek movie only made 40 mil in it’s entire theatrical run. You want to do a new movie, featuring brand-new characters or characters that everyone’s already grown tired of, and you expect it to make enough money to even pay for itself? Doesn’t sound like a smart business plan to me. So what did Paramount have to lose by bringing in a creative director who’s been building buzz for the past few years, who has a story conceit that brings back the the characters that the most people have the strongest affinity for, in a hip, modern way? And it’s paid off. The new movie doubled the take that Nemesis made in it’s entire run in the first week.

And it really does have everything to do with the characters. If you don’t have Kirk and Spock and instead have Steve and Glork, who cares if it’s called Star Trek or not? You could rechristen the Millenium Falcon to Enterprise, but it don’t make Star Wars into Star Trek. In the end, stories are about characters, and serials are about additional stories involving those characters, regardless if they follow what came before or not. Continuity makes things more interesting, but it’s not required.

As far as why reboots to series’ like Green Lantern? I’m sorry, but GL as a character is just not that compelling. As contrast, let’s consider Batman. Batman is Batman because Batman is Batman. Bruce Wayne had an experience that transformed him into the character of Batman, and he rebuilt himself in that image. No one else can be Batman, which is why I find the whole “Battle for the Cowl” so ridiculous. Bruce Wayne is Batman, and the best Batman stories are those that explore why that is. The same could be said for his nemesis, The Joker. The best of what constitutes Joker stories are those that try to look at *why* the Joker is what he is(and the best part of that character is that there is no reason, he just *is*). Green Lantern? Not so much. He’s a pilot who finds the best crackerjack toy ever and for whatever reason joins a galactic police force. Is there a defining reason for him to be a Green Lantern? Not really, he just has the will power to be a pretty good one. So after you do some space adventures and you do some earth adventures where you explore the ring, what do you do? Well, since the character doesn’t really have any defining attributes that compel the story forward, you change direction, maybe put him in a different context, or give him some new obstacle he has to overcome. Which is just going to get stale again, so I guess it’s time for another change of direction. The problem is is that whoever wears the ring is just a cipher for the real star of the story, which is the ring.

And I think this gets to the real breakdown between the original question and the heart of the blog. Almost all of what’s mentioned in regard to Green Lantern is “new direction” type material. While the Star Trek question is a question about a “reboot”. And while you may not agree, they really are two different things. A “new direction” takes the existing story somewhere else (making the space adventurer a social worker, setting a new crew 100 years in the future), while a “reboot” tells the same story (Kid’s parents are murdered so he trains to fight crime, starship crew explores space) in a new way. The way I see it, a “new direction” is what you use to try and rehabilitate a failed (Green Lantern) or out-of-gas (Original Crew Star Trek) idea. A “reboot” is needed for characters that are too successful (Original Crew Star Trek, Batman film series’) and have outlived the previous generation or fan base, or for properties that have gone the route of “new direction” so many times that the only thing you can do at that point is to blow it up and start over (ala Green Lantern with Emerald Twilight).

Green Lantern isn’t a terrible idea, but until there’s a compelling reason to have one, I think this cycle is going to keep repeating as long as DC keeps digging it up.

Great article and very informative!

The best reboot/relaunch/reimaginging I’ve ever read is Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly’s “New X-Men”.

There was no One More Day version to bridge the gap between spandex X-Men to New X-Men. All Morrison did was have faith that readers were smart, intellectual and could keep up with the new developments he established in his first issue; the school becoming a school, the mutant baby boom, the human extinction gene, Beast turning from an ape into a cat. This is how to do a reboot – just assume that readers can fill in the gaps (provided you give them the tools) so that you don’t need to explain every little detail.

RADIATE!

I read GL Vol 2 in the mid-120′s up thru the end and then again with Vol 3 #45 – the 2nd Nero story in the 100′s then AGAIN with the new series from #1 onward.

Yes, I am a GL fan and always have been. The article is very compehensive and I appreciate the effort to document sucinctly over 60 years of comicdom. I don’t however agree with your conclusion that continuity doesn’t matter and I will use one of the examples you used to support that argument against it.

James Bond. No continuity you say? His boss is always named M, he works for MI-6, he’s British, he’s a MAN, his martinis are shaken, and, oh yeah “Bond. James Bond.” And that’s just off the top of my head. There is explicit continuity – Pussy Galore comes to mind, the new Q (in the movies at any rate) – BUT, and here’s what I think is most important, only elements that are essential are incorporated into the newer stories. Ian Flemming, and the movie writers, DON’T try to revisit what were old things and try to make them new. There is no 3rd Bond story with Blofield that treats him like a new villain that Bond has never seen before. Why? Because there is no reason to retred it when NEW IDEAS are used.

