Quick definitions of “reboot” and “retcon” for those who might not be familiar.
A “reboot” of a fictional series is essentially saying, “screw it, we’re starting over.” Some of the time, this is because the series has gone so badly askew from its intended track that it’s easiest to just forget everything that went before and start anew. The best example I can give of this is probably the Christopher Nolan trilogy of Batman movies. After Joel Schumacher attempted to murder everything most fans loved about Batman, it was time to ignore everything that had been done and start fresh. Nolan stayed true to the feel of many things, but changed just enough that he could avoid the less pleasant aspects of Batman that many fans hated.
A “retcon,” which is a term that comes from the blending of “retroactive” and “continuity,” is when a new storyline changes or explains prior events in a new way with the intent of improving them. One of the most famous — and commonly accepted as one of the worst — retcons in the world of comics is from Green Lantern. The (very) short summary: Hal Jordan cracked under the strain of being a superhero and started doing very, very bad things. The retcon was: ummmm, no, no he didn’t, he was under the control of an evil being named Parallax. All of the gut-wrenching emotional stuff readers went through as their hero broke? Nah, nevermind.
While these definitions are a bit fluid (some retcons essentially ignore some of what went before, and some so-called reboots don’t go all the way back to the beginning, but just back to the point where things really went off the tracks), in general I think I’ve defined them fairly well there.
Retconning can lead to problems at times. There are often times where retcons get retconned, and then re-retconned, just to try to make some sense of things. Both DC and Marvel are riddled with retcons, with Marvel managing to essentially create multiple parallel universes. (DC’s was so confusing that Superboy Prime — I think that was his name — had to essentially reset everything to a blank page by — are you ready for this? — punching reality so hard it broke. And within a few years, the various writers of DC had gotten things all mucked up again.)
Having one single writer, or a “writer’s Bible” from which writers may not deviate, or at the very least having a master controller who oversees all writing — easily the best way to prevent all the muddles that lead to people feeling the need to reboot or retcon. However, it’s not generally practical. Writers want to write good stories, and often this means having characters experience or do things that are emotionally traumatic. Unfortunately, in comics, the joke is that nobody stays dead except Jason Todd, Bucky, and Uncle Ben… although in recent years, both Jason Todd and Bucky did come back. So those emotional traumas become irrelevant, which is disappointing from a writer’s perspective. (The story is that there was a writer who felt that Peter Parker wasn’t a character readers could relate to any more once he had married MJ and moved out from Aunt May’s place, so as soon as he took over the Spiderman title, he had Aunt May get shot and Peter and MJ literally made a deal with the devil that destroyed their marriage. Really?)
When Christopher Nolan decided to do a reboot of the Batman franchise, he basically had to decide what direction to go: the dark and gritty version that sold the most comics, or the flash-and-fizzle version that held more appeal for younger crowds and those who nostalgically remember the Bang! Pow! Zzzzap! TV show. Once he chose gritty, he met with fans of the comics to talk over ideas, because he wanted to make sure he met their expectations. (As a fan of the grittier Batman, I have to say that some of the changes Nolan made really surprised me — but in almost every case, I thought he made things better.)
So, anyway, I personally would love to be the sole person responsible for some reboots. None of this could happen, I’m sure, because producers don’t like handing over total power to a single writer (the only exception I know of: Babylon 5 was entirely created and written by one guy, or at least that’s my understanding).
Here are the three reboots I’d like to be responsible for, and the reasons why.
1) He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.
This is a franchise that was specifically designed to sell toys, and I get that. To an extent, I can even respect that. So the cartoon pushed the toys, and as the toy line outstripped the cartoon, collecting the toys became the main thing kids wanted. Comics were sold, too, as part of the massive marketing that pushed the line. Unfortunately, with all of the focus on marketing, there was virtually no control put in place to define the storylines or to keep them consistent. The various writers were all trying their best to be interesting while promoting whatever toy they were supposed to promote, and things got pretty jumbled. Later reboots never really took off.
