Monday 27 March 2017

The Comics Ramble: Superman Reborn: WHAT JUST HAPPENED!?

SPOILER WARNING: This post goes into the events, conclusion and possible consequences of the Superman Reborn crossover (that's Superman #18 - #19, Action Comics #975 - #976 and Superwoman #7) so if you aren't caught up on the Super-books this is really, really not the post for you.

That having been said...
… “WHAT JUST HAPPENED!?” to quote Adam Blampied.

To break down the result: it turns out that when the New 52 was created Superman and Lois Lane were split in two. One half became the New 52 Superman and Lois who wasn't married to him, the other became the Superman we've been following since Rebirth who remembers the pre-Flashpoint continuity and Lois that he is married to and has a child with. Now the two versions have been fused together and history has changed around them so that there's only one version of Lois and Clark and they've have been married for years, raised their son whilst working at the Daily Planet and the events of both the New 52 and Rebirth era Super-books happened to them.

This is the perfect platonic example of the DC retcon: it fixes the big problem and leaves us with a lot of little questions.
Now, I can't deny that something like this needed to happen. Superman is Clark Kent, he works at the Daily Planet with Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. People who have never picked up a comic in their lives know this as concrete fact so having to constantly explain that a Superman like that existed but died and now we're following his counterpart from another universe who is living under an assumed name on a farm in Hamilton County, Kansas for the benefit of confused new readers is more effort than its worth.

There's also the fact that this is a completely different attitude to the pre-Flashpoint/New 52 split than the rest of Rebirth has been exploring. Take the original Titans, who have recently discovered that their memories of being a team were taken from them and have now been reunited, memories restored. The same holds true for Barry Allen's memories of original flavour Wally West. Other series have either chosen to bring back pre-Flashpoint ideas as new events or just things that never rated a mention before and were totally always canon, honest guv. Either way, the message was that these comics were restoring something, be it restoring an erased past or re-introducing something fans remember fondly.

The Superman books, meanwhile, had this complicated (and, admittedly, pre-Rebirth) compromise of bringing back Superman's marriage but also jettisoning the Daily Planet status quo and there were alternate universes involved. It was complicated, it actively removed elements from the series readers expected to see, and it didn't work with the larger context of the company's line-wide relaunch. It had to go.

So it went and that is good. Superman should not be a series whose status quo is even close to hard to explain. It should be the most accessible, most straight forward series DC publishes: he's a superhero who has every power going and everyone knows who he's dating and where he works. Sometimes expectations are meant to be met.

And now they will be. What little we see of the new version of history, in a single splash page summarising Superman's new history, strongly suggests that the traditional status quo is back plus Superboy Jon. This is, on the larger scale, a good thing.

For those who believe in Rickard Stark's admonition that nothing that comes before “but” counts for anything that was around six hundred words of waste of time but here we go...

The problem DC has always had with these retcons is that whilst they usually do fix big picture problems they aren't that good on following through and figuring out how it affects the little things. Take, for example, Guy Gardner in the New 52. Guy Gardner, as with most of the Green Lantern characters, retained his pre-Flashpoint personality in the relaunch. This personality, however, was heavily based in the relationship he shared with Tora back in the Justice League International days, a relationship that was reduced in the new continuity to a couple of dates, no deep emotional connection and no bereavement because she never died.

Much as I love Guy Gardner, that is small potatoes compared to this.

The death of the New 52 Superman was used to launch Superwoman, New Super-Man and Lex Luthor's current status quo as seen in multiple titles. The fact that they're working with an unfamiliar Superman is central to almost every relationship Superman has with the Justice League, not to mention Nightwing, Batman and even Superwoman.

And that is what this is going to live or die on. Yes, there's a lot of foreshadowing about the big mystery of Rebirth and how the New 52 was created and how it all ties in to stopping Alan Moore getting his Watchmen rights back but, ultimately, what matters is the reader experience.

Are we going to be pissed off by whatever level of pointlessness becomes attached to the Hamilton County era? An era, let us remind ourselves, that covered almost forty issues of the core Super-books plus whatever else one of DC's most famous and widely used characters appeared in during that time. Will the new status quo make sense or will we just be asked to take on faith that all the elements of the characters that carry over from Hamilton County still make sense?

How does it affect Lana Lang and Kong Kenan, both characters whose series I am enjoying and whose origins just got scrambled? Superwoman, at least, had a tie-in that promises the next issue will answer those questions and I assume that with the current arc of New Super-Man is set in Metropolis we'll get some answers there.

So it at least looks like there's a solid plan to explore the consequences of this change up front, not let the questions fester as they did with the New 52.

I want to hope here. The Rebirth experiment, by and large, has been very well thought out. Unfortunately it has also largely ignored until now the Watchmen connection that Superman Reborn brings front and centre. With the Batman/Flash crossover The Button just around the corner, this might be the moment when the wheels start to come off and this very simple, very effective relaunch is about to fall down the same history-twisting rabbit hole DC relaunches all too often fall into. I admit I am cynical about the Watchmen thing for many reasons from its IP dispute origins to the questionable sanity of importing satirical characters into the continuity they were created to satirise.

I also worry about piling retcons on retcons. On that note, I do hope I'm right in thinking that Superman is a special case, a pre-Rebirth retcon that needed fixing to match Rebirth rather than the first in a series of such supplementary reboots.

For once, a DC line-wide reboot was simple, elegant and worked. It restored numerous beloved characters and relationships to the DCU whilst largely maintaining the simpler, more accessible continuity of the New 52. Half the characters and concepts that returned didn't even need extensive explanation. That simplicity was important.

What I am hoping is that DC, going against decades of instinct, keeps this simple. 

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