There is a problem with continuity but only when writers either throw it out entirely or are a slave to it. I have to say though that the Star Trek movie gave me a reason to accept the new continuity – and I was livid beforehand about a reboot. If you are going to reboot then just DO IT – make it new, make it different. Don’t half-ass it like DC has been doing or like Marvel wound up doing with Ultimate.

Longtime Green Lantern fan weighing in. Let’s keep in mind that the popularity of superhero comics runs in cycles. And Green Lantern is a lot like Flash. ( Which makes sense symbolically, since the 1950s relaunch of GL was based from the success of the Flash relaunch in the late 1950s.) When superheroes are in vogue, both books do REALLY well. When the genre loses steam, their sales follow suit.

Like the early 1970s: Interest in superheroes was way down. Carmine Infantino cancelled GL after seeing how much the book cost to print, and the number of dealer returns. He later said that the question, “Why did you cancel GL/GA?” was the one question he got asked most throughout the 70s. But by moving GL over as a co-feature in Flash, it increased Flash’s sales to the point that it survived a rocky decade. (Again, that Flash-GL synergy)

Also, since the late 1980s DC has been playing to an insular market that reacts strongest to “dramatic” changes, which explains why every 5 or so years there is a big shift in direction. Prior to that, Green Lantern was a very stable book. (So much so that their Executive Editor of the 1980s, Dick Giordano, once remarked that nothing they ever did affected Green Lantern’s sales, positive or negative – new direction, new writer, artist, etc.)

But once DC did their big Crisis, that changed everything. All these years later, events still sell better than good stories, and for that fact GL has gone through several revamps. And ironically enough, now Flash too, as its current revamp is based on the success of the recent GL relaunch.

My god, whatta load of crap, I can’t believe read it whole.

“My god, whatta load of crap, I can’t believe read it whole.”

Crap or not (and that’s VERY debatable ;) ) the thread seems to have gotten enough attention to get listed in the Main Page now.

Brian From Canada

May 26, 2009 at 7:31 pm

I have to disagree with Sekhem and Christopher here.

Star Trek’s relaunch had nothing to do with branding: it was exhausted. Next Gen to Enterprise, there were 18 years straight of Star Trek on television — a whole generation of viewers! — and that’s not including the 7 years of overlap that DS9 had.

And in those 18 years, there was bound to be a series of “closet” ideas to keep coming back to every time you needed to fill in an episode or two. Case in point? The Borg. Q. Each used way too often to have any real dramatic impact beyond the first episode — especially with Star Trek stuck in the rut of having to reset to the status quo at the end of the episode. If you don’t believe me, think back to all those post-original casts and ask yourself how many changes actually happened around them in the 7 years. Like for TNG, where you change doctors for a season, lose Wesley, move Geordi to engineering and… er… um…. (You see my point?)

Thus Nemesis was BOUND to earn less at the box office. Add to it a less-than-enthusiastic promotion from Paramount and the cast (it was basically a good-bye to Data because he was no longer realistic for the actor to play) and you compound the law of diminishing returns on Star Trek.

Whereas before — when Star Trek was making big box office numbers — there were just the movies. And far less competition for the blockbuster weekends.

But the trend was reversible. And this is where the real strength of the Green Lantern argument comes through — not with the amount of relaunches but how the relaunches were dealt with.

Like all characters in comics, the problem of exhaustion inevitably appears. After all, there’s only so many times you can fight the same villain before the stakes become meaningless. So you prevent that. You change the scenery; you change the prize; and, most importantly, you begin to up the ante. And, when that’s finished with, you can put the character away for a while and deal with others until another idea of those comes up.

Like Magneto. Morrison’s greatest strength on New X-Men wasn’t the jump in scenario, it was a change and removal of the biggest obstacles around. The Sentinels were different and Magneto was nowhere to be found (in fact, he’s assumed dead). Without the Sentinels, after arc one, the number of classic villains they had to face were dramatically reduced — and Apocalypse was assumed dead as well, making it one less. Suddenly X-Men seemed exciting because the status quo had been radically altered.

Green Lantern did the same thing. Kyle Rayner replaces Hal Jordan, and suddenly everything changes — his relationship with the other heroes, his relationship with the other villains, and the experience level with the ring. Like it or not, Marz was able to tilt the status quo enough to open up the avenues to explore.

BUT — and here’s the big but that comics have only partially learned — you can only do this IF the overall rules are kept the same. In other words, Kyle is only effective as the new Green Lantern IF the rest of the rules (like he has to wear the ring, he has to have the costume, etc.) remain the same.

Move this back into science fiction and you see it on TV. Doctor Who, which someone has already mentioned, didn’t reinvent the wheel all that much: from episode 1 of the new series the old rules are established — Doctor is time lord, TARDIS is bigger on the inside than the outside, he likes getting involved everywhen he goes, etc. If you’re a fan of the older series, you see the connections right away; if you’re a fan of the newer series, you can see the roots in the older ones when you see them. And the best part is that the success of the present series owes itself completely to its willingness to pick and choose which elements of the core it wants to represent.

