52 Pickup: Crisis of Infinite Negation


The Great DC Reboot is currently underway.

Don’t tell them it’s a reboot, though. They like to call it a “soft restart” because, according to the original press, “only some things are changing to give the characters a fresher start, but most of the DC Canon will remain unchanged.”

I know this whole “New 52” thing started at the beginning of September, but I had to really read into it before I reacted. I didn’t want to be one of those knee-jerkers who said that this was going to ruin everything before it even hit the newsstands. I wanted to have at least a semi-educated opinion based as little on speculation as possible.

In retrospect, my knee-jerk would have been the correct reaction. Maybe not reaction enough.

DC, for all its iconic majesty, has been largely on the wrong track for far too long.

For decades, their writers have employed what I believe to be the absolute worst technique in storytelling – the unreasonable retcon.
If you’re not up-to-date on your fictional terminology, retcon is short for retroactive continuity. This is basically a deus ex machina used by lazy writers to change the history of a given character and even sometimes an entire fictional universe. We’re not talking about a simple flashback here, we’re talking erasures of anything from one paragraph to books and books worth of material in order to fit an existing character into a different mold.

Retcons are nothing new to the comic book or sci-fi community. They happen nearly all the time in some of our favorite media, however, comic books have always shown the strongest example of the technique.

In the past, DC has retconned some of the most integral things from their universe in order to simplify the current continuity and bring in new readers. Their theory is that, through this simplification, they will attract new readers who have been fans of the movies and cartoons based on their characters. A new reader could pick up an issue of something as convoluted as Superman and the book would now seem much more approachable because the entire history of the book has simply been discounted and erased.

This, my friends, is the Mother of All Retcons. In the war against continuity, this is a pure scorched earth tactic.

Dan DiDio, one of the main architects of the New 52, has dropped official word that all Crisis events in the DC Universe have been abolished from the canon. This throws sand in the face of the last thirty years of the continuity and, given the shady and nebulous nature of the universe’s past as it stands, takes away the only static points left in the timeline.

Some of you may not speak Comic Book Geek. Allow me to translate by using another self-cannibalistic visionary who seems to enjoy rewriting his work and “fixing” stuff like it ain’t no thang: George Lucas.

Say Lucas really went off the deep end. Say Lucas suddenly said that all the events of The Empire Strike Back were null and void.
Let that marinate for a minute and think about how confusing things would be if you just jumped from A New Hope right on over to Return of the Jedi with nothing in between. No Vader reveal. No clue as to why Han is in Carbonite. No way of knowing who the hell Lando Calrissian or Boba Fett are. No Jedi training by Yoda on Dagobah. None of it. None of it was canon, none of it actually happened, but somehow we still arrived at Return of the Jedi. How mindboggling would that be?

That’s where we are without Crises in the DC Universe.

Without the Crises to explain things, there are people who are alive that should be dead. There are people who are dead that should be alive. There are people who were paralyzed that can suddenly walk again completely removing the main tragic and interesting element from their backstory and thereby negating the point of one of the greatest Batman/Joker stories of all time (I’m looking at you, Barbara Gordon). Suddenly, the DCU is an infinitely more confusing place than it had been to begin with.

A good 50% of all the DCU’s game-changing events have Crisis somewhere in the title. Crisis on Infinite Earths, Identity Crisis, Final Crisis, Infinite Crisis… the list goes on. There were also “countdown” build-ups to these crises as well as aftermath books detailing what happened in the wake of the crisis, most notably 52 after Infinite Crisis. 52 was one of the most defining moments for the large second-tier of heroes as the “Big Three” of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman took (essentially) a year-long sabbatical leaving a huge vacuum which was filled in some of the most interesting ways (such as Harvey Dent and the Riddler going straight and helping to take over for Batman and Lex Luthor granting superpowers to the entirety of Metropolis, himself included, to “cover” for Superman).

Also, as a Bat-Fan, I have to express this: The Batman comics have been the best they’ve been in a long time. Dick Grayson assumed the Mantle of the Bat with Damian Wayne, the psychotic 12-year-old son of Talia al’Ghul and Bruce Wayne as trained by the League of Assassins, serving as Robin. These books were absolutely stunning and it was great to see a different take on the Dark Knight without having to mess with the continuity of things.

Of course, both of these instances would not be possible if not for two separate crises.

Damian spins from a comic that wasn’t originally part of canon (Batman: Son of the Demon, originally thought to be an Elseworlds {alternate reality} story). This was rectified by Infinite Crisis in the most ridiculous way imaginable. Superboy-Prime (look him up, I don’t have space to explain) punching the walls of reality. The shockwaves caused things to suddenly become canon, albeit with a slightly tweaked origin.

