Chat Cave: The Five Year Rule

When DC re-launched its entire line in September, they allowed individual writers and artists creative control over just how hard they wanted to throw the reset switch. With one exception: DC management decreed that in the “present” of all the books, no superhero had been active for more than five years. This holy edict seems to have served some characters better than others, and it also upsets some fans more than others. The Retcon Punchers weigh in on this universal change. Welcome to the Chat Cave.

Shelby: You know, I really don’t think about this all that much. Honestly, my first reaction to Patrick’s posing the question was, “Wait, what?” I kind of forgot; it just doesn’t enter into my brain while I’m reading.

I guess, though, that I NEVER think about how long a superhero has been “on the scene” when I’m reading about them. Unless the amount of time said superhero has existed is directly coming into play in the story (Year One and The Dark Knight Returns come to mind), it’s not something I worry about. I don’t know if that means that DC is doing it’s job well or not. On the one hand, they’ve created a universe so complete that, in my brain, these characters have just always been. On the other hand, the timeline of any given character’s origin should probably be something my little nerd brain obsesses over, or is at least aware of. Right? I should be losing sleep over the fact that Batman, Superman, Batgirl, Wonder Woman, all of them, have only been in the cape-and-tights business for 5 years.

But I’m not. Brace yourselves, because you’re never going to hear another comic book nerd say this:

“I don’t care about the continuity of the timeline.”

Drew: I definitely can see where Shelby is coming from. In fact, I’ve never been particularly interested in continuity, either, since I kind of accept (and like) that different interpretations of my favorite characters can’t coexist. The facts of Two-Face origin story are different in Batman: The Animated Series, The Long Halloween, and The Dark Knight, but I love them all. I’m interested in the questions those stories ask about Batman’s own duality, so I don’t really care about the whats, let alone the whens, of how things happened.

That attitude has led me to the habit of thinking of characters and situations in broader strokes, where I can pick and choose my favorite details from my favorite stories to create a kind of personalized patchwork of character history. This works particularly well for incorporating short one-off stories, but gets kind of weird when I’m confronted with life-changing events. What bothers me about the new 5-year timeline is how often I’ve been reminded of it (forcing me to acknowledge it) as well as the fact that it just doesn’t make sense for some of the characters.

I keep coming back to Batman as an example, but really, the Batman we understand to be operating in the New 52 has to have been working for more than 5 years. Dick, Jason, and Tim have all served as Robin, which I refuse to believe could have happened in 5 years. Moreover, Damian is at least 10 years old, which straight-up doesn’t make sense on a 5-year timeline. Damian was born long before Bruce ever became Batman? Not buying it. I might believe a 15-year timeline, but 5 years is just not enough time for the Batman history they’ve included to make any sense.

Peter: The best part about comics are the stories. Right? Isn’t that why we read them? I, for one, also love the history behind comics and the ongoing stories and lives of these superheroes. Which is why, I HATE this whole 5 year rule. Comics are rich with history and have endearing tales that have spanned decades. I just can’t fathom how so many of these stories will now all of a sudden need to be squeezed into five years. The re-launch retconned a bunch, so naturally some things changed. Some things, however, didn’t. See Drew’s example of Batman. All of those characters have been in both the previous universe and the new one, and I don’t think there is any way this 5 year business makes sense. Nightwing even mentions being Batman for a time, just like he was in the pre-Flashpoint universe. There is no way Bruce could have done all of the things he has done in a five year span.

Also, there has to be a certain time for heroes to get good at being heroes. Do you think that Batman was effective in his first outings as Batman? Do you think the Flash knew it all right away? It takes time to develop those skills and learn the ropes, so to speak. And how does a hero develop a rogues gallery in that little time? For example: how does Batman fight and capture a dozen villains, send them all to Arkham, watch as the institution is converted to a supervillain prison and let them all escape one-at-a-time in just five years? There is just no way. Especially since many of Batman’s villains (and several other villains) consider their respective heroes the root-cause of their turns to supervillainy. It’s like every superhero spent the first 4 months being really shitty to people so they would become supervillains?

This 5 year thing is completely bogus. Also, how do they explain that some books kept their pre-Flashpoint continuity but others got a total revamp? Does the Green Lantern Universe keep its years of stories, and thus have more than 5 year history, but Superman or the Flash don’t? Or failing that, how do you explain everything that has happened in the Green Lantern Universe/continuity in 5 years? Think about all the cosmic-level events that occurred in that story alone, and try and cram them into 5 years? Give me back my history, dammit!

Patrick: Wow! Peter is pissed off.  Also, wow! Shelby doesn’t give a shit. Peter’s been reading comics a lot longer than the rest of us combined, and he knows more about characters I’ve never heard of than I do about Hal Jordan. I may appreciate the easy entry-points that the 5 year rule created, but it wiped out all of everything Peter loved so dearly.

Or did it? “No Hero Has Been Active for More Than Five Years” – that’s the rule. So that leaves us with some questions – questions about Batman, questions about Dick Grayson, questions about Green Lanterns and the whole emotional spectrum. You can usually explain those questions away by saying that these adventures happened in another timeline, another reality. After all, Pandora is stomping around this universe, marking at least one through-line between pre-New 52 and post-New 52. So all of it “happened” in the sense that any of it happened. It’s the old Alan Moore axiom: “This story is imaginary, but then, aren’t they all?”