That’s the positive aspect of brands. You can work with it and show it still works as a core concept.

And Battlestar Galactica went the other way. It took the basic concepts — human refugees escaping from Cylons to find Earth — and jettisoned the rest in order to establish itself as a brand new identity. It didn’t care to attract the fans of the original brand; in fact, for many it wasn’t THEIR Galactica anymore. (Reviewers who loved the series acknowledged this when seeing the original Cylons in Razor and dealing with the emotions of that.)

That’s the least positive aspect of brands: you can make something new out of it.

But too often we see brands being used negatively. The remakes of Bionic Woman and Knight Rider give evidence to that, as to the movie versions of TV series like Dukes Of Hazard and Starsky & Hutch. John Schneider rejected the movie version of Dukes because he felt that the representations were offensive compared to the intent of the original — and he’s right.

What Paramount did was to try and get Abrams to be very true to the original concept as they saw it because that way they could keep the money train going. What Paramount didn’t realize — and THIS is the real point Edo is asking — is that the previous series kept doing that, only with the truer concept of explorers representing the UFP in unexplored territory. What made TNG, DS9, Voyager and Enterprise fail was that they stopped being explorers and kept going back to the same old stories over and over again.

All it would have taken was a bold new idea to push the story forward and it would have worked. It was years between Die Hard 3 and 4 — but it worked. Indy 4 had a shitty idea and was rejected by many fans because of it.

(This is not a knock on the likability of Abrams’ Star Trek, because I did see it and thought it was a very nice homage to the original series and what it did.)

Bringing this all back to the article: in the case of Green Lantern, I think the real point of rehashing the reboots/retools/relaunches is that sometimes the core was returned to and sometimes the core was built upon and then sometimes it was just ignored… and each time it ran out of steam sales-wise for DC because it couldn’t find that right balance of core and new and sustain it for long.

It’s something all serial narratives have to deal with, especially comics. And we’ve all seen plenty of examples of the consequences of not learning this lesson.

BUT — and here’s the big but that comics have only partially learned — you can only do this IF the overall rules are kept the same.

The difference between comics and other media are the sheer number of stories. Between the the four series, there have 461 issues with someone named “Green Lantern” wielding a power ring. That is like twenty seasons of television. The Flash is over 500, which about doubles “Gunsmoke”.

Obviously, a given story-telling engine is only going to kick off so many stories. It then needs to be tweaked, or revamped, or rebooted. Each approach has its pluses and minuses.
1. Green Lantern/Green Arrow was a tweak, as was Indy 4. The central character was the same, but the supporting cast, setting and/or antagonists were changed.
2. Kyle Rayner and Star Trek: TNG were revamps. They kept the core concept and continuity, but changed everything else.
3. Hal Jordan and Battlestar Galactica were reboots. They ditched the continuity and reworked things from the basic concept.

Judging from the receptions of those properties, it really seems like #3 is the best way to go.

I find it pretty ridiculous that you want to skip the ‘rebirth’ minis to ‘get to the story’, as though those aren’t stories in their own right, good ones even. And the 6 issue rebirths are only being done with GL and Flash, 2 characters that are sorta tied together.

Judging from the receptions of those properties, it really seems like #3 is the best way to go.

I disagree. Tweaks and revamps are what established Ollie, John, Guy, Kyle, and the GLC as integral to Green Lantern, to say nothing of continuity-based additions like Cyborg-Superman and the Lost Lanterns. Had DC opted to reboot every time the title got stale, the character would be just another dime-a-dozen superhero. (Now THAT would be a handicap to the writers.)

Tweaks and revamps are indispensable tools for world building, and world building nowadays is imperative. Audiences have outgrown the 22-page superhero.

Trekkie: “I can’t believe about this Alternate timeline stuff they’re doing to Trek. It’ll ruin everything! Flushes out 40 years of continuity down the drain. I can’t even comprehend the magnitude of this.”

DC Fan: “Heh. Tell me about it.” (then reads Final Crisis)

Does the fact that Star Trek has been rebooted negate how good some of the stuff that came out of the previous continuity was? I don’t think so.

I really think (and as an aspiring writer myself I’m pretty big on continuity) that there is a lot of gas blowing and whining about these rebooting scenarios. I will forever associate The Borg with TNG. No reboot/revamp/tweak can ever change that. I will forever associate the Cardassians with DS9. No reboot/other associated names can ever change that. The stories are still there and they are still enjoyable regardless of whether they are part of some big scheme of continuity or not.

