Two weeks ago, I ruminated on DC Comics’ Flashpoint event and what it might mean for Batman comics.
Well, earlier this week, DC Comics announced what’s coming down the road — the DC Universe as we know it will change radically in September.
Comics fandom has been beside itself since Tuesday trying to figure out what it all means. New creative teams, new costumes and backstories for many characters — in the words of USA Today, a “revamping” of the DC Universe for the 21st-century. Or, in the words of fandom, a “reboot.”
As an example, Batgirl will apparently relaunch with Barbara Gordon in the costume. For non-fans, the current DCU Batgirl is Stephanie Brown, formerly a third-string Gotham City heroine named Spoiler and, later, the fourth Robin, while Barbara Gordon, who is confined to a wheelchair after a bullet through the spin, is better known as Oracle, the DCU’s computer expert and power behind the scenes.
Besides my great affection for what Bryan Miller and Dustin Nguyen are doing on Batgirl — besides being a fun read, Steph is a great character — Steph-as-Batgirl is a key part of Grant Morrison’s Batman universe. One possible conclusion to draw is that Morrison’s Batman masterplan, which still has some time to reach its conclusion, is being taken off the table in the post-Flashpoint DCU status quo.
But then, the more I think about, the more I suspect that DC Comics has something else in mind than a simple reboot. Nor do I think that Flashpoint and the world after it will be like the 2009 Star Trek film, with time travel and a rewritten history that’s similar but not exact.
Rather, I think that what DC plans is something closer to the launch of the Silver Age with Showcase #4 in 1956. August will see the last ongoing stories told in the DCU that began in 1956 (or, for some characters, 1986 with Crisis on Infinite Earths and its aftermath), and then September will see comics set on a brand-new Earth, with some heroes similar and some heroes different, but with everything fresh and new and the shackles of the past thrown off.
Why do I think this? Two main reasons.
The first is simply structural. DC (as a company) has, over the years, absorbed other companies’ characters, like the Fawcett characters (Captain Marvel and his family), the Charlton characters (Blue Beetle, the Question), the Wildstorm characters, and the Milestone characters. Then there are things like Watchmen, with that batch of characters.
None of these characters were ever designed to fit together with one another. And while some things, like the Charlton characters, have been integrated quite well into the DCU (see Blue Beetle, especially), other characters, like the Marvel Family, have struggled over the years to “fit.” And then the Wildstorm characters have, for the last fifteen years, been treated as something wholly separate.
If you’re building a new universe from scratch, though, and you’re thinking through how all the pieces fit together, you can make these things come together organically because now they’re all part of the foundation, and you can build a coherent history from that. You have world-build a universe with Metropolis and Gotham and Fawcett and Dakota. You can have characters like Superman and Icon and Captain Marvel and Mr. Majestic co-existing. You can have teams like the Justice League and the Authority on the same planet. Make them fit at the start, rather than try and wedge them together at the end, and it can come together.
That said, I have no idea if Watchmen‘s characters will be part of the new DCU. But now that I’ve thought about it, the Minutemen would make for an interesting group of characters in the new DCU’s Golden Age. Perhaps one or two even worked alongside the Justice Society — Green Lantern, the Flash, Dollar Bill, the Comedian, Hourman, and the Sandman.
The second reason why I think that DC is giving us a new Earth — or rather, shifting its narrative focus to a new Earth — is narrative.
Flashpoint, quite frankly, isn’t any sort of finale for the DCU as we know it. The concept is entirely peripheral to the DCU as it stands today — it’s basically a glorified Elseworlds where everything that could go wrong has gone wrong, and even though many of the characters have the same names, they’re not the people that long-time readers know or have been following. There’s no emotional connection between Flashpoint and and the DCU.
If Flashpoint isn’t a continuation from the current DCU, the new DCU doesn’t look like any sort of continuation from Flashpoint. (That is, unless the Flash flies the Pandorica into the heart of an exploding TARDIS, in which case I take it all back.) And yes, I’m aware of Barry’s “But this is all real” conversation with Batman in Flashpoint #2, but let’s face facts — Barry’s an idiot, and what he does to himself at the end of the issue more than proves that.
So I think it’s a different Earth entirely, and the DCU that we’ve followed for years will simply become part of the larger Multiverse, a world that the heroes may visit, not unlike the JLA/JSA crossovers of years gone by, but it won’t be the central narrative focus of DC Comics. Instead, this “new” Earth, with less baggage, with easier-to-grasp heroes will be the focus, and Flashpoint will be seen by historians in the way that Showcase #4 is seen — the demarcation point of an era. Indeed, it’s almost poetic that Barry Allen, who debuted in Showcase #4 and ushered in the Silver Age, is the focus of the story that closes out an era.
I’m very curious to see what DC Comics has planned for September. It’s no secret that I’ve been a heavy DC reader for a number of years — I’ve actually dropped all of my Marvel books. Yes, I’m disappointed that some books and concepts that I adore, like Batgirl, are going to fall by the wayside, but at the same time, the DC characters — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and all the rest — are cultural touchstones and they can use some refreshing. And perhaps some of the concepts and characters that have been damaged over the years, like Hawkman, can be given the room to grow and become fresh and healthy again.
There are interesting times ahead for DC Comics — and the comics industry as a whole — that’s for sure.