Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Reboot vs Reinterpretation

So big thanks to Don who last week in the comments pointed out that Aaron Diaz of Dresden Codak fame took a shot at rebooting some DC characters and has completed a version of the Justice League. It's pretty neat stuff and you should check it out (Cyborg as Moss from IT Crowd is a huge plus).

But is it a reboot? I'm not sure it is. This is not a bad thing, mind you. But it did set my brain a'whirlin. I've been mulling this over for the past week, trying to suss out exactly what constitutes a reboot of a character as opposed to a reinterpretation or reinvention or reimagining or reimaging. Party time at Casa De Drew, believe you me.

I'm still coming to grips with how best to explain this, so please bear with my extremely tortured golf analogy.

So let's start with the Platonic Ideal of a character. That's the Core Concept. The Core Concept should be simple, pretty much a sentence long description. Superman would be something along the lines of "A heroic outsider who lives among us and protects us with his marvelous powers." Batman would be "A wealthy scion who has dedicated his life to avenging a past tragedy."

Now, around this Core Concept we build a shell. This shell is the Presentation, basically how the Core Concept is shown to the world. In comics, this manifests itself in art and backstory and powers and so on. It is why Superman and Martian Manhunter, who share the same Core Concept, are different characters. Both are heroic outsiders living among us protecting us with their powers, but one is from Krypton and the other Mars.

We now have the golf ball that is our character. In order to get any use out of the ball, we take it to a golf course, put it on a tee, and take a swing. The hole, whether it's a par 4, whether it has a water feature or a sand trap or whatever, is the setting we've placed the character/ball in to. Of course, this being a golf course based on an ongoing series, the hole is a troubling Par Infinity, as if the ball makes it to the hole, the game is over and the character ends. (Like the last hole in minigolf.)

So what is a reboot? It's picking up the ball and walking back towards the tee. The ball stays the same, but how it interacts with the course changes. So while you may hit the ball towards the same spot it landed previously, you'll never get it exactly there, and pretty soon, you're experiencing an entirely different hole. This time round, you might end up in the rough or miss the sandtrap entirely.

A reinterpretation? Changing the Presentation Shell around the Core Concept. So in a way, Martian Manhunter is a reinterpretation of Superman. Which, I think, makes sense given the character's history.

By changing the starting tee and course, you get your What Ifs, your Red Sons and Gothams by Gaslight. If we need to stick to the 're' theme, let's call it a re-imaging. 

You can change both the shell and the course and still have an iteration of the same character, but this would be a reinvention. For example, Hyperion of Marvel's Squadron Supreme is a reinvention of Superman. Different presentation, different experiences, but same Core Concept.

You can't up and change the Core Concept without ending up with a different character entirely, but the Core can change/evolve over time. Sometimes, though, you can't even change the presentation of the character without changing the character as a whole - popular culture simply has made the shell too thick to crack. Superman can fly. Period. Everyone knows that. A Superman incapable of flight is not really Superman. Even though Clark has had his feet on the ground at least three times in recent memory (Smallville, the Grounded arc, and most recently Action Comics #1), it was made clear to the reader/viewer that he'd be able to fly again eventually. Permanently dialing Superman back to his original, leaping incarnation simply would not (pun intended) fly nowadays, no matter how many supercars you give him. Right, Nic?


This hard shell only really applies to Big Name characters. You can change all you want about minor characters and get away with it. Well, usually, right Halle?

Looking over not only Aaron's reboots, but many of my own, I see a lot of reinterpretations and reinventions. Again, this isn't good or bad. On my part we have an Aquaman who is not the King of Atlantis, a Batwoman who is not a bat, and an Adam Strange who hosts his own reality TV show. Aaron has a Flash who views his powers as a curse, a Superman who has a third secret identity, and Wonder Woman as a living statue.

But I hesitate now to call them reboots.

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