Robot 6

Grumpy Old Fan | DC’s new five-year mission

Batman #436, beginning "Year Three"

One of the more precarious parts of DC’s New-52 relaunch is this notion that a whole lot of in-story history happened over just five years of comic-book time. So far, this comes primarily from narration in the new Justice League #1, indicating that the team was formed “five years ago,” when “the world didn’t know what a super-hero was.”

Now, this may not be an entirely accurate measurement of the relaunch’s age. Practically by definition, the Justice League consists of heroes with fairly well-established careers, so we have to think that its charter members had been around for a little while before teaming up. Furthermore, in the context of the New 52 specifically, we can infer from what we know about the new Action Comics — which will show him less-powerful and with a more mundane costume — that Superman debuted some time before the events of Justice League #1. (According to Comics Alliance’s account of Friday’s New-52 Comic-Con panel, Action initially takes place just a few months before Justice League.)

For now, though, the five-year figure is probably as definite as we’re going to get, so let’s start there. As always, DC wants to placate two different groups: hypothetical new (and/or returning) readers, and those of us who have been buying the books already. For the former, the relaunch promises new takes on familiar characters, including some familiar characters returning to their earlier roles. For the latter — and particularly for Batman and Green Lantern readers — comes the reassurance that everything important still happened. Perhaps the two goals collide most dramatically in the case of Barbara Gordon, who will go back to being Batgirl after recovering successfully from the assault that left her paralyzed, and who (as a recent college graduate) will be younger than she was when she was shot.

DC did something similar with the post-Crisis On Infinite Earths relaunches of the mid-1980s. Back then, characters big and small had their histories rewritten, although DC maintained that absent specific contradictions, the pre-Crisis comics were still valid. Still, those contradictions were pervasive, especially for the comics that weren’t supposed to be affected. Changes to Superman affected existing Justice League and Legion stories, and changes to Wonder Woman affected both JLA and New Titans. Young All-Stars (the follow-up to All-Star Squadron) even centered around a group of WWII-era “cosmic replacements” — strongman Iron Munro, mysterious Flying Fox, mythologically-based Fury — created explicitly as substitutes for the Golden Age Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.

And not to digress too much, but I get the feeling that DC in the mid-‘80s was more concerned with preserving as much of the pre-COIE stories as it could. By contrast, the New-52 books seem, understandably, more focused on the changes, and inviting readers to discover what’s different.

In this case, those differences apparently come primarily from making these characters less experienced than they are currently. According to CBR’s coverage of that Friday panel,

[Dan DiDio] wanted to return characters to a younger, more exciting age. Barbara Gordon was used as an example, saying that she should be in her twenties but seemed to be in her thirties, while the Teen Titans sometimes “looked and acted like 40-year-olds.” [Jim] Lee also said this would create “a rollback of their experience, where it is more of a struggle,” such that heroes are still finding the level of their powers.

By itself, that’s not an unreasonable or unworkable strategy. Neither is streamlining a character’s history to include only the most important big-event storylines. The problem comes from trying to leave untouched a couple of major franchises (Batman and Green Lantern) while everyone else’s past adventures — and, for that matter, the Justice Society’s very existence — are in play.

Put bluntly, Batman’s history calls for the biggest suspension of disbelief, because it reaches into the histories of both the Justice League and the Teen Titans. In the current timeline, where Damian Wayne is a product of Batman: Son of the Demon’s night of passion between Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul, one can argue credibly for a Bat-career of at least fifteen years, and probably more. SOTD was published in 1987, when Jason Todd was Robin and Dick Grayson had become Nightwing. If we presume that SOTD took place in the present (i.e., concurrent with 1987′s comics), Dick would be over 20 years old, having reached that milestone in early 1986.* Damian’s age therefore measures the span of time between 2011′s comics and 1987′s, compressing almost 24 years’ worth of stories into 11 (or, if you prefer, 10 years and 9 months). For simplicity’s sake, let’s just say that Dick turned 20 in the same year that Damian was born. That would make Dick 30 today, and would give him a superhero career of at least 15 years, mostly as Nightwing.** From there we can figure Bruce’s age, assuming (as “Batman: Year One” revealed) that he first became Batman at 25. If Bruce then took in Dick in Year Three,*** when he was 27 and Dick was 15, then the current crop of comics takes place in at least Year 18, when Bruce is 42.

To be sure, we can massage these numbers a little bit, but not much. Starting a superhero career at age 15**** doesn’t give Dick much time to be Robin (or, by extension, for the Teen Titans to go through a couple of incarnations). However, the younger Dick is when his parents are murdered, the older that makes Bruce today; and despite the small army of associates he’s accumulated, no one seems to want a Batman in his forties.

Now, it’s not like the timeline wasn’t already a little dodgy. Dick left Wayne Manor for Hudson University in December 1969′s Batman #217, probably around ages 17 or 18. Accordingly, all of Dick’s college-age adventures — which span over fifteen years of real time — could arguably be compressed into some 2-3 years of comic-book time. These adventures include the initial Rā’s al Ghūl stories, the original Teen Titans’ breakup and the group’s mid-‘70s revival, Dick’s retirement as Robin, and all of the first Wolfman/Pérez run on New Teen Titans.

Speaking of the Titans, Wally West graduated high school in 1978′s Flash Spectacular and turned 20 in the first issue of his solo Flash series (June 1987), so while he has a similar problem, he only needs to compress nine years’ worth of real time into 2-3 years of comic-book time. However, those 2-3 years also include some college, as well as his forced retirement from superheroics, and oh by the way Crisis On Infinite Earths.

Again, I bring this up not to argue that all of DC’s superhero output from 1970-85 must be crammed into the end of the original Titans’ teenage years. Instead, such an exercise reinforces the notion that very few stories can be incorporated into long-term continuity exactly as they were presented. In simpler terms, the story you read today won’t be quite the same story which is referenced later on — assuming it is even referenced in the first place. For example, Tim Drake deduced Batman and Robin’s secret identities after watching news footage of the Dynamic Duo, and seeing Robin execute a move which was part of Dick Grayson’s circus act. However, when later stories claimed that the Bat-family had always been urban legends, this detail was glossed over. Still, Tim’s introduction to Batman and Nightwing was predicated on his knowing their secret identities — so either he saw them on the news, he was somehow present at one of their adventures, or he was an exceptionally gifted adolescent detective. Because this is superhero comics, any of those could be true, but odds are the original story is no longer completely valid.

