Monday, July 14, 2008

When Reboots Go Away

Reboots can be a way to breathe fresh life into a stale character, but sometimes a publisher is just doing this as a gimmick. They have no intention of keeping the character changed. Then there are times when the reboot just doesn't work with the fans and things must be made right. Let's look at reboots that were hyped...and then reversed.

Green Lantern

This one almost isn't fair because thanks to the Green Lantern Corps you can pull out a new GL whenever you get tired of the current one, but I'll mention it anyway. Hal Jordan was considered the greatest Green Lantern of them all, until Coast City was destroyed by Mongul and Hal went crazy and killed many of the Lanterns to get their rings to recreate the city. After you kill your friends, folks tend to look at you a little askew. DC wanted to breathe life into this sagging title, so they decided to take this beloved hero and turn him into the craziest wacko they could. After killing Sinestro and eventually losing the rings and becoming Parallax, the last Guardian left gave the ring to Kyle Rayner, an artist who had no desire to be a superhero. Kyle's artistic background gave the hero some new stuff to work with because Kyle's ring constructs were a little more creative than Hal's had been. Eventually, Hal gave his life to save the universe and became the Spectre for a while, but since he hadn't just dropped off the face of the Earth like Barry Allen (The Flash) did, everyone knew it was only a matter of time before DC brought him back. They did in a miniseries called "Rebirth", and suddenly Hal was back in charge of Earth. Kyle later became Ion, then back to Green Lantern, and is currently helping to lead the newly reformed Green Lantern Corps against the Sinestro Corps.

Kyle was a great choice as GL. I wasn't thrilled with him at first, but they really managed to make him a good character. His ring lost the yellow weakness, and being the only Green Lantern made him a little more unique than Hal had been. Watching Kyle adjust to his first days in the Justice League were great because he had that awe that any normal person would have in the presence of great heroes. Fortunately, DC didn't kill him off when Hal came back, and we still get to see Kyle around.


For a while in the 90's DC was brutal to their icons. After coming off the high of killing the Flash and Supergirl in one miniseries in the 80's, they wanted to go bigger and better in the next decade. The result was a Batman reboot that was thankfully short-lived. Someone lets loose all the baddies in Arkham and Batman has to bring them in by himself. Why he didn't call the Justice League or even Superman I'll never know, but he gave it the old college try and ended up getting most of them. Unfortunately, this was just a ploy to wear him out before his big fight with a new baddie named Bane. In the ensuing fight, Bane snaps Batman's spine and leaves him crippled. A new Batman is needed, and rather than go with Dick Grayson (Bruce felt Dick had established himself as Nightwing and it would be an insult to ask him to take on the Batman's mantle) he chose Azrael, a slightly off-center hero.

Azrael started out promising. He slowly began to change Batman's appearance into someone more suited to fighting crime, and was incredibly tough on the villains. He even met up with the Punisher in a crossover story and earned the respect of Marvel's premiere anti-hero. Then, slowly (and quite coincidentally while Batman was healing up) he went crazy. He killed a villain, and kicked Robin out of the Batcave. Eventually we had the showdown we all knew was coming and Batman faced Azrael for the cape and cowl. Knowing he couldn't beat him with all that armor on, Batman led Azrael into an ever-shrinking tunnel in the Batcave, forcing Azrael to shed his armor piece by piece to fit into the tunnel and come after him. By the time they met, it was man-to-man, and Bruce showed him why he'd been able to live over the years without the fancy armor. It didn't last, but it was a very cool storyline while it was happening. I just wish Azrael had been able to kill the Joker before being stripped of the title.

The recent "Batman R.I.P." storyline makes it seem like DC is getting ready for a new reboot of this character again. Azrael won't be coming back in the suit, so I'm putting my money on either Dick Grayson or Jason Todd this time around.

The Flash

This is one of those characters who's been rebooted before (Barry Allen died and Wally West took over), but let's look at the latest reboot. When Wally West took over the role of the Flash from Barry Allen, it was the first major time in comic history that the teen sidekick had actually taken over the role of the adult hero they'd followed. Wally remained Flash for twenty real-time years until Infinite Crisis hit and they needed a Flash sacrifice. In a desperate battle to stop Superboy Prime, Wally and Bart Allen (Impulse) raced him into the Speed Force to stop him. Then Bart came back alone having aged a few years into a more mature teen. Although he closed Infinite Crisis with the revelation that he no longer had super-speed and that Jay Garrick was now the only Flash left, it changed quickly during the first issue of The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive. Bart regained his super-speed and actually did a great job of reinventing the hero. But then DC decided it was time to bring back Wally. Rather than take Bart back to the role of Impulse, they stripped him of his speed just as he was facing his Rogue's Gallery. They beat him down and killed him while Wally reappeared at the end of Justice League: The Lightning Saga. Wally eventually avenged Bart's death due to the machinations of a villain named Inertia, but the damage had been done. This was a 13 issue reboot and ranks right up there as one of the shortest, and there was no real reason for it. Bart was a great Flash and DC had done a good job of setting up this new hero. Now we have Wally West back with his two super-powered kids, and the stories are reading more like something from Tiny Titans than The Flash. Even though Barry Allen returned in Final Crisis #2, don't hold your breath for him to be the saving point of this series. More than likely he's taking another dirt nap before that miniseries ends and we'll be stuck with "The Adventures of the Wacky West Family" for a while longer.

