Reboots—small or large, hard or soft, title-specific or multiversal—are the bane of the longtime comics fan.
I try not to get my cowl in a bunch over such things, but sometimes I succumb to Reboot Rage. Case in point: the latest #1 issue of Daredevil, which—spoiler alert—revealed that nobody (except best buddy Foggy Nelson) knows Daredevil is Matt Murdock anymore. This burns my toast because Daredevil’s futile attempt to maintain his secret identity has been a thread linking almost all the great Daredevil runs since Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s “Born Again” story, when the Kingpin learned Daredevil’s identity and almost destroyed him with it. In Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s run, Murdock was outed in the press—though he denied it and sued the newspaper. Finally, in Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s recently concluded stint, Murdock manned up and admitted to the world what everyone knew already. This was a logical, organic progression; now, it’s all gone. An essential element of the character for almost 30 years has been wiped out. My annoyance has been felt by hordes of fans over the years, as long-term plots, relationships and even characters get erased to create that elusive “jumping-on point” for new fans.
Fortunately, there’s a snarky response to reboot mania in the form of Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley’s Invincible. Their recent “Reboot” storyline (issues #124-126, the last of which released this week) is not only a satire of Marvel and DC shakeups—as well as fan overreactions—but another strong story in a consistent and underrated comic.
The story begins when titular superhero Invincible, who goes by the name Mark Grayson when he’s not rescuing the universe, encounters a mysterious glowing force in an underground cavern on an alien planet. The force (possibly an alien lamp, though it looks like cosmic spaghetti) is just as vague and ridiculous as any of the cosmic McGuffins of the corporate superhero worlds. Mark soon finds himself transplanted back to Earth years earlier, just before the time he developed the powers of flight and super strength. Issue #123 resets the story back to #1. Or perhaps #2, since Mark reappears on an Earth toilet—a fitting launching pad for a reboot.
As Mark tries to get his bearings, he becomes a stand-in for frustrated comic fans who see years of stories flushed away by a reboot or retcon. The character’s confusion and panic mirror the angst of fans who don’t know what counts anymore, much like DC fans were left adrift by 2011’s New 52, which shortened DC history to five years while giving few clues to which previous stories still happened. So if Wally West was your Flash, or if you wanted a plausible explanation for Batman having had a bevy of Robins and a 10-year-old son, you were out of luck. Just like poor Mark Grayson.
Some of the commentary on other reboots isn’t subtle. In Invincible, Mark and his girlfriend/fellow hero Eve have a baby, and the issues before “Reboot” spent a suspiciously long time on the little, but overwhelming, details of parenthood. This development is similar to when Peter Parker married Mary Jane, then Marvel wiped out the marriage via mystical shenanigans in the controversial “One More Day” story arc. Mark experiences a similar horror, seeing Eve—his finance and the mother of his child—as just another girl in high school with no awareness of their lengthy relationship. The pair may get together again, or maybe not, but certainly never in the way he remembers.
Invisible #124 Interior Art by Ryan Ottley
Kirkman and Ottley use the possibility of a reboot to revisit key moments of the series—like when Mark’s father, the veteran and respected hero Omni-Man, reveals the truth about the Viltrum Empire, the alien race from which he and his son descend from. Knowing that his father was sent to conquer the planet by an alien empire, but will eventually change his mind to aid humanity, Mark attempts to avoid the near-death brawl he had with his dad back in issue #12, as well as his dad’s murder of the Guardians of the Globe—the universe’s equivalent of the Justice League. Spoiler Alert: Mark succeeds. He also manages to save many lives and avoid many mistakes, thanks to his future knowledge. Afterwards, he’s contacted by the cosmic spaghetti that made the time traveling possible and is given a choice to keep saving lives in the past or go back to his time and previous continuity, one in which his daughter still exists. (More spoilers ahead, folks).
Mark, despite the wheedling of the Cosmic Spaghetti, doesn’t care how many lives he can save in the past if it means his daughter, Terra, is never born. Again, Invincible mirrors comic book fans who don’t give a crap about what all-new, all-different, all-whatever stories could be told: those fans want their stories to count and continue. So Mark chooses to return to his own time, but years have passed—at least ten of them from the look of his now-adolescent daughter. Cleverly, Kirkman and Ottley found a way to shake up the book without tossing away the past. Their non-reboot works because, while it’s a commentary on reboots, it’s actually more of a time travel story.
Invisible #126 Cover Art by Ryan Ottley
The sheer consistency of Invincible remains impressive: Ottley’s vibrant, kinetic art can make widescreen space battles or talking heads feel alive, and damn if no one draws a better bloodbath. He and Kirkman show how much juice is left in the superhero genre when you keep it restricted to (forgettable spinoffs aside) one title. In over 100 issues, Mark has endured an interstellar war, several interdimensional donnybrooks, many global catastrophes, a sexual assault and parenthood. Much as Grant Morrison tried to make Batman’s zillions adventures feel like someone’s real life, Invincible offers a coherent life story.
Invincible delivers the colorful, soapy, cosmic goods month after month, and it lived up its Stan-Lee-esque cover boast: “A superhero universe so well-constructed it doesn’t need a reboot!” That’s a relief in these troubled times, when somehow Matt Murdock has a secret identity again.