All right, I can’t ignore the big issue of the moment – or rather, the 52 big issue #1’s of September, when DC Comics relaunches its whole “DC Universe” line of superheroes. Five bits:
I. The Barely-Noticed Biggest Change Here
My main reaction: I admit I did the math, and if all 52 #1's are (as it sounds) ongoing DCU titles, this mainly appears to mean DC is abandoning miniseries and non-main-continuity comics – which previously made up about 20 or so of their 50-odd titles each month – replacing them with about 20 ongoings that all presumably take place in the (new) main DCU, or DCNu, as some have taken to calling it.
Right now, by contrast, only about 32 DCU ongoings exist, you know. So, whether the plan proves respectful of DC’s existing fictional history or not, it sounds like the fans are at least gonna get a roughly 50% larger core universe, so to speak (see Appendix A below for a list of current ongoing titles vs. thus-far-announced or convincingly-reported September ones).
II. Bookstores Yes, Thanagarians No
One bit of good timing that may aid the DC relaunch is that Barnes & Noble appears to be stacking comics more prominently in its stores, as noted by BleedingCool, the site farthest ahead of the curve with the comics industry gossip, whether about DCNu or most anything else. (The photo of the B&N shelf in that piece also reveals the existence of a magazine called Otaku USA, presumably a magazine about people in the U.S. who love Japanese pop culture, though you could certainly do a magazine with the same title for Japanese people who love American pop culture.)
DC has rewritten the fictional history of its universe several times – primarily in ’56, ’86, ’94, ’06, and now ’11 – and it’s always a bit tricky trying to figure out what elements of the past have been jettisoned and what elements are still canon, especially since the editors themselves don’t know (really, they don’t – I’ve written a few stories for DC).
My only prediction this time beyond what’s implied by the Appendix list below (and the articles from which it is derived) is that we will never again hear the word “Thanagar,” long depicted as the home planet of Hawkman, since, despite DC bouncing back and forth between depicting him as Thanagarian and depicting him as a reincarnated ancient Egyptian, (A) it sounds as though Hollywood wants to do a movie with the Egypt premise, and (B) Hawkman’s continuity and backstory have been rendered so convoluted by repeated revisions that erasing an entire planet from history is a small price to pay for some clarity in this department.
And anyway, a planet of hawkmen was always a complete rip-off of Flash Gordon...who in turn was a rip-off of Buck Rogers...who was a white supremacist – but that’s a topic for later in the month.
III. The Play Is the Thing for Mocking DiDio
It may be that DC really has its act together and will depict its fictional history consistently from September onward, but I will not be shocked if, once more, that isn’t the case.
Harnessing my own inner Larry Groznic (the comics-obsessed Onion character whose praise for the Green Lantern Corps member named Hal Jordan I still suspect was responsible for the character being resurrected – and thus being central in next week’s movie), I notice that DC Comics sales VP Bob Wayne says the impending wave of #1's is "not a reboot" but rather is "the new DC Universe," and I worry he has no idea what those words even mean.
In fact, DC execs get so cavalier sometimes about dismissing or evading fans’ continuity questions that one starts to wish that some subversive comic convention panel moderator would decide, “I don't care if DC co-publisher Dan Didio never speaks to me again and I get banned from all comic cons, I'm gonna interview him here in public like so”:
MODERATOR: So, Dan, exciting things are afoot. Is this a complete reboot in which all of prior DC history is erased?
DIDIO: This isn't really a reboot, it's the bold new direction for DC!
MODERATOR: Yes, but do the characters remember everything that we remember having happened before September?
DIDIO: Keep reading!
MODERATOR: No, I will never read another DC comic – and I would urge anyone listening or reading about this to do likewise – unless you have the intellectual honesty to answer this question, if you are capable of answering the question.
DIDIO [taken aback, ornery but keen to keep the peace]: Woah, what exactly is the question now?
