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Grumpy Old Fan | Will DC’s past catch up with it?

by  in Comic News Comment
Grumpy Old Fan | Will DC’s past catch up with it?

Three recent bits of DC news are running together in my mind. Cumulatively they may amount to nothing — housekeeping details and/or fallout from the New-52 relaunch — but individually they seem significant, because they may well speak to the proverbial “reset button” which DC claims does not exist. Put simply, I think that reset button exists, I think it affects all of the New-52 books, and I expect it to be revealed within the next year or two. Whether it gets pushed, and/or how much resetting occurs, is another matter.

While it may be overprotective to put a SPOILER WARNING so early in the post, I realize some of you may want to discover these things as they are actually published.

I don’t blame you — I was trying to avoid the Wonder Woman thing, but that’s what I get for reading convention coverage. (And yes, I have seen the recent news about a certain Flash character.)

Anyway, SPOILERS for potential DC milestones big and small….

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Let us now consider

— the deletion of the “Crisis” events from DC history;

— the rumored fate of Krypto; and

— the advice to “keep reading” for the fate of Wally West.

We can think of these items as, respectively, a) events which didn’t happen, b) circumstances which ensure particular events won’t happen, and c) events which might still happen.

* * *

DIDN’T HAPPEN

The “Crisis” events were watersheds in DC history. For our purposes they started with 1985’s Crisis On Infinite Earths, although COIE drew its inspiration from the annual Justice League/Justice Society team-ups, most of which had “Crisis” in their titles. In fact, the follow-up to COIE was originally going to be titled Crisis Of The Soul (and perhaps Crisis On Captive Earth, a title I remember seeing in various 1986 editorials), but it became Legends, and except for 1994’s Zero Hour, subtitled Crisis In Time, subsequent DC events stayed away from the C-word. However, 2004’s Identity Crisis started a new “Crisis Cycle” — not to mention a constant “crossover churn” — which included 2005-06’s Infinite Crisis, and which lasted officially through the end of 2008-09’s Final Crisis. (I say “officially” because 2009-10’s Blackest Night wrapped up a handful of Crisis-Cycle subplots, including the deaths of Aquaman, Ronnie Raymond, Max Lord, and the Martian Manhunter. Nevertheless, there weren’t supposed to be any more “Crisis” events after, duh, Final Crisis.)

Anyway, on a macro level the whole thing eats itself. Barry “Flash” Allen, the avatar of the Silver Age, dies in COIE, and his name and costume are taken up by his protege, the former Kid Flash Wally West. Wally appears in Legends and practically every other DC event for the next twenty years, and his “death” is teased too, first in Zero Hour and later in Infinite Crisis. However, Wally is still the Flash as of Final Crisis, which brings Barry back to life. Two years later, in Flashpoint, Barry (for lack of a better term) destroys the familiar timeline,* remaking it into the current New-52 under the supervision of a mysterious hooded figure. In short, Barry’s death in COIE set up some twenty-odd years of cosmic rumbling, and shortly after he returned, he helped restart and/or reorder all of history, twice — and by the way, in so doing he may have erased totally the events which both killed him and brought him back. This is the superhero equivalent of the magician tying two ropes together and removing the knot, so that only one uncut rope remains. It’s a neat trick for streamlining continuity, but in this case there are a number of people who had either gotten used to having the knot, and might actually have preferred the knot to stay in place.

Accordingly, Dan DiDio tried to clarify:

With so many characters and histories restarting, major events like Crisis are harder to place when they work for some and not for others. (that was one of the problems coming out of the original Crisis). While we are starting [approximately] five years into our heroes’ lives, we are focused on the characters present and future, and past histories will be revealed as the stories dictate. Yes, there have been “crisis” in our characters lives, but they aren’t exactly the Crisis you read before, they can’t be.

This gives Barry/Flash some options. If COIE never happened, then odds are good he never died (which is good, because if Final Crisis never happened either, it removes one way to bring him back). Even if he had died in the New-52 timeline — and it seems like DC has said he hadn’t, but bear with me — obviously he’s back, so it’s a non-issue. The most likely scenario is that Barry never died and COIE as we know it never happened, so that takes care of one continuity knot. DC can use the Anti-Monitor in the New-52 context without having to explain how he’s around and nobody remembers Barry being dead.

