It's been reported that DC Comics is set to reboot its entire continuity for, what? The third time? Fourth? We lost track awhile back. The reboot will give writers a chance to explore the characters from a more modern point of view as Marvel did with their Ultimate relaunch, and will hopefully draw in new readers who are unfamiliar with the decades of history built up around characters they may only know from TV and movies.
Needless to say, DC is taking the whole thing very seriously, and honestly we have to question why. Sure, they're hitting CTRL+ALT+DEL on tens of thousands of characters in a marketing ploy, but folks, it really is irrelevant. They did much the same through the Crises storylines, and it made very little difference in the long run.
There's nothing wrong with a reboot. It gives a comic company an opportunity to incorporate new scientific breakthroughs or discoveries, weed out things that are no longer socially acceptable, explore new ground in what is permissible in the pages of a comic and, most of all, eliminate the baggage that characters like Batman bring with them. It gives fewer boundaries and more freedom, though, of course, at the expense of history.
Still, in the end a reboot does very little for an enduring character like Superman, and the reason lies within the unique place comic book characters have in the art world. They are creations who have long since become independent of their creators or storytellers. Only a few literary figures such as Count Dracula, Sherlock Holmes or Cthulhu can be said to have achieved that title, and they appear in comics books all the time anyway.
The best way to think of these characters is to compare them to the Greek myths we all learned about in school. We're all familiar with Orpheus in the underworld, or the labors of Hercules, or any of dozens of stories we read from Edith Hamilton's book in middle school, but there may be one aspect from those stories you might have forgotten.
Having reread Hamilton's book recently, you notice how meticulous she is mentioning variations. Some writers will credit a Greek queen as the mother of a hero, others will make her a muse. Slight variances in telling in each story show that the different tellers were putting their own spin on the tale, or were perhaps confused in the details. This almost exactly mirrors the evolution of the modern superhero.
Sure, in the myths the minor points rarely matter much. After all, it's Orpheus's quest for his love, Hera's jealousy and Daedalus's brilliance that are the core of the stories. The same hold true for superheros.
No DC reboot is going to do something like resurrect Batman's parents. Or if they try it, it will only be temporary. Why? Because the death of his parents is Batman's story. It is integral to who he is and who he becomes. By changing that, you make him no longer Batman, and the world wants us a freakin' Batman.
For a true change to happen in any comic book continuity, the story must be so radically brilliant, and yet also so completely true to character, that it becomes incorporated into that vague pantheon of stories we all know. X-Men's Dark Phoenix Saga is a good example, as is The Killing Joke. These story arcs were perfect for the characters they utilized, as well as being literarily superb. Thus are new myths born.
This is why the public tends to react with apathy when, say, Captain America is killed. They know that there is no way that Steve Rogers will stay dead. It's impossible. He symbolizes an American fighting spirit and earnestness that many feel we no longer have, and yet he also shows us how out of place our modern mindsets can be. He is as necessary to the comic universe as a god of thunder is to ancient theologies.
Comic books, at least those like Spider-Man and Wonder Woman, are open-ended. They are designed to never end. You are never supposed to be able to picture a world without them, and because of that, they become immune to the whims of comic writers.
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When we say you can't remove Wolverine's adamantium skeleton, or that you can't replace Batman with someone else, we don't mean that in a pissy fanboy way. We mean you literally can't. Try as hard as you can, and still the public will ignore it until the story returns to what it is supposed to be, to what it is. Deep down, it's really all the same to us whether or not you finesse the situation back to normal within the realm of logic, or if you just pretend it never happened.
That's not to say that we don't want writers to continue pushing the boundaries as much as possible. We certainly do. As we said earlier, sometimes you get the perfect story out of it, and that is the payoff. Consider the Wolverine: Origin comic. It was the greatest untold story in the Marvel universe, and once they finally tackled it, they did it so well that people are just as likely to think of him as James Howlett as they are to think of his previous alias, Logan.
Finally, DC may reboot its universe, but the wealth of stories left behind will not go away. People who suddenly realize how awesome Lobo is will be able to find all kinds of previous stories at any comic book shop. Just ask the dedicated nerd and they'll steer you in the right direction. Either you'll like who he was before the reboot better, or you'll like the modern version better. Regardless, if you love who the Main Man is, then as long as the story does him justice the detail will be superfluous.
We wouldn't worry too much about the reboot. These are people with powers far beyond those of mere mortals. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but nothing is more powerful than a people's collective love for a good story. They may tell it different than you remember, but it's still the same story.