Just Like Starting Over . . .
Welcome to the very first of our all-new Miracle Pictographs! Forget everything
you know! EVERYTHING! EVEN YOUR MOTHER'S NAME!! This is an all-new, all-different direction. We'll be rolling out some very exciting things and new
surprises you've never seen before in the pages of this column! Starting this issue,
the column will now squirt you with a pound of mayonnaise every time you open
Sound familiar? (Actually, if the mayonnaise part sounds familiar, I suggest you
seek professional help. That or check the Craigslist personals.)
If you've read superhero, or otherwise franchised, comics for a long time, you've
seen something like this. Stuff must be rebooted. It's a sad, but necessary surgery
in the comics world.
The idea of a "story" is only loosely defined to Marvel and DC. This is not a land
with recognizable Beginnings or Endings. Such things are outmoded when the
costumed cash cow will give milk forever.
Superman, Batman and friends have been around since 1938. The good stories
from years and years of franchise have been constantly recycled into further
plotlines and revisited until you get Days of Future Past Perfect Progressive. The
bad ones . . . we try to ignore them, until some writer comes along who, for some
reason, can't stop revisiting the Spider-Man-Is-Really-A-Clone-of-a-Donut saga,
and then that can of worms is open again, and then we have worms everywhere.
Eww (or back to Craigslist, depending on how you feel about worms).
Contradictory, backpedaling and flat-out ridiculous stories vie with each other over
time. Example: for years, meticulous Spider-Man fans knew that Uncle Ben was
shot inside his house by a burglar, until in 2001, author J. Michael Straczynski had
Aunt May change the story so that Ben was shot on the front porch, because it
made a better story. Fans still argue over that continuity point.
(Also, Aunt May died around 1996, but in 2000 she returned, and Mary Jane also
died in 2000, but she came back six months later, and Spider-Man was really a
clone, then he wasn't, because the Green Goblin wasn't really dead, but his son
was, but now his son isn't; in fact, the Green Goblin's son was resurrected when
the devil visited Spider-Man and took away his marriage.)
(And so on.)
If we were to visualize DC or Marvel's past continuity, it would be a massive,
gooshy pile of fists, robots, spaceships, biceps and scantily clad women that
reaches beyond Neptune. This continooze is the enemy of every marketing
department, but longtime fans love to wallow in it.
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Take, for example, a guy like Joe Quesada, former editor-in-chief of Marvel
Comics. He's almost entirely responsible for "the third rail of comics," 2007's One
More Day storyline where Spider-Man made a deal with the devil to save his
marriage. According to Joe, Spider-Man works better as a single guy. Spidey is
more relatable to fans, who know him as a single guy from years of minor
exposure on cartoons and movies.
Joe is fighting the continooze: years and years of stories in which Spider-Man got
older, got responsible, went through lots of girls and finally settled down. We then
had a Spidey with baggage, and who comes into a relationship with comics looking
But longtime fans (ahem, over here) have read about a married Spidey since 1987,
and we don't want to give that up. There are a lot of good married Spidey stories
and we read a lot of character development in them.
In fact, One More Day (get up, dead horse, get up, I know you're faking even if
your flesh has rotted away and all the maggots have hatched) is a great example of
the problems inherent when a comics company tries to hit the old "reset" button.
Joe wanted to reset everything. Herein lies his problem. That is not a story, it is a
hack against the continooze.
You can do a good story in which Spidey loses Mary Jane. There are lots of
supervillains in the Marvel U who could have erased at least her memory of the
marriage. Or Peter's. You could have even acknowledged that gasp, horror, yes,
some young couples get divorced a few years into the marriage.
But. For a story to actually work, it has to have consequences. And One More Day
ended with a clean slate, with no consequence. Mephisto rewrote the whole Marvel
Universe so no one ever knew that Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson tied the
knot. There was no pathos, no consequence, no change, just a massive backpedal in
order to shove away some of the baggage and dent the continooze.
(I still think this horse skeleton is faking.)
But who am I to speak? I love to slather myself in obscure facts from Marvel
history, and do the backstroke through thick waves of contradicting back issues. I
can tell you exactly why it is wrong to suppose that Uncle Ben got shot on the front
porch, but why it made for a good story.
Where does all this rambling lead us? Will I ever get to the point, or will you have
to flip back over to Craigslist to see if anyone answered the mayonnaise ad?
DC Comics is hitting the continooze . . . hard.
Every single DC Comic is starting over at issue #1. This is a classic reboot trick,
and DC is not screwing around with it.
