Beginning Again: The Reboot Paradox
by William Proctor — Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies, University of Sunderland
August 08, 2012 – 00:00
Prior to the release of Batman Begins (2005), co-writer David S. Goyer described the film as ‘the cinematic equivalent of a reboot’. Indeed, the concept of ‘rebooting’ had, until that point, been a comic book conceit that operated as a kind of reset device that rendered past narratives obsolete and void in order to ‘begin again’ from a ground zero. DC Comics, for example, conducted a universal cleansing of their narrative universe in 1986 with the seminal Crisis on Infinite Earths which collapsed existing continuity and started again from ‘year one’ in order to streamline inconsistencies and convolution - and , of course, to spin a whirlpool of profit potential. Out of this whole-sale nullification came Frank Miller’s Year One and John Byrne’s Man of Steel which rebooted Batman and Superman for a new generation of readers. Twenty years later gave us the sequel, Infinite Crisis and the recent Flashpoint (2011) series which tied into the New 52, DC’s latest attempt to invite new readers to jump on-board the superhero train in the twenty-first century.
In cinematic terms, Nolan successfully resurrected the Baman from the cinematic graveyard following the critically disastrous Batman and Robin (1997, Joel Schuamcher). In order to dislocate the ‘new’ iteration from the maligned former, Nolan and Goyer ‘rebooted’ the Dark Knight by ignoring and striving to invalidate its antecedent by operating in an alternative, parallel universe. Thus, Nolan’s Batman is disconnected from Schumacher’s ‘toyetic’ interferance by wiping the slate clean and beginning again from a narrative ground zero in a quest for autonomous status. Thus, Batman Begins is not a prequel or sequel to these texts, but a reboot, an autonomous, separate story.
But a paradox exists: a reboot can never truly wipe the slate clean due to the wealth of textual enunciations existing within what Jim Collins calls the ‘intertextual array’. Batman and Robin may have forced the film series into hibernation for almost a decade, but the Batman still functioned in comic books and computer games, for example. I propose that a reboot is both ‘new’ and old - it straddles a fulcrum of what Jacques Derrida calls ‘undecidability’. Any attempt to impose binarisms leads to inevitable deconstruction, a seismic, textual earthquake. As Will Brooker argues, Nolan’s films entered a matrix of other Batman texts; a Deleuzian rhizomatic structure without beginning, middle or end, a perpetually extending constellation of texts. This is the reboot paradox.
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