Where, then, does that leave the New-52′s five-year timeline? If it includes all the Robins from Dick to Damian, I’d say the timeline has already been FUBAR’ed. Actually, the Batman timeline itself may not be affected too much, because DC can trot out the “urban legend” theory. (Remember, an urban legend isn’t necessarily a superhero, so Justice League’s narration is still accurate.) In fact, Batman could have been operating in secret for some ten years prior to Justice League #1. He would have spent a good bit of those years training various red-and-yellow-costumed teenagers, but, you know, urban legend.

Anyway, one solution might have been simply to give the New-52 books a five-year backstory which reflected a less-eventful shared universe. For example, in the rough timeline we’ve been discussing, Dick would be at or the end of high school in Year Five, with Wally not far behind. Likewise, Bruce and his contemporaries would be in their late twenties to early thirties. Generally, it might resemble the development of DC’s shared universe as of the early 1970s, although it could be tweaked to allow for younger characters like Firestorm and the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle. The big drawback to such a truncated history would be losing at least one additional generation of sidekicks: no Robins other than Dick, no Kid Flash or Impulse other than Wally, no Wonder Girl besides Donna Troy and no Batgirls besides Barbara Gordon (and maybe Bette Kane, although technically she was a hyphenated Bat-Girl.) I suppose the Green Lantern history could remain relatively intact, since there seems always to be room for another Earth-based GL.

By and large, though, I understand why DC didn’t want to turn back the clock that radically. Depriving readers of the younger generations would have alienated their many fans, and DC wouldn’t have wanted to gamble its relaunch on having to replace those fans. However, the New-52 relaunch may have gone too far in the other direction, overstuffing its cut-down history to the point it strains even superhero-comic credulity. A character’s relative longevity weighs significantly on its presentation. If no one is part of the old guard, such that Batman’s origin is only a few years removed from Firestorm’s, it deprives the characters of that source of conflict. Maybe that’ll be good in the long run, if it allows lesser-known characters to compete with the A-listers for readers’ affections. Nevertheless, books as diverse as the ‘70s All Star Comics, New Teen Titans, Justice League International, and the late-‘90s JLA each used rookie characters effectively in combination with the more-experienced members.

In one important respect, nothing has changed. As long as superhero comics come out in serialized periodicals, their stories will play out in an eternal present. When Detective Comics #38 introduced Robin in the spring of 1940, its producers weren’t plotting Dick’s destiny over the long term. They just needed him to fulfill a particular role in Batman’s adventures. Thus, for decades Dick Grayson was a high-schooler of indeterminate age***** simply because the stories wanted it that way. Dick’s transition to college, and his subsequent developments to Nightwing and Batman, each acknowledged that it was time for the character to embrace different storytelling possibilities. A character’s past informs his present, but does not dictate it. Indeed, this month’s issue is next month’s backstory, reduced to data points and added to the reader’s storehouse of narrative knowledge. September’s crop of new first issues will be no different. Like this week’s books, they’ll define DC’s superhero line all over again …

… at least, until the accuracy of Now fades into the haze of Then.

++++++++++++++++++

* [New Teen Titans vol. 2 #18 (March 1986).]

** [Since Dick was still Robin when he graduated from high school, and stayed in the short pants for some time afterwards, I presume he was at least 19 when he became Nightwing.]

*** [Flashbacks in the “Batman: Year Three” storyline from Batman #s 436-39 gave the post-“Year One” account of Dick’s origin. “Year Three” also introduced toddler Tim Drake and led directly into Tim’s modern introduction in “A Lonely Place Of Dying.” However, like its predecessor “Year Two,” no one seems to care about it much anymore.]

**** [In fact, Batman #437 established that Dick was 12 when his parents were murdered. This would have given him about seven years as Robin. Again, though, “Year Three” apparently hasn’t been considered authoritative for some time.]

***** [Michael Fleisher’s 1976 Encyclopedia of Comic-Book Heroes, Volume 1: Batman notes that “[i]t is not possible to establish Dick Grayson’s age with any real precision.” Still, Fleisher observes further that in April-May 1942′s Batman #10, “[t]here were fourteen candles on his birthday cake.” Rest assured, I am not going to argue that only three to four years of comic-book time passed between 1942 and 1969.]

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83 Comments

The only way to avoid all of this crap is to let the next generation take over. DC almost had it right with Connor, Wally, Kyle and now Dick as Batman – this just starts the same cycle again. After 3 to 5 years they will again be burdened with too much continuity and the reset button has to be hit again and again. I just enjoy the good stories that are produced and have less and less invested in the characters because nothing is ever going to happen to allow real growth or change.

Jim, that’s exactly what kept The Flash free of major retcon problems during the post-Crisis era. Because all the old stories happened to Jay or Barry, they could tell new stories with Wally and didn’t *have* to compress or discard the old ones just to keep Wally under 30 (except when they felt they had to fit both Barry’s and Wally’s careers into the Zero Hour 10-year timeline).

Unlike Superman or Wonder Woman, the only things that *had* to be discarded from the Flash mythos were those elements of stories that specifically involved crossing from Earth-1 to Earth-2. Basically, Flash of Two Worlds (rewritten with Keystone City isolated from the rest of the world) and a couple of mostly forgotten stories from the 70s. Most of the Barry Allen/Jay Garrick team-ups could simply be incorporated into the modern history by ignoring the fact that one of them had to cross a dimensional barrier. (Of course, tying the JSA to WW2 introduced its own problems, but that’s another can of worms.)

dc should have just launched Ultimate DC and they would have had more wiggle room to do what ever they wanted and given this new earth all the cleans brakes they wanted. All they had to do was Suspenend the current DC line of comics and set the Ultimate DC universe going. Then one by one return the books Like JSA back into the schedule. Or……

….why not Take this new Universe and the Old Universe and have them exist at the same time, Taking Superman and Wonder Woman and all the Characters they think needed a “fix” and put them on the DCnU earth and keep the JSA on the DCU earth and make the JSA the one big Superhero team, with these other heroes seemingly disapearing. The JSA could have been the connection to the past that some fans still want. and the new DCnU can exist as is with all the changes and all the new fan love.