All of their characters will have new costumes, designed by uber-artist-probably-a-clone-of-Da-Vinci-and-a-samurai Jim Lee. Wonder Woman now has pants.
Superman no longer wears his red briefs on the outside. Batman . . . is still a
borderline psychopath. Aquaman . . . will hopefully do something more interesting
than talk to fish.
Also, they all have high collars. Starch is at a premium in the DC universe.
DC has done this sort of thing before, in the 80s with the infamous "Crisis On
Infinite Earths" crossover. Wonder Woman didn't get pants out of it, but she,
Superman and a lot of other heroes started over at square one because 80s DC
continooze was about to collapse and drown the solar system.
And yes, the continooze is pretty thick right now at both Marvel and DC.
But honestly, is this what it takes?
Or is this un-goosebumping of Wonder Woman's thighs just comic book New
Kind of. Reboots and restarts do work. At first. There are lots of minor and major
examples out there. Marvel's retooled Ultimate Universe sold like apple pie and
baseball cards at a GOP convention, and Marvel's Heroes Reborn/Heroes Return
sold like free-range grass-fed wind-powered burgers to the Democrat National
Convention. From those awkward analogies you will gather that there was
something for everyone in these comics, because they were really good. They were
tofu to the Green Party. Invisible ineffective leashes to the Libertarians. Whatever
Rand Paul likes to Rand Paul. (I'm guessing a pound of mayonnaise to the face.)
In all cases, the comics involved started over at issue #1. That #1 is pretty cool, but
problems arise soon down the line when the reboot shows signs of continooze. The
Ultimate Universe was pretty cool when it started, but by Ultimate X-Men issue
60, damned if we all could tell the difference between regular X-Men and Ultimate
X-Men. Ulimate continooze, as it turns out, has a consistency suspiciously similar
to regular continooze.
Heroes Return: Avengers got a little stale, so it got rebooted as New Avengers,
which has now been rebooted as Avengers. Again. Drip, drip . . .
As you may be able to tell, I am a Marvel nut. And DC has never been able to hook
me, perhaps because I don't know their continooze. Theoretically, this is the
perfect place for them to hook me.
You know what?
I'm not all that interested.
To get me interested, DC would have to present evidence that the stories are
somehow different. They have solid writers on each title. Grant Morrison is on
Superman. Geoff Johns is on Justice League.
But those guys are industry workhorses who have written enough DC comics
already to crush a small child. In fact, the only one that perks me up is Brian
Azzarello, writer of the crime comic 100 Bullets, on Wonder Woman. That sounds
And frankly, I am worried. This sort of stuff is exactly what drives away a lot of
longtime readers. Toss away the continooze and you toss away stories that matter
to at least some fans. They may not even be overweight men wasting away in their
mothers' basements. They might be guys who returned to comics after a long
It may be that, even after the #1 restart, the writers shall reference to some choice
bits of the past. But most likely not.
I'm not the guy that Marvel wants to attract. My favorite Spider-Man story is a
rather terrible 90s fest called "Revenge of the Sinister Six."
Don't read it. It's awful. The Sinister Six got enormous guns and killed a lot of
people, and Spidey plus half the Marvel Universe had to stop them.
But buried in this crapfest was a really good subplot in which Mary Jane landed a
coveted movie role that required her to bare it all. Peter was horrified at the idea.
They argued, and no writer since has ever done so well as 90s god Erik Larsen did
in showing the contrast between cosmopolitan Mary Jane and nerd Peter Parker.
Peter freaks out. "Aunt May will see you naked! J. Jonah Jameson will see you
Mary Jane responds, "Sometimes you can be a real square!" It seems like a silly
insult, until Peter reveals later, in internal monologue, that calling him a square still
burns him up, after all these years, since it was the insult of choice in high school.
But for Peter's sake, Mary Jane goes to the higher-ups to try and reduce her nekkid
scenes to something more tame. And, as she relates to Peter later, it turns out they
only hired her for her body.
It was the best example of a mundane, homely subplot in the years of the Spider-Marriage that I ever read. They acted like real, likeable people in a loving
relationship with a big difference of opinion.
Or maybe it stunk and I smell it through rose-colored noseplugs, because at the
time, I wanted someone to treat the Spider-Marriage with the complexity it was
You are free to try the new DC number ones and let me know what you think. Send
emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Responses to Craigslist ads will be routed to the right person.
Stay tuned this summer, folks, for next week I will be back with a bonus column
blathering on about some kind of movie about mutants or something.
Read more by Spencer Ellsworth