DC Comics recently announced Convergence, a new crossover event slated for 2015 that, well, isn’t entirely easy to understand. Since a lot of people—including comics fans—keep asking what it’s all about, we’ve decided it might be time to try to explain what, exactly, is going on with the reboot DC co-publisher Jim Lee calls “the most meta epic event we’ve done.” Because it sure is.
So… What is Convergence?
We’ll have to answer that question in an appropriately roundabout way. One of the worst movie and TV tropes is when a character has a very important piece of information, but refuses to explain what’s going on because “you just have to see it for yourself.” This is almost never true; it’s just a contrived way of dragging out a scene for a dramatic visual. In reality, there are very few events that cannot be explained in one sentence. Convergence, however, is one of them.
The shortest possible version is that it’s the next big DC Comics publishing event coming next summer. Starting in April 2015, the regular slate of DC Comics will stop publication for nine weeks and be replaced by a nine-part miniseries and 40 different two-part miniseries known collectively as Convergence. It is also far more ridiculous than that, in ways that embody so much of what’s wrong with superhero comics today. Every once in a while, a company does something that perfectly embodies all your criticisms about them, ties it to a stick and hoists into the air for everyone to see like a military standard carried by an ancient Roman army, such that all you can do is point to it and say, YUP. Convergence, again, is one of those things.
Don’t most comics at DC already crossover with each other?
Although most DC comic books take place in the same shared universe, and thus have to remain somewhat consistent with each other—Superman can’t be dead in one comic, say, and then alive in another—they generally tend to focus on their own stories, and stay in their own lane while driving down the DC Universe superhighway. A crossover event, on the other hand, is the equivalent of a massive 40-car pile-up, with Batman and Superman and the Flash all swerving into each others’ lanes—and often, quite annoyingly, interrupting whatever interesting narrative road trips they were on before someone decided to rear end them with a crossover.
So what’s the story behind this crossover?
The impetus for Convergence revolves around Brainiac, a (usually) alien android and Superman villain. Like many comics fans, Brainiac is something of a collector, or perhaps a malevolent historical preservationist. His hobbies include stealing pieces of alien cities, shrinking them down, and saving them in domes like ships in a bottle. Think of them as his living, breathing back issues, sealed in their own little Mylar bags. Like any comics speculator, he also wants his investments to be profitable, so he often destroys the rest of the cities he samples in order to make them rarer and more valuable. And now, it turns out, he’s doing it with different timelines and alternate dimensions as well.
Alternate dimensions are a big deal in the the DC universe, which is not a singular thing, but rather a many-faced dimensional hydra known as the Multiverse. Initially, the idea of multiple dimensions was often used as a way to explain inconsistencies between comics, although it also opened up new creative opportunities to tell stories outside the limitations of the primary universe. There’s been a lot of rejiggering of the Multiverse over the years, all of which is incredibly complicated, but needless to say there are still a lot of alternate DC universes floating around.
This time, Brainiac’s little domes contain not just cities but different points in the incredibly complicated history/Multiverse of DC comics, including the future, the past, and a whole host of alternate dimensions. His nefarious plan is to put all of these dimensional domes on one planet, open them up, and see what happens … because he is bored or something? Some of these alternate world bubbles are rather obscure, but more significantly, this act will bring back the DC Comics characters as we knew them before the New 52.
Oh yeah, the New 52. How does that fit into all this?
Back in 2011, you may remember, DC Comics decided to totally wipe the slate clean with an event called Flashpoint that rebooted the entire DC universe with newly configured characters, relationships, and histories. (Superman and Lois Lane suddenly weren’t married anymore, for example.)
It wasn’t an unprecedented move. Back in 1985—exactly 30 years before Convergence—DC Comics had another huge continuity shakeup known as Crisis on Infinite Earths, which deleted the Multiverse and vastly simplified many of the conflicting ideas that had accrued during the preceding decades of their books. There are actually some pretty smart reasons for trying something like this. Writing dozens of comics a month for years (or decades) in an interlocking, lore-heavy universe has a way of creating a lot of baggage that can get pretty heavy and complicated after a while, and something like Crisis on Infinite Earths can be a good way to reboot and rally, both creatively and for readers.
The New 52 was widely proclaimed as yet another big, bold fresh start that created a scenario where you wouldn’t need to know years of history to enjoy DC’s comics. They cleared out their entire publishing slate and launched 52 completely new comics (hence the New 52) with #1 issues and new creative teams, even airing television ads to attract new readers. Unfortunately, that didn’t quite work out as well as they’d hoped.
