Monday, July 7, 2008

When Reboots Go Right

My last post may have seemed a little like a gripe session, which it was. I may have sounded down on character reboots altogether, which I'm not. As a matter of fact, there are those moments when the reboot turns a boring character into a fresh, exciting and new one. Even if they eventually change back to the original guys, it can still be cool. And with that, I bring you my list of reboots that have really gone well.


At a crisis point in his Captain America career, Steve Rogers gave up the star-and-stripes and became Nomad. While this transformation only lasted 4 issues, it was enough. Whether it was the awful artwork by Frank Robbins or just the fact that Steve was boring without a shield, the character never caught on in popularity and it was shelved. Then Jack Munroe, the second Bucky, came along. Originally, Jack wore the original Nomad suit and pretty much played second-fiddle to Cap, but then he started branching out on his own. Soon he was in leather and carrying a shotgun (and later, a baby). Jack turned this ho-hum passing fad of Cap's career into a very cool character. Aside from a very short stint in The Secret Defenders, Jack never joined any team, but remained true to his namesake. Eventually, Jack was shelved for a while before being brought back as Scourge in Thunderbolts, and then driven insane by the Super Soldier Serum and killed off by Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier in Captain America #3. It was a horrible send-off to one of Marvel's most successful reboots.


Dick Grayson had been Robin forever, and DC decided it was time to give him an upgrade. You have to admit, a nineteen year old college student looked a little weird running around in pixie boots and green shorts! DC decided to pull out an old Kryptonian hero's name and basic color scheme and let Robin become the edgier Nightwing. Believe it or not, this worked well. Nightwing initially had a hard time as fans adjusted to this character and waited for him to go back to Robin, but he never did. Instead, he became a grown-up superhero of his own, and took on a strong role in policing Bludhaven, a town like Gotham. Even though Dick was supposed to die in Infinite Crisis instead of Superboy, I for one am glad DC relented on that at the last minute. Nightwing is the perfect middle ground between Batman and Robin. He makes the smart remarks he used to make as Robin, but fights like Batman. A very well-done reboot.

Ant Man

You have to feel sorry for Hank Pym. He was basically the Aquaman of the Avengers: a hero that could be a real help in certain situations, but one who was useless most of the time. Although Hank eventually became Giant Man and found a better use of his talents, his time as Ant Man started his heroic career. Eventually, that mantle was passed to Scott Lang, an even cooler Ant Man who really turned out to be useful as a member of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four for a short time. Unfortunately, Scott was killed during the "Avengers Disassembled" storyline and even though Hawkeye was brought back, Scott wasn't. Hank designs a new suit and it gets stolen by a SHIELD agent named Eric O'Grady. Eric sees the suit as the useless thing most normal guys probably would. He figures he's too small to actually help do anything for a normal team, but rather than give it back he uses it to spy on women while they shower. He becomes the most unheroic, unlikeable superhero ever, but manages to turn this character's perception around. Suddenly, he's cool, even if he is a jerk. Now a member of the Initiative, Eric helps train up the next generation of heroes (heaven help them).

Captain America and Bucky

This one is a two-for-one special, because Marvel rebooted both characters at once by combining them into the same man! Bucky Barnes was forever relegated to the "No matter what, Bucky stays dead" status for decades. He seemed the one character Marvel would never touch, though dozens have been brought back from the grave. Then the House of Ideas ran out of them and decided to bring him back. But this time, they did it right. It turns out Bucky wasn't just the useless teen sidekick he'd seemed in the past. No, he was a highly trained agent capable of doing all kinds of damage behind the enemy lines because they didn't look twice at him. Then the bomb goes off that traps Cap in ice and takes Bucky's arm. Instead of being found by the good guys, Bucky is found by the Russians and turned into an assassin for them. With a mechanical arm to replace the other, Bucky (now named Winter Soldier) kills and is frozen again until needed. This cycle goes on for decades until he wanders off never to be heard from by them again. Eventually, Captain America was able to turn him around and help him remember his roots, but the damage had been done. Bucky disappeared just before Cap's death was fake--I mean, he was killed. Bucky was eventually tapped to become the new Captain America and he's doing a great job of it so far! This Cap carries a gun (though he has yet to actually kill anyone with it) and has the skills needed to work the shield again.


Another two-for-one here. Hawkeye was one of those heroes Marvel just didn't know how to handle. He was an Avenger, a Defender for a brief time, then a West Coast Avenger, then the leader of the Thunderbolts, then an Avenger again, and then he was killed. Hey, the guy deserved a little rest, right? And then he was brought back. When he found out he'd been killed by Scarlet Witch's insane little "Avengers Disassembled" scenario, he sought revenge. After finding and bedding the SW, he found it in his heart to forgive her and move on. After being offered the role of Captain America by Tony Stark, he eventually found his way to the New Avengers. Uncomfortable with being Hawkeye anymore, they gave him the Ronin suit Echo no longer needed and a new hero was reborn. Ronin's original reveal as Echo was a big letdown to fans who were expecting the return of Shang-Chi. Hawkeye slipped into the role easily and it allowed him to stretch out his weaponry a little more. Now he's leaning more toward Bullseye as far as danger level goes, and it's looking promising.

But the top two spots for reboots has to go to DC Comics for...

