There’s something about this column that I am certain everyone has noticed by now: I am a Marvel guy. And in light of a certain high-profile individual writing off half of the American population (well, 47% of them to be specific), I want to make sure it doesn’t seem like I am writing off half of my superhero comic buying brethren. I am trying to understand you, DC Comics fans, and I want to speak to your comic book needs. We are one comic book buying audience!
How I ended up a Marvel guy is anyone’s guess. While I wasn’t a die-hard DC fan as a young kid, I did love Batman (all kids are genetically wired to love Batman, it’s a Bat-fact). I watched the ’60s “Batman” TV series with my dad seemingly nightly and the animated series afternoon-ly. I watched Tim Burton’s “Batman” all the time, which now shocks me considering I was six years old and that film is insane. But somehow DC Comics never took hold. I remember my mom buying me a handful of Batman comics, including issues of “Detective Comics” which I thought was a super-boring name. But Batman fighting a villain I had never heard of (Black Mask) was not more enjoyable than hearing Mark Hamill as the Joker in “Batman: TAS.” I mean sure, not much is as enjoyable as Luke Skywalker cackling like a lunatic, but the comics didn’t even seem to try. I remember hearing other kids in my class talk about Batman getting his back broken. I read those issues a few weeks ago and, I have to admit, the course of my fandom would have probably been changed if elementary school Brett had gotten his little hands on “KnightFall.”
So what did happen? Fox started airing “X-Men” in Fall 1992. By then I had been a Batman fan for at least three years and the dude was looking played out to me. Sure he had a new cartoon, but it was much more noir than superhero. I’m not knocking “Batman: TAS,” but I had developed intense relationships with “G.I. Joe” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” concurrently with everything Batman, so it’s understandable that my taste skewed towards colorful action/adventure moreso than it did black and white noir. Batman was grim and gritty while this new X-Men thing had a big cast of colorful characters and stories that mixed over-the-top action with serious (to an eight year old) drama. I started buying “X-Men Adventures,” which adapted the cartoon episodes into comic book form, which acted as my training wheels. Whereas the Batman comics I read were over my head and filled with I-have-no-clue characters, the X-Men comics I read were exactly what I loved about the cartoon. When I started reading “Uncanny X-Men,” the issue starred Gambit, Jean Grey, Bishop and Archangel (all recognizable) fighting bad guys with the same quip-tastic vigor of the cartoon. The transition was easy and, more importantly, it held.
This is all to preface the title of this Jam which is In Your Face. For me, the New 52 worked. Sure, I’m not a new reader and sure, I’m not a kid and yeah, I love superheroes. I don’t represent the demographics that everyone really hoped the New 52 would capture. But thanks to the New 52, I now read six DC superhero comics monthly. That’s six more than I ever have…ever.
A little over a year ago, I was holed up in a hotel room in upstate New York, having evacuated New York City due to the incoming Hurricane Irene. What better time to really investigate the New 52’s offerings and figure out what I would try? There wasn’t a better time! From the initial 52, I decided to try fourteen of the new series. The New 52 got me, a guy who knowingly only read Marvel Comics, to buy fourteen DC Comics in a month. For the first time in decades, I was entering a comic book mythology as an outsider, armed only with the knowledge given to me by movies and cartoons. Well, not all of the movies. I was not shocked when Judd Winick’s “Catwoman” ignored all of the hard work Halle Berry put into the character. I was even experiencing the magical mojo that the number 1 gives a comic book. I have bemoaned that number in this very column, but there I was, letting it wash over me. “It’s a new number 1! I can try aaaaanything!” And truthfully, the series that felt more like a first issue fared better with me than those that seemed to be picking up from a cherry-picked back catalogue. So to eat my own Face Jam words, seeing “#1” on the cover felt like a welcome sign. It felt like a “come on in” and the issues that took the #1 seriously left me with a feeling of “y’all come back now, ya hear?” Yes, I just quoted “Beverly Hillbillies.” I’m from Tennessee, so I’m surprised it took this long.
The New 52 fan reaction fiasco of last summer also allowed me to radically rethink my own views about continuity. When the New 52 was announced, I was overcome with joy that this was happening to “the other guys.” I knew that with DC hitting the reset button, there’d be no way Marvel would follow suit. To a continuity nut like myself, I had always feared a “Crisis”-style relaunch. So yeah, I was relieved it was happening to the company I didn’t follow. But then I started reading articles from diehard DC fans, lifers who felt the same way about the Justice League as I did about X-Force. They were fine with continuity being erased! Fine with it! How could this be? Why weren’t they swearing to quit comics? Why hadn’t they bought plane tickets and poster board to protest this awful decision in front of the DC offices? Those things weren’t happening because these smart people knew that the stories they loved weren’t going anywhere.
I then realized that continuity is a tool, not a trap. I realized that reboots invalidate nothing. I realized that it would take a disastrous event to wipe out all the physical and digital copies of every pre-New 52 Batman story, and a new #1 was not that disaster. Now there are going to be new stories that will also exist, alongside the stories from twenty years ago that also still exist. And in the event of Marvel ever rebooting, I realized that that decision would not eradicate the big shelves full of single issues I have in my living room. They’d still be there, impressing my comic-inclined friends and cluttering up the apartment, much to my boyfriend’s dismay. I have no idea how I would actually react to a Marvel reboot, but I now have the many representatives of DC Comics’ fandom to thank for showing me how level heads respond to such a thing. This is the thanks you get: a column.
Having a fresh start like the New 52 didn’t erase those old stories for me, either. Thanks to my newfound interest in the Distinguished Competition, I started checking out older DC Comics. Sure, I know these stories most likely “don’t count” and star a lot of characters that are either missing or flat out don’t exist in the New 52. But so what? They’re stories. In the case of “Catwoman” by Ed Brubaker, “DC: The New Frontier” and “Gotham Central,” they’re great stories that I wish I had read a decade earlier. I honestly don’t care that Renee Montoya is missing in the New 52, because I still have her kicking ass in “Gotham Central.”
It feels like continuity sometimes acts as a reassurance that the story is continuing. Removal of continuity feels like an ending, and comic books are all about the ongoing. The thing is, stories should end. All stories end. Comics are not afforded that luxury, and it’s the never-ending approach that scared me away from DC for so long. With the New 52, I got the chance to jump in at the start and I learned to not fear the ending. A story is a story, and all that matters is whether or not it’s a good one.
But also know that if Marvel ever pulls a massive line-wide reboot, I will need literally everyone I know to read this entire article to the quivering, puddle of a man that I will surely have become.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre sketch team Everything Rabbits. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).