It’s for just this reason (conitinuity issues) that I’m dropping any books I’ve dearly loved the continuity of (like Green Lantern and Batman) and instead trying out series I’ve never bought before. I’m looking forward to Wonder Woman, a series I’ve never picked up, and Resurrection Man. Heck, even Jonah Hex!

Of course, to be fair, I haven’t bought comics since I had kids (about four years ago), and the reboot is giving me a fresh start to at last jump back in. I’m just going with those that I know I won’t get frustrated with continuity issues, since they’ll be new to me anyway.

One other way to avoid the “superheroes have only been around for the last 5 years” idea is to call anyone who operated prior to that period of time “mystery men”.

Teen characters, whether sidekicks or not, always get the short end of the stick with compressed timelines. Look at the X-Men: by now, they’ve had four separate waves of ‘young mutants’ (New Mutants, Generation-X, New/Young X-Men, Generation Hope), but since none of them have the staying power of the classic Claremont characters, they get shuffled off, forever stuck in some (post) college age limbo and reduced to the occasional cameo or nostalgia book with the old gang reuniting. See also: Rick Jones, the New Warriors, Iceman, Kitty Pryde and Spider-Man (all old enough to have many decades and countless adventures under their belts, but age-wise supposedly still in the same category as newbies like Chamber, Hellion and Gravity). If you’re a fan of these characters-and many teen teams/characters have especially rabid/loyal fanbases-you’re always going to end up disappointed with the characters never progressing beyond a certain point and becoming the main Avengers/X-Men/heroes of the Marvel U.

The solution? Just ignore it, focus on good stories and hope for smart, crafty writers like, say, Brian K. Vaughan, who mixed-and-matched teen heroes from several generations effectively and believably when he created the Loners/Excelsior in Runaways. Or blame it all on Kang the Conqueror.

As for DC, that universe is irreparably broken. After spending the better part of the past decade trying to rearrange everything so that they have the best bits of every era in continuity and in play (Krypto *and* the Death of Superman, Bane *and* the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh, the JSA *and* Young Justice, the entire classic/dad’s Justice League roster revived and restored)…they chuck it all overboard to start fresh-but not too fresh! No, they want to get new readers in droves *and* keep the existing hardcore fanbase happy, thereby still confusing the former (if they show up at all) and royally pissing-off the latter. A scheme so harebrained, so ill-conceived and executed, it truly boggles the mind. But hey, well-played DC! At least now we can all look forward to eventually reading such great tales as Batman joining the Avengers, Galactus destroying Krypton and the Green Lantern-Nova Corps War.

I agree. At this point, a total reboot would have worked better.

Heck maybe even a reset. Make Wally West Kid Flash again. Dick Grayson Robin etc…
The partial-reboot approach will cause more problems down the road and we will not have learned from the lessons of Donna Troy and Hawkman.

People: “How do we move forward?”

DC: “By moving backwards of course!” *Wink*

Seriously I just wanna thank DC for saving me money.

Great articles like this is why this is the feature i look to everyweek.Also i think DC painted themselves into a corner with the whole”5 year”time line.Just say “not long ago or in recent memory” or something vague so you dont get hamstrung by it.

Grumpy: are you familiar with the Unauthorized Chronology of the DC Universe? This site did exactly the same work you did above (with issue and date citations too) and came out with a 20-something year timeline for DC’s “present”. Check it out and see if you agree with its conclusions.

Personally, I’m willing to take a “they will explain things as they go along” approach with The New DC. Of course, the last time they asked for us to trust them with something like that was with the One Year Later deal, which didn’t quite work like they said since they forgot to explain things until the last minute. And this time, they have no deadline.

Oy, they could at least do something like they did with History of the DC Universe back in ’86. At least with that they attempted to map out a timeline for their newly-unified universe. Same thing with the pullout in Zero Hour #0.

If you are going to start from scratch then do it, across the board. Superman, Batman, Flash, etc. All new stories. If you enjoyed reading about Bruce two years ago, get the books out and read them again. There is a new Batman in town. Making mistakes, creating a new legacy.
Generally if I don’t like a book (X-men) I stop buying it (a looooooong time ago) and I tend to remember that group as who I liked without all the stuff that makes me sad. (Byrne run)
I could do it with the whole DC line easy.
It’s nice that they came so close to getting it right. If only blackest night hadn’t happened, and getting rid of it wouldn’t have hurt someone’s ego.

Actually, Damian is NOT a product of Son of the Demon. Remember, in the end, Talia gives the child away. That didn’t happen with Damian.

Cool man, you know the dcu better than dc does. I generally dig most stuff on here but this is just self serving fanboy shit beating an already dead horse. Dude, it’s comics sack up and get over it. There are going to be inconsistencies BFD.

Jake Earlewine

July 28, 2011 at 8:03 pm

“new takes on familiar characters” isn’t going to attract new readers to DC comics. Anybody who believes changing the characters is going attract new readers to comics, well, they haven’t spent much time in a comic shop. No, what is required is new takes on *marketing* comic books, not changing their content.

Rewriting history doesn’t work in the comics any more than it works in the real world.

But, hey, Tom — another fine, well thought out article. You da man!

I’m jazzed about the reworking, whatever you want to call it, but they should have nuked Batman & GL and rebuilt it, but kept it much closer to what we had before that was working. How do you explain to anyone that everything else is gone except Batman and GL ? Superman, JLA, Flash, Wonder Woman, etc are all gone, but Bats & GL have roots cause they’re successful ?

Why is DC being so specific about the passage of time and characters’ ages? Don’t they know that it’s best to be vague? This five year thing is so silly.

They should have completely started over, without being constrained by any past history. People would have gone nuts (including myself, I’m sure), but it would have been a truly bold choice. Aside from keeping the basic origins of a few of the most famous characters more or less the same, they could do whatever they wanted. No wacky retcons would be needed to somehow fit all the “important” storylines in a ridiculous five-year timespan because the readers would be witnessing the building of the universe from the beginning.

And for popular characters of the old DCU that people would still want to read about, well, why not continue their stories with OGNs, or something? What could it hurt to try something truly new, instead of something that is just pretending to be new?

In general, i’m thinking the batman inc stuff and gl rainbow corps stuff could stick around since those events could happen at anytime with little differences. But saying only five years has past seems like a bad move as 10 years would be better.

