A Thousand Brilliant Batman Stories

Anyone even peripherally exposed to comics knows that there’s a paradigm shift underway at DC (publisher of Superman, Batman, and a gazillion other well-known characters) right now: they are rebooting most of their line, and starting EVERYTHING over with new number one issues. They’re also rebooting most of the iconic characters’ backstories, in order to re-present the entire pantheon as an anywhere-you-like-jumping-on-point.

I popped over to the local shop (Moose Cave, in Show Low, Arizona) to grab the lead title, JUSTICE LEAGUE, because 1) it was Wednesday; and 2) I’m a huge Superman and Justice League (of America) fan, and I really wanted to read it.

I also really want to read a handful of the other upcoming titles, like ACTION (because they made some changes to Superman) and GREEN LANTERN (because they’re changing very little). But the one book I’m MOST looking forward to reading this month? The original NEW TEEN TITANS graphic novel “Games”, by creators Marv Wolfman and George Perez. It isn’t part of the reboot, but a twenty-years-in-the-making completely retro book set in the creators’ (and, to me, the characters’) heyday.

It will have NOTHING to do with the new continuity, at all. But having only read about it, and seen a few pages of art, I already know I’m going to love it – because it pushes all of MY particular buttons – and it fits the continuity that means the MOST to ME: one set a quarter-century ago, in terms of the publishing timeline.

Continuity has long been an embedded part of the comics reading and buying experience; commercially speaking, it feeds the ‘habitual entertainment’ that Larry Marder observed our hobby had become. New comics day (which always existed, but merely shifted from the convenience store to the specialty shop) is the day you popped in for the newest issue of whatever you were reading. And the continuity – the larger arcs as well as the smaller details – kept you hooked.

Every once in a while though, the publishers would drop a cherry bomb into the continuity of things, and shake everything up. And in recent years, that’s meant interweaving tighter and tighter threads of continuity into EVERY title, so that missing ONE ISSUE might throw you off with your understanding of everything else going on in the line. (Or worse, realizing that missing one issue or five makes no difference at all.)

Which brings me back to ‘Games’. One reason I’m expecting to enjoy it is that it’s going to be a COMPLETE story. A ‘Done In One’, as Maggie Thompson says. And that’s a great, rare thing these days. It’s also where I have to wonder if DC, in their pursuit of the reboot goal, might have missed an even cooler (and possibly more lucrative) one.

In recent weeks DC released a number of ‘Retro’ books: single issues with the tone (and relevant creative teams) of books from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. I’ve only seen the house ads – but obviously SOMEONE at DC recognized that there was value in, say, reuniting Giffen, DeMatteis, and Maguire on a JUSTICE LEAGUE book. Even if only for a single issue.

My question is, why aren’t they doing this ALL THE TIME?

Elsewhere on the net, my friend Mario Boon commented, “Imagine if they did the entire relaunch of the nuDC as 52 done in one issues? Imagine that? An entire story in 20-30 pages? With a beginning, middle and end? A real “pilot”?”

That would have been PERFECT. But imagine this: what if the Retro Books/Done in One idea were part of the ongoing publishing plan? What if continuity were more of a storytelling convenience than an apparently necessary foundation?

It isn’t important for me to reconcile the TEEN TITANS of my kids’ generation with the TEEN TITANS of mine. I enjoy them both, even though they are COMPLETELY different. The look, stories, everything – but I love them both. What if this were not the exception, but the new norm, to have different creators doing THEIR versions of the characters?

A few years back, during one of the mega-event-crossovers, a writer pal suggested that I could draw one of the segments (knowing I love DC stuff, but have never done much with the company professionally, outside of writing ONE introduction). He said he could get me in the door – but I’d have to match the current ‘house style’, and mimic the eleven OTHER artists working on the books. I declined, in part because that wasn’t a career goal of mine – I wanted my OWN identity, and I wanted any work I did to be recognizably MINE.

Friends who have worked for DC maintained a similar creative integrity, and to great results: Paul Pope did a glorious turn on BATMAN YEAR 100, and it looked like few Batman stories published before or since. Jeff Smith did a great turn on Captain Marvel. And Wednesday Comics was, in many ways, a near-perfect creative experiment – partly because they selected some great creators and then mostly let them Do Their Thing.

There are lots of great reasons for DC’s line-wide reboot. I hope it brings – and keeps – lots of readers. But after missing a few months’ worth of comics (due to working on deadlines and, until recently, no local place to shop) I find myself caring a LOT less about reading BATMAN INCORPORATED #8, in which I have no clue what’s happened since Bruce Wayne died, was replaced, came back, was replaced, died again, etc… even though I love the writer and thought the art was nice. It was still part 56 of a 70 part story (I’m being facetious – but only just barely).

TEEN TITANS: “Games” will be one book, by two of my favorite creators, set in my favorite continuity. And I’m excited just at the thought of it – as I’d be for a LEGION OF SUPER HEROES book by Levitz and Giffen…or WONDER WOMAN by Perez… or BATMAN by Bill Sienkiewicz or Garcia-Lopez… or SUPERMAN by Barreto… or…You get the picture.

Continuity is great (see: last few decades); new approaches are great (see: animated TEEN TITANS); but Done in One stories can be created for both NEW readers as well as the longtime fans. And to me, that would really be the best of all: not to have a thousand-part Batman story, but to instead have a thousand brilliant Batman stories – whether or not they all fit into the continuity.

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