Slightly tricker to finesse are Hal Jordan’s other careers. In 1994 Hal, as the evil Parallax, destroyed the Green Lantern Corps. In 1996 Hal/Parallax sacrificed his life to restart the Sun. In 1999 a Parallax-free Hal (still dead) became the human host of the Spectre, and in 2004 a series of fortuitous events resulted in Hal being brought back to life and reinstated into the also-revived Green Lantern Corps. Considering the restatement of Kyle Rayner’s origin in GL: New Guardians #1, the initial Parallax stuff probably still happened, and Hal may have subsequently sacrificed himself as he did in 1996’s Final Night. However, I’ll bet his Spectre career is no longer part of his permanent record. Heck, the Spectre itself may now be part of the new Earth-2.

You get the idea — like it or not, DC continuity is so interrelated that the effects on even a few characters ripple into the larger superhero line. We readers must now accept the fact that this is, for all intents and purposes, a complete reboot. Not that it’s necessarily bad, but it’s something DC might just as well embrace.

WON’T HAPPEN NOW

That brings me to the rumor that Krypto the Superdog no longer exists in his friendly, white-furred, red-caped incarnation. Instead, I take it we’ll only see Krypto on pre-disaster Krypton, since the rumor holds that Krypto didn’t made it to Earth alive. I found this announcement particularly disturbing, because it tells me that DC is willing to close off certain storytelling avenues entirely, even if — or perhaps especially if — they are as frivolous as a super-powered dog.

Now, I am not going to go off on another “DC hates fun” rant, mostly because I remember the 1986 edict that Superman was the last Kryptonian, period, with no loopholes for gender or species. While it took fifteen years for the proper Krypto to come back (a supporting character had a non-powered puppy with that name in the meantime) and another few years after that for Kara Zor-El to land on Earth (again), DC only waited two years to unveil a new Supergirl, whose 1996 ongoing series lasted a very respectable 81 issues.

Still, the Krypto-is-dead-already type of news is yet another sign that DC is Very Serious about some things, if only for the time being. If the high sheriffs think a Dex-Starr/Krypto throwdown may be at all marketable, the Dog of Steel will be back quicker than Hoppy the Marvel Bunny on a date. It may not even require that pretext. I cannot imagine a DC which refuses absolutely to give its main-line Superman his favorite pet.

COULD STILL HAPPEN

See, as much as it protests that its superhero comics have put away childish things, DC is even more reluctant to let those things simply pass into memory. The current Shade miniseries, which appears to take place in pre-September continuity, is just one example. Its parent series, Starman, relied heavily on a DC Universe where legacy heroes were as common as Kennedys and Bushes in government. As such, it was pretty deeply rooted in decades of DC lore, adapting and updating those old stories for its own explorations. With the New 52’s emphasis on the here and now, DC can say it doesn’t publish series like Starman anymore — except that it clearly thinks there’s an audience for a follow-up like The Shade.

Ironically, what makes me think Wally West will be coming back as the Flash is the fact that DC seems to have written him (as the Flash) out of the New 52. If Barry hasn’t died, there’s no opportunity for Wally to succeed him. In fact, if Barry’s not dating Wally’s aunt Iris, it’s much less likely that Wally has become Kid Flash in the first place. That said, it’s entirely possible that a more mischievous Wally West could have snuck into Barry’s lab on a particularly stormy night and been drenched in lightning-charged chemicals just as Barry was, and is now running around in a homemade costume as the Kid Flash of Teen Titans — but again, that version of Wally won’t be the Flash anytime soon.

And if DC brings (or has brought) back Wally in the New 52, it’s only a matter of time before Wally becomes the Flash. History argues too strongly for it to be otherwise. DC could have rolled back its Batman timeline so that Dick Grayson was once again the only Robin, but too many people know (and like) Dick as Nightwing. Furthermore, too many people like Tim Drake and Damian Wayne to remove them from the picture. Granted, during the year or so that Barry and Wally shared the name and costume, they might have seemed somewhat redundant in a way that Nightwing, Red Robin, and Robin would not. Still, for twenty-five years Wally West was The Flash, the Fastest Man Alive, and Barry Allen was just part of his backstory. I understand perfectly why DC would want to focus more on Barry in the New 52, but Wally is as emblematic of that post-Crisis era as Barry was of the Silver Age.