@Jim- thats my main problem with geoff johns. he cant let go of his childhood and let the dcu move on. most of the things he did with gl, flash, and aquaman would still work even if you do them with the successors. Having Garth become the new aquaman/king of atlantis and having him deal with the new aqualad and various other skeletons in his mentors closet still works. Having Wally being the flash and xoom being the reverse flash still works and even works better as zooms motivation is easier to understand/relate to than thawne’s. Blackest night might be iffy to work with kyle but doable.

in other words dc has gone back to doing the main reason they wound up doing crisis on infitie earths in the first place making their universe so messed up and confusing with the reboot that in the end odds are they will resort to a redo of crisis to make the universe unmessy again.

Possibly you have too much time on your hands :-)

I tend to find talk of stories being ‘valid’ or ‘mattering’ a bit strange.

I had a conversation with my brother about this a few months ago when Marvel killed Johnny Storm. He was dismissive, because the death would almost certainly be undone at some stage – somehow, this invalidated the story. My point was that all that doesn’t matter – all that matters is whether the stories being told are any good. Johnny may come back, but that doesn’t invalidate the depiction of the rest of the FF’s grief. The same applies to all pre-new 52 (and for that matter, pre-Crisis stories).

Now, if something is obviously silly and contradictory in the new 52, that’s going to be a problem. But if they’re vague enough about timescales and fudge the details enough and, most importantly, if the stories are good enough, things will be fine. If you’re going to go back and draw up timelines and actively seek out problems, I’m sure you’ll find them – and that won’t help your enjoyment of the comics. But if you let it go, and the stories are good enough to hold your attention properly, there shouldn’t be a problem.

It’s amazing that there are still people who don’t realize that DC doesn’t care: About the characters, about the readers, about the creators.

” If Bruce then took in Dick in Year Three”

No one else thought this sentence was hilarious?

Hey, here is a thought um its comic books people I think suspension of disbelief is a given I don’t care about bloody continuity I want great writing and fantastic art of baxter or mando paper not this slick crap. Also how about some iron handed editors making sure the stories are good seems to me we are headed back to the Marvel editor-writer days. Of course comics are a dying form and this saddens me i have read comics since the early sixties been up and down ,but now I don’t see anything that can save the industry unless they drop the prices and stop with the silly event comics just make great books and also reduce the number of bloody titles flooding a overburdened market only speeds the collapse. Sorry to be a doomsayer ,but where is the next O’Neil-Adams or the next Claremont ,Watchmen or Frank Miller?

William O'Brien

July 29, 2011 at 6:29 am

I believe DC has already said that Batman was active prior to the the new Justice League, so he doesn’t need to be fit into five years. Tim could see footage from shortly after the JL debut and still have a multiple year career as Robin.

Batman 666 says Damian was artificially aged, so his “real” age doesn’t have to be anywhere near eleven.

Not that DC couldn’t have handled this whole thing better …

To think that there was a time when 100,000,000 people read comics and now it is in the 100,000. I don’t think this is a result of retconning, but of “bang for your buck.” We live at a time when anyone can download all kinds of entertainment for free. So, the idea of spending 2.99 for a comic book is anathema to them. Drop it to 1.99 and I think you would see circulation go way up–as would the revenue from advertising.

Downloading for free really should read “steal.”

I wouldnt pay for any downloading. Im sticking with print.

As a grumpy old fan of 56 myself, I plan to just not worry about which stories happened in the last 72 years and which ones didn’t. I don’t have any problem reading a Batman or Superman story that was published in 1962 or 1980 or whenever and enjoying the heck out of it without resorting to mental contortions to justify the characters being about the same age though many years have passed. It’s fiction!

It always surprises me that no one seems to have a problem when faced with the Batman movies – that Batman looks different in almost every one of them or that he was about 30 years old in the first Burton directed movie, but 16 years later in Batman Begins, he’s still about 30 years old. But in comics these sorts of things seem very upsetting. Why?

As far as the books that DC will be publishing in September and beyond, I’m excited about several of them. I’m definitely along for the ride. But if the stories aren’t compelling or the art isn’t particularly good, I’ll be sad to give them up, but give them up I will. Even so, it won’t be because I’ve pre-judged or have some mis-placed upset about how old these fictional characters are portrayed to be.

I honestly think/hope that even the stories DC has said “happened” will not be mentioned in the stories anytime soon. And even when they are they will be generalizations of what happened. Don’t sweat the details people, even before this there were stories from both companies that ignore or purposefully change past continuity.

Paddy is my hero of this thread.

the only good thing about DCnU is that Bruce back being the ONLY Batman nobody can be Batman except him but some people are just too stupid to realize that fact

I guess I’m “just too stupid” because I can’t imagine anyone not thinking that both Morrison’s and Snyder’s runs using Grayson are great state-of- the-art comics (although the Bruce-centered Batman Inc. #4 is my favorite single issue in a long while). As for the continuity thing, I don’t particularly care one way or the other, but I think we’ll see a little bit of timey-wimey in the Batman Inc. cliffhanger that will help. I can’t be the only one who’s picked up on the time travel/paradox etc. threads Morrison is teasing.

This was a good and well thought out run down of the transition so far. There’s no fear mongering or overreacting that I’ve read in some many “online communities” full of whiners.

My big problem is with them making EVERYONE young again. The idea that the Wildstorm heroes were the only “superheros” before Superman bugs me. I understand DC wants to capture the younger market. But this sacrificial loss of all the old DCU icons is troubling. No group of people like the JLA should all be so close to the same age. (Yeah Wonder Woman is immortal but we are talking the 5 year time line here) It is like DC is suddenly afraid the old heroes will frighten off younger readers.

I think they missed the boat by not moving forward with a generational approach. They had a good start in Green Arrow and Red Arrow, Batman and Dick / Damian, and Berry and Wally. I think it was a lazy and easy way out to just start over on everybody. Moving the entire DCU forward with heroes growing and bringing in a second generation just was to hard for Dan DiDio to wrap his brain around.

Charles J. Baserap

July 30, 2011 at 10:20 am

It’s not just the timeline issues that are problematic for keeping some things in continuity still, it’s in some cases the events themselves. How do you have Blackest Night still in play, but ignore the roles played in it by characters that are no longer around like the JSA? If Identity Crisis happened, who was the Flash that fought Deathstroke? Because Barry was gone.

