DC Comics: Can We Go Back?

That's not a wishful, wistful headline filled with angst and disdain for the change of the last [...]

That's not a wishful, wistful headline filled with angst and disdain for the change of the last year--although plenty of our readers have that. Instead, the question--"Can DC Comics go back?"--is one to be taken at face value. With more than a year of storytelling under its belt, it's beginning to seem less and less likely that their first big Crisis-level event will just undo the changes of Flashpoint and reinstate the "real" DC Universe that a small, vocal group of fans have been demanding since last year. And, frankly, that many people assumed would happen simply as a matter of course. There just doesn't seem to be a way to do it that would please everyone--and if people are going to be upset either way, then why not stick with the world you've spent the last year establishing, investing in and which theoretically is at least tenuously connected to whatever movies are currently in development? One of the lessons that DC has hopefully learned by now is that in serialized storytelling, there are consequences for your actions. Despite Geoff Johns's best efforts, he wasn't able to properly reinstate the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths multiverse and status quo following the events of Infinite Crisis and 52. He was similarly unable to make fans forget Emerald Twilight by effectively retconning big chunks of it in Green Lantern--the hugely successful comic that has served as the proof-of-concept for the New 52 reboot from the word go.

These stories are, after all, told on a continuum and to remove individual events is nearly impossible without corrupting the whole tapestry. Man of Steel forced serious, long-term changes to the Legion of Super-Heroes, one of DC's most historically successful franchises who were arguably damaged beyond repair by Crisis and its attempts to "fix" continuity. Changes to the back stories of the Legion, as well as characters like Wonder Woman and Hawkman, led to years of rebooting the reboots over and over again until the characters' histories became incomprehensible. Even Geoff Johns's efforts to take away the "murdering lunatic" aspects of Hal Jordan's time as Parallax had the effect of invalidating some stories told in the Guy Gardner solo book published at the time, since that book included stories where Guy and the Darkstars found Lanterns's corpses and many of the characters who later turned up in Johns's Green Lantern were seen in a story that conflicts with the way Johns told the Lost Lanterns's story. The Darkstars themselves became something of a continuity and logic nightmare following Infinite Crisis.

There were some long-time readers who, for years, bemoaned the changes made following Crisis and who wanted DC to go back to the comfort of their long-established multiverse...but when DC did just that with Infinite Crisis and 52, those fans felt shorted because it wasn't "the same" multiverse the company had abandoned 20 years before. It, of course, couldn't be--too much had happened in between and those stories had their own fans who in turn would have been upset if they were erased. And those erasures would cause their own problems. Look at the New 52, for example: characters like Stephanie Brown and Cass Cain have their adherents, who are speaking out as loudly as they can against the changes made to Batman's history (changes that make even less since given the fact that Batman was nominally not rebooted). Meanwhile, we're told that much of Booster Gold, Volume 2 "happened," setting the stage for Rip Hunter and Booster Gold: Time Masters, as we saw at the end of the recent Justice League International Annual...but virtually every story told by Johns, Jurgens, Dixon, Remender, Giffen and DeMatteis during that series's 50 issues (1-47+0+1,000,000+Brave & the Bold #23 by Jurgens) involved Ted Kord to one extent or another. Even those that didn't, played with DC history that no longer exists. Ted, or course, no longer exists, which materially alters things that supposedly "happened." This is why a hard reboot would probably have been better for DC in the long run, but it would have been absolutely impossible to sell to the fans. And you can't just throw everything into the Multiverse and say "it all counts." They've tried that, too, and fans saw through it. Additionally, fans whose favorite character (or favorite version of a character) no longer existed in the "main" timeline would just complain that their characters had been ghettoized to an earth that by virtue of not being "Earth One" is automatically insignificant.

When Marvel launched Heroes Reborn or Age of Apocalypse, they had exit strategies. There were plans in place to return the characters to "normal," and so the best stories and characters tended to be in it for the short term. World-building was a necessary chore, not the purpose of entire series, and so when things were wrapped up to accommodate the end of the story, it all fit. DC may have a similar strategy in place for the New 52, but nothing they've said or done indicates that it's their long-term plan. To gracefully exit the New 52 would take time and effort to set up, and that entire time, they'd be listening to the mad braying of fans who can see the writing on the wall. Furthermore, it would cripple their publishing line from a sales perspective because so many comic book fans are continuity junkies who will only buy a book if it's "important" and abandon ship at the first sight of cancellation. And all of that, of course, assumes that DC would even be interested in doing such a thing--they've given no indication that they're even open to the idea and if they were it would still likely require a huge amount of convincing Warners to make it happen. Enjoy the New 52, folks. This is where it's at for the time being. If you don't like it, I suggest buying collected editions of the old material as they become available. Arrested Development was saved more by DVD sales than complaining.