Superman/The Reign of the Supermen

Following the trend of hurting the icons during the 90's, DC decided crippling a hero wasn't enough. It was time to kill somebody. Superman was the choice. The problem was how do you kill a hero that's defeated every villain you've ever sent at him? The answer was to create a new villain appropriately named "Doomsday". Doomsday tore through the Justice League without any problem, then faced Superman and beat him up a bit. In a final issue filled with nothing but splash pages, Superman finally stopped Doomsday (for a while anyway) at the cost of his own life (for a while anyway). The event received major news coverage and even people who didn't read comic books were lining up outside the shops to grab the "Death of Superman" issue. But of course, no death is permanent in comics. Before the corpse was even cold, four new contenders showed up, all claiming to be the new Superman. The cyborg version even claimed to be the actual Superman himself, but from the future. It was a mess that left four different versions of the hero running through four different titles for a very brief time. Eventually the real thing showed up again sporting a black and silver suit and long hair. The cyborg turned out to be a bad guy, the guy in armor became "Steel", the teen version became Superboy and eventually died saving the universe in Infinite Crisis, and the really cool sunglasses version of Supes became The Eradicator. Supes eventually donned the familiar red-and-blue tights (but kept the long hair for years) and things were back to normal.

Captain America/Nomad/The Captain

Captain America has been rebooted a few times, but it never seems to stick. First, he gave up the suit to become Nomad. This only lasted 4 brief issues, however, giving Cap the award for "Shortest Reboot Ever". While he didn't last long in this incarnation, there was a funny scene in which Cap adjusts to wearing a cape (and subsequently tears it off) and trips on it during a fight. Eventually he grabs the shield again and fights in the red, white, and blue.

Then a few years later, Marvel decides it's time for another reboot. This time Cap is stripped of the mantle by the Presidential Commission on Superhuman Activities for failing to reenter government service. John Walker, known up to this time as Super-Patriot, is given the title and suit and becomes a rather more violent Captain America. Since Jack Munroe was Nomad at this time, Steve Rogers decides to try a different outfit on to fight crime. This time he keeps the shield, goes with basic black, and becomes simply "The Captain" (not the most original name of all time, that's for sure). Of course, this doesn't stick as folks wanted Steve Rogers and didn't take to John Walker all that well. To be fair, Marvel had never planned on keeping the change permanent anyway, so it was all a matter of working it into the storyline. Rogers and Walker swapped roles, but Walker chose the name "U.S. Agent" and is still active in the Marvel world today. He currently leads Omega Flight.

While Steve Rogers is now supposedly dead and the Captain America title currently being held by Bucky Barnes, it's doubtful this reboot will stick either. Steve Rogers is Captain America, plain and simple. The rest are imitators.

Spider-Man/Ben Reilly

DC had crippled and even killed off their two major icons, so Marvel wanted to show them they could still deal in the 90's. Their idea: reboot Spider-Man. The question was how to do that with a character who was such a vital part of the Marvel stable, and whose powers were so unique you couldn't just give the costume to some guy off the street and have it work out. Marvel's solution: bring in the clones!

Ok, so way back in the 70's a baddie named "The Jackal" made a clone of Peter Parker. Peter and the clone fought it out and Peter ended up dumping the clone down a smoke stack. The clone woke up and eventually found Peter with Mary Jane. Confused, the clone took up the name Ben Reilly and wandered the land for a while. When Peter and Ben finally confronted each other, it turned out that Peter was actually the clone and Ben was the real deal! Folks had been reading about a clone for the past 20 years!

Well, Peter and Mary Jane rushed off to what was supposed to be a quiet life while Ben took over as Spider-Man. He actually did a pretty good job of it for a while, but it wasn't to last. Peter came back and took over the costume again. Ben became the Scarlet Spider and still fought crime for a while before finally sacrificing himself to save Peter's life. After he died, Ben's body crumbled into dust, proving once and for all that Ben had been the clone and Peter was the real person after all.

For years, "The Clone Saga" was considered the worst storyline Marvel had ever done. It was the butt of numerous jokes and hurt Marvel's reputation in the mid-90's. To their credit, at least they didn't kill him and bring him back from the dead! Still, it has long been regarded as the low point for Marvel. It was insulting to the fans, and a little bit confusing during its run.

You would think after this horrible mess of a reboot, Marvel would have learned something, but you'd be wrong. Whereas we were told "Everything you've read for the last 20 years was wrong because you were reading the adventures of a clone!" before, Marvel recently went one better with "Everything you've read for the last 20 years was wrong because now it never happened!" with the new "Brand New Day" storyline.

Marvel, If you really wanted to make this work, end the marriage, and give us a new Spider-Man, you should have just killed Mary Jane off! At least then we would have had some seriously new directions for Spider-Man while not making us feel like we'd just wasted the last 20 years of reading the title...again.

So that finishes off my "When Reboots Go ___" trilogy. I'm sure I missed a few here and there, but these were the highlights as I saw them. No doubt we'll see more of these in the future because reboots are an easy out when a character gets boring and needs a little kick in the pants to get going again.


Rick said...

The comic book companies need to get a clue. Reboots don't work. Just write and draw great stories and the fans will stay and the others will come back.

Phil Molnar said...

Reading this blog really takes me back. The "Reign of the Supermen" was my favorite.

I miss Kyle as GL. He took over from Hal right when I started getting really into comics and will always be Green Lantern in my mind.

Nice work on this story!

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