DC really did paint themselves into a corner as some have suggested by trying to have things both ways. There are just so many inconsistencies that are too prominent to be easily ignored if you’ve been reading for just the last few years, let alone 20+ like some others of us. It’s not stuff like, “Character X liked yellow in Obscure Superhero Magazine #145 but then in Return of Obscurity Quarterly #67 they said he liked red.” It’s stuff like, “Blackest Night is still in canon and happened, but just pretend all those parts about the JSA and the Superman and Lois and Alexander Luthor from another earth and the roles characters played that no longer exist or, so far as we can tell, never did exist at all.

I don’t understand why DC said that The Killing Joke happened and all 3 robins happened and the two batmans all happened…….in 5 years? their selective rebooting is wonky.

That’s a good point about Blackest Night and a lot of the other stories. I wonder if they’re planning a soft retcon strategy along the lines of how Marvel’s replaced Vietnam origins with Afghanistan. It would also give them a chance to streamline the stories for their other media presentations. Maybe creating an easier to follow Blackest Night animated movie that is then incorporated into the comics through a mini series or secret origin type flashback story? Seems to be making Marvel plenty of cash.

Drew Melbourne

July 30, 2011 at 11:21 am

This is EXACTLY what was done after CRISIS, which was certainly problematic at times, but worked out just fine from a story standpoint. (Which is to say, the stories were good or bad if they were good or bad, and the continuity didn’t much make a difference one way or the other.)

The obvious point here is to put the “classic” versions of the characters (generally the Silver Age versions) front and center and make them young and vital to appeal to new fans and allow for crossover with their media properties.

One of the problems they had with the Flash reboot is no matter how great Johns or Manapul were doing, they still had a Barry Allen who felt stale and old. With this reboot, we get a younger unmarried Barry Allen whose the classic version of the character but with more of a modern, Wally-ish vibe.

The very fact that people spend so much time complaining about continuity not “making sense” or trying to come up with ways to explain it so it does is the root of the problem as far as I’m concerned. The whole notion of stories that “matter” and “canon” as it regards comic books is befuddling to me. They’re comic books.

I believe I heard something about there being a Starman museum. Is that true and where does that fit in??? Wouldn’t that make him the first hero or whatever?

BohemiaDrinker

July 30, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Just as a curiosity: in his brief latest run in the Nightwing monthly, Marv Wolfman stated clearly that Dick was then 26 years old; an age that actually fits with all the original Titans time-line .

Yeah, reading Shade is going to be insane. In no comic was history more important than Robinson’s “Starman,” to me still the best in-continuity DCU series (judged by pure creative quality) of the modern era. But that history is just mangled now. Who was Jack Knight’s dad if he wasn’t a supehero? That destroys the whole point of the book. It was a series about a guy with a superhero dad. Hearing Robinson deal with the tatters of his story in “Shade” will be fascinating. Who was the Shade now, if he wasn’t a JSA villain? What did he do all that time? Why would he have met Jack Knight? So weird.

I’ll be honest, no one seems to notice that this method IS ALREADY IN PLACE. It has been for a while now. Characters in comics’ stories only reference the relevant or poignant stories over the years. When was the last time a Spider-Man (I use Spider-Man because I know his history better, but the same applies to DC) story referenced ‘Mad Dog World’? Peter was locked in an insane asylum for a while, seems pretty significant to me. Yet, Gwen Stacy’s death is referenced every other issue. So, 95% of time, we can assume that Mad Dog World never happened and it sort of streamlines the history. Same with other bad/irrelevant stories. So this strategy of character history is in place and complaints about it are pretty irrelevant.

Usually I don’t care so much about continuity issues…but this invalidates things like Brightest Day which just friggin’ ended! The Brightest Day Aftermath runs right into this reboot! So the stuff with Firestorm never happened? I guess we will just have to wait and see.

Batman has been in action more than 5 years. He was operating as a urban legend before Superman went public. Some of the other stuff is a lot to cram in 5 years but it’s said to be addressed in Justice League.

Just like physics, time is very different in comic books. 5 comic book years can be an eternity.

These little gripes remind me of the complaints of how ridiculous Superman is because a pair of glasses wouldn’t fool anyone as a disguise. You just have to accept things and relax people. Have fun.

I love how people can’t accept these events happened in about 5 years when they read about people who can run at light speed and fly from planet to planet. Yeah… the timeline just makes these books soooo unrealistic….

Realitätsprüfung

July 30, 2011 at 2:21 pm

I can’t believe how much long term fans fret over continuity, and changes to it

I’ll break it down: A few of the old “important” stories happened, somehow, in some hazy way. But everything else is chucked and no longer “matters”, except for its potential for entertaining reading. And so we move on.

This isn’t hard.

@JL: “DC” = Doesn’t Care, Dis-Continuity, De-Construction, Depressive Characters. Take your pick.

Isn’t one of the tenets of the “new 52″ that Superman has to be the very first superhero? Hard to reconcile the earlier existence of Batman, isn’t it?

Unless you posit that it’s Kal-El’s very presence on earth that creates the milieu for super types. But then, why not just have Lee Travis time scope the present day Superman back in 1938 so that he could inspire the Golden Age generation of superheroes? Remember that conceit?

I don’t need a Golden Age JSA, but I sure would like a modern depiction of those characters, and especially Power Girl!

The problem here is obvious and the solution simple. The problem is the fans and company’s obsession with continuity. When most of today’s superheros were created the fan base turned over pretty regularly so long term continuity was unimportant and the characters could remain relatively unchanged for the next group of readers. Now, the fan base is shrinking but those who buy tend to stick around longer. Because many fans are now buying comics well into adulthood they are demanding “stories that matter” and have stories that have real change and growth. This has the unfortunate effect of forcing the characters to age in a way they never had to in the past. This forced aging is a part of the problem.

This sort-of-but-not-really-a-reboot is not necessary, nor is a hard reboot. DC just needs to stop aging it’s characters. Fans and comic companies need to become less obsessed with continuity. When you have a moment walk over to your long box and randomly pull out a comic until you pull one that is still being published today and read that issue. Next, find out when the next issue of that comic is being published and go to your local comic book shop and buy that comic. After having read both ask yourself if the new issue could not have happened if not for the story in that older issue. Odds are that will not be the case.

