By Chris Wilson
How do you keep alive – fresh, relevant and interesting –– characters and stories that have been ongoing for decades? The interplay between rabid fanboys and fangirls, readers who come and go as life demands, and new faces to comics must make creators and publishers writhe with full body dry heaves.
Relaunches, reboots, restarts, re-numberings, remakes, retellings … fans have been through it all more than once. When DC Comics announced it’s re-whatever last month (catch up on the brouhaha here), with 52 titles being revamped, redone, re-numbered and re-costumed, the comic world went topsy-turvy with speculation, anticipation, revulsion in some cases (Batgirl), and remembrance of gimmicks past.
What’s a fan-teacher supposed to do?
Putting aside fandom and our desperate attachment to certain characters, certain ways of doing things, and certain defined histories and backstory, the teacher’s outlook is not so controversial and in fact the classroom may very well benefit from such moves. It’s easy, really.
The news gives rise to the hook. It is quite useful to use news as a treble hook in the student gills to increase interest in reading and discussion. Gimmick or no, a number one issue is appealing. It’s a place to jump on without feeling like you are turning the channel to a Nascar race well in the 200th lap. Without commentary (in the case of Nascar) or backstory (in the case of comics), many things can be lost or confusing, which is incredibly frustrating to casual and new comics readers.
The opposite is also frustrating for hard fans. The constant re-whatevers drives the most loyal to the brink of abandon. I sympathize. I am still reeling over Oracle’s non-disability. If anyone but the bodacious Gail Simone were writing it I think I would quit BATGIRL altogether. I may still hate what happens, but if anyone can pull Oracle out of her wheelchair and back into the Batsuit and not offend me for numerous reasons (if I begin that rant, I doubt I’ll stop) Simone can do it. I trust her and am going to give her the benefit. She deserves nothing less.
However, neither the uber-fans nor my own attachments are the purpose of this article. Teachers, parents, and librarians need not engage the debate of: good or gimmick. Our job is to use the re-vamp to get students to read and hook them onto a title, a character, a storyline. We can give them the opportunity to see the number one and pick up a title they may have been otherwise reluctant to grab and read.
Ever tried Hawkman? How about Wonder Woman
? You know, Blue Beetle is kinda cool. Now’s a good time to try those characters and titles. If we have done our jobs with our students, they will hold our opinion of great stories (novels, comics, poems, short stories, movies, magazines, newspapers, blogs, wikis or whatever) with high regard and trust our guidance when we tell them: “You should read this. Billy, I think you will like it because you like … (insert Billy’s hobby, sports, favorite books or movies, etc.)”.
Maybe the numbering goes back after 16 months. Perhaps, after some time, we discover the reboot was really nothing more than an alternate universe. It may all be a gimmick. No matter. Use it. Hook kids. Get them reading. If things change back or debates arise in the classroom over the re-universe, well then we can use that too to teach our kids to choose a side and more importantly civilly and intelligently defend their position with facts and citations. When students passionately discuss literature, then we have succeeded in creating lifelong readers. That’s the goal, right?