I haven’t collected comic books since my late 20s. I was still working in radio at the time, not making much money, but spending most of it on a superhero habit I could no longer sustain.
Thanks to the Internet, however, I’ve managed to keep up with most of the stories during the nearly 20 years since.
That’s going to get mighty interesting again with DC Comics’ announcement that they are effectively starting from scratch come September.
Some of these comic book heroes have been around a long time. Take Superman for example. The DC Comics character was introduced in 1932 and was likely in his mid- to late-20s, having already landed a job at The Daily Planet (actually, The Daily Star in the original). So, even taking 25 as the youngest Clark Kent could have been, Supes would be 104 now.
Batman’s Bruce Wayne would likely be of similar age, having been introduced in 1939.
Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man over at Marvel Comics, is a little younger. He first appeared in 1962 as a teenager. Peter’d be a spry 65-year-old now.
To get around that, comic book companies have done one of two things: never have the characters age or reboot them for a new generation.
DC Comics (home of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and what’s likely to be this year’s blockbuster hit, Green Lantern) has done the reboot thing more often than Marvel.
It first happened in the 1960s when DC decided to update its characters but then fell back to relegating its classic versions to an alternate “Earth-2.”
The big change for DC came in its huge 12-issue maxi-series (and dozens of related titles) Crisis on Infinite Earths. By 1985, there were dozens of actual and an infinite number of implied alternate Earths -- something that was becoming pretty unwieldy for DC to handle. The Crisis collapsed the Earths into one. In some cases, multiple versions of characters were morphed into a single entity (Superman and Batman, for example), while others had alternates living in the past or having aged (Flash).
That was the status quo until some other crises came along, most notably Infinite Crisis in 2005, which brought back 52 of the alternate worlds.
But how fickle the market can be. Noting that sales have flagged versus Marvel’s since 2002, DC has announced the biggest revamp of its entire “universe” in its history.
The goal: stay true enough to old timers like me so we’re not disgusted but attract new comics readers by making the characters a little younger and fresher, earlier in their careers.
As of Friday, I was still waiting for DC’s announcements surrounding Superman and his associated characters. One of the biggest mysteries is whether the reboot will negate the 15-year-old marriage of Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Some people feel, as I do, that Lois grounds Clark’s humanity while inspiring him to his superhuman feats. Others feel stories would be better served by having Clark struggle with fitting in as a powerhouse alien.
One of the biggest controversies so far is Batgirl. Years ago, there was a classic graphic novel called The Killing Joke that included the Joker shooting Barbara Gordon (Commissioner Jim Gordon’s daughter), paralyzing her from the waist down.
No longer able to be Batgirl, she put her superior computer, detecting and networking skills to use as Oracle, a wheelchair-bound but highly effective information broker and strategist for the good guys.
DC announced Wednesday that Barbara would be retaking the mantle of Batgirl. Reaction from the disabled community was mixed and volatile. Some felt that it was about time Barbara -- living in a world of magic, advanced science and superpowers -- was cured of her disability. Others felt that it negated years of excellent story-telling about a woman who overcame her disability to become one of the most important people in DC’s superhero universe.
We’ll have to wait until September to see what DC really has up its sleeve.
When those comics hit the stores -- 52 of them, by the way -- they will all be numbered No. 1. For the first time in decades, there will be No. 1s for Batman and Detective Comics (for which DC is named). Classic characters, such as World War II’s Sgt. Rock & Easy Company give way to Rock’s grandson and the war heroes of today. On the other hand, Jonah Hex, a western character connected to the supernatural stays in the past, but moves to take care of business in early Gotham City.
Speaking of Gotham, recently DC had former Robin Dick Grayson take over as Batman when Bruce appeared to be dead. Bruce has been back for a while and there’ve been two Batmen. Come September, Bruce will be the only Bat, while Dick goes back to being Nightwing (a moniker he took up in the ’80s) while Bruce’s biological son, Damian, joins his father as Robin.
Don’t worry, says DC; these are still the same heroes you’ve known for -- in some cases -- 70 to 80 years.
A lot of DC’s decision about this is, understandably, money. They’ve been losing ground and they want to make it up.
Creatively, however, it is necessary to update classic heroes and villains so that they are relevant to today.
After all, who wants to see a centenarian Batman beating up an equally ancient Joker?