Admittedly, the reboot resulted in huge initial sales, and DC comics are still selling better than they were before Flashpoint. But lots of people ended up hating the New 52, not just because that fresh start ended up feeling like more of the same, from more of the same creators in a slightly different configuration, but because it also alienated a lot of existing readers. When fans invest years and hundreds if not thousands of dollars in stories bound together by a specific continuity, this sort of reboot can feel like a very real loss. For some, the New 52’s launch felt as though everything they invested in had been wiped away, and that the revamped characters in the comics are no longer really “their” versions of those heroes. Many of them are still pretty unhappy with the new status quo.
Convergence essentially picks up the dropped stitch of the pre-Flashpoint timeline and takes those longing readers on a nostalgic journey back into the halcyon days of 2011. Remember back when you were listening to CeeLo Green and reading about Occupy Wall Street? Those were the days, the days that happened three years ago.
But if DC decided to jettison their old continuity partly on the basis that it was too inaccessible and complicated, why are they focusing their big new “accessible” event on it?
That is a great question.
Superhero comics is a magical and contradictory place, a place where everything is always ending, everything is always beginning, and everything is happening for the first time—while simultaneously doing none of those things. In one sense, Convergence confirms, yet again, what long-time fans already know: For the most part, the arc of superhero comics always bends back to where it began. No matter what happens during the stories between these great world-rebooting moments, the most iconic aspects of these heroes and their worlds have a habit of resetting to their defaults, regardless of how many press releases claim that this changes things forever.
But Convergence also illustrates one of the great marketing dilemmas of modern comics, which are often torn between catering to their aging hardcore fans and trying to welcome new readers. The latter is a difficult proposition, as demonstrated by the fact that as superhero movies make billions of dollars at the box office, superhero comics remain an incredibly niche industry where the #1 best-selling comic moves 150,000 copies in a given month—if it’s lucky.
In fairness, it’s not always an easy balancing act, and not one that is either objectively simple or one that superhero comics has been particularly good at. But with Convergence, that balancing act seems to consist of simply saying that they want to appeal to new readers, while instead writing an insular, 80-part love letter to an aging demographic of hardcore fans based on a Gordian knot of continuity that just took over a thousand words to explain.
On one level, they’re doing it because they think it’ll make money and because it’s what readers want—this is a business, after all—which of course speaks volumes about exactly who they think are their readers are right now and how they want to make their money: by doubling down on those hardcore fans in a way that few other people will be able to access. (I’ve been reading superhero comics for almost my entire life, and I still think I’ll probably have to hit Wikipedia a few times to get through Convergence, regardless of how accessible they claim it is.)
Wait, so they’re saying it’s accessible?
Of course they are. In a recent interview with USA Today, DC co-publisher Dan DiDio said that he brought in TV writer Jeff King so that there’d be “a fresh set of eyes to look at it and make sure that it’s as open and accessible to all fans. Not just the people who have been reading DC throughout the years.” Nice thought, but the idea that a massive, interconnected storyline running through 40 two-part miniseries based on the most splintered aspects of the densest lore imaginable could truly be a welcoming space for new readers is, frankly, hilarious.
Saying that you want a story to be open to everyone and then basing it on the most esoteric aspects of one of the most complicated serial narratives in human history is kind of like telling a friend you’re going to lend them a fun summer novel and then dropping Godel, Escher, Bach in their beach bag. An incredibly specific person with incredibly specific interests and knowledge might be into it, but almost everyone else is going to give you the Fry face.
Regardless, it’s the sort of lip service about seeking new readers that publishers are obligated to offer during big events to major media outlets, a gesture kind of like knocking on wood or making the sign of the cross when you walk in a church. It’s performative, but it doesn’t mean much, or anything. It’s often hard to tell if these claims are tone-deaf, disingenuous, or both. But no, they’re definitely not “accessible” by any reasonable definition of that word.
So after this, will things just go back to the way they were? Is Convergence a backdoor out of the New 52?
Maybe? Some critics have theorized that this may covertly be yet another reboot, a way to abandon the once-appealing mistress of the New 52 for the familiar embrace of the old continuity, or perhaps a new new continuity, or maybe something even more confusing. If history is any guide (and it is) then this entirely possible—and plenty of fans are already speculating furiously about it.
It’s also possible that this is a test balloon, and that the crossover could end with some added reverberation or wrinkle that leaves open a window for more dimensional or continuity shifts in the future. Or maybe this really is the last hurrah saying goodbye to the pre-Flashpoint universe forever (read: for now). Remember, in comics, there is no limit to how confusing things can be, so hold on to your pants: The new old past is coming back to the present, and if things go well, it might become the once and future future, while the previous new future could become the new new old past. Comics!