I understand the lure of involved continuity. As adults we want more sophisticated stories and a complicated continuity is one way to try and achieve that. I also understand being attached to certain characters and not liking it when they are replaced. I was one of those who was not happy about the replacement of Wally with Barry as the Flash. I did not see the point in replacing the character and still don’t. Has a single story been told with Barry that could not have been told with Wally? I doubt it but I cannot say for sure since I no longer read the Flash. Of course, my attitude regarding this is part of the problem. I am unwilling to let go of a fictional character. Part of the problem is DC’s for making everything more complicated with constant reboots and character replacements.

Take a look at Jonah Hex. No continuity issues to bog it down, just solid story telling. Is anyone who reads that title up in arms because it ignores the Hex series that placed him in the future? How many fans write DC raging about the Vertigo series being ignored? An over abundance of continuity can stand in the way of good story telling.

Ignore most continuity and just tell good stories and stop rebooting and aging the characters.

They could always change it to say that Bruce and Talia had their son prior to him becoming Batman, perhaps while he was traveling the world training. He could have gone to the League of Assassins for some training, run into Talia, and…. That could have happened when he was in his late teens, putting Bruce now in his late 20′s.

All of this stuff seems counterproductive to me. We have huge CRISIS events and Blackest Night, Civil War, Characters getting married etc and then we just blow everything up. I think the main problem is the lack of good, creative writers. Rather than working with MJ and Peter’s marriage they decide that it should be blown up. In my mind the last 2 years of Spiderman stories have been awful (art and story) yet CBR and other sites continue to praise Slott and the rest of the spidey writers. Superman GROUNDED…..awful. Where are the good writers????We can’t possibly have Geoff Johns write EVERYTHING.

I sure hope that the reboots and killing of continuity at least leads to NEW AND INTERESTING stories.

Anyone else just bypassing their weekly pull list and waiting 6 months to find the trade cheap? I find myself at the large comicons buying $30 hardcovers for $10. Why buy $3.99 single issues when you can get that deal a few months down the road. In 5 years the number of people reading comics will drop from 100,000 to 50,000 easily.

It should have just been putting all this on one of the multiple earths the came back and everything would be fine. I could accept it all then and not have to wrangle my brain around this fake time line. Just drop the old titles. Put these on a new earth. Let them run. If you want to bring back the old ones so be it. Keep some of the old ones and keep the new ones. Its not like all these new ones are going to last anyway. Then we could have had some exciting story lines and cross overs. Hell keep all the old titles as dark and macabre with all the old things and have the new ones with these new story lines. I would have bought them too, but now I buy nothing. I will just get trades and old trades of my old titles. Sorry DC you lost me. Maybe you will have another Crisis to bring me back like you did with Infinite Crisis, but then you burned me with 52, Countdown, and Final Crisis. Oh well. Sorry DC times are tight. I feel the most for my comic book shop.

But why the pedantic attention to time? In comics a whole year of our time (12 issues) can occur within a day of story time. Add to that any dream sequence, time travel or dimension hopping stories through the years (our time) that may have affected a characters place within their own timestream. To be really thorough with this method the chronologies need to be analysed according to the ‘in-story’ time, not the cover date. That means going through the entire library and guestimating how long in diegisis a story/ story arc took and how each of these relate to each other (where do any flashback origin stories etc sit in relation to regular flow and so on).

We all know and accept that comic book time is wobbly… I remember when Marvel (who havent really crashed and rebooted in a chronolgical sense as they always revert back) had a big hooplah about 30th anniversary for X-men and Spidey (and soon they’ll be doing 50 yrs) yet both Cyclops and Parker were placed as being in their late 20s at best, with no real complaint from the fans (this was pre-blogosphere tho… be interesting how they go with their 2013 celebrations).
Its almost like DC having a universe altering event becomes a lightening rod for number crunching criticism, as opposed to just carrying on as tho there is no change despite the logic issues (an exception being Nick Fury’s serum and of course anyone with a healing factor, cosmicness or godliness).

Good call, Mike. The continuity thing has never been that important to me. All I care about are good stories. Hopefully these new books will be entertaining. I’ve been out of comics for about 3 years, but when I saw what DC was doing, I jumped back in with Flashpoint and have ordered the new books as well. Looks like DC gained at least 1 old reader back. Make it worth it for me, please!

I very well written and thoroughly researched article by the way.

DC should have embraced the things that make Detective Conan, One Piece, Dragon Ball, Naruto, and Bleach tick: single writer for each, tight editors, youthful stories, mysterious cliffhangers, and conflicts that are resolved with determinations to do good no matter what!

Y’know, it occurs to me that the overwhelming majority of Marvel’s timeline is officially considered to have happend over the last 7 or so years. Quesada has said as much. If this change at DC is such a big deal, why isn’t anyone talking about that? It seems to me that making such a fuss over DC doing something that’s generally worked just fine for Marvel all along is a little bit silly. Shouldn’t this kind of outcry have been going on at very least through the entire Quesada tenure at Marvel, if it’s really so problematic?

I think the real problem is two-fold. One, you have the minutia of copy-right for some characters (they HAVE to be used in order for DC to keep them), and, secondly, there is the cash-cow aspect (i.e. Bruce Wayne IS Batman). I like the idea that every ten years or so, the comic timeline resets itself, but as a separate universe/timeline. I mean, that was the original point of the pre-Crisis DCU, which allowed creators to have a free hand in spinning existing mythos into new concepts.

As far as The JSA goes, which to me is the biggest complaint that I have; I figure they have 2 options. One either they have been trapped in some kind of limbo or time loop or something since after WW2. Or they exist on a completely different Earth. With multi generational heroes. The older guys are still around as they are near immortal due to the effects of the Ian Karkull incident in Allstar Squadron. That way you get the Earth 2 History back. you get all the characters from there and even some new ones. Besides, for most of these books, perhaps 1/3 to 1/2 i give 6 months until they are canceled, and something more familiar is brought in its place.

Or, one other thought occurred to me. Since the DCU and Wildstorm are now merged. Why not have the JSA and their families taken by the government and placed into the 666 Chamber from the Wildstorm universe. That way they existed. their stories happened, but they have been in storage running simulations for decades.

I can’t believe that everybody here is overlooking the most obvious solution to the problems of continuity and rebooting. DC should just fire all the editors, writers and artists and stop publishing new comics. Heck, they’ve already got 75 years worth of stories, more than anyone can possibly read in a human lifetime anyway. You probably couldn’t even read every single Supeman or Batman story ever published. They could just reprint the existing material ad infinitum. More than enough seed material to inspire merchandise, action figures, movies, live-action and animated TV shows, and video games far into the future — after all, that’s where the real money is anyway. Who are they trying to kid? This whole relaunch deal is nothing but delaying the inevitable.