When I hear comments like these “I can’t believe about this Alternate timeline stuff they’re doing to Trek. It’ll ruin everything! Flushes out 40 years of continuity down the drain. I can’t even comprehend the magnitude of this” I honestly can’t help but to roll my eyes. Your stories are still there man. They’re still entertaining and they’re still enjoyable. No amount of reboots can take that away. So really the magnitude of it is really miniscule and not worth having bypass surgery for.

For instance, I love X-Men. Know the crazy ass continuity up and down. But if next year Marvel decided to start the X-Men from scratch with brand new characters I wouldn’t be munching nails. I’d just go with the flow and read the stories for what they are.

Continuity is a representation of reality and is needed to a degree in every type of fiction. But sometimes I think people get so wrapped up in making sure continuity is adhered to that they lose some sense of reality in the process. Irony at its best.

philfromgermany

May 27, 2009 at 5:25 am

While I enjoyed the well-researched GL article I think you take an easy way out blaming lackluster storylines on the fact that DC is strongarmed by continuity-obsessed nerds.
Just not factoring it in will not guarantee a good story by any means. And just how many times do you want to read about the Death of Aunt May anyways?

I don’t really get the example you use of Marvel. First off, Marvel Adventures Avengers is geared towards kids… like DC’s Tiny Titans, Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade or Superfriends. The Ultimates is like All-Star Batman and Robin or All-Star Superman. Marvel is JUST AS BAD about these things as DC is, if not worse. I don’t think those examples really backed up your statement.

“As a kid, Jordan came off as the Guardian’s bitch too often to me just from the covers.”

This is why you should open the comics sometime. One of Jordan’s defining traits (some would say his ONLY defining trait) was his blatant disrespect for authority towards the Guardians. Yeah, he was forever being dragged in front of the Guardians because he wasn’t doing something exactly the way they wanted him to, and he was forever telling them to shove it. If anything, that would be escapism for adults at its finest–who DOESN’T wish they could tell their boss off (and keep their job) whenever the boss comes to them with some complaint?

Also, @ Brent L.
“I refuse to believe that Marvel and DC are sitting in their boardrooms or whatever trying to think of ways to purposely piss off fans. That’s not even close to good business sense and its just not good common sense. Fans are buying the events, they’re buying the reboots, and they’re selling out writers who could give two craps about continuity.”

Can I put this in my signature on every comic book forum I visit? I feel like this is complete, total truth.

One Marvel example of reboot-itis springs to mind…… New Mutants

Let’s first ignore the fact that New Mutants was actually a reboot of the 1960s X-Men, focusing on the teen mutants at school.

New Mutants lasted 100 issues. After that, it morphed into X-Force. Same creators. Same basic team. Different direction. They basically became the Militant New Mutants.

X-Force, pre-XStatix run, lasted another 130 issues. In that time, the team abandoned their mutant army premise and shifted focus back to the characters who made up much of the core New Mutants cast.

In that same time period, the New Mutants / OG X-Men premise was rebooted yet again. This time as Generation X. The premise stayed the same, even though the locale shifted to Boston instead of NY. The costumes even returned to a variation of the original X-Men/New Mutants ones for a time. GenX lasted for 75 issues until it was canceled in 2001.

In that same time period, the GenX kids had a short time travel adventure in the “New Mutants: Truth or Dare” limited series and met up with the OG New Mutants kids.

Now, keep in mind that, even though the title had shifted names and directions in its 20 years, the whole New Mutants/X-Force premise and characters have had an almost uninterrupted run. So, for the longest period in those almost 20 years, the concept/title’s “death” actually stuck for almost 2 years.

The concept/title was relaunched YET AGAIN in 2003 as….. New Mutants. SHOCK!!!! Once again, the title shifted focus back to just the school kids. Several of the original New Mutants even took positions as teachers in this new book.

It only took 13 issues for the title get relaunched ONE MORE TIME as New X-Men: Academy X.

20 issues later, the title dropped the Academy X portion of the title and simply became New X-Men. The old school New Mutants took a back seat and the focus shifted from school stuff to action adventure.

New X-Men lasted 46 issues before it was… you guessed it…. RELAUNCHED as Young X-Men. Same basic premise. More or less the same team.

Young X-Men lasted 12 issues.

In that time, what was relaunched? X-FORCE. This time, the book went back to the militant X-Men concept. The book incorporated a couple of New Mutants (Warpath & Wolfsbane), a couple of New X-Men (X-23 & Elixir), an original X-Forcer (Domino), and everybody’s *cough* favorite X-Man (Wolverine.)

That title continues to today.

BUT WAIT!!! THERE’S MORE!!!

Just last month, the original New Mutants 80s cast reunited AGAIN in a relaunched book titled….. NEW MUTANTS.

Except for the 2 year period between 2001 & 2003, in 27 years, the concept & cast never really ever disappeared. It just bounced around from reboot to reboot. More than any other X-Book, New Mutants has been relaunched, reimagined, and rebooted.