Booster Gold

Jon Michael Carter was from the future. He stole a suit, robot, powerful gizmos, and a Legion flight ring and disappeared into the past to make a name for himself. Originally, Booster was a self-centered, self-serving, egotistical jerk who actually sported sponserships for a while on his suit. He was best friends with Blue Beetle and the two made a likable pair. This seemed to absolutely be a second-tier hero who would never been anything more. He was too light-hearted and the butt of far too many jokes to be taken seriously.

Until "52".

DC's weekly serial featured four major stars: The Question, Black Adam, Elongated Man, and Booster Gold. Booster's story seemed a little strange as he was tormented by a hero known only as Supernova, but then Booster died saving a city from a nuclear explosion and his hero status went up. Eventually it was revealed he actually was Supernova and it had all been a ruse to stop Mister Mind (yes, the worm from Shazam!). With the help of Rip Hunter, Booster went through the time stream and saw the actual birth of the new 52 worlds. Then he was told by Rip that it was his job to go through time and sometimes to alternate realities and set things straight for the other heroes in the DC universe. He would be the greatest hero ever, but no one would ever know about it. With that tragic title, Booster Gold became the hero DC had never known he could be. At one point, Booster tries to go back and stop Barbara Gordon from being shot by the Joker in "The Killing Joke". He fails miserably several times, but even though he gets this killer of a beatdown with his own robot Skeets by the Joker, he keeps coming back. Eventually he finds out from Rip that there are certain events he cannot change, including the death of his friend Ted Kord (aka Blue Beetle). Though he does go back and change that fateful moment for a while (with some nasty consequences), Booster continues to go through time doing what he can to fix the situation. And no one else will ever see him as anything but the loser he was always known as in the DC universe before. To me, that is the ultimate sign of a hero: willing to help even though no one will ever know it. And that's why DC wins one of the top spot for reboots.

I may be hard on them for most of their sub-par stories, but DC is doing it right with Booster's reboot.

And DC's major reboot triumph has to be...

Jason Todd

How do you take one of the most hated heroes in DC Comics history (he died by popular vote of the fans, for crying out loud!) and turn him into one of the toughest ever with the biggest fanboy moment this year being the reveal that he's actually one of the most requested characters from Kingdom Come? I have no idea, but somehow DC has done it. Jason Todd died as the second Robin from a bomb set off by the Joker. He stayed dead for years, basically because there was no outcry of any kind for him to return. Then during "Batman: Hush" we see a very cool reveal that Hush could be Jason Todd (which made sense because Hush knew so much about Batman). Even though we thought we were fooled and that Jason was actually Clayface, he really had returned from the dead. It took a little while, but he came back, this time as The Red Hood. Taking on the mantle of the Joker's first incarnation, Jason played the anti-hero working all sides of the villain camps against each other. He killed without hesitation, and tore through the Gotham underworld like a knife. He did things Batman would never do. Eventually, Batman faced down this new villain to find it was indeed his dead partner returned from the grave. Their big moment came as Jason held a gun to the Joker's head and demanded Batman kill either the Joker or Jason himself. Batman chose to send a batarang into Jason's neck just seconds before Joker blew them all up and the Infinite Crisis began.

Just exactly how Jason came back from the dead is a little complicated (Superboy Prime beat on the walls of reality/time and woke him up), but let's just say Jason's return was met with a little more enthusiasm than his previous career as Robin had been. He even tried being Nightwing for a while, and the confrontation with Dick Grayson started out as a great storyline before deteriorating into stupidity (Jason became a monster and ate the bad guy). Still, it was cool to see him confronting his predecessor. When "Countdown to Final Crisis" began, Jason teamed with Donna Troy and Green Lantern/Ion to find Ray Palmer. Their trips through various "Elseworlds" scenarios eventually brought them to a world where Jason met an alternate Batman who gave him a new costume and lease on life. For a while, we got to see Red Robin in action and fans around the world were cheering. Unfortunately, "Final Crisis" writer Grant Morrison decided his story was self-contained and the "Countdown" was not a part of his storyline. This meant the promising start for Red Robin came to a screeching halt and he's disappeared for now. But I have no doubt DC will bring him back when the time is right. Maybe during the "Batman R.I.P." storyline we'll see him step in to help.

Going from "Red Hood" to become "Red Robin". What a perfect way to tie it all together. DC, this time you did a perfect job. Major credit has to be given for their ability to take the "Wesley Crusher" of DC and turn him into Captain Kirk.

Next week, we'll finish up my "When Reboots Go____" trilogy with the final entry. What happens when the publisher decides the gimmick is over? Get ready for a look at reboots that didn't stick, including the shortest character reboots ever!


james said...

I really like your approach to this site. Also, it's good to see that I'm not the only one who doesn't mind the new Jason Todd. He was about the only solid character in the recent Countdown maxiseries.

Brian said...

DC definitely got it right with Jason this time around. I hope they find a regular place for Red Robin rather than let him slip into the "once a year guest shot" place.

Rick said...

Can't say I agree with most of the reboots you liked. However, a reboot is needed sometimes to keep the character fresh. Even if it fails at least the readers got a breather for awhile.

Brian said...

I agree. I think most reboots are just gimmicks, but at least it gives the writers time to think up new stories and stretch things a little.

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