DC Comics’ recent Rebirth initiative raises the question: Why are comics publishers in such a rush to recreate the past?
Are comics publishers in too much of a rush to recreate past successes with their line-wide relaunches, forgetting that it took decades to get to that point in the first place?
This thought crossed my mind when the DC’s “New 52” initiative was first announced five years ago and it is the same reason I think every time that DC has recently tried to “reboot” the Legion of Super-Heroes, that it was doomed to failure. When they start a book fresh with a relaunch or a reboot, they don’t give the series time to develop naturally and organically. Legion of Super-Heroes started out with three heroes and over time—decades—they got to the point where there were two dozen or more. It’s hard to start a series with that many characters. That’s a lot of personality, backstory and screen time to throw into the mix right at the start. And I think that’s why the series fails to catch on. There’s no time for a reader to latch onto a character. There’s no history with that character, they haven’t had a chance to see them develop and grow. And without that latch, there’s no reason to stay with the book when that character isn’t spotlighted.
Something similar happened with the return of Valiant Comics. I was on board when there were two or three titles, but as soon as Valiant started launching more books and reintroducing characters from its 1990s heyday, it started pushing me away. It was way too much, way too soon. Too many crossovers, too many books to read, and not enough time or budget on my part. I’m actually surprised that Valiant is still going strong, not because the books aren’t quality—they are—but I would have expected it to have expanded too quickly and imploded by now, similar to what happened to Crossgen Comics back in the day.
Is it because the fandom is too impatient? Are we the ones that are preventing these stories from developing naturally and organically like they used to? It took DC decades to get to where they were publishing 52 monthly titles. The fandom grew with those series, watching as a character would develop in one book and spin-off into another.
One of the biggest issues with the New 52 when it launched was there were too many characters being reintroduced in a relatively short time frame. DC editorial said that the New 52 was “five years old,” meaning that it had been five years “in-universe” since the Justice League’s first appearance and the setting in the New 52 books at launch. In those five years, because the fans had their favorites and it was too risky to not have those favorites in existence, the New 52 had already had five Robins and five Green Lanterns.
It didn’t make sense.
But DC felt compelled to have all the previous supporting continuity in place to appease fans, even though the books hadn’t “earned” it. How many times was “where is Wally West” heard when the New 52 launched even though it made no sense in the context of the new DCU for Wally West to appear and be a Flash.
In the years before the New 52, fans watched as the Batgirl mantle passed from Barbara Gordon to Cassandra Cain to Stephanie Brown. All three Batgirls had their fans so when the New 52 launched and Barbara Gordon was Batgirl, there were cries for Cassandra and Stephanie to have their turn at the title. And again, those demands didn’t really make a lot of sense given the context.
And that is why the publishers rush to recreate some semblance of the past when they relaunch or reboot titles. For whatever reason, the new stories are just never good enough. The fans aren’t patient enough to let the new stories develop naturally. They want it all now, they want the old favorites to be where they were, but they also want something “new,” and trying to meet those demands just ends up hurting the new stories.
Good stories take time to develop and fans need to learn to let go of the past and embrace the new. But it takes time and patience. And it seems that the fandom and the publishers keep forgetting that. The comics successes of the past didn’t happen overnight and expecting relaunches to achieve the same thing without putting in the time is kind of foolish.