This week, the GeekNation Pull List is going to take a bit of a different approach. Instead of reviewing this week’s releases, we’re going to examine a facet of the current comic book industry and editorialize it a little bit. So, for segments like this, it seemed appropriate to only call it one thing: the “Letters Page.” In comics, the letters pages in the back of individual issues would be an area where fans would directly interact with the creative people responsible for putting out whichever comics they like reading, from writers and artists, to editors and marketers. It would also be a place where certain people responsible for the creation of comics can talk a bit about what’s important to them in the scheme of what they do, and provide a little insight into the process of making the book that readers would hold in their hands.
While letters pages have dwindled in recent years, they are starting to make a partial comeback. So in that vein, I thought it might be fun to examine the recent success of what might be the most popular creative device being used in storytelling media at the moment: the “reboot.”
Reboots Are Everywhere
It’s pretty plain to see that whether you go into a comic shop like clockwork every Wednesday, or head into a movie theater for every big blockbuster, reboots seem to be very popular. While the reboot in its conception has been around in comics for a long time, on the silver screen it was a comic book character that largely popularized it. After the release of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, we’ve seen reboots on a wide variety of different cinematic properties like the James Bond film series, The Pink Panther, Halloween, The Incredible Hulk, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, Total Recall, The Amazing Spider-Man, Man of Steel, Evil Dead, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles…I think you can see the point.
But massive cross-scale reboots have been a mainstay in comics for a while. Whether you want to talk about DC Comics’ maxi-series Crisis on Infinite Earths from 1985, Marvel’s “Ultimate” line, the aforementioned Ninja Turtles, or even individual properties like the oft-rebooted Legion of Super-Heroes, it was basically comic book storytelling that first told people that a previously restrictive continuity can simply be cast off in order to make something new. In a weird way, though, it appears comic book storytelling may have learned its latest lesson in reboots from Hollywood, who first learned their lesson from comic books (weird, huh?). Both DC Comics and Marvel both instituted massive line-wide changes to their ongoing comic book universes within the last few years, and both have had enough time in publication that it may warrant a comparison. So, let’s evaluate DC Comics’ 2011 “New 52” initiative with a similar but different one, 2012’s “Marvel NOW!”
“The New 52”
Announced in June of 2011, DC Comics’ “New 52” initiative was initially pretty shocking for comics fans to accept. All of the long-running DC Comics superhero titles that were still active, including series like Action Comics (which had recently hit its milestone 900th issue) and Detective Comics (which wasn’t far behind Action) would be cancelled, and restarted the following month at issue #1 with a new continuity. That continuity was provided by the Geoff Johns-written and Andy Kubert-illustrated Flashpoint. In that series, the Flash’s arch-nemesis Professor Zoom, also known as the Reverse-Flash, had gone back in time and deliberately changed the course of history in incalculable ways to result in a twisted new reality: a new primary reality. This wasn’t an alternate dimension or another Earth, the Reverse-Flash had made his changes on the primary Earth of the DC Universe, resulting in a world where Bruce Wayne had died instead of his parents, where Kal-El has been a prisoner of the U.S. government since he crash landed in Metropolis, and where Atlantis and Themyscira’s near-war tensions resulted in a failed marriage between Queen Diana (Wonder Woman) and King Orin (Aquaman).
In the climax of Flashpoint, Barry Allen does what he can to try and go back through time and fix as much of what Reverse-Flash had changed as he could. The problem was that he changed so much so quickly that Barry couldn’t possibly set every incongruence right. He changed as much back as he could, but with many changes still having taken place, the result of his labor to set things right resulted in a new continuity for the DC Universe: the one in which the stories of the New 52 take place.
