Edit: OK, this is a little embarassing but I just (re-)discovered that Frank Miller´s classic Batman tale is of course called „The Dark Knight returns“ and not – as I had put it – „Return of the Dark Knight“ (the german version translates the title to „Die Rückkehr des dunklen Ritters“ which would be „The Return of the Dark Knight“. That´s why I always get those two confused). I´m gonna change it in the original post, but keep this comment up and do the changes in Italics so it will remain obvious that I edited the original post.
DC is doing a soft reboot of their main universe (mostly referred to as the DCU, although it´s technically just one of their universes) and obviously people don´t like it that much (as you can read here for example: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/111885-DC-Reboot-Leads-To-Protest-At-Comic-Con). There are some facts I find strange and worthy of a discussion such as:
- What the hell is a „soft reboot“?
- Why aren´t there more female characters/writers involved in the reboot?
(A lot of the criticism and discussions can be found on http://comicleben.wordpress.com – a german blog concerning comic books).
But I don´t want to get into detail here because my point is a somewhat different one: Honestly, I don´t see what the fuss is all about: So, they´re doing mayor changes in the Superman continuity – like getting rid of Clark´s and Lois´ relationship in a way that it had never happened (much like Marvel did with Peter Parker and Mary Wayne Watson btw). But the way I see it, what matters most are the stories.
If I take a look at my bookshelve, what I see is this: Most of the (DC-)books in that shelve have never been considered „canon“. The greatest stories I ever read in the DC universe – and examples will follow – are not part of their official canon or at least their main timeline.
In my opinion (and obviouisly I´m not alone with this, as you can see here: http://comics.ign.com/articles/624/624619p5.html) some of the best Batman stories are:
- Year One
- The Dark Knight returns (edited 25.8.)
- The Killing Joke
- The Long Halloween
- Arkham Asylum
- The Dark Knight – I know it´s a movie, but I think it´s brilliant, so I add it here…
As far as I know – and feel free to correct me – only one of those is considered canon: Year One (and let´s be honest: considering Frank Millers other takes on the character, that does seem to be a coincidence). I´m never sure if „The Killing Joke“ is considered canon or not – but sometimes I feel, DC isn´t sure either.
A similar picture emerges when I look at the Superman stories I like (and again, I´m not alone: http://www.denofgeek.com/comics/108068/top_10_superman_stories.html). Those include:
- Whatever happend to the man of tomorrow?
- All-Star Superman
- Red Son
- and – if you count it as a superman story – Kingdom Come
None of these is considered canon: „Whatever happened“ was even written to sum up, end and then erase a DC universe, All-Star was specifically written to function outside of continuity and canon.
But, even if none of these stories „happened“ in the (main) DCU, those are the ones I read – because they are good stories, stories you can relate to, stories that resonate, stories that have a kind of magic that draws you back again and again, time after time, year after year (I have read „The Dark Knight returns„ [edited 25.8.] for the first time 20 years ago. I still think it´s brilliant). If DC decided to go completely nuts and reboot their Vertigo line, would you stop reading Neil Gaimans Sandman stories because they „never happened“? I know I wouldn´t, they would mean as much to me as they have before.
I think my point in all this babbling is this: Readers have power. They might not have the power to determine which story is considered canon (at least until the next reboot when DC decides again that everything shall be different from now on), but they are the ones that determine which are the stories that matter. And – at least to me – that´s far more important.