I try not to get too caught up in business aspect of comics. It's not just that I find the business aspect of any entertainment enterprise to be more boring than watching piles of shit dry out in the sun. When you've nuked as many brain cells as I have over the years, you just don't have enough energy to think about the rich men in fancy suits sitting in conference rooms contemplating how to squeeze as much money out of its customers as possible. Now don't get me wrong. I've got nothing against business. This is America, damn it! Heartless, soulless capitalism that mercilessly sucks on the teat of the almighty dollar is part of freedom and it gets consumers like us some pretty awesome shit. But for the past year and even a bit before that, the business practices of the comic book world have garnered greater attention among fans and for once it's not because it involves a lawsuit against Rupert Murdoch. It involves what I call the "Great Reboot Debate."
Comic fans, even the stoners, all remember what went down in September of 2011. DC Comics, sick of lagging behind Marvel's market share and all the "Superboy Prime continuity punch" jokes, decided to shake up the massively messy etch-a-sketch that was the DC Universe and reboot everything. In terms of marketing ploys, this is akin to remodeling an entire neighborhood using napalm. It sent some fans into a state of chronic conniption fits while others let out a sigh of relief because they didn't have to hack a NASA satellite to effectively track the convoluted conglomerate of continuity that was DC comics. Was it a gimmick? Fuck yes, it was a gimmick. But it fucking worked. The sales of DC Comics in September 2011 didn't just dominate, they dominated the top ten sales spots for months. Suddenly, those "Superboy Prime" jokes turned into "Aquaman is outselling Uncanny X-men and Avengers. Your argument is invalid."
|King of Atlantis. Dating a hot redhead. Founding member of the Justice League. Suck it, Wolverine!|
There's no question that DC's reboot worked. While Marvel may have regained their market share lead, it's much more neck-and-neck now. The gap between the two companies is razor thin and DC's push for the future rather than trying to forcibly make shit fit into the past has set a new precedent for the comic industry. Lapsed DC fans no longer have to ask "Do I REALLY need to get all 700+ issues of Action Comics to know what the fuck is going on?" They can just find the new number ones and go from there. No more wondering how all this shit from the 60s and 70s fits into the picture. No more endless bitching about how Crisis and Infinite Crisis only left the DC Universe more constipated with complications. It worked so well that now some are starting to question whether Marvel should do the same and reboot their own 40+ line of continuity that has seen multiple deaths and resurrections, multiple alternate universe crossovers, and even a marriage or two getting sold to the devil. Hell, some would be okay with a Marvel 616 reboot if it completely erased the clone saga, but it's more complicated than that.
The prospects of a Marvel 616 continuity reboot is not just the kind of speculation fans throw around like whether or not She-Hulk gets a bikini wax or what kind of shit the Thing spews when he's got the runs. It's a whole fucking thread on the CBR message boards. Even though Marvel's top brass and future governor of Atlantis, Axel Alonso, has said outright that Marvel is not rebooting, that hasn't stopped some from arguing the merits of a Marvel 616 reboot.
|Is it not worth it to get people to shut up about the Clone Saga?|
But how seriously should Marvel even consider such a notion? Well, this is one instance where no matter how much liquor you put in me, I don't come off too strongly on either side. I know that may seem shocking to those who have seen me dedicate entire posts to explaining why Hope Summers sucks elephant balls or why Miles Morales is the least interesting idea since Mitt Romney's last campaign speech, but it's true. I'm really on the fences with this and while I'm content to see both factions pop an artery arguing about it while I slam back a bottle of vodka, I do see merit in both sides.
First off, let's start with Marvel's current position. They say the Marvel 616 universe isn't broken and doesn't need to be fixing. In this, I think they're right for the most part. The 616 universe has been pretty damn strong lately thanks to events that don't suck like the Messiah Trilogy, Captain America Reborn, Planet Hulk, and Spider Island. They dominate the market without having to streamline their continuity, proving that it doesn't matter how fucked up a timeline is so long as it has a steady stream of events that soaks the panties of the fanbase.