Yeah, I like the idea of a rich continuity that holds up to absolute scrutiny. But that’s not the world these characters inhabit – it’s not the world they’ve inhabited since the Silver Age (probably before). We are all lucky that these characters get to be bigger than the stories we read in comics, watch in the movies or play in video games. They’re our greek gods – our heroes – you can try to work out a timeline, and you can try to make sense of it all, but that’s not the point. The point is: these heroes have the power to move us and entertain us with their adventures. We’ll get long stretches of solid, logical continuity – years at a time, who else gets that?

SPECIAL BONUS CONTENT: [Peter was so mad about this issue that he went WAY OVER the recommended word count. It’s also some of the best incoherent rage-writing I’ve read in a long time. Peter, I love you man, but you clearly let your emotions get the better of you on this one. Included below is Peter’s unedited – and super angry – response -Ed.]

Red Lantern Peter: One of the best parts about comics are the stories. Right? Isn’t that why we read them? For, I also love the history behind comics and the ongoing stories/lives of these superheroes. Which is why, I HATE this whole 5 year rule. One of the best things about comics is that they are rich with history and have endearing tales that have spanned decades, and I just can’t fathom how so many of these stories will now all of a sudden need to be squeezed into five years. While I do understand that with the new universe has retconned several things, and some things are much more possible. Somethings, however, didn’t change. See Drew’s example of Batman. All of those characters have been in both the previous universe, and the new one, and I don’t think there is anyway this 5 year business makes sense. Nightwing even mentions being Batman for a time, just like he was in the pre-Flashpoint universe. There is no way Bruce could have done all of the things he has done in a five year span.

Also, there has to be a certain time for heroes to get good at being heroes. Do you think that Batman was as effective in his first outings as Batman? Do you think the Flash knew it all right away? It takes time to develop those skills and learn the ropes, so to speak. Also, during those 5 years, how does a hero develop a rogues gallery in that time? For example, how does Batman get at least a dozen villains, and then Arkham Asylum is also then converted from just a mental institution to a mental/supervillain prison in that time? There is just no way. Especially since many of Batman’s villains for example, and several other villains consider their respective heroes the root cause of their woes, and thus, force them into becoming supervillains. So for like the first 4 months every superhero was just really shitty to people so they would become supervillains?

What I really am saying, is that this 5 year thing is completely bogus. Also, how do they explain away different books, where some kept their previous continuity from before Flashpoint and some books got a total revamp? Does the Green Lantern Universe keep it’s years of stories, and thus have more than 5 year history, but Superman or the Flash don’t? Thinking of that, how do you explain everything that has happened in the Green Lantern Universe/continuity in 5 years? Think about all the cosmic level events that occurred in that story alone, and try and cram them into 5 years? Give me back my history dammit.

8 comments on “Chat Cave: The Five Year Rule

  1. I said I was totally cool with it, and I stand by that, but I also prefer the idea that these heroes have vast expansive histories under their belts. Just given Shelby’s examples, I prefer Dark Knight Returns to Year One. Both are kickin’ Batman stories, but one has the benefit of an implied long history, while the other focuses on novelty and origin (BORING… in concept. I’m not saying Year One is boring).

    • I really don’t mind that certain events or even whole timelines are irreconcilable (see my example of the various iterations of the Two-Face origin), and am happy to maintain separate strands that are at once true and untrue of the characters. What I do mind is when a story contradicts itself, which to me is exactly what the five year timeline is doing to the histories of characters like Bruce Wayne and Hal Jordan. There’s no way all the apparently-still-cannon stories implied in the New 52 could have happened in 5 years.

      There should be a crossover of Red Lanterns and 28 Days Later (He’s infected…WITH RAGE). It may be the only way to get me to read Red Lanterns, but I would read the shit out of that.

      • I bought the first issue of Red Lanterns (that’s where that image of Dex Starr came from), so I’d be willing to read it if it were any good – NOT SURPRISING THAT IT’S BAD.

        Yeah, that internal contradiction is hard. Batman just doesn’t make sense unless you ignore the Five Year Rule. The great thing about it, though, is that you can just ignore it. IGNORE!

  2. Peter makes a good point, though; maybe the reason why I don’t give a shit is actually that current continuity isn’t especially believable with a 5 year cut-off, so I just assume that’s not how it is.

  3. I think the point that is most confusing to me, is since they chose to keep some previous storylines for some books, but chose to do seeming total reboots on others, how does that play into this 5 year plan? Did we go from Hal getting a ring, losing his mind, becoming Parallax, destroying the Corps, dying, being reborn, fighting in the Sinestro War, and the Blackest Night in 5 years?

    • It is weird when you compare it to something like the Flash, whose mythology has basically reset entirely. I can believe that Barry has only been running around Central City for five years – that makes sense to me.

      Hal’s intergalactic history doesn’t make much sense in a five year time frame, but do we have any evidence that he was ever Parallax in the New 52? We see that the Corps was wiped out at one point (in New Guardians), but I don’t know that anything WITHIN the proper Green Lantern book has confirmed that that part of the history carried over. In fact, I don’t know if we can assume Blackest Night “happened” – while the various emotional corps are out there, they could have different origins we have yet to explore.

      • What’s especially confusing is trying to figure out how the more “hard reset” titles fit in with the “soft relaunch” titles. Like, anybody porting over history from before the relaunch is going to have interacted with Wally West at some point, but I guess that never happened. I guess we have to do a kind of weird Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind kind of memory wipe where we lose all memory of him, or any other thing that doesn’t fit in with the new timeline. I’m sure someone with more comics knowledge than me can speak to important moments in the histories of some characters that involve something that no longer “happened,” but I just kind of assume that kind of thing is inevitable.

  4. Pingback: Justice League 13 | Retcon Punch

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