The Reboot DC Should’ve Done

Reboots are common in the comicbook world. Characters are rebooted all the time. Movie franchises are rebooted. The dead are brought back to life; separate dimensions are used to reseed character lineups; alternate timelines tell extravagant tales of “what if?”

But there has never been anything like “The New 52.” Five years ago, DC did a full reboot of their entire comic universe. They effectively ended every comic running, full stop, and started up 52 comics with all-new storylines, all-new beginnings, in an attempt to revitalize stagnating sales.

I was so freaking excited about this reboot plan. DC comics used to make it into the brown paper bag I’d take home from my LCS*, but while their Vertigo line still had something to offer, the DC line had lost me. My major complaints with the world of DC is twofold: The first is that all their main characters look exactly the same with just different colored hair. Look at Green Lantern, Batman, Superman, Flash, and Aquaman without their costumes, and you can’t tell them apart.

And no, this isn’t a diversity complaint; it’s a writing complaint. Marvel has a teenage Spiderman, a dweeby Banner (and Reed), a middle-aged alcoholic in Iron Man, just for starters. Captain America is the only major Marvel character with the DC look, and he highlights the other thing wrong with DC characters: They are too powerful.

Green Lantern went cosmic (and the comicbook when chromatic, adding too many hues of lanterns), resulting in clashes that have almost no human touch. Superman has one real weakness, which gets old. He’s too perfect to root for. The stakes in these books are so high all the damn time that you eventually tire of caring if the universe is saved or not. This is the main problem: We can’t conceive of the size, scope, and age of the universe enough to deeply care about its fate. We care more when a single jetliner is plummeting to its doom.

I’m finishing up the second season of Netflix and Marvel’s Daredevil, and it is the best TV I’ve watched since Breaking Bad. Partly because of the excellent fan service (Kingpin, Elektra, The Punisher, even little cameos from Marvel’s best anti-heroes like The Swordsman!). But mostly because the stakes are ones we can grasp. It’s not even the entirety of New York City Daredevil is trying to save (the Avengers step in for those cases). It’s just his hood. It’s local.

DC is much like the American voter, who obsesses about who’s president and ignores who makes it onto the local schoolboard or the county planning committee. Guess who is going to impact your life more? Marvel gets it. The most impressive thing to me about the first season of Daredevil (minor spoiler alert): It’s not until the last episode of the season that he becomes the superhero we know and love. His name, uniform, weapons, methodology, philosophy … they all take thirteen damn episodes to fully form.

How did The New 52 start? With as much action as possible, and with the characters fully formed, in costume, usually in the middle of a foot chase. Like whoever is in charge over there said: “We’ve got to start this shit with as much bang as possible. More “POW” and “SOCK.” Which resulted in more poop and suck. The books were (mostly) crap from the start. The exceptions were surprising (Supergirl) and too few. Where the exceptions worked, it was because these books were more about character development and story and less about wreaking havoc (note the same problem with the movies, where cities are decimated without concern for the civilians who live there, or simply desert the streets as in the third Batman, to leave it a playground for the gods).

One of the best Marvel comics in a long time is the latest Hawkeye. Yeah, that’s right, the Avenger everyone makes fun of for not being as powerful as his teammates. But that’s what makes him awesome (and why his wife points out in Age of Ultron that he’s needed on the team). The guy is vulnerable. He spends most of the panels in his comic run covered in bandages. He gets beat up a lot. He’s fallible, and often in danger. Like we feel. And so we love and empathize with him. (If you haven’t read the run, you should).

Daredevil excels for the same reason. Blind, stubble-faced Matt Murdock (another break from DC’s archetype) is always limping, always wounded, always on the verge of defeat. He couldn’t survive without the help of his civilian friends and neighbors (who represent us). He also operates in a moral shade of gray that darkens and lightens from episode to episode. This is a character journey. This isn’t a reboot with all the boots running. It’s a reboot with laces being tied for the first time.