Bottom line: I ordered $150 worth of DC books for August and $50 worth for September. If you present me with 52 new #1′s, I’m going to treat them as 52 new titles and order based on creative teams and story synopses. “The Flash,” “Superboy,” “Supergirl,” “Red Lanterns,” “New Guardians,” “Legion Lost,” “Teen Titans,” “Savage Hawkman” and even the Johns-written “Aquaman” missed the cut, and that’s just a partial list.

My store owner recently said something like, “You’ll end up buying more.” Only if I browse something and it knocks my socks off. I’m talking to YOU, Francis First-Writing-Gig-Ever Manapul and Scott Former-Marvel-Writer-I’ve-Never-Read-Anything-By Lobdell and Kyle Never-Read-Anything-of-Yours-Either Higgins.

Kyle was co scripter/ co plotter for the miniseries batman gates of gotham.
I think they should have let some of their new talent do some of the flashpoint tie ins..

I’m quite surprised no one has brought this up, but there seems to be no mention of what Marvel did in Heroes Reborn. Especially considering the people behind the DC “Reboot”.

I think that things will be back to “normal” in about a year. The “reboot” will be placed on one of the 52 worlds in the DC multiverse with some of the more successful concepts work into the regular timeline.

Everything old is new again.

These reboots are unavoidable if we expect to have characters that age and progress yet always be the same for next generation.

I personaly wouldn’t mind a universe that aged and had new characters come and take over old mantles for ever and ever, but thats not a realistic possibility, so I have to accept that these things get rebooted every now and then.

Either way, fans will grow used to the new universe pretty quickly, I’m sure whenever the next reboot happens however many years form now people will ask the same questions…

Not to insult the author, who obviously spent a good deal of time and effort putting this piece together, but this article is emblematic of what is wrong with the comic book fanbase of today. The only thing that should matter with any comic book yesterday today or tomorrow, is if it tells a good story that makes you want to read more. Timelines, which events matter, how old is Batman, who’s the first hero,…these are all things that have absolutely no bearing on whether or not a creative team can execute on an interesting idea.

The “fans” who are giving up on DC without ever having read one of the new books, who are obsessing about costumes and timelines, who feel some sense of betrayal…these people need to grow up a little. None of these things have anything to do with whether or not a good story is being told. To say you’re not going to read a good comic (and believe me out of these 52 there will be some very good comics) because of any of these artificial issues, well…you’re just not really a true fan of comics.

And please, if a year from now, having heard rave reviews for book x, y, or z, you pick it up in trade and love it, feel free to come back to the boards and admit you were wrong and childish when you swore off DC for good before ever having tried one of the new books.

Laughing at YOU

July 31, 2011 at 8:41 am

Tap into your inner child and say “it’s not real” and then continue reading for the enjoyment. The more you try to force things into this mystical 5 year period the more you unravel other problems. Take a breathe say “It’s not real” and continue to enjoy your reading.

I don’t understand why in a matter of weeks the fans have thought this thing through more than DC. It’s embarrassing.

Give me good stories and good art with characters I know and like and I’ll be happy. Chronology has no meaning in serialized fiction. Two cases; 1) Aunt May – she should be like 100 by now. 2) Kay Chanselor from Young and the Restless – she should be like 130 by now. What about Maggie Simpson and Stewie? What about Peanuts?

Five year in COMICS can be 10, 20 or 30 in the real world. Get over it!!!!! Buy the book to enjoy it and escape, stop fretting what history happened. Enjoy the moment and the story. It sounds to me like today’s comic reader needs to have their hand held so they can read fiction. I have read comics starting in my teens in the 1970′s till the present and have never had difficulty folowing the timelines. I guess there are people who just can’t handle the HISTORY needs to be perfect. WHY DOES IT NEED TO BE PERFECT??? Just enjoy the story and if the story is not good then read something else. Get over it!!!

Tis funny the guys defending the reboot and saying that it’s the stories that matter. If the stories mattered that much to DC, surely they wouldn’t be removing the vast majority of them from their fictional history? All they want is to kick up a big fuss (which congrats they managed) and then cross their fingers and hope that millions of people who don’t read comics will all of a sudden subscribe on their iphones.

Meanwhile any depth and history to these characters who have sustained the company for 75 years is now in the hands of what i can only describe as a mediocre assembly of writers plus a couple of stars who must be all but burnt out by the amount that DC relies on them.

Fresh new stories by the guys who ruined these characters in the first place! Genius….

When DC editors understand the simple effective power of a soft reboot and invest in young talent the company will be in a much better state, rather than trying gimmick after gimmick to compete with marvel

Amaron – one of the things with serial fiction is that it isn’t one shot stories like your favorite novel. If you want that then there are many great mini-series from the indie presses that will tell complete stories. What Marvel & DC try to tell are vast interlinked stories that will keep you reading next month and the month after….

It doesn’t matter the exact chronology, cos as others have pointed out 12 issues could take place in an afternoon – but if you remove continuity there is no momentum and you might as well be selling one shot stories. It gets rid of the need for continuity but removes the chance of ongoing epics that stretch over time and DC wants you to buy every month. By constant retcon they make their product look weak by not backing their own stories.

I don’t quite understand the opinion of some of the respondents on this thread that say “don’t worry about the continuity and just enjoy a good story.” What is a story, exactly? Does it last for one issue, a twelve issue arc, or the entire series’ life?

Are these characters or are they game pieces? If you want to start over a game of chess, fine. But I haven’t spent the time working out the knight’s motivation, or the rooks origin, or none of that; DC heroes are characters and their histories define who they are and who they will be going forward. If a character goes through changes, gets married, has children, dies or whatever, that should count (even for these corporate trademarks) or why bother telling THOSE stories?

***

Now to the real issue of the new 52: who is going to explain the similar piping and odd seams on the uniforms of Green Lantern, Batman, Superman, Woner Woman, et al.? Are they all buying from Under Armour?

I know there used to be a fine old tailor in Central City.

darkknight9761

July 31, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Wow, I’m so glad that this was cleared up. I completely understand the time paradox/conflict. I have to now and take an aspirin, for some reason, my head hurts.

