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‘The New 52 and You,’ and the dreaded R-word

by  in Comic News Comment

If there are any lingering concerns that DC Comics’ sweeping September relaunch — re-branded this week as “The New 52” — is actually a reboot, the publisher is working doggedly to stomp them out, tackling the issue head on this morning in an email to retailers.

Titled “The New 52 and You,” the message from Senior Vice President-Sales Bob Wayne wades into the thorny issues of continuity, devoting three of the email’s 10 “general” questions specifically to why the initiative isn’t the dreaded R-word. It’s familiar territory for Wayne, who insisted to those same retailers in early June what the New DCU is not. “It is not a ‘reboot,’” he wrote at the time. “I think you will soon discover why that is.”

Why that is, Wayne now explains, is that “a reboot is typically a restart of the story or character that jettisons away everything that happened previously.” That probably amounts to hair-splitting, if not a convenient redefinition of the term, but okay.

“This is a new beginning which builds off the best of the past,” he continues. “For the stories launching as new #1s in September, we have carefully hand-selected the most powerful and pertinent moments in these characters’ lives and stories to remain in the mythology and lore. And then we’ve asked the best creators in the industry to modernize, update and enhance the books with new and exciting tales. The result is that we retained the good stuff, and then make it better.”

The same argument probably could have been put forward in 1986, with the conclusion of Crisis on Infinite Earths, which restarted characters like Superman and Wonder Woman, wiped others out of existence and left still others relatively untouched (but caused many, many problems down the road; see Wonder Girl, Justice League and Justice Society history and the All-Star Squadron, for starters). Similarly, 1994’s Zero Hour scrapped Legion of Super-Heroes continuity, monkeyed with the various Hawkman characters, and changed aspects of Batman’s and Catwoman’s origins while leaving the most powerful and pertinent moments in these characters’ lives.

It’s understandable why DC would seek to put distance between “The New 52” and the R-word — a dirty word in many fan circles — but the company itself has shown that reboots and retcons take many shapes and sizes. “The New 52” is what it is;  the publisher should embrace that like it does the renumbering (see below) or the costume changes. Repeatedly insisting what it is not only makes readers and retailers dwell that much longer on the word, and the baggage that comes with it.

But what about that other R-word, renumbering? Wayne addresses that, too — specifically questions about the wisdom of starting over its two oldest titles, Action Comics and Detective Comics, as they near their 1,000th issues (Action will hit #994 the month before the relaunch, and Detective #881). “A partial renumbering would not have had the impact we needed to showcase the amazing changes and direction we have planned for the new DC Comics universe of characters,” he writes. “Counting issue numbers is focusing on the past, not the future.”

Unfortunately, Wayne doesn’t address the notion that, if the relaunch doesn’t succeed, there might be a reset button — a Dallas-esque “it-was-all-a-dream” scenario in which continuity and issue numbers return to where they were on Aug. 24. Instead, he closes the “general” Q&A on a hopeful note for fans who may not see their favorite character among the new titles: “We are kicking things off with our best and brightest characters and what makes them so compelling and great. Simply because you don’t see a personal favorite in the September launches doesn’t mean your favorites are gone. This is just the beginning.”

Fans of, say, Power Girl or the Justice Society may bristle at the implication that those characters aren’t among DC’s best and brightest, while others may wonder how, say, Resurrection Man or Hawk and Dove made the cut. But one thing, and perhaps only one thing, is clear, two months from the New 52: for better or worse, it is just the beginning.