Thursday, August 17, 2017
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Sam Moyerman's back on MightyVille, sharing with us his views on character origin reboots.  Say, what is Superman's actual origin, anyway?

 

MightyVille editorialist Sam Moyerman is back, sharing with us his views on character origin reboots.  Say, what is Superman's actual origin, anyway? Fill us in, Sam..!

 

Writing this feels out of character. Normally, I’m the one who is defending the creators and publishers. Even if not directly defending their decisions against fanboy outrage, I’m the one who stands up and says that they have every right to make the decisions they make and publish the books and stories they choose to publish. But every once in a while something happens that even makes me stand up and sound like those fanboys I rail against (and reminds me of what I used to sound like 10 years ago)...

I kept silent while the trend started, hoping it would go away. At this point, it seems like it’s just getting worse, so excuse me while I pull out my soapbox and go a-ranting because the retelling of origins has got to stop.

Think about it, what was everyone’s biggest complaint about the Amazing Spider-Man movie? That it was a story we all had seen before. And not just seen before, but seen very recently. Did we really need it again? One thing that Louis Leterrier and Lexi Alexander got right with their Marvel re-boot movies was they spent absolutely no time rehashing the origin. Why? Because people know how Bruce Banner became the Hulk, the same way we know how Peter Parker became Spider-Man and Bruce Wayne became Batman. Most of the time as consumers we don’t even care how they became the hero, we want to see them do hero things. Which brings us to this summer’s Man of Steel. The good news with this one is that it technically has been 35 years since we saw the destruction of Krypton on screen and had young Kal-El’s origin told to us on the big screen. And yes, I am thoroughly looking forward to this movie. But strangely enough, Superman, while having one of the simplest origin stories around, has been the biggest culprit of the ongoing origin trend.

 

 

In 1986, after Crisis on Infinite Earths brought together all of DC’s vast universe and remapped the stories on a modern timeline, they tapped comic book legend John Byrne to revamp the Superman origin story. Which was fine. It had been 50 years since it was originally told (and retold) over the years. This was a perfect opportunity to retell the story. It has been 26 years since Byrne’s Man of Steel miniseries. Does anyone realize that while it took 50 years to redo the Seigel and Shuster origin, in the 26 years since Byrne, Superman’s origin has been retold, updated, and rebooted seven times!!! Seven times!!! That’s an average of a little less than four years per reboot. Here’s the list for those who don’t believe: Byrne’s Man of Steel, [Mark] Waid and [Lienel Francis] Yu’s Birthright, [Geoff] Johns and [Gary] Frank’s Secret Origin, Smallville, Man of Steel, JMS and [Shane] DavisSuperman: Earth One, and finally Grant Morrison’s recent run on Action Comics (all 18 issues of it). Said list doesn’t even mention the Justice League reboots and upcoming Batman/Superman book. This is the most beloved and well known comic character ever. The archetype/prototype/etc. Why do we need this many?

Most of these have built in excuses. Smallville was its own universe. Birthright (my choice for best of the bunch) and Secret Origin took place in miniseries outside of the main title. Earth One is set in a separate Prestige Bookstore universe. Man of Steel (movie) will also exist on its own away from the comics (and thankfully seems to have been heavily influenced by Birthright). But Morrison’s Action Comics took 18 issues, which meant for 1.5 years after rebooting the entire universe, DC ‘s flagship character in their flagship book did not have a topical story. And that is too long. Justice League was thankfully much shorter (at only six issues), but even that half a year felt too long.

And now, the tremendous team of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo is taking 11 issues to tell Batman: Zero Year. Eleven issues!!! So now, once we’ve finally got all the Superman books telling stories set in the present, now we have to go back five years for a year’s worth of Batman stories. I’ll reiterate, we know how he became Batman, we don’t need 11 issues in the main Batman book to retell it. I know, I will buy and read them. And I know they will be of the highest quality. But we don’t need them. I’d much prefer a Riddler (the rumored villain of the piece) tale set in the present. With repercussions that can immediately be felt not retroactively inserted. Especially with the new Batman/Superman book (which, considering it’s by Greg Pak and Jae Lee, will also be of high quality) coming out set to tell more stories in the past.

 

 

Look, this isn’t to say that reboots and re-tellings will never be necessary. There is no way that Kal-El could have arrived in the 1930's. Or Spider-Man got bit in the 1960's. Or Tony Stark was captured in the Korean War. But we just can’t have them occupying so much time and space. [Frank] Miller’s Year One took four issues in Batman. Johns retold Hal Jordan’s origin with Secret Origin in the main Green Lantern book, but that took only a few issues and was immediately played upon with the rest of his run. In fact, that would be the best way to do it, have something set in the present that ties into the past. Snyder has done this in Batman before. It’s times like this when I think everyone should have to read Paul Grist’s amazing Jack Staff book to see how effective that type of storytelling can be.

 

 

So, as I step down from my soapbox I ask, please let the madness end with Zero Year. Keep the tales in the comics set in the present. They are much better that way.

 

(Sam Moyerman is a professional demon hunter. He editorializes on the hunt while camped out within the protective womb of hollowed monster husk.)

 

What are your thoughts on reboots or re-tellings? Love 'em? hate 'em? Let us know!

More from Sam on MightyVille:

Searching for (Young) Justice

The Wizard's New Clothes

I Still Love You, Frank Miller

 

Comments (3)
  • Doug Smith  - Totally agree!
    I couldn't agree more, Sam. In fact, "Zero Year" is providing me a with a perfect jumping-OFF point from "Batman". I've read Miller's "Year One"...I don't need 11 issues to tell me something I already know. I understand a publisher's desire to retell an origin story for a new generation, but 11 issues is too long (as you said) and they run the risk of losing members of that older generation.
  • Joe_Kach  - Fun Killers!
    I dunno guys ... are they *actually* rebooting their origins?

    Batman is still a rich orphan who went a little nuts after watching his parents get gunned down in front of him. Superman is still an alien who was rocketed to Earth by his parents from a dying planet.

    None of that has changed, nor will it change.
    Sure, some of the nuances might evolve, & the stories that take place between the "origin" & their first outing as heroes, they just expand. This is comics. The time between the Wayne's death till he became Batman could fill up decade's worth of stories.

    Think about it: If publishers & creators had this same mindset, we'd never even have seen the "Batman: Year One" or "Superman: Birthright" stories that we all cherish and are called out in the article. Because why reboot their origins, right?
  • el123chico
    I understand the desire to update origins to fit in a modern timeline. And I can understand the desire for new creators to add their own tweaks. My main point in this is that it doesn't have to happen so often (as in Superman's case) or take up monstrous chunks of the main books. If Year Zero came out as a miniseries, I'd have been much less likely to criticize.

    The other problem is that the origins of superheros tend to be the most boring, melodramatic stories about that character. Once the character is the hero is where all the great stories happen. There is a reason why the origin takes up such a small percentage of the overall book series and why Dark Knight, Spiderman 2, and Superman 2 were all better than the first movies.
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