“It always surprises me that no one seems to have a problem when faced with the Batman movies – that Batman looks different in almost every one of them or that he was about 30 years old in the first Burton directed movie, but 16 years later in Batman Begins, he’s still about 30 years old. But in comics these sorts of things seem very upsetting. Why?”

Because, while actors and producers for tv and film versions of the characters change (how many live-action Supermen and Batmen have there been?) the underlying comics were (relatively) consistent…until the mid-1980s!
Then things went awry for both DC and Marvel, and with constant rebooting, nothing is the same as it was even five years ago.

You could accept that Kirk Alyn, George Reeves and Christopher Reeve were ALL Superman at one point or another, because they were all based on the same basic comic book character (with minor tweaking) from 1938-1984.
OTOH, in the past 20 years, you’ve had Dean Cain, Tom Welling, Brandon Routh, and now Henry Cavill playing radically-different versions based on any of a half-dozen heavily-revised comic book versions.
Which one of them is the “true” Superman, if any?

Ironically, the best versions of the DC Comics characters in the past 20 years have been the Dini/McDuffie/Timm animated versions, hewing close enough to the original concepts to be recognizable and innovative enough to attract new fans!

CONTINUITY MATTERS

July 31, 2011 at 10:29 pm

The thing that annoys me about fans are the one who say… ” as long as the story is good i dont care about continuity”.

How can you buy a monthly comic wihtout continuity being important.
If you buy One shot Graphic novels- thats one thing.
But a monthly comic that directly continues into the following issue month after month….. CONTINUITY IS IMPORTANT. If its not they we are just reading moronic material like ARCHIE.

DCs Reboot is going to be a MASSIVE MESS the second they refer to somthing that happend prior to issue 1.

How dare they try to tell people this is a fresh start when there is a “5 yr history ” that mishmashes 70 yrs of history in whatever whay they want to explain it?

So Batman is late 20s. Dick Grason is early 20s. Tim & Jason are late teens – and Damian is like 10.
SOO Bruce wayne was Batman at 18, knocked up talia and trained 3 robins in the last 10 yrs possibly?

Oh and Hal Jordan went grey, bad, died, and was resurrected in the last 5 yrs.

I seriously want to see a video of this great big DC “meeting” where they maped this all out.

ATTENTION DC: KIDS DO NOT READ COMICS.. not every month – they dont spend the big bucks. But the late 20 – 40 somthing crowd does.
You just lost 80% of your demographic by 2012.

CONTINUITY MATTERS

If continuity doesn’t matter, then it doesn’t matter if I don’t CONTINUE to give DC my money on a monthly basis. Maybe there will CONTINUE be good stories, and maybe there won’t. And maybe I will buy a trade paperback somewhere down the line, and maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll wait until they’re deeply discounted in some box at a convention. And maybe I’ll wait until somebody scans them and puts them up on torrents.

Bottom line is, they’ve thrown cold water in my face to wake me up to the fact that they’re JUST STORIES that don’t really matter. Why maintain the fantasy that what happens this month means anything relative to what happened last month or will happen next month? With the illusion of verisimilitude torn away and the man behind the curtain revealed, you realize how silly it was to love fictional characters that are nothing more than ink on paper. I might as well be spending my money on, I don’t know, Sudoku magazines or something.

I’ll be honest: The DC book I’m sticking with? Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Why? The stories are done-in-one. The only continuity is self-contained. The only timeline is then and now. The book is more story and character driven than universe-building. And I don’t have to buy any other books to tie into it, explain it or understand it. Best of all? Each issue is THE perfect jumping on point!

For over 30 years now (or more) mainstream superhero comic books (and to some degree even various independent superhero comics influenced by the big 2) have become about the story of their divergence and correction and the divergence and contradictions that arise from that correction.It is what it is.

I’m sure people other than me have noted that the new costumes are, in part, designed to help sell new action figures.

Other than that, the simple fact is that the economy will prevent me from buying a lot of the product coming out in a month.

Realitätsprüfung

August 1, 2011 at 5:16 pm

Continuity matters in the same way pacing and dialogue matters; it’s a storytelling tool.
In other words – what happened last issue may be relevant to the current issue. But what happened 10 years ago? 20 years ago? Pfft.

If you buy comics primarily because there’s this facade of long-term storytelling where characters age and die off like real people do, then you’re on the train to disappointment-land. Because these characters don’t “end”. They get relaunched, recreated, rethought.

The stories should be (and usually are) about what the characters should be **now**. What they were 10, 15 or 20 years ago isn’t really important, unless it informs the now. Also:

I think these sorts of discussions illustrate – clearly – that a lot of the comic fans (online, anyway) are stuck in a rut, buying out of loyalty and habit, and they are only now starting to realize the status quo of their era is gone and not coming back.

Put simply, if the comfort of some established long-term continuity is why you still come to the table, then you aren’t really there for the food anymore.

Hey, unjustifiably angry people,

I am totally jazzed by the relaunch. I think DC needs to streamline, and cherry-picking the best of past continuity may seem cheap, but how else would you have them move forward? At least this way, all you continuity freaks have something to cling to…

Frankly, I used to be one of you. I’m a Pre-COIE DC reader, and I’ve rolled with all the tweaks. My favorite DC titles are the LSH books, so I’m well-versed in the reboot anger. But between the tripe the House of Horrors has been cranking out and the DC retcon, I’ll take the DC stuff any day. In fact, I’ve cut enough Marvel trash to make room for all 52 DC books (for now) and I’m happy with those cuts.

Also, to everyone PO’ed by the distinct abscence of the JSA and Marvel Family, relax. Did anyone see the scene in Flashpoint #2 where reference is made to a Bridge to Nowhere in Keystone? Everyone PO’d by the fact that Marc Guggenheim, James Robinson, Scott Kolins, Nicola Scott et. al not involved with the relaunch? Anyone PO’d that the Freedom Fighters ain’t around? Mark my words, there will be earths 2, S and X by the time all’s said and done. We’ll have our heroes back, believe it. Robinson’s Shade maxi will undoubtedly lay some of this groundwork.

Having read DC books for over 30 years, I am quite connected to the characters and the stories that are pre-52. This whole reboot has caused me to drop books that I have read forever. I can’t remember not getting Justice League, but this attack on continuity was just too much for me. I am reading the interesting stories found in World’s Finest, Earth 2, some Bat titles, Wonder Woman… this was a huge mistake. All about money over character history.

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