I’ve got Batgirl #2 sitting on my desk right now, CALLING OUT TO ME, so this post is overdue. While we’re still on the first issue, there’s an important question to be answered: What’s a reboot, anyway?
In simplest terms, to reboot a series is to discard the story so far and start again. To think of it in computer terms, when you reboot your laptop, whatever you’re currently doing is gone, but the programs and everything are still there. In a fiction reboot, whatever story is currently going on is gone, but the basic idea of the world and characters will still be there. Otherwise the creators would just start a brand new series, not bother with rebooting an existing one. In other media, like television, that tends to mean a new start from the ground up (what we librarians might call a phoenix edition), like the popular recent reboot of Battlestar Galactica. In this case, as in so many others, comics tend to be more squirrelly.
What’s the point of a reboot? A reboot is a useful device, if you’re a writer or publisher. They’re often used to restart a complex story in a simpler way to attract new readers. If a story has been going on for a long time, there’s often a huge amount of back story that can make it impossible for someone to jump in, a phenomenon referred to as continuity lock-out. Superhero comics are infamous for this kind of thing, but it’s common in most long-running stories from Lost to the Harry Potter movies. If characters are supposed to continue indefinitely, things are going to have to be simplified at some point, or eventually no one will know what’s going on.
Reboots are also attractive because they let the writers or publishers make drastic changes without explaining them. The new Batman movies rebooted his film continuity, letting Christopher Nolan create an entirely different, darker and edgier world than the campy Joel Schumacher version of the 90’s. His Batman can have a different personality, different associates, a different rogues’ gallery, and a different origin than the original, while staying the same character and not requiring any explanation beyond the normal exposition.
What’s up with this reboot? This reboot, that we’re concerned with when we look at Batgirl, is an unusual one. The entire DC Comics Universe rebooted, which consists of multiple interlocking titles (we’ll talk more about the concept of a comics universe later), but they didn’t all set back to zero, and they didn’t all reboot equally. They’re calling the reboot event “The New 52″, but it’s newer for some titles than for others. Titles like Green Lantern Corps didn’t change at all, while others were barely recognizable. Batgirl is somewhere in between. What the writer, Gail Simone, appears to have actually done is get rid of everything that’s happened to the character, Barbara Gordon, since 1988 and reset it to there. Wikipedia is a great resource for comics history, because of its dedicated fanbase, and they have a comprehensive history of Barbara Gordon, our Batgirl, as a character. The basic information you need is that she used to be Batgirl, was shot and paralyzed by the Joker, and became Oracle, the information broker for the DC Universe, while other characters acted as Batgirl. According to the reboot, that was all only temporary, and she’s now back to being Batgirl full time.
What’s the point of this reboot? If you’ve been familiar with superhero comics for a while, you’ll probably cynically say that the entire point of the DC reboot was to get attention. And that’s a very valid point. The industry, many of us would argue, has become dependent on flashy substance-free big events to try and convince people to buy comics because of their cataclysmic importance, rather than their quality. That’s definitely a valid criticism here, and it’s worth noting that every big event is definitely not worth collecting, even if you’re a library that collects superhero comics. When they’re done well, however, they can be great introductions to the complex history and world of superhero comics. It remains to be seen, as we’re just two issues in to most of the new titles, whether any of these will be any good or worth collecting. Next time, look forward to an explanation of “Retconning,” and an explanation of weird comic book time-lines, as well as big Marvel and DC Event comics that ARE worth getting.