DCnU: Threat or Menace?

In the past several weeks DC has been ruling comic book news with the  revelation that following Flashpoint all of their titles will be  cancelled, replaced with 52 new ongoing series all starting with new  #1’s.  Matt and I have been pretty quiet on this so far, but I think I can sum up my  feelings pretty easily:

No sir, I don’t think I like it.

It’s not just the fear of a new retcon.  I started reading comics  shortly after Crisis on Infinite Earths, so the post-Crisis  universe has been “my” DCU, but I’ve gone more or less willingly  through other revamps like Zero Hour and the Infinite and Final  Crises.  It’s not  just being an old stick-in-the-mud, attached to “my” universe and  unwilling to give up any variation from that (although certainly that  is a part of it), it’s that I don’t see the necessity.

For so long we’ve been trying to convince the world that “Bang! Pow!  Comics aren’t just for kids anymore!”  Well it’s worked, and now  nobody believes comics aren’t for dudes in their thirties.  Guys who  have lived with the continuity for decades and are happy with it.  We’re having to BEG kids to come read comics and bribe them with Free Comic Book Days.

For a moment let’s accept the premise that nobody cares about the  established continuity and there are potential readers just waiting for the prime jumping-on point.  DC is launching their new universe* with 52  brand new titles!  No one (other than a few of those aforementioned  30-somethings) has been waiting all this time to get into comics just to start picking up 52 new books.  So we’re negating  the very premise right off the bat.  And with trade paperback programs  it’s never been easier to get caught up to speed on a title, so is DC  building a straw man argument to justify ripping apart the foundations  of the DCU?  Add in to that some of these titles, while sounding  interesting, can’t possibly last more than 13 issues.  Justice League  Dark?  Demon Knights?  Deadman?  Not a chance.

DC (and Geoff Johns in particular) has ALREADY spent the last 5 years  trying to retcon the DCU into the place they remember from their  childhoods.  To wit: Supergirl and Superboy, Krypto, Batman catching  his parents’ killer, the returns of Barry Allen and Hal Jordan, and the  end of secret identities**.  Mark Waid had a totally valid reason for  opening that door,  but it didn’t take much for Geoff Johns to stick his foot in there and  build a universe around it.  In fact, Johns’ hard-on for the  Superfriends and 80’s eras of the Justice League (the hands-down worst  era in modern times for storytelling and good ideas) is returning the  DCU to a one of the WORST periods in DC history and stifling progress, even as it returns the DCU to one of HIS favorite times.  Hey, that’s just me, though.  I have different affections than Johns.  But it just proves that there’s no perfect, ideal, one size fits all DCU.

Practically, screwing with the timeline can only work for so long.  If you’ll  recall, after the Crisis on Infinite Earths relaunch Superman and Wonder Woman were new arrivals,  although Batman, Flash, etc still had an established history.  Then there was the confusion with the Justice League (Was it a new group?  Old?  Who was the founding female member?) and the lines got so indecipherable that  the only way to solve the problem was to drift further and further back to original continuity.  And yet DC doesn’t  appear to have learned that lesson AT ALL, as all three of those examples  will be new to the DCU again***.  Batman, Flash, and GL are all still established****, the JLA will be a new team (and the first in DC continuity…who knows what that will mean for the JSA and the Golden Agers), Superman gets one current title and one set five years in the past.  I’m lost already!  No way does this not become a mess 2 years in.

It’s not that I don’t see benefits.  First and foremost, DC is trying something new.  That’s got to be lauded.  Then there are lines like the Super- and Bat-books that have gotten so bloated it’s hard to tell what one title offers versus another.*****  We’re also seeing the return of titles like Resurrection Man, Stormwatch, and Legion Lost (if you’re into such things), which is pretty exciting.  There’s real opportunity here.

But more than anything, it feels like DC has painted themselves into a corner after years of short-sighted storytelling.  It’s gotten so messy they can’t “One Year Later” changes into place, they’re having to magically “Brand New Day” it back into cohesiveness.  It’s as if this were the only possible solution to get back to the status quo after Batman, Inc and Superman’s marriage, and obviously Marvel owns the rights to Mephisto.

One of the things that made Marvel significant in the 60’s was  creating one coherent universe where any of their characters could and  did interact with another, and that was the default mode for  developing superhero universes for the last 50 years.  But maybe what  we’re seeing here is the end of continuity and a move to storytelling where each story stands on it’s  own.

All this said, let’s look back on my comments from a couple weeks back.  I  suspect that this isn’t an attempt to retcon a new CONTINUITY, it’s an  attempt to build a new CANON.  With all of DC’s titles starting from  issue 1, they have the rare opportunity to scrap what doesn’t work,  keep what does, and then declare from this point on, they are staying  true to the key concepts of each character without having to fight with the continuity of every story.  It’s the core of the
character that’s key and they want to keep drawing in new readers  without burdening them down with 60 years of stories or hundreds of  issues that may or may not matter.

No sir, I don’t think I like it.

Grudgingly, I admit this is a valid approach. And they are DC’s  characters, not mine.  But continuity is part of what we love, even if  it can be a burden to creators, new readers, and even us readers.  Yes, I want  everything to fit, but it’s not a deal-breaker.  When the line I’ve followed faithfully is gone, when those characters aren’t the same, it  doesn’t mean that those stories no longer exist or aren’t valid, but it  does mean the characters we’ve spent so much time with AREN’T THE SAME  CHARACTERS.

The other day I asked if continuity was just trivia, keeping us from  great stories.  Well, the answer is no.  Those details are characterization, and they’re exactly why we’ve followed these characters for months or  years or (in my case) decades.

Stay tuned next week for Part Three, in which we look at the news and  rumors for the DCNu line and make rampant speculations and  ill-informed inferences like everyone else on the Internet.

*Not New Universe.  That was different.
** The idea that everyone knows Bruce Wayne is Batman (and refers to  him as Bruce in the field as if they’re all best friends!) infuriates me more than anything in comics over the past 20 years.
*** I may be the only one who remembers this, but especially shocking  after the first Crisis was the change they put Brainiac through.  They  just made him a Coluan with mental powers.  That didn’t last long…
****Good luck explaining Blackest Night and the New Guardians without the Justice League and all of the established heroes.


***** Almost as bad as Marvel’s Avengers books.