Booster Gold has finally found a spotlight in the Rebirth era, care of the most recent arc of Batman, but so far, his long-awaited return has been anything but celebratory. The once famously funny Booster’s reappearance has been down right dark.
Warning: beware spoilers for Batman #45 through #47!
The recent three-part story arc “The Gift” (Batman #45 through #47) had Booster attempting to alter the current timeline as a “wedding present” for Bruce Wayne: a life in which his parents were never killed to prove the “value” of the pain that sparked his crusade as the Dark Knight. If that sounds like a terrible idea, that’s because it was. (Editor’s Note: Remember Flashpoint? Booster sure didn’t.) In doing so, Booster effectively created a splintered timeline fans have dubbed the “Batpoint” in which all of Gotham became a nightmarish hellscape without Bruce as Batman.
It’s a bleak twist on one of DC’s most iconically goofy characters somehow made even bleaker by just how typical this sort of plan would have been for Booster in any other context. Some overwrought idea backfiring in the worst (and usually most hilarious) possible way is a staple of Booster’s superheroic career — it’s just that this time, the comedy was pitch black, even lethal. Stranger still: “The Gift” is far from the first melancholy, traumatic, even disturbing story Booster’s endured. He’s been stuck in a downward spiral away from his bright and bubbly roots for a while now — the question is: what happened?
Once upon a time in the late 80s, Booster was best known as one half of “Blue and Gold,” a slapstick duo of best friend heroes made up of himself and Ted Kord aka Blue Beetle that spiraled out of the Justice League International title. Together, they became the League’s comic relief, from pulling pranks to being the designated peanut gallery for any and all inter-League drama. More than just being fun, they were an antidote for the darkness and grit that DC adopted so readily in the time period. While books like The Dark Knight Returns were redefining the priorities of the DCU’s core, Booster and Ted were wise cracking to remind everyone not to take themselves too seriously.
Everything changed for both Booster and Ted in 2005 with the build up to Infinite Crisis. Ted discovered a conspiracy surrounding former JLI teammate Maxwell Lord which resulted in Lord shooting him point blank in the head. Blue and Gold were suddenly, brutally, no more and Booster was left to frantically pick up the pieces. It was an odd turn for DC’s favorite super BFFs made odder by the fact that Ted’s death never got the standard superheroic pass. Even though one of Booster’s powers was time travel, he could, for one reason or another, never bring his friend back.
Ted stayed dead for six full years before the line-wide continuity reboot of the New 52 wrote his death out of history — but with it went Ted and Booster’s friendship. Though they both technically existed in the new universe, they were unmoored from each other’s pasts. Despite this omission, the permanent tragedy that had chipped away at Booster’s core for the better part of the last six years stayed in place. Booster’s grief, rootless as it had become, solidified as one of the most definitive things about him. The effect isn’t entirely unwelcome — character growth doesn’t always need to be positive and certainly doesn’t need to continue in a straight line — but the reality is Booster has yet to receive any more major developments or character moments. His modern stories all inevitably circle back to his grief.
Like pearls in Crime Alley follow Batman, trauma now follows Booster wherever he goes. Even in alternate universes outside of the main DC continuity like Injustice 2, Booster ends up forced to watch helplessly as Ted was killed yet again. In the splintered timeline of the “Batpoint,” Booster winds up teetering on the edge of death, emaciated, mentally broken, even deeply disturbed — a pretty far cry from his days stealing cookies from Martian Manhunter with his best friend.
Oddly, Ted’s been around for a while in Rebirth. He popped back into existence as part of DC Universe Rebirth #1, but he and Booster have yet to appear on a page together. The irony is that the trauma of Ted’s death no longer affects Ted himself, he’s healed and moved on, but Booster, apparently, never got the luxury. It’s hard to tell what exactly Rebirth-era Booster does or doesn’t remember about the pre-Flashpoint reality, but one thing’s for sure: Booster Gold’s new normal is heartbreakingly darker than ever — and that, perhaps more than anything else, is a genuine tragedy. He’s been made to fit this fatalistic mold for the better part of a decade and it’s high time for him to start being allowed some form of redemption. With any luck, the ever-evolving Rebirth status quo will give him an opportunity to finally leave the sadness behind somewhere down the line, but if “The Gift” is any indication, things may get worse before they get better.