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.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The More You Type 'Crisis' The Weirder It Looks

While we are starting aprx 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.
- Dan DiDio

Good! Finally, DC commits to something concrete about their "new" universe. I'm not sure anyone can really be surprised by this - if the point of the New DC was to streamline the continuity, ditching the broad, often more confusing than clarifying, Crises (Crisises?) is exactly what is needed. Reboots require commitment and in this one instance, it looks like DC is not trying to have its cake and eat it too.
Except, of course, this causes problems. Because DC was wishy-washy over the recent events of Batman, a large part of which was based on Bat's "death" at the eyes of Darkseid during Final Crisis, we're left with a compact and confusing backstory. So why did Dick take over the Batsuit, then? Where the hell did Jason Todd come back from if he wasn't punched back to life by Superboy Prime in Infinite Crisis? These are not the sorts of questions you want to spend time on if you are a forward looking writer, but they're ones you're going to have to answer as they were recent events that have impacted the current story. (Proposed Solution: Batman banged Catwoman so hard it shook the walls of reality and brought Jason Todd back to life. Not only does it fit with the depressing turn Outsiders has taken, but it explains why you could see his wang on that one cover - as a mystically reborn child of Batman, he's got a fair bit o'Pan in him, he is now the Mystical Penis Driving Itself Into The Core Of The DC Univ... i'll stop.)

You can't shut the door on past history while leaving the window open. If you want to revisit or allude to great past events in your comic's history, that's fine. The Ultimate line in Marvel did this a lot with mixed results, usually good. Sometimes it was a nod to the fans, sometimes it was a fake-out built on fans' expectations of history repeating itself. In either event, it was often enough to get new readers on board with characters' backstories.

We get our round of #2s tomorrow. I'll probably download Action Comics, Animal Man, Swamp Thing, and OMAC. I'm wondering what it says about my masculinity that there's nary a heaving bosom to be found there. Of course, if you want to weigh in on what's going on with the New 52, you can do so here with a Nielson Survey.