I love comics. I’m a huge fan of both Marvel and DC characters, as they fill different storytelling needs I may crave at any given moment. If I want more character-driven drama I look to Marvel. When I feel like just watching super people beat the snot out of each other while looking badass, I go to DC.
Except for lately. Both companies have been really hit or miss for a while now, particularly in the past few years.
With Marvel, we have event after event that just ends up not meaning much or having any lasting consequences in the long run. Often they’re not even finished with one event before they’re already hyping the next. That’s not even counting the deaths, which mean absolutely nothing at this point because everyone knows it’s not going to last more than a few months at most (DC does this too). It’s exhausting, pointless, and by Fear Itself I’d completely lost interest and stopped bothering to follow much of anything… except for Amazing Spidey, but then they went and did it there too. Don’t get me wrong, they do have some solid books. I love Waid’s Daredevil. I was totally on board for Slott’s ASM until this whole Superior thing happened, and while I read the first few issues and understand where Slott was going with it, I just didn’t care much.
The movies are awesome. All of the MCU movies have been just pure joy for me, even the ones that didn’t execute as well as they could have. *cough*IronMan2*cough*. I’m thrilled that Whedon pulled off Avengers as well as he did and that it became a redonkulous success. They deserved a big win. It was an amazing accomplishment. The problem, now, is that Marvel is trying so hard to bank on that that it’s affecting, in my opinion, all their books. How many Avengers teams are there now? How many members? Why is being an Avenger special if EVERYONE is an Avenger?
Now they’re doing their Marvel Now! thing, which they insist isn’t a reboot, and that’s fine. But let’s be honest: it really is only going to be same crap, different day in the end. There’ll be big events back to back to back. People will die, only to be brought back in a few months. Nothing will really change.
Yep, New 52. Pretty much says it all for most fans. I have to admit when they first announced it I was completely on board. I loved the concept and I was ready for them to make a change and make things fresh again. I bought just about all 52 first issues, and followed at least a majority of them for their first story arcs. Wonder Woman was great. Batman was amazing. Green Lantern was virtually the same as it’s always been. But something became apparent very early: they, as a company, had no freaking idea what they were doing. They had no long term plan. They didn’t think things through. A reboot like they were talking about is something that has to be meticulously planned, mapped out, and then replanned. You need to know EXACTLY how the timeline works for everyone. Especially with the half-assed way they cherry picked continuity because they were too afraid to pull the trigger on a full reboot. As a result we got an even bigger mess than what we started with, and books like Batman and Green Lantern (whose continuity was basically untouched) adopted problems because now 40+ years worth of stories were expected to be fit into 5 years of continuity. That means Bruce was running through Robins faster than a fat kid goes through gummy bears. Then there’s Superman, who needed a solid reboot more than anyone else. They can’t get a decent foundation for that character for anything, which is sad because Superman is THE superhero. But everything they’ve done with him solo has just been a hot mess. I’m really hoping that Snyder/Lee can pull off a good book because Superman deserves one, and I desperately want one.
This is entirely subjective. It’s just my opinion. But this is so freaking obvious to me, and it has been for years, that I’m amazed that the “big two” hasn’t realized it yet. Marvel has already set the stage for how they can fix a lot of this mess, but even there I don’t think they fully grasp just what they have.
I’m referring to the Ultimate line of books.
I love the Ultimate Universe. That’s not to say that I think it’s solid gold all the time or that I’ve loved everything they’ve done. Far from it. I love it because everything matters. They have fresh takes on the characters and storylines we all love. Some work. Some don’t. But everything matters. Everything they’ve done, regardless in what book, has a lasting consequence for everything else. It is very much a shared universe. Peter Parker dies (in a very beautifully written way, I might add). Two years later and he’s still dead. There’s a new Spidey and I love reading him as much as I did Peter. It’s just a well written story. Reed Richards….well I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t been following, but they do a complete 180 with his character. It was unexpected, creative, and I loved it.
There are no reboots. Events actually have weight and consequence. Deaths stick and have meaning. This is they way comics should be, because I actually care. Even when the story itself is utter crap *cough*Ultimatum*cough* I still care because what happens will have lasting repercussions, and ten years worth of continuity without a ton of reboots is a hell of a lot easier to get into and follow than 40+ years of whacked out resetting.
DC has set the stage for the same damn thing with the Multiverse but they haven’t utilized it the way they could/should probably out of some stupid schoolyard bullcrap of not wanting to follow suit on what the other company is doing that works. They do the same thing with the movies and it’s shot them in the foot. I find all of this hilarious since both companies have been blatantly ripping off each other’s character ideas since the beginning, but now when it matters, they refuse. Instead of doing a half-assed not-quite-reboot with the New 52, they could have trimmed off 4-5 of the 15 Bat books, books that aren’t selling well, etc. and just started doing their own “Ultimate” DC universe set in one of the other 52 Earths. New versions of the characters. New Stories. Fresh takes. Relevant issues. No reboot required.
But they didn’t. Instead they made a bad situation much worse.
This is going to be controversial, and many fans, particularly old-school comic fans, will probably call me a moron. But this is my answer to the constant rebooting, meaningless deaths, and pointless events- A 30 year continuity for each “generation”. Period.
15 years in you introduce an “alternate” universe (think Marvel’s Ultimate Universe, for example). At the end of the 30 year time frame you phase out the “main” universe, the former “alternate” universe becomes the main, and a new alternate universe is introduced.
This accomplishes a few things:
- Each generation gets a fresh take on the characters. They become “their” versions of the character. This allows both companies to make sure their characters, stories, etc. all remain relevant and tailored to new audiences each generation without having to do silly reboots or death/resurrections. They’d still have the archives of past “generations” or Earths, or whatever that readers could go back and read to get alternate takes.
- Everything matters. Deaths are permanent. Events have consequence. There’s no rebooting or backtracking two months later. Readers will be invested in the characters and stories being told.
- Good storytelling and creativity becomes the focus. When everything matters quality control will have to be much more stringent. Crap that gets through now does so because if it doesn’t work it doesn’t matter. They’ll just retcon it or whatever later. In this way editors, writers, artists, etc. will have to be much more conscious of what they’re doing. That’s not to hinder the storytelling, it just means they actually have to think before they act and it cuts down on doing the money grab crappy stories just to go along with the flavor of the month. It also fosters trying new things with the characters, because there’s no reason to retread on something that’s already been done, unless you can do it differently/better (Ultimate accomplished this with the Clone Saga, for instance).
- The universe doesn’t have to end, but there can be resolution to characters and stories. More to the point, there can now be a beginning, middle, and end for that version of a character’s story without destroying a franchise. Phasing out doesn’t have to mean nuking, however. The companies would still have the option to go back and visit past universes with new stories through miniseries, specials, events, etc. But they can try new things with this system without having to throw the baby out with the bathwater and utterly mucking up continuity.
- More choice. As the cycle progresses readers will have an abundance of choice. They can go back and follow an entire generation’s worth of stories without having to worry about confusing continuity. Don’t like this current version of Spider-Man? You’ll have several other versions to choose from that you might identify with more.
It certainly not a perfect solution, but it’s a solution that I think makes the most sense. it’s certainly better than the constant rebooting and retconning that’s currently going on. But that’s just my opinion. Feel free to sound off in the comments and discuss.
J.R. Broadwater is the author of the non-fiction book Down with the Thickness: Viewing the World From a Fat Guy’s Perspective, the sci-fi detective novel You Only Die Twice, the fantasy novel The Chosen: Rebirthing Part 1-, and the superhero tale Just Super, all available now in digital and paperback formats. Sample chapters and more information about these books can be found here.