To Boot or Not to Boot, Part 1
by Chris Ryall
That was the question when we first signed on to take over the G.I. JOE comic license, alright. It was a question we’d faced before, back in ’05 when we re-started THE TRANSFORMERS, but this time was different—the time, we were taking on a property that featured a continuity that was largely the result of one man, Larry Hama, who’d written more issues of JOE than Sergio and Mark had done on GROO (or thereabouts); a title where the subsequent publishers had taken pains (some great, some not-so-great) to continue that same continuity; a fanbase that had grown up with the title and were still as passionate about it in 2008 as they were in 1984. So what were we to do?
Reboot, of course. When taking on a property like this, it’s amusing (and frightening and enlightening and entertaining and, well, frightening) to monitor the message-board feedback as plans are released. It’s not quite the expected Stages of Grief but each new property that brings with it a rabid fanbase does follow a couple similar steps of progression:
Confusion. “ID-Who?” TRANS-fans and JOE fans tend to—and bear in mind this is a generalization and not at all true of everyone—only read those books, or at least pay more attention to those titles than the larger comic world. So when followers of these titles get word that we’re taking over the books, the comments tend to range from confusion over who we are, or knee-jerk comments that “we’re the horror guys and not right for this” and some other similar feedback. From there, the audience splits in two:
Hope or Dread. More and more, we’re met with optimism as people recognize the care with which we approach the properties we take on. But change is something that is hard for many comic fans to take—including this comic fan (Spider-Man’s single again? The Hulk is red? Batman is… well, I’m not sure, but something has changed, I think), and some fans fretted over the fact that someone new was involved.
Demands. Every fan has their own idea of what a comic involving their favorite title should be, and they don’t mind telling us that if our book isn’t that, then they’re not buying. While it could be fun to develop a title that incorporated little bits of what everyone said they wanted, I tend to think that would result in the comic-book equivalent of the car Homer Simpson once designed. So we had to decide where to go with the title.As I explained it to fans at the start, it wasn’t an easy decision to just develop a plan that would start the property over… and yet, it was. While I had no desire to invalidate anything that had come before—I loved Hama’s work on the book, too, and think some of the subsequent efforts were also a lot of run—I also recognize the need to give each generation a book it can call its own. It’s an odd thing with comics where this is so railed against, since it happens again and again with movies (James Bond, Batman, soon Star Trek, and eventually, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants: the Next Generation) and TV (Knight Rider, 90210… um, let’s just focus on the movie examples). Even comics do this well at times (reboots like Crisis, which gave us new Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, among others [sorry, Hawkman and Superboy, can’t win ‘em all, but you’ve since been fixed, too] in the ‘80s and especially Ultimate Spider-Man and even our TRANSFORMERS) more recently.
But still, there was a rabid anti-reboot camp.When you think about it, a reboot had to happen. For us to try to piece together a good story that pays attention to everything that came from Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, and Devil’s Due would be the end of creative storytelling. We’d need the spawn of Kurt Busiek and Roy Thomas to even make sense of everything and see how it all fit together. And ultimately, the result would be… a comic that tread the same ground as so many issues before, and presumptuously tried to continue a storyline we never started. We’d have to forcibly resurrect some characters to even present the Joe team we wanted, and I know how resistant comics fans are to resurrections.
So we had to go this route, even if that decision did get me some, uh, let’s just say “sternly worded missives,” to say the least.But once we focused in on the job at hand, the next task stood out. How do we do something fresh with this property? How do we make fans anticipate the return of a title that hasn’t been gone all that long in the first place? How do I keep asking questions that tease part two of this little exploration for next time around? I don’t. I take my leave here and make plans to return in early January, just ahead of the proper launch of G.I. JOE #1, where I’ll look at the bang-up job the newly hired Andy Schmidt did in assembling a Joe team of titles for the ages. Until then, your homework is to simply drop a buck on the G.I. JOE #0 issue that came out in October so you can study up on the titles and the creative teams we’ll be discussing next time.
Chris Ryall is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of IDW Publishing. He’d also be remiss to skip this initial chance to plug some new works, from GROOM LAKE, a March ’09 miniseries with Ben Templesmith to COMIC BOOKS 101, a prose book about comics co-written with Scott Tipton and coming from IMPACT Books in Summer ’09. More information about IDW’s titles and daily artwork posts can be found at www.IDWpublishing.com and http://ryalltime.blogspot.com, respectively.