Reflections on Reboots: Killing Characters and Copyright Constraints

I have actually withheld comment on this for some time: DC’s rebooting with the new 52 and Marvel’s rebooting of the Fantastic Four. I guess together that is 56 reboots!

Believe it or not, this is an issue I have pondered for 30 years. There is a chapter in my book on how I would have rebooted Marvel in 1980, something that I thought was essential.

First, though, we don’t discuss the most import reboot of all time. Some call it the “Silver Age of Comics.” The Flash was recreated in 1956, in Showcase #4. He was a very different character from the original, a new identity, new costume and new supporting character. The same held true for Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Spector and a very different Atom. The last reboot was the “New Look” Batman. At Marvel the Fantastic Four rebooted the Torch, although he was more of a reboot of Toro. The new Captain America was frozen before the original was cancelled. No one complained at the time about any of this.

Comic book characters, all popular fiction are products of the time. In real life age forces changes. Daniel Craig was a major reboot of James Bond, who was rebooted by Pierce Bronson. No longer a spy in the cold war, or a violent womanizer, or even a smoker, the new James Bond reflects the times and the world we live in. And no one complains.

But comic book characters do not grow older, but their world does change, so they need to. The cold war that drove the Fantastic Four into the space race, or Tony Stark to Viet Nam is gone.

So we need to update these characters. But not a reboot like they do today.

We got a completely new Flash and Green Lantern. And a very new Captain America. Today, as in 1986 Crisis, they are not reimaging the characters, they are just restarting them. So i5’s just a gimmick. In other words, let’s erase the stories we wrote and just redo them. Let us not present new characters, maybe old characters in new roles.

If you recall the Flash went from Jay Gerrick to Barry Allen. Superman will always have been from Krypton, will always have been adopted by the Kents and will always have Lois Lane. They don’t change the character; they change his environment a bit. What if, for example, Lois Lane is killed one year into the series? Now death today in comics is not fatal, but let’s make this permanent. What an amazing change in the structure it would be. Or what if Krypton didn’t explode but there was another reason to send Kal-El to Earth?

Finally, the Fantastic Four told the type of stories Jack Kirby and Stan Lee told best. But we now have different creators; let’s create a team that can reflect their strengths.

Remember that comic books characters generally did not last more than then years. With the Exception of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, non from the Golden Age survived into the middle 1950s.So each character would need 100 stories. We are at a point where characters need 1,000 stories. This means ‘retconning” and adding a lot of new characters. And that is why a lot of dead characters come back. That’s why the characters need to be recreated.

I put part of this blame on the revised copyright law. Although no one thought their character would last half a century, they all should be out of copyright by now. Under the old law the publishers would have to be looking for new ideas and new characters. Now they don’t. They just have to restart the old ones.

We need new characters to carry on.

One thought on “Reflections on Reboots: Killing Characters and Copyright Constraints”

  1. I should mention something we never discuss and never think about.

    In 1960 no one ever expected comics to run 50 years. Within 15 years since the start of the Golden Age, ever super-hero comic was about to be cancelled, with the exception of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. And Barman was on his last legs.

    This means that creators did not think much about longevity, just the next few years. If you told Stan Lee and Jack Kirby that the Fantastic Four would be around in 2010 they might not have believed you. No wonder they ran out of ideas.

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