Why I want to reboot it: for one thing, the general concepts behind the series were solid; there was the potential to have just the right mix of superhero drama and soap opera (was Skeletor really King Randor’s brother? Would Teela ever find out that she was the Sorceress’s daughter? And who was Teela’s father?). These general concepts never panned out, though — not even in its original version. The marketing painfully overwhelmed the writing, even to the point of taming Skeletor’s evil plots to be more annoying and often comical than dangerous and power-hungry. The series is ripe to be rebooted. (The later reboots that failed? They failed partially because of the animation style, which made everyone so monstrously muscular that they made Superman look a little bit wussy, and partially because they stripped away too many of the elements that fans liked.)
Potential problems: For a while now, there have been industry rumors of another He-Man live action movie — a reboot may be in the works. However, there has already been conflict between those who own the rights to the characters and those who want to make the movie; Mattel is still pushing for more kid-friendly stuff. The other problem? The names. Although many of the well-known characters have “real” names, the fact that so many of them are called things like Stinkor, Jitsu, and Sy-Klone has always been a problem for those of us who want more grittiness. Frankly, even He-Man and Skeletor are pretty dumb names, when you stop and think about it.
2) The Neverending Story.
As cheesy as many people think the movie was, I loved it as a kid, and I still love it now. However, before I was ten, my dad brought home a box of books — I’m still not sure where he got it — and the hardcover novel that predated the movie was in there. The book was 26 chapters long (the first chapter started with A, the next with B, and so on), and the movie neatly covered chapters 1 through 12. This book is still one of my all-time favorites; I have read it well over 40 times, and it has amazing philosophy scattered throughout it, and incredible side stories that fuel the reader’s imagination.
Why I want to reboot it: mostly, because from the day they started putting together The Neverending Story II, they got it wrong. While the movie roughly covers the material from chapters 13-26, it does so only in the most general way. The moral and philosophical crises the characters experience were stripped away for set pieces and new characters that didn’t fit at all with the feel of the book. Later, there were direct-to-video movies that continued to deviate from the original in painfully shallow ways. The brilliance of the book is that problems aren’t easy to solve, and characters don’t stay true to their own moral beliefs when presented with the opportunity to make things easier on themselves. Friends fight, sometimes with terrible results; beloved characters die in battles that never needed to happen. Heroes become villains due to their own weakness. And, what’s more, the book has more than a dozen places that seem to go off on intriguing tangents, only to then state, “but that is another story that shall be told another time.” I want those stories!
Potential problems: I can think of three. First, the target audience would end up being a very niche market: those who like their stories to carry a combination of magic, philosophy, moral complexity, and action. While most people might think they’d like this, my guess is that fewer would actually find themselves enjoying it. Second, it really would be best as books and short stories, not movies and cartoons as has been the history. And finally, even I would rather have new stories in Fantastica (or Fantasia, in the movie) written by the original author, although I would certainly try to do it justice.
3) The X-Files.
Seriously, just start it over.
Why I want to reboot it: just… just too many problems as it went along. By season 3, shouldn’t Scully have been as wigged out as Mulder? By the movies, would they really have been working “normal” FBI cases? And if so, would they handle one that the Powers That Be knew was related to alien stuff? (Incidentally, blowing up a building to cover up murders? Dumb. You’re just drawing attention to the people who were in the building. Dispose of them individually and quietly. Take a note, evil agents.)
Potential problems: I don’t think fans want a reboot. I personally more or less gave up on the show while it was still running, and I think a lot of people did. Others who didn’t give up don’t see the need for a reboot. But I’d honestly just like it to start over entirely. Maybe something like a “next generation” idea. Something. Also, another problem would be that a lot of today’s TV audience would just feel like it was “been there, done that” and would demand familiar characters that I’m not sure I would have any use for.
What would you reboot?