I can’t imagine another Marvel book rebooted or reimagined as often. Maybe Avengers In the mutant kingdom, though, the New Mutants remain the reigning kings of relaunches.

BTW, there’s one reason why I consider the 1982 New Mutants run as a sort of reboot of the 1960s Lee/Kirby X-Men. After a handful of issues, the original teen X-Men book went into reprints and was eventually rebooted (sans renumbering) in the Giant-Size. That book totally shifted direction and cast. So, when New Mutants started up in 1982, the title was essentially picking up on the tone & concept of the original 60s book instead of the 70s one. It even took on the same costumes of that former era.

I don’t necessarily consider this whole thing as a trend to reboot the OG X-Men since it has been the New Mutants name, cast, & premise that has been bouncing around for almost 3 decades now. The OG X-Men just graduated into the Uncanny or OG X-Factor books.

I think I agree with Greg to some extent.

Take the new Trek. Rather than just say “We want to tell stories about the crew when they were younger” they do an incredibly dumb story involving the most boring villain in Trek history going back in time and killing Spock’s mom.

Christopher Nolan didn’t have Calendar Man go back in time and kill Batman’s parents…he just started over.

The Bond films didn’t have Blofeld go back in time and kill Bond’s mom..they just rebooted.

To me, having Hal Jordan as the Spectre was a wonderful idea…but authors seems to don’t know with the character whatever is incarnation is. Kyle Rainer, John Stewart and Guy Gardner as rotating cast for the main GL title fits perfectly for me also..I’ll never understood ‘old-schools’ readers : it have to be Hal Jordan to say : ‘give me the salt please ‘.

As a long time collector and fanboy, I personally find “murky” continuity – where we don’t know what is “canon” and what “never happened” – a big obstacle in enjoying new comics, and I hate ill-conceived retcons even more. I don’t mind having “canon” become “never happened” as long as there is a break in the story and a new story is started… at least then in the old story, which is completed and done, the original canon still stands. This is exactly what the new Star Trek movie has pulled off and the current Brand New Day is failing to do.

I know when I watch an old Star Trek, it takes place in the universe where Vulcan was never destroyed and if I watch a new Star Trek, it takes place in the universe where Kirk was raised without a father. The old Star Trek still “happened” and is still valid – that universe is just completed and done and a new universe with a new canon is moving forward. Fair enough.

However, if I don’t know what is “canon”, stories I cared about become meaningless. I would have much preferred they restart Spider-Man continuity and start fresh than to bring back Aunt May and Norman Osborn a decade or so ago and now render Peter and MJ’s marriage null and void. All those issues which I spent so much time and money acquiring feel sullied because I don’t know how they fit in these days. However, if they just ended Spider-Man and restarted it, I would be clear that in the old version, the Goblin died, and that is fine and dandy and it still happened and it still has impact because it hasn’t been nullified… the old story simply ended and a new version started.

Invalidating classic comics with sloppy ret-cons angers long time collectors. Thoughtless ret-cons are the true problem, not reboots in and of themselves. This is why I loved early Ultimate Spider-Man and hated regular Spider-Man since the Clone Saga. Bringing back Norman Osborn in regular continuity was a personal insult to me and all the other long-time readers, but I loved seeing him reimagined in the Ultimate universe. (His being alive in the Ultimate universe has no effect on my copies of ASM #121 & 122, after all).

That said, I will admit I did finally start reading Spider-Man again since Brand New Day, because Ultimate Spider-Man is being ransacked right now and I need my Spidey fix. And although the storytelling is pretty good and it feels fresh and new, the lack of explanations and half-assed continuity is starting to drive me batty.

Marvel should have either have said everything from the late-80s until One Last Day only happened in pre-Mephisto Spidey and not post-Mephisto Spidey, which I can live with, or immediately identified what has happened and what hasn’t and get on with it.

Instead, they drag out the resolution of post-Mephisto continuity and give me bits and pieces. I like that they explained how Harry is alive (although Goblim Serum = Immortality was lame, still is lame, and always will be lame), but everything else is so muddy that to me the new stories feel ladened with overwhelming inertia. I can’t look forward to what happens next because the gaping black hole behind me keeps dragging me back and distracting the hell out of me.

How did Spidey pull off the erasing of his secret id going public? The explanation with the recent story guest starring the FF only made me more confused. Instead of some cryptic half-answer, why not say “Well, pre-Mephisto Spidey revealed his ID, but post-Mephisto Spidey never did” – a clean break, a new story.