It hasn't been perfect. Fear Itself and Secret Invasion still left fans more unsatisfied than Ricky Martin's last girlfriend. However, the world that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby birthed from the cosmic womb of awesome remains compelling. The ongoing events of Avengers vs. X-men and the sales it has generated prove that. So when guys like Axel Alonso and Tom Brevoort thumb their noses at fans who want a reboot, they have good reason for doing so. Although when they thumb their noses at fans who want Jean Grey to come back, that's still a dick move.
|Every dick move needs a scapegoat. But does it always have to have such a nice rack?|
In the end, however, they didn't have to. It only really turned around once Civil War got things going again, but a lot of the shit generated in that story ended up coming full circle. Iron Man redeemed himself (by forgetting what a douche he had been no less), Captain America came back to life, and Thor came back. Now this is a problem whether Marvel wants to admit it or not. I get the desire to keep the Marvel universe a certain way so that fans that see the cartoons and movies can jump right in, but really does make the stories seem more gimmicky than they already are. It's like there's a asterisks at the bottom of all these events that say "This story will be retconned to death in a few years so don't start shitting through your nose over what you see."
It's enough to make me wonder how much emotional energy fans should invest in Avengers vs. X-men. As always, Marvel promises that the results of this event will rock the Marvel universe in the same way Emma Frost rocks a bed on Namor's birthday. That may be true in the short term, but what about the long term? How long until the X-men and Avengers are slamming back beers and watching Monday Night Football again? How long until the Phoenix Force is back to being that shitty cosmic turkey that Marvel uses when it wants to put beautiful women in cosmic uniforms or men into uniforms that blatantly rip-off Nightwing? It may be a long time, but it may still come full circle. Like Civil War, it could get people interested in the comics again, but only end up becoming trivialized in the long run.
|When all else fails, just have heroes beat each other up and watch fans give you money.|
This leads me to believe that reboot could not only work, but it could actually make the Marvel Universe less of a running joke on how continuity is basically a synonym for "fuck the details and just keep rebranding and relaunching." Imagine an event where every Marvel book had to start from scratch. For once, Marvel wouldn't need to act like a Russian contortionist porn star to fit the details into a timeline. The Avengers, the X-men, the Fantastic Four, and all the elaborate backstories that have roots at a time when JFK was still banging Marilyn Monroe could finally be properly refined. The whole Phoenix concept could finally be streamlined to ditch all the shitty retcons. Clones like Ben Riley and Madelyne Pryor could finally be cast aside or reinvented in a way that makes them seem like something that a writer didn't pull out of their ass when they ran out of good ideas/weed. Entire new twists could be put on these classic characters. It once seemed like an outrageous notion, but DC proved that it can be done and done pretty fucking well. And if Marvel really considers themselves the House of Ideas, they have no excuse. That or everyone at Marvel has to admit to Dan Didio that he can do something that they can't. And you know the folks at DC would hold that against Marvel and probably use it as a marketing ploy. I can already see ads like "If you're a pussy, work at Marvel. If you have the balls to reboot your whole line and do it right, work for DC!" In this age of talking geckos, you can't say that shit wouldn't work.
|The smile of a man whose mustache has bigger balls than all of Marvel.|
Now in the long run, I think Marvel is going to have to do some serious retcons to keep the continuity relevant and contemporary. And there's only so many retcons you can do before Father Time himself says "Fuck it, I'm outta here." Years down the line, Marvel may do their own reboot. For now, the creative minds at Marvel believe that what they're doing is working and the sales charts show they're not wrong. But as the Iraq war has shown, shit can go bad very quickly. One day guys like Axel Alonso and Joe Quesada might just get drunk enough to contemplate such an idea. If they do, they'll be hung over as fuck but they'll at least have an idea that has been shown to be successful. DC's New 52 has changed the nature of the comic industry and I would argue it was a necessary change. They decided to roll the dice and do something crazy without getting too drunk in the process. Marvel could definitely do the same, but should they? For the moment, I really don't know. I love 616 now and I would rather not see a reboot at a time when shit seems to be working. But at the same time, I've seen Marvel fuck things up before. If it happens again and I'm not able to cope with it despite my copious diet of illicit substances, then I may have to change my mind. Only time will tell, but for now it's an open question and one Marvel would be wise not to ignore. Nuff said!