Dick’s assuming of the mantle truly comes from the ending of Final Crisis, in which Darkseid removes Batman from the timestream via the Omega Sanction. Of course, Bruce eventually came back, but until the reboot, he was going to allow Dick to continue to operate as Batman in Gotham while Bruce put together an international initiative called Batman, Inc. which would put “Batmen” in all the major metro regions of the world.

This incredible storyline was, of course, rearranged by the New 52 as it was revealed that Bruce would return to the Bat-Mantle and Dick would go back to being Nightwing with Damian staying on as Robin under his father. Now, if none of the crises happened, that means Dick was never Batman and Damian shouldn’t even exist. Way to retcon yourself into a corner, DC.

If you negate the crises, you negate the precedent for many other events, characters, and character developments. Without some of the backstory laid down in both the crises and their supplemental titles, it pulls the entire spine out of the DCU and expects it to still walk on its own.

I wouldn’t have as much a problem with all of this if they would have called it what it should be: a straight reboot. The problem is that they’re trying to pick and choose the story elements they want to save and which they want to abolish.

If a reboot were to be done, it should have been done with a clean slate. The issue from what I can see was in the timing. DC just completed a few huge storyarcs which took the better part of a decade to complete and now they want to just wipe the slate clean and start from scratch.

I say again, it is the worst type of writing and the worst type of gamesmanship that necessitates an overhaul of this magnitude. DC takes too much advantage of geekdom. They know that most of their true devotees will not stop buying even though they’ve shredded thirty years of character history into a now unreadable mess. Geeks will keep buying and the “soft” reboot may help new readers get on board. DC saw the dollar signs and went for it. In a world where print is slowly dying, you can imagine the desire to cash in.

But, at what cost?

I’ll say this: Unless they retract this statement and put things back the way they were, I am through. I have lost what little respect I had left for the DC writing staff and editors.

Marvel may kill characters and bring them back to life, but at least they had the decency to reboot their universe in an entirely separate continuity. They didn’t piss on what they knew was working in order to get new readers. They just drummed up the Ultimate Marvel Universe as an aside and let both continuities survive. They did it the smart way by not driving a stake through the heart of their readers.

Until next time. Make Mine Marvel.

Excelsior!

—end transmission—

2 thoughts on “52 Pickup: Crisis of Infinite Negation

  1. Honestly, great article. This is also one of the reasons why I’m so disgusted with the forth season of Fringe. I feel it’s exactly the same thing. Making the new timeline was just an excuse for the writers to pick and choose what events they want to keep and what they don’t.

    I’m a big Batman fan, but I just hadn’t really gotten the opportunity to read much of the comics. I’ve taken the reboot as a chance to put myself back into the mythos, but I also didn’t know much about what went on before the reboot. I was honestly confused when I started reading some of the Bat issues and saw a Damian Wayne and other Batmen. They didn’t even give any explanation for the new readers, either. I had to do my own research to find out what I was missing.

    Still, I’m not done with DC. I’m going to give it a little longer and see how it goes. I’ve tried Marvel, but I find that they aren’t any better. How about the Spiderman reboot without MJ? Just for the simple reason that they know they got more interesting story lines out of Spiderman being a teen still in school. I loved the beginning of Civil War, but completely hated the way they cheesed the ending.

    Unfortunately, neither company is really doing the right thing. They are thinking more about the money they are making from “getting new readers,” and not thinking about the people who have been reading for a long time.

    Sorry if this comment is too long. I didn’t mean to hijack your article. You just gave me a lot to think about!

    • No need for apologies, Joe. I appreciate comments of any length.

      The Marvel/Spider-Man retcon was a huge point of debate, however, they at least did it within a storyline. Much like the Superboy Punch in the DC Universe, MJ made a deal with Mephisto to correct a lot of things that went “wrong” (Spidey’s identity reveal during Civil War and Aunt May’s coma being the cheif culprits).
      They only made things worse when they ran One Moment in Time (OMIT, ha ha ha…) to correct the whole debacle.
      Marvel also did a similar thing when they killed Captain America at the end of Civil War only to bring him back, saying that he wasn’t dead, simply “unstuck in time”, which has become the hip sci-fi resurrection/retcon tool as of late.

      In the grand scheme, though, Marvel isn’t nearly as guilty of the sheer amount of change that DC has perpetrated upon its history.

      And, without the Crises, readers like yourself who are researching will only find entire whited out pages in a history book. Whole characters established pasts are being redacted like they’re classified government documents.

      I’m with you. I’m a geek and I’ll probably hang around just to see how they handle it, but it’s really more schadenfreude than it is genuine interest. I want to laugh as the writers struggle to deal with the change, sick as it sounds.

      Moreso, I want to see if they can make things any worse.

      Thanks for your comment, Joe. Keep reading!

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