Reboot DC Comics the right way
June 26, 2011
Maybe you have heard that DC Comics is rebooting all of their comics and all of their heroes this fall. Some fans are outraged, some dumbfounded, some are cautiously enthusiastic (if that is a term), some are wary of a marketing ploy and some fear a very light reboot.
Count me among the last group. They seem to be only changing the cosmetics. Costume changes, younger heroes, but the same origin stories. That’s not really a reboot, it’s a refresh. But they want to modernize their comics lines, and to capture a new audience and build the next generation of comic book readers.
Light reboots never work. They irritate long-time fans, offer little to potential new fans and even fail to make an impression on the creators (probably because they’re still to far inside their comfort zone.) Light reboots don’t generate enough provocative buzz to grab eyeballs. Real reboots, if done right, can equal or eclipse the original. Star Trek: The Next Generation. A female Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica. Clooney and Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11.
DC ought to do a genuine reboot. Retire heroes, big damn heroes, and re-imagine others. If they want to grab new eyeballs, they need to make some jarring, overdue, provocative changes. From a marketing standpoint, they need to break out of their white male focus, because demographically that group is fading at younger ages, especially among the reader population. Here is a taste of what I am thinking:
Superman. He has always been a kind of ridiculous, Golden Age, rough-draft superhero 1.0: a list of superlatives, no real character traits, and no serious inherent dramatic potential. Cardboard with a cape. You want to show that you’re serious about a reboot, drop him. That’s right: no more Superman. Like Mickey Mouse, he’s more an icon than an actual comic book character any more.
Batman. A skinny black man, a martial arts expert and former investigator, back from the Army in Afghanistan, finds his family all but destroyed by the recession and inner city crime. He dons the cowl and relies on detective skills, stealth and martial arts to fight crime in his neighborhood and the white collar crime that shapes his neighborhood. Retire the muscle-bound white billionaire who is so hurt over being an orphan. (I love Batman, but he fit in the 1930s-60s, not now).
Wonder Woman. An actual Brazilian from the Amazon, thrown into the modern world and finding her way. She was kidnapped by pharmaceutical companies trying to pull the biodiversity out of the rainforest before it gets cut down. No magic lasso, invisible jet, Greek-myth background, etc. A grounded Latina fighting for her people and what is right. Powers: only those she brings with her from the Amazon, the ability to heal, vicious fighting skills, and to sense lying and deception (no lasso needed).
Aliens: none. They become green-skinned deus ex machinas who always have a new uber power that can destroy the universe. Until next week’s alien who has an uber+1 power, or a reverse-uber+1 power. Aliens are also thinly-veiled ‘others’ who the nearly-all white superheroes fight against. That is so 1955. If you want to expand your audience and pick up younger readers, please note that they are more non-white than ever before.
Green Arrow and Green Lantern. Without aliens involved, the Green Lantern Corps can’t really exist, right? And the two Greens have a long history together. Why not combine them? The Green Arrow Corps, all humans, would be lead by and recruited by Oliver Green to patrol each sector of Earth. No rings, lanterns or bows to fight street crime: they are citizens committed to progress (hence the arrow) and environmental sustainability. They start out fighting environmental crime but of course end up having to fight against the other crimes that environmental victims suffer from. Ollie Green is the founder of the Corps, and comes from fighting polluters in New Orleans.
Geography: Without the aliens, it’s a lot more realistic, huh? Take it up a notch and dump Metropolis, Gotham, Coastal City Bludhaven and Central City. Use real cities and locations like Marvel. Batman in Chicago, Wonder Woman in no fixed location, Nightwing in Philadelphia, Zatanna in LA.
No extraterrestrials or gods. There never seems to be much continuity or coherence in the multitude of alien races that all possess world-ending powers and really immature galactic domination fantasies. Stop it with the mustache-twirling ETs already.
No Aquaman, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Flash, StarFire, Martian Manhunter. Keep Zatanna, Nightwing, Raven.
Villains: If you reboot the heroes, you need new villains. Without aliens or inter-dimensional deities, you need a lot more villains. And a lot of the old ones, like The Penguin, are outdated.
Lex Luthor. Reboot him into a younger corporate exec, making his way up. Involved in personal enhancement product, like armor, weaponry and biological enhancements.
The Joker. A female TV reporter who hates Batman and loves screwing with the city to generate ratings.
Have I offended your comic book sensibilities enough at this point? Keep in mind that if fumbled, this reboot could lead a kid in the future to say “what was DC comics?”