Now that we’re three years in, it becomes a bit easier to dissect the successes and failures of the company’s reboot, and I think you can generally call the overall success of the initiative “mixed.” The number “52” in “New 52” comes from the creation of 52 brand new series to replace those that had been canceled. Some of the series were simple restarts of established series (like Batman, Action Comics, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern), while others were either entirely new, or new volumes of series we hadn’t seen in years (like Resurrection Man, All-Star Western, Justice League International, or The Fury of Firestorm). Out of the 52 launch titles, only 21 of them remain in publication as of today. There have been several new “waves” to shore up the number of active DC Universe titles, but it’s clear to see that the First Wave of new books either didn’t catch on or simply didn’t sell well enough. That’s not to say that there aren’t good titles from the New 52, because when DC’s on, it’s really on. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman, Grant Morrison and Rags Moralses’ run on Action Comics, Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman, Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis’ Aquaman, and Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man were excellent titles, and the vast majority of them are still in publication today (albeit with new creative teams in some cases).
So…how did Marvel do?
Over at the “House of Ideas,” Marvel took a fundamentally different approach to the rebranding of their titles. Where DC cancelled everything en masse and recruited new creative teams and concepts for many of their existing titles. “Marvel NOW!” spun out of the massive Avengers vs. X-Men event, or AvX, which ended with the death of Professor X and the new idea that the heroes of the world need to unite in order to preserve both themselves and the world around them. Marvel NOW! was not a blanket change to the continuity: it’s still the same Marvel Universe it’s always been, but the change in many of the characters’ respective status quos allowed creators to give established characters new costumes, new supporting casts, and even new creative teams and titles. Captain America, who’s basically had roughly the same costume since the mid-1940s, now has a more modern design influenced in no small way by his outfit from The Avengers film, Iron Man created a new suit of armor, and many of the X-Men adopted new looks to reflect the somber aftermath of AvX.
Similarly to the “New 52,” though, (and perhaps in reaction to it) Marvel used this opportunity to fundamentally shake up both the longstanding character aesthetics as well as the creative direction of both major and mid-level book alike. Writer Ed Brubaker had just finished his seminal run on Captain America a few months beforehand, and new Marvel standard-bearer Rick Remender took his place, along with the writer also launching the flagship “Marvel NOW!” book: Uncanny Avengers, a union of Avengers and X-Men into one team that takes on threats from both of those sides in the Marvel Universe.
Also receiving new creative direction was Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, the main Avengers team, and the X-Men. Longtime Avengers writer Brian Michael Bendis concluded his journey with “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” and, without missing a beat, made the transition into being the primary storyteller for the X-Men.
Overall, from a creative perspective, I’d say that Marvel has had greater success right out of the gate when it came to their overall shake-up, because many of their titles felt like they were more important to the tapestry of the Marvel Universe, particularly the Avengers title and the All-New X-Men book. They also used the new publicity to go in some fundamentally new directions for some major characters, most notably Spider-Man, as Peter Parker was apparently killed while Doctor Octopus commandeered his body and became The Superior Spider-Man.
How are the Books Now?
While Marvel may have had greater success out of the gate, DC is starting to get their ducks in a row with the new status quo by showcasing the characters in prominent, well-executed stories. The first major crossover event series of the “New 52,” Forever Evil, was reviewed very positively here at the Pull List. Marvel’s not a pushover though, either, as series like Uncanny Avengers and Original Sin have kept the cream of the crop on their side in very good standing, though both companies have had their fair share of cancellations and “re-relaunches” (like Daredevil and Hulk at Marvel, and Teen Titans and Suicide Squad at DC).
Will “The New 52” and “Marvel NOW!” be seen as pivotal creative shake-ups in the history of both companies? The “New 52” certainly has more potential to be viewed as such, since it was such a fundamental alteration to the DC Universe at-large, but it’s still possible for “Marvel NOW!” as well.
The bottom line is that it’s a good time to be a comic book fan, and no matter where or how you decide to jump in, chances are you’ll find something worthy of your hard-earned money on both sides of the superhero-publishing world.
Call for Questions
Do you have a comic book related question that you’d like to see answered in a future Letters Page? Shoot an email to email@example.com, and it could happen next week!
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