If MJ and Peter never married, how does that affect the Death of Kraven or the early Venom stories or even the fact that Pete stopped wearing the sewn version of the black costume that Felicia made for him? None of these things should be in my mind at all – because Marvel should just say “All that happened in pre-Mephisto Spidey… Post-Mephisto, it’s a new story”. Really make it a Brand New Day, jettison all the baggage of the past few decades, and only keep the classic foundation stories that set up the Spidey mythos and the other most loved stories – the early Stan Lee stories, the death of Capt Stacy and Gwen and Norman, the original Jackal story, the original Carrion story, the Death of Jean DeWolfe, the fight with the Juggernaut, the time Spidey took down Firelord singlehandedly, etc. Marvel could just state “For those who care, these are the issues that are still canon” and list them out – and then moved forward.

Then, it is a clean break. The stories that aren’t part of the canon anymore, like the Death of Harry Osborn, are still valid because they still happened, just pre-Mephisto, and that story ended and now we are reading a new story. Instead, they are ransacked and ret-conned and dragged along like an unwanted burden, insulting everyone involved and defeating the purpose of a Brand New Day.

Instead, in the shared universe some decides to make Norman Osborn the Marvel version of the post-crisis Lex Luthor because they are too lazy to come up with a new character and have to take an old, better-off-dead character, and make him into something he’s not. And since Spidey is a major part of the Marvel shared universe, we can’t just put Norman back in the grave, even though we had the perfect opportunity (just say Post-Mephisto, Goblin Serum does not equal immortality. If you want to have Harry still alive, say without the marriage to MJ, Peter had more time to get involved with Harry and saved him from going off the deep end).

I know I’m rambling. Sorry. Point is, a reboot is fine if it is a true reboot. Retcons are fine if they make sense and are well thought out and tell a good story/fix a bad story (such as Green Lantern Rebirth or even erasing Ned Leeds as the original Hobgoblin, which never made sense – a terrible character like Kingsley as Hobby is still better than Ned Leeds which made no sense at all). But half-assing either is just drags everything down – and therefore retcons and reboots should be used sparingly, be well expressed, exceedingly clear, and done quickly.

And some characters are truly better off dead – Gwen Stacy. Norman Osborn. Barry Allen. Jason Todd. Especially Jason Todd.

Another great column, Greg. Thanks!

As someone who’s always been a GL fan but hadn’t regularly bought the comic for a long time, I have to say that this rebirth-of-Hal era is really working for me. Ever since shortly before the Sinestro Corps War, I’ve been buying and enjoying both GL and Green Lantern Corps. (GLC writer Peter Tomasi and artist Patrick Gleason deserve some credit here too.)

It’s not that I love Hal Jordan so much — if pressed to pick a preferred protagonist, I’d probably opt for Kyle, then a tie between Hal and John Stewart (although my fave Lanterns are two non-humans, Kilowog and Mogo). The reason the two titles are working so well right now (and their sales are way up, which shows that lots of people are loving them) (although I’ll surely admit that high sales don’t necessarily mean good comics!) is because Geoff Johns has such a fulfilling long-term plan for the series. He’s folding in all sorts of past elements into one bigger canvas. From Sinestro to Carol/Star Sapphire to the Lost Lanterns to his use of Ysmault (greatly expanding Alan Moore’s bizarre little short story, tying it into Hal’s origin and making it home of the Red Lanterns), it’s all clicking. I’m thoroughly on board for the War of Light and the “rainbow corps.” (Though I do wish he’d have had the good sense to ignore the tertiary indigo, which is not a distinct color in the spectrum, no matter what Roy G. Biv has to say about it.)

Anyway, I guess continuity matters — if it can be used in enriching ways. Johns himself recently told a panel at a recent comic-con that he felt Hal Jordan was so important because he has all this history with these various characters that can be developed and exploited into more stories; Kyle didn’t really have that. Agree or disagree, but he has a point. Kyle probably would’ve had a much longer-term run as “the” Green Lantern of Earth if the editors (or writers or whomever) hadn’t also jettisoned everything else about GL mythos. For me, the drastic switch meant that I never bought Kyle’s solo title until much later, after Grant Morrison had sold me on the character in JLA and when Judd Winick (I know, I know) started writing GL. (To be fair, Winick turned out some good GL comics then. When was that, about 8 years ago? Among other things, he had the good sense to restore John Stewart and Jade to their former fully-abled, full-powered selves. In other words, Winick started rectifying some of the mistakes of the ’90s.)

Meanwhile, to offer another answer to your primary question about why successful properties keep experiencing reboots/revamps/etc. (I think there are clearly several different reasons): Sometimes I think it’s an ego thing — ie, a writer (usually one with a bigger following) just insists on putting his stamp on a title. This is often an ill-advised move, as it results in throwing out the baby with the bathwater. My prime example is what John Byrne did to Wonder Woman, which was to make her change cities and introduce an entirely new supporting cast. No more Steve, Etta, Julia, Vanessa, etc. I think those sorts of wholesale changes are often just stupid, as it results in alienating existing readers, and I’m not sure why editors let writers get away with it.