I know the folks over at DC must be frustrated. They’re watching Disney and Marvel rake in BILLIONS of dollars from critically acclaimed films. And while DC will make money — because we’ll line up to see if they get Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman right this time — Marvel is making bank on Guardians and Ant-Man. On Jessica Jones. On Luke Cage. Where DC is going to run out of main characters (and our patience), Marvel could go on for decades if they hew to their tradition of imbuing regular folks with great responsibility. This will always bring in more eyeballs than having gods wrestle with the fate(s) of the multiverse(s).

What could DC have done differently? Listen to the Joker, for one thing. The Batman of film really is insane. A handful of films turned him from my favorite comic hero to a character I really don’t care about. That’s not easy to do. I know we tire of origin stories, but a great reboot of the 52 would have reset everyone’s powers. Tone them down. Remember the original Superman films? The baddest man in the DC universe was powerful, but nothing like what we see in the comic books today. He seemed to have limits.

I like what Marvel did with Captain America. They made his comics a feature in his own world, so the exploits we know about from our comics can be mere exaggerations within the more gritty and realistic Cap the films created. The rebooted cap never really punched Hitler in the mouth, but don’t tell that to the boys who bought comics to support the war efforts. It was a neat bit of tidying up that allowed the comics to stand while bringing cap down to earth so we could connect with him.

Give us Batman, the detective, and have him solve cases, and we can get onboard with that. Have him not only unable to fly (glide), but to make fun of the fact that anyone thinks he could. Tone down the cape. Make the baddies crazy but not cosmic. Have him team up with a Superman who can leap tall buildings but doesn’t yet know how to fly (like the original Supe). Give us a Wonder Woman whose Amazon warlord connections (POW?) mix with her time as an Israeli fighter pilot (stealth fighter = invisible plane?). Return their legends to the status of legends, and build up new legends from a foundation of humanity.

And hell, diversify. Not just for the sake of diversity, but for some creative outlet. To not be boring. Did you know that the comic book version of Nick Fury was white? Can you imagine NOT having Samuel L. Jackson holding the Marvel universe together? I can’t. Make Green Lantern a gay black female teenager who can’t see, and DC will learn what Marvel has known for a long time: We don’t read these comics to escape our lives; we read them to imagine our lives in spandex and at full throttle. And sometimes that means starting slow.

Do yourselves a favor, even if you aren’t into comics: Start from the beginning of the Marvel media universe and watch everything. From Iron Man to the latest Captain America, and all the shows on Netflix. This is some of the best storytelling in ages. Hopefully DC is watching. Be better if they were taking notes. Because here’s another truth: You can’t have enough great stories out there. Saturate us with awesomeness. For those who feel inundated, stay at fucking home and don’t watch. The rest of us are having a blast.


*Local Comicbook Shop




19 responses to “The Reboot DC Should’ve Done”

  1. This. 100 percent this. It’s like Marvel has been at the party all night, charming the people, sipping his way to a good buzz. DC showed up, saw how much fun Marvel was having and decided to try and catch up with a handle of tequila. Now we get to watch DC drunkenly stumble his way through passing conversations while Marvel continues to enchant us, a neat scotch balanced in his hand.

    1. You said it better.

  2. Jessica jones is great too. Treat yourself to that next.

    1. Yes, she’s so messed up, and who can’t relate to that?

  3. I’ve always considered myself a DC guy because, ya know, Batman and Superman, duh. But the bottom 8 of my top 10 superheroes are all Marvel for most of the reasons you listed. Daredevil is edging out The Walking Dead as my favorite TV show and Season 2 is so awesome. But in a world of so much available media, I see no problem with enjoying everything. I do worry about my tastes because I’ve seen Batman V. Superman 4 times and loved it every time and can’t wait for the extended cut on blu ray. I’ve seen Civil War once and I’ll probably watch it again at home when it comes out to rent. The entire Internets assure me I’m wrong and I don’t care. Civil War was okay, but I got bored with Hawkeye and the witch lady sucking up screen time when Spider-man was only in it for 20 minutes (WTF!?!). Batman V. Superman had some clunky moments (yes, the Martha’s thing was overdone), but my heart wants what it wants. I loved me some Batman beating the hell out of Superman and the Internets can suck it.

