One thing that you can count on in comics is that the more things change, the more they stay the same, at least when we are talking about the big-two publishers, Marvel and DC. I can’t tell you when it exactly got started, but there is a firmly established trend in just about every narrative arc where creators throw a bunch of traumatic events into the lives of their characters. Then, after the shock value has worn off and the sales have started to slump, they switch it all back to the way it was before the event.
This pattern of death and/ or loss of power just for the sake of making changes to the continuity is getting redundant. So why do they keep doing it? Well, for one, because we as readers buy the books; we’re all suckers for it. Surely some readers eventually become burned out on it all, fading from the scene only to be replaced by new readers not as familiar with this pattern, but the bulk of us just can’t stay away when these kinds of things happen. The problem is, only a handful of them are done right, or have any staying power.
The comic book industry is an industry like any other, where profit is king. To be fair, every publisher is to a certain extent, though not quite to the degree of the big two. While they are driving sales by capitalizing on catastrophe, I want to focus on the inevitable “return effect” that goes hand-in-hand with the need for drastic changes. Of course, what got me on this current train of thought is Rebirth, the latest and greatest reboot from DC, and really an attempt to appease all the disgruntled readers who were left in the dust with the last round of continuity shakeups.
You see comic book fans are very loyal to their favorite characters, and refuse to put up with too much change to them. Sure, most readers will go on a ride following some drastic changes — some of these changes even make enough sense to remain as part of the character’s mythos even after the event concludes. At the same time, audiences are quick to vote with their wallets in order to let the publisher know they disagree with a new editorial direction, and that is when most companies reach for the reset button.
For the record, I’m all for change and the evolution of characters, but only when said change happens organically through the story, not dropped in from out of nowhere. For example, when Batman broke his back, what if he remained crippled and unable to ever suit up again? Would the readers accept that? We have seen others take up the cape and cowl when Bruce Wayne couldn’t, most notably Dick Grayson, but would the fans buy into this for the long haul? Probably not, but why?
With some characters the mythos surrounding them is so entrenched, so engrained, that people who read those books want that and nothing else. While they are willing to accept some kind of temporary deviation, the vast majority all want a story that conforms to their expectations. For example, you’re not going to read a Batman story if what you want from your comics is intergalactic mega battles. I believe this reason, the comfort of predictability, drives the cycle of always reverting back to how things used to be after most events.
Rebirth is what the New 52 and Convergence should have been. So far, it appears that what Geoff Johns is doing is capable of steering the books back to those very themes that make the characters great to begin with. He’s reestablishing what the long time readers have come to identify as the core themes of those characters. In short, this is rebooting all the other reboots.
When I heard that Johns was going to work his rebirth magic, something that he has done before with great success at DC, I was excited to see what would happen. Johns has the distinct vision of what makes each character great, and doesn’t try to change it, augmenting it instead. This is what’s happening with Rebirth, and it’s well worth it. Now let’s hope that DC has learned their lesson about making such drastic changes because they simply can, and sticks to giving the readers what they want.