And some characters are truly better off dead – Gwen Stacy. Norman Osborn. Barry Allen. Jason Todd. Especially Jason Todd.

Disagree with all except Norman Osborn. Jason Todd had potential but DC’s editorial and writing staff were too inept to pull off what had a promising start. Over at Marvel where they are better run and stocked with better talent they made Bucky’s resurrection work. It’s not the character, it’s the talent.

Nah, I’m with JoeMac. Barry Allen and Jason Todd were far better characters dead then they ever were alive.

@SageShini: Man feel free to put that as your sig because I feel it is truth too.

People complain about writers like Bendis, etc. because they crap on the characters they love. Yet, they can tell you in detail what happened in every issue he’s written of New Avengers.

I don’t like what’s Bendis done with The Avengers and you know what? I can’t tell you what has happened in New Avengers in any detail since issue 11. Why? BECAUSE I STOPPED READING IT.

The same folks complaining about reboots seem to have intimate knowledge of the various reboots and the details behind them. That tells me that they must have been reading the various reboots. I don’t read what I don’t like and I don’t buy it. Point blank. Stop bellyaching and do something of real substance to make change.

Again, fans buy it. So it will continue to be what is put out there.

(His being alive in the Ultimate universe has no effect on my copies of ASM #121 & 122, after all).

Neither does his being alive in the “main” universe, unless Howard Mackie or whoever broke into your house and scribbled all over your back issues.

Barry Allen is the template for the Flash concept. The idea that he is “better off dead” only works if you feel it necessary to transfer his costume, villains, associations and family to another character, who will essentially be all the things Barry was/is.

Worked really well doing that with his sidekick (Wally) in recent years, but it’s a finite story. Which brings us to another…revamp!

@Bill Reed: Of course Norman being alive in the “main” universe does affect ASM #121 & 122. It takes a great story and waters it down. Just like ASM #400 is tarnished by bring back Aunt May, and “Death in the Family” is tarnished by bringing back Jason Todd.

Yes, on their own these are all still good stories, but their impact on the characters involved and the depth of the emotion captured within the larger character and story arcs is mitigated by the retcons. IMHO.

I do admit, though, even though I gripe about murky continuity, I still read the books. Sometimes good stories can come out of unintelligible continuity, or at least I keep hoping they will.

@T: Although I haven’t been reading Cap, I been hearing great things about bring back Bucky. And they killed off Steve after they brought Bucky back, so it fits to me. But bringing back the Post-Crisis (aka “douche-baggy”)Jason Todd with the punch of Superboy-Prime? Invalidating Batman’s greatest failure, a huge touchstone for his characterization and a major piece of mythos, for what? To have a ‘bad’ Robin/Batman wannabe running around? Just seems unbalanced and ill conceived to me.

Howerver, your point that a lack of talent is behind the poorness of Todd’s return is a valid point. I could think of much more compelling ways to bring him back, ways that would have made more sense and had greater impact on Batman and reinforced the concept that as incredible as Bruce Wayne is, he is still human and still makes mistakes and must be more vigilant than any other hero (which is the entire point behind the death of Jason Todd).

I would propose something happens that makes Batman more and more obsessed with Todd’s death (maybe a near-miss with Drake). He pulls out all his resources and contacts both mystic and scientific and somehow clones Drake’s body and puts his soul back into it, effectively resurrecting him. But he wakes up angry that he’s been pulled from Paradise or what have you, and turns against Batman (he always was a crybaby little bastard after all). This is still super-heroish and impossible in reality but not a cop out like a ‘super-punch’. (It is an actual plot, not a plot device). This reinforces that Batman is human and makes mistakes. This reinforces that Batman, despite all his logic and coldness and badassness, still is driven by remorse and emotional-neediness (“I miss my mommy and daddy!”). It is in alignment with the overall Batman mythos, it does not invalidate “A Death in the Family” since Todd still died! but was later resurrected through tremendous effort (basically, no retcon – a new story instead). And we still get a new foe out of it and plenty of story potential. And I’m just a hack fanboy positing an idea off the top of my head.

(And if I was an editor I would say “NO” – There has to be a better reason to bring back Todd than just because you want a ready-made antagonist)

A professional writer never should have stooped to ‘super-punches’ or whatever crap that was.

And some characters are truly better off dead – Gwen Stacy. Norman Osborn. Barry Allen. Jason Todd. Especially Jason Todd.

It strikes me that each of those characters was, at best, “comic book” in the worst sense of the word during their first tour of duty. They had one (or maybe two) dimensions and were extremely predictable:
- Gwen Stacey was the classic “manic pixie dream girl”, who enters the dull existence of a nebbish and transforms it.
- Norman Osborn was a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde knock-off.
- Barry Allen was the classic ’50s “noble scientist”.
- Jason Todd was the classic ’80s Bad Boy. You know, like Judd Nelson in “The Breakfast Club”.

None of them were much more than symbols to begin with, so they were actually more effective in their roles while dead. Peter could never find a girl as lively as Gwen. Norman haunted his son Harry. Wally couldn’t possibly live up to the standard Barry set. Bruce wished that he could’ve been a better mentor to Jason.

Bringing them back forces the writers to attempt to tell new stories with them. New stories mean trying something unexpected. Almost by definition, it is impossible for those characters to do that and remain in character.

[...] muchos otros personajes y movidas editoriales similares. Recomendadisimo Why All the Reboots? http://goodcomics.comicbookresources…different-day/ [...]

- Gwen Stacey was the classic “manic pixie dream girl”, who enters the dull existence of a nebbish and transforms it.

No she wasn’t. Not at all. That was Mary Jane if anything. Nothing was quirky or offbeat about Gwen, she was a straitlaced science student.

Norman Osborn was a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde knock-off.
- Barry Allen was the classic ’50s “noble scientist”.
- Jason Todd was the classic ’80s Bad Boy. You know, like Judd Nelson in “The Breakfast Club”.

None of them were much more than symbols to begin with, so they were actually more effective in their roles while dead.

Honestly, this simplicity applies to almost every major superhero comic character. I wouldn’t say it’s a weakness. You can do it for everyone if you want:
- Spider-Man is a Holden Caufield coming-of-age knockoff
- Hulk is a Jeckyll and Hyde
- Human Torch is a sterotypical bad boy teen heartthrob
- old Lex Luthor is just stereotypical mad scientist
- new Lex is stereotypical sinister mastermind
- Superman is classic “noble square jawed” hero

And so on and so on…

And still the only good reason I can think of for bringing Barry Allen back is so that Wally and Iris can finally see him for the dick he was, and then not idolize his memory when he dies again…which I hope happens soon!

Whether one likes the Green Lantern or not, he must be a compelling enough character to have stood the test of time, in all of the various incarnations. Now I wish I had asked my grandfather (Mart Nodell) his thoughts on the more modern versions when I had the chance!!!

Thanks so much for a great article Greg and for all of the thoughtfully stated comments everyone! This was definitely a fun read!

Bringing Barry Allen back makes little sense to me as well, just given that 20+ years have gone by, and everything that was unique to Barry Allen is identified with Wally West by modern comic readers. This amounts to a big jolt of culture shock for them.

Now, a reboot a la the Bond films or All-Star Superman – that’d be the place to start again with a fresh take on Flash/Barry Allen. Conceptually he’s a very strong starting point, as Darwyn Cooke showed so well in DC The New Frontier. He or Kurt Busiek would be ideal writers for such a project. I’d be more excited by that than the recently-resurrected-after-20-years take.

[...] Greg Hatcher tackles that very question using DC’s Green Lantern as an example. It’s a pretty in-depth look at the publishing history of the character and well worth a read. [...]

I”ve just picked up my GL collection and have been reading through it. I have spotty issues from 1 through 47, then I have Emerald Twilight in trade. Then most of Marz run on GL. GL before emerald twilight was pretty bad. Hal, Guy, Gnort, Mosaic, John, Carol coming back. All just weak. Weak plots, weak characters. Emerald Twilight was just about the best thing about issues 1-50. Unfortunately, it’s just about the only thing I enjoyed from Marz. I know he tried to turn GL into a more character driven comic but it would have helped if he knew how to write interesting characters. All the angst ridden soul searching he brought to the character was just so ham-fisted. re-reading now that I”m older, I find that Kyle is pretty much just a self-absorbed, sexist asshole that I don’t remotely like as a character anymore. Past issue 98 or so, the series picks up again, thanks to improved art and less focus on Kyle, and I remember enjoying the ion issues and the new uniform he gets around that time. But seriously, most of Marz run makes me hate Kyle as a character and I”m having a hard time getting around that now. I mean, he has Kyle destroy a giant boat full of weapons AFTER he’s already arrested all the criminals and then flies off for a date, leaving the non-superpowered authorities to salvage a massive tanker in the middle of a busy harbor in New York. Why would he do that? Sigh. Here’s to hoping I like GL again once I get to the Johns trades. But reading this article, it’s nice to know that GL as a franchise has had a spotty history all around. And to be reminded that where I really ever liked Kyle was as he was written in JLA.

My 2 cents.

[...] other Green Lantern news, Comics Should Be Good! has posted a study of franchise reboots — old hat in comics, but now a major force in [...]

[...] there have been many Green Lanterns over the years. There’s a lengthy summary here. Hal Jordan, though, first showed up in Showcase #22 (October 1959) and is generally considered the [...]

Leave a Comment

 

Categories

Review Copies

Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.

Browse the Archives