Comics/Graphic Novels

DC’s “Rebirth” and Rebooting: Uncool Enough to Care

DC is apparently gearing up for…something. On January 22nd, Dan Didio tweeted a picture of a curtain and the word “Rebirth,” feeding a flurry of rumors. No one’s sure exactly what’s coming, but the strongest rumor, among buzz about another reboot, a rolling back of the last reboot, or a line-wide renumbering, is that DC’s bringing their publishing more in line with their extremely successful TV offerings.

Me? I’m waiting to see what DC announces, but all this chatter is reminding me of the last reboot, back in 2011, and how it felt. See, on paper the reboot was bad enough: give me a drink and three hours of your time and I’ll tell you all about the female characters, queer characters, and characters of color who fell victim to it and haven’t been seen since, or the way the company hemorrhaged creators immediately after due to frequently cited editorial mismanagement, or the way female fans were publicly mocked and berated at cons by DC top brass for asking questions about the dearth of women in and behind their comics.

But though I can cite crappy consequences of the 2011 reboot until the Bat-cows come home, what I think about when I remember how it felt wasn’t anything I can objectively quantify. What I remember most is how much it hurt.

This is embarrassing to type, knowing I’m going to put it on the internet for strangers to read. But I loved the pre-2011 DCU. I loved its convoluted history and its quirky side characters and its weird little back alleyways. I loved finding a character I could latch onto and following their path through the decades, through crossover events and nonsensical retcons and silly trends (“It’s 1993! Ugly robot armor for everyone!”). I know that particular DCU only existed since 1986, but I was two in 1986. The post-Crisis DCU was my DCU, and I adored it.

And then it was gone.

“It’s just comics,” I heard – from some friends, from certain camps of fans on the internet, from DC themselves. “The stories you loved aren’t going anywhere. They’re only fictional characters. It’s not a big deal.”

I heard it, too, when characters I loved were killed off: Ted Kord, Stephanie Brown, Bart Allen, Ralph and Sue Dibny, Conner Kent. “They’re fictional characters.” For some reason, the most sneering dismissals came from people working at DC. “They’re not real. It’s just comics. They’ll be back in a year. Get over it.”

(All of those characters are, admittedly, back. Some of them took nearly a decade to return. Only Steph is recognizably the character I loved before her death.)

It’s true. They are fictional comics. It is, in fact, just comics.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have a strong emotional response to the things that happen in those comics. Nor does it mean that I shouldn’t.

Art moves us. It’s meant to. A story that doesn’t make you feel anything isn’t a good strong; a character that doesn’t engender any kind of emotional response isn’t a strong character. Superhero comics, as silly a genre as they can sometimes – hell, frequently – be, are no exception. Yes, they’re often formulaic, crass, or nonsensical…but they’ve also made me cry, and helped me to understand my own brain a little better, and given me models of the kind of brave and giving person I want to be. That’s a good thing. That’s the whole point.

On Twitter the other day I described the 2011 reboot as feeling gutted, and I stand by that. But like I said a few paragraphs ago, I’m embarrassed to admit that. I’m embarrassed because I’ve heard over and over again that I shouldn’t be so upset about something so disposable, so ephemeral – so fictional.

The weirdest thing is that I hear this the most from people who make their livings from comics: executives, editors, writers and artists, reviewers, store owners. “Why do you care so much?” they want to know. Dude, you’d better hope I care, because if you can’t make people care about the latest trial or tribulation in Clark Kent or Peter Parker’s life, you’re out of a job! It’s sublimely hypocritical too, because let’s face it: no one gets into the comic book industry in hopes of making the big bucks. You’re lucky if you can scrounge up the enough-to-live-on bucks. Comics are a labor of love, so don’t sneer at me for loving them as much as you do.

I don’t know what DC’s got in store for next week, or next month, or next year. I know even a total reboot won’t have the same effect on me this time around. The thing about being gutted is that, well, you’re kind of empty afterwards, and though there have been books from DC that I’ve liked and even loved in the past five years, the current universe doesn’t have the same hold on my heart that the old one does.

But if they do wind up canceling those books I love, I refuse to apologize for being sad about it. Same goes for Marvel, or any other comic book company, or developments I’m unhappy with in their movie and TV adaptations. In the race to be That Person On Twitter Who Cares The Least About The Latest Comics Thing, I’m gonna embrace being enthusiastic and uncool. I care a lot about the latest comics thing. I always will.

So yeah, at the end of the day, it is just comics. But I’ve never been any good at being cynical or blasé, so I’m going to keep on caring when things go down in them that upset me. Because the flip side to being able to be hurt by comics is being able to love comics wholly and uncoolly – and I wouldn’t trade that for all the unflappable Twitter panache in the world.

Keep your cool. I’m gonna go on giving a crap instead.