    A Breaking Bad fan like yourself should watch All the Way at once. Seriously. It’s the President Who Knocks and I think it might be Cranston’s best performance. It’s certainly the best non Batman-and-Superman movie I’ve seen all year:) It made me want to learn more about history.

    1. I, too, loved BvS. I saw it a couple times and was enthralled by the story. The extended cut demands to be watched because I wanted more, in a good way.

      I also loved Civil War, but not to the same extent. I loved it because Cap is my favorite Marvel character from a long way back, but there was so much going on. Compared to the three main plotlines in BvS (Superman’s story, Batman’s intro, and Wonder Woman’s intro) there was too much going on in Cap for me to emotionally invest like I did for The Winter Soldier. I wished so hard that it weren’t the case, but I liked my focus on three characters in BvS more. They call ’em main characters for a reason.

      But, Marvel is indeed shiny and fun.

  4. Hey Hugh,

    If you want a Superman comic similar to what you describe, check out Max Landis’s very-new and very-amazing “Superman: American Alien”. It’s exactly what you would want out of a Superman story: simple, toned-down powers, and more emphasis on Clark-Kent-who-is-also-a-superhero than Superman-who-is-pretending-to-be-a-person. Landis’s Superman isn’t from Krypton: he’s from Kansas. It’s REALLY stellar.

    1. On it!

    2. I’m going to have to check out the American Alien run. Somehow, I’ve never heard of it.

      After growing up in the long theater lines, packed movie houses, and FINALLY on VHS tape comic culture…I was not a fan of anything Marvel, with the exception of my beloved X-Men (circa; yellow spandex).

      DC always seemed so hardcore, like they were are all cut from the same badass cloth.
      Over time though..Us DC guys had to defend Michael, Val, and George on a more frequent basis.
      We had to explain to our friends why The Terminator looked like a pre-Lady Gaga…Lady Gaga.

      When Deadpool was in preproduction…I converted.
      Not because I was jumping on the DP we are at a point in time where it’s just time to lighten the F— up.

      I’m nearly 40 years old. I still have VHS copies of bootlegged X-Men episodes that were never aired and while I am not abandoning ship completely…
      (I happened to really like BvsS and look forward to WW) I will say that my fan boy boner is hard for Marvel and their family of truly exciting/engaging heroes and villains.

      Here’s to ordering and receiving the American Alien books ASAP! I’ll keep them next to my Omnibus collection.

    3. I about spilled my drink when I read this. Thanks Brandon Carbaugh! I’m on it, too.

  5. I’d go a little further than saying it’s DC, when it comes to movies it’s everyone not-Marvel.
    Fox’s Fantastic Four efforts were woeful, and they were right to have Spidey back to Marvel.
    If you’ve seen the latest X-Men, they should hand that back too.
    Stan has characterised the Avengers as a football team, and I see their movies as the Superbowl – with movies like Ant-Man as regular season games and Daredevil as College. They pitch their gear to all levels and are exceptional at stratifying their media. Look at the difference between Cap, Winter Soldier and Black Panther in the Civil War movie. Guys who on paper are so close in power level, they’re effectively the same. Marvel does that thing the Mac does with the task bar – magnifying the thing we’re focussed on right now.
    Come on, Fox. Hand the X-Men and FF back to Marvel

  6. DC’s heroes drifted into being gods over the years… and DC hates to give up that high ground. Superman presents as being the most powerful and noble hero that will *ever* be written, with the others close behind. The result is iconic characters that are impossible to ignore (like people have said), but almost as hard to use well. (Except Batman of course–but his claim is to be the most *dramatic* character out there regardless of power. He does okay at that.)