MODERATOR: Do the characters who are alive in the DC Universe in the stories printed in September remember all, most, a few, a tiny few, almost none, or none of the events we read in previously-published DC Comics?
DIDIO: We're staying true to the spirit of these great characters and moving into a new era! Look to the skies!!
MODERATOR: I will not look to the skies. I will take a hard look at a very sad, pathetic little man who can no more hide his confusion about the basic nature of history – let alone time travel – than he can hide behind a goatee! I am going to have to ask you to leave this room.
FAN [as DiDio exits]: You suck!
MODERATOR [to audience]: Now: burn it down! Burn it all down! [Convention center is destroyed.]
I hope it will never come to that, you understand.
IV. Batman, Batgirl, and World War II
Assuming history is substantially rewritten, I think the biggest losses, in terms of actual dramatic potential, may well be (A) the unraveling of Grant Morrison’s work in gradually building (often out of old, obscure characters) a globe-straddling army of subsidiary Batmen working with “Batman Inc.” and (B) the gradual evolution of Barbara Gordon into the paralytic superhero-tactical-coordinator called Oracle. It sounds as though Bruce Wayne will be young again and Barbara will once more be Batgirl (perhaps erasing the adventures of her three successors in that role – and who knows what will become of the four successive Robins).
The superhero team to watch (if it still exists) to really gauge how much history has been mangled, though, will be the Justice Society, the first superhero team DC ever published, still fighting crime after seven decades. If the remaining five old-timers in its ranks are all erased and the team is depicted as a new-fangled thing, then the DCU we knew really will have gone down the memory hole.
And I could live with that (if I were even still reading the things, I mean, instead of reading the occasional article), so long as they pick a history and stick to it consistently this time. It really isn’t too much to ask.
V. Slaughtering an Entire Nation of Mutants: the Burkean Solution
One piece of history that’s dying is the consecutive numbering of DC’s two oldest comic books, Detective and Action (after reaching #881 and #904, respectively), with the former, from which DC derives its name, getting zapped back to #1 just seven months shy of its 75th anniversary (sniff).
And it’s not as if one must destroy the past to create new things (as any good Burkean-futurist knows). Radical as he is, I think Grant Morrison had the right idea when he wrote X-Men for a while several years ago: He had a big disaster happen (the decimation of the mutant-filled country of Genosha) that drove most of the old, familiar mutants into hiding, freeing him up to abandon countless dangling plot threads and move on to new topics. But he didn’t erase history – even though he’s an anarchist. (More on X-Men continuity – film continuity – in a couple days.)
If he were called upon to do so, I’m sure he could have come up with some non-history-erasing, non-time-travel-related way of proclaiming a fresh start for the DCU, such as Batman Inc. launching an era of unprecedented coordination between superheroes that renders their old relationships and m.o.’s largely irrelevant. Who knows, maybe we’ll yet learn that’s the sort of fresh start DC is planning here, if they say it’s not a reboot. We’ll see.
APPENDIX A: DCU vs. DCNu Titles (current series in ALL CAPS and beside them the successor series coming out in September, or at least the 23 successor series known/expected as of June 5 – with all 52 DCNu books to be officially announced in eight days, on June 13; new titles that do not replace an existing ongoing are listed at the very bottom)
ACTION COMICS > Action Comics
BATGIRL > Batgirl
BATMAN AND ROBIN
BIRDS OF PREY > Birds of Prey
DC COMICS PRESENTS > DC Universe Presents: Deadman
DETECTIVE COMICS > Detective Comics
FLASH > Flash
GOTHAM CITY SIRENS
GREEN ARROW > Green Arrow
GREEN LANTERN > Green Lantern
GREEN LANTERN CORPS > Green Lantern Corps
GREEN LANTERN: EMERALD WARRIORS > Green Lantern: New Guardians
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA > Justice League
JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA
LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES > Legion Lost
TEEN TITANS > Teen Titans
WONDER WOMAN > Wonder Woman
Justice League International
My Greatest Adventure (featuring Garbageman and Tanga)