Accordingly, if and when DC reveals that reset button — perhaps in conjunction with revelations about the red-hooded woman — I suspect Wally/Flash will resurface, as the harbinger of a resurgent pre-relaunch DC Universe. Maybe this will happen next summer, when the New 52 is about a year old; maybe it’ll wait until 2013 and the 75th anniversary of Superman. Whenever it happens, I think it’ll be an excuse not really to roll back the New-52 changes, but to bring back some of the more successful characters and concepts which, for whatever reason, don’t fit any longer into the New-52 timeline. The Justice Society is getting its own Earth-2 again, so why shouldn’t the pre-September DC Universe have an Earth of its own? (Earth-August?) Each would be a more retro-styled alternative to the New-52 titles, allowing DC to examine its characters at different points in their careers, and probably having made different choices. After all, Dan DiDio did tell Facebook that the New 52 was about “infinite possibilities.”

* * *

To be clear, I am not ready to roll back the New 52 when it’s not even two months old. However, I do think that certain factors make conditions favorable for a reintroduction of the pre-September status quo. Using Earth-2 for the upcoming Justice Society relaunch sets a clear precedent for similar treatment of the pre-September timeline. Additionally, the fact that DC has apparently erased the original Teen Titans team — and with it some significant members of that team’s generation — strikes me as too radical a change to go unaddressed. Reworking Earth-August as a place where that generation came into its own would not only distinguish it pretty clearly, but a “successor Earth” would be a nice complement to Earth-2’s “predecessors.”

Besides, it would be another way to exploit DC’s massive reprint library. Will new or returning readers be so enamored of, say, Red Hood and the Outlaws’ Starfire that they spring for the New Teen Titans Omnibus? The reverse seems more likely. Reprinting Geoff Johns’ work on Wally West’s Flash arguably draws as much from Johns’ fans as it does Flash fans; but again, promoting Wally’s Flash doesn’t exactly cater to Barry’s current readers. While there’s room for both, DC can’t help reminding readers of the “out-of-date” stuff, because that’s basically all DC can reprint.

Accordingly, I expect Wally to resurface alongside the red-hooded woman, letting longtime readers know that Barry didn’t really destroy the old timeline. Maybe the split-in-three timeline wasn’t DC/Vertigo/WildStorm, but Earth-August/Earth-2/New-52. (Unlikely, perhaps, but the Hooded Woman’s mumbo-jumbo wasn’t exactly airtight either.) Whatever the cosmological justification, I believe that if there’s any opportunity for the New 52’s success to promote the old regime, DC will take it. Wally/Flash and Krypto may be superfluous in the New 52, but so were the retired Golden Age characters before “Flash of Two Worlds.”

Clearly, in the long term, setting up two alternate universes alongside the main New-52 Earth is begging for trouble, of the kind only another Crisis-style event could resolve. Still, I suspect that if it means DC will still be publishing superhero comics 25 years from now, it would take that kind of trouble — and when that time comes, DC might just have learned how to manage its latest multiverse.

Now, when the New 52 relaunch was announced, I said I “[didn’t] want the DC of 2012 to look like the DC of 2010.” Furthermore, I predicted that “[i]f this all turns out to be a … ‘Heroes Reborn’-style digression, and some future Big Event restores what Flashpoint changed, the New 52 will be seen as a crushing failure.”

Since then I’ve praised the Retro-Active ‘70s Superman special as a tribute to a period worth revisiting, I’ve gushed over a continuity-intensive New Titans graphic novel which evokes a similarly bygone age, and here I’ve outlined a strategy for reintroducing the pre-September status quo. Because these positions are not exactly consistent with a wholehearted embrace of the New 52, readers might well think I’d be happier if DC just went back to the ‘70s, the late ‘80s, or even this past spring.

It won’t, though; and it shouldn’t (at least not in big doses). Still, it’s frustrating to see the publisher limiting itself, whether arbitrarily or by design. By cutting a number of well-liked characters and concepts out of the relaunch, DC is practically daring readers to demand their return. Odds are that’ll happen, even as the New 52 moves forward.

++++++++++++

* [Personally, I am still not convinced that Barry himself was the butterfly whose desire to prevent his mom’s death caused the wide-ranging changes in either the Flashpoint or New-52 timelines. To me this is a discrepancy which should be answered in a future Big Event.]

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