    Marvel’s been in contrast with that from Day One, trying to be more grounded. And sometimes DC out-edges them in turn (Vertigo), but when it comes down to it they hate to give up their place as the biggest but clumsiest epic there is.

    –Or else they let Zach Snyder play with things, just on the grounds that it’ll be “different.” Oops.

  7. Ever since Stan Lee allowed us as geeky teenagers to identify with vulnerable Peter Parker, Marvel caught my storytelling mind. After all, superheroes really are “freaks”, and as a literary device, seeing a life through the eyes of a emotionally or physically odd individual always brings a unique but highly identifiable perspective that is just not available to the normal man. Invest in the guest… live the story.

  8. Superman has suffered from this problem forever–when you compare the superman from the 40s to that of the 60s, you go from a guy that could, with effort, jump over a building to one that could destroy a solar system with a sneeze. Both DC and Marvel (and pretty much anyone writing about any super-powered characters) have always had issues with what I think of as “omnipotent creep”. Marvel has just always handled it better–maybe because of so many of their characters having silver-aged origins, when Marvel put an emphasis on flawed characters, in contrast to DC’s perfect (and boring) golden-age-born ones.

    Omnipotent creep seems to be an almost inescapable hazard with ANY long-term story telling that involves powerful creatures–it happens in religions, too. I sometimes think Christianity, just to name one, could use a reboot, where we get back to the kind of god you see quite often in the bible–not a boring 60s-Superman-style ALL powerful being that can do and know everything (with all the ethical questions that implies about her nature in regards to suffering allowed in the world) but rather one that clearly has limitations in her power and gaps in her knowledge, but tries her best (and needs our help) to save us from powers beyond her control. Unfortunately, I think the bible is a DC property.

  9. Well said!

    Hugh, have you checked out the DC Animated universe?

    I’ve found myself returning to the Justice League Unlimited & Young Justice animated series for my DC Comics fix a lot over the last few years. Justice League Unlimited, in particular, infuses some Marvel sensibilities where-needed (this was before Marvel’s Cinematic Universe) in a way I think you’d enjoy (if you haven’t seen the show). The late Dwayne McDuffie was story editor and writer on JLU, and he wrote some knock-out episodes for the series that really celebrated the DC universe in a way DC live-action slate hasn’t quite yet.

  10. When the original (post-Reeves) Superman movies began, I was stoked. And then I actually watched them. I’ve learned to shelve most DC movies only to catch them now if someone puts them on and I happen to be in the same room.

    What’s sad is that DC was my original introduction to comics and the comic book universe…

    And then I met Marvel, particularly the X-Men.

    Marvel is doing everything right. Where they might go for the big-bang in the Avengers, they tone it down and focus on story for the rest of the MCU. How could we not want that? They always have had the better stories. Sure, sometimes they miss. Most of the time they’ve been nailing it. And they deserve all of the praise for it.

  11. I agree, DC has become too powerful. I’m a DC fan, especially Superman and Batman (I used to have a Superman cape and always wore it when the movies were on TV). But Superman has too few weaknesses. And I love the old Batman TV series. It may be campy, but he was out there solving crimes, working with the police, and the bad guys didn’t have superhuman abilities.

    I have got to watch Daredevil, though. I can watch it on Netflix, and have heard great things about it.

  12. I’m getting tired of reboots and I feel that simply changing a character’s race, gender or sexual orientation is a lazy excuse to avoid spending the time creating something new. I’d love to see new characters in comics. Why are we still focused on characters that have been around since the 1930’s-1950’s? Don’t get me wrong, I love many of these characters too but when was the last time someone created a new character that got any real attention? It’s kind of sad. Perhaps the superhero market is saturated with every hero there could possibly be? I doubt it.

  13. I think you nailed it bud. I liked Animal Man from the New 52. Sad to see that one go.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *