DC New 52 – One Year Later

So, it’s been a year since DC Comics rolled the dice and rebooted their entire universe.  Now no matter what your opinion of the move, you can not argue with the results, from a business stand point.  DC sales are up. But after a year, what does DC have to show for itself?  What has worked?  What hasn’t?  What  books rocked, what books didn’t quite measure up? What were the surprise hits?  and where did DC just blow it?

Let’s go back, shall we?  to the first week of September 2011, DC had just ended their latest Geoff Johns penned mega-event, Flashpoint,  and out of that DC did the unthinkable, they rebooted their entire line of comics, creating a new regular continuity, the New 52, a universe that took elements of the previous DC continuity, and mixed it with the DC owned Wildstorm Universe, and brought in several old DC characters that had been featured in DC’s mature readers line Vertigo Comics, but had mostly not been used as much of late (with the exception of John Constantine, Hellblazer, whose title has been running for over 20 years (longer than the Vertigo imprint, even), as Vertigo has become more of a home to edgy creator owned projects.

When they first announce the New 52, I was rather surprised.    Hadn’t DC, who had  just celebrated their 75th anniversary, spend 2 and a half years using that long history and continuity to get the universe they had wanted back for over a decade?  Blackest Night, Final Crisis, Brightest Day?  All these huge events had been shaping the DCU, restoring Silver Age characters, but for a modern sensibility?  By the end of Blackest Night, DC seemingly had their dream Justice League roster, with Hawkman, Firestorm, Aquaman, Hawkwoman, and Martian Manhunter all restored to go along side the recently resurrected Barry Allen version of the Flash.  But clearly this was not enough, sure the storyline was popular among DC readers, but try explaining all that history to a Marvel fan, or a non comics reader even?   DC figured the best way to bring in the lapsed readers, and the non readers, was to start from scratch, with brand new versions of all their characters. So as the fifth and final issue of Flashpoint came out at the end of August, DC only released one other comic that week, Justice League #1, and the New 52 was born.

Now of course DC wasn’t setting out to make bad comics, and they wanted all of the New 52 to be smash hits, but we knew that wasn’t going to happen.   Some characters, like Batman and Green Lantern had minimal changes, while others, big names, had ground up reboots.  Superman and Wonder Woman had major changes to their origins and histories,  with varying degrees of success (Wonder Woman more successful, in my opinion) but the DCU history as a whole had major shake ups, with the complete removal of 1940’s era heroes, The Justice Society of America, and all the historic legacies that went along with it, along with several fan favorite characters like the Wally West Flash, and Donna Troy (two more characters who play an important role in the DC tradition of legacies)

Legacy has always been important for DC.   Both from an internal narrative sense, and in a greater editorial mission.  Over it’s long history DC has a great history of a diverse line of titles, and the New 52 embraced that full on.  While the Super-Heroes are the core of the DCU,  some the best titles that DC is now producing are in the edges of their mainstream universe,  Animal Man, Swamp Thing, All-Star Western, and I, Vampire (a book I was dead set on hating before I read it.) have all been consistently best written and most entertaining books to have come out of the relaunch. With the one year anniversary of the New 52, and the DC Zero issues event beginnng next month, I want to take a moment to say what I think really worked best in the New 52 and where they may have missed the mark.

I why think legacies and diversity have always been DC’s strength, and how, by ignoring it, they put their characters at peril. Of the “marquee” titles, those in the Justice League family, DC mostly played it safe, but Wonder Woman, (Brian Azzarelo, Cliff Chiang) has been the book that has me coming back eagerly each month, in a bold departure, this book has stayed away from typical superhero fare, and has focused on Wonder Woman’s connections to Greek Myth (including a major change in her origin) along with Superman’s relaunch was a bit confusing, as uberwriter Grant Morrison has been given free reign to retell the story of Superman’s early days in Action Comics, where he’s much more brash, and fool hearty, and not quite as powerful as have been used to seeing him. Set about 5 or 6 years before the “present”  Morrison hasn’t had to make sure his story necessarily contradict anything the writers on Superman were doing, which I can imagine could be frustrating for those writers.    

Now there were a lot of books that I thought were very good, Mister Terrific, was  series that I felt deserved more attention.  Green Lantern Corps has always been my favorite GL book, and in pairing John Stewart and Guy Gardner, it only got better.

If it ain’t broke…

Twgreen lanterno of DC’s biggest franchises had very little change,  Batman and Green Lantern were almost unaffected by the New 52.  Sure there were cosmetic changes, the new look costumes, but the story lines and histories of these two family of titles were  almost negligible. (Almost.) Of course Green Lantern certainly had a major shift in focus with the New 52, with Sinestro once again getting a green ring, but the events of the last year in the Green Lantern family of titles could easily just have had taken place in the Old DCU (in fact I am quite certain that they would have, for the most part)

Batman is always Batman.  DC knows where their bread is buttered.  So there wasn’t much they would want to change.   Even though Batman has had success in many different iterations, simultaneously. (The comics, several cartoon versions, and the Nolan films all existed side by side over the 7 years of the Nolan directed films.) DC decided to not make to many alterations to their flagship character, but with the new 52, they managed to expand the Bat-family of titles, giving it both a tie to the past, and opening up it’s diversity for the future, giving it two of it’s best titles, Batwoman, and Batwing.

Of all the Bat-family characters, Batgirl had the biggest change in her status quo, but even there, her most of her history (having been shot and paralyzed by the Joker, becoming Oracle) is intact, but a year later and we still don’t know how she regained the use of her legs.  The decision to take Barbara out of the chair was a controversial one.  As Oracle, it could be argued that Barbara did more good than she ever did jumping from rooftops, plus as symbol of someone overcoming such tragic events and becoming such a formidable hero, not to mention that the previous Batgirl, Stephanie Brown, had become very popular, after years of character development, as both Spoiler and as a Robin (briefly) and now, not only was she no longer Batgirl, but apparently she no longer exists.

Now while not all of DC’s offerings have been to my taste, there were a few that really just turned me off.  Some were due to poor story telling, others due to poor art.   Sometimes I felt the writers were trying too hard to make this “new 52” version something completely different (Green Arrow)  or  felt superfluous in (Batman:The Dark Knight)  It was the cases where legacy was discarded for shock value that I was most disappointed.

No one creator did more  to turn me off  than Scott Lobdell.  I am not sure why, but Superboy, Teen Titans and Red Hood and the Outsiders all left me very cold.   Pre-Flashpoint, almost all of the characters featured in these books were all parts of long running heroic legacies even if (as in the cases of Jason Todd and Roy Harper) they had not lived up to the expectations.  Here, most of these characters appeared to not understand or not want to be part of the legacy their names and costumes suggested, except for Tim Drake a/k/a Red Robin.  Now even that seems to be uncertain.   At a panel at this year’s SDCC, Lobdell has said Tim was never officially a Robin (while discussing the up coming Teen Titans #0)

“Tim goes straight from being Tim Drake to being Red Robin in that there was no official period of time where he was Robin. We keep most of the origin in tact in that he was one of the few people who could get very close to learning who Bruce is…but it will be a much updated version of his origin.”

I am not sure why this sort of thing upsets me,  Tim Drake, and Red Robin still seem to be the same character, at it’s core, but removing the identity of  Robin, the Boy Wonder from him speaks volumes to me.   By not having him ever be Robin, well then it sort of de-legitmizes his place in the Batman mythos.

In many of the other DC books, even the ones I didn’t necessarily enjoy, I felt most of them honored the spirit of the character, even Hawk and Dove and Deathstroke, even if I didn’t like the actual title for some reason.  (Usually due to the art, but there is also the fact that most of us are on a budget, and you can only buy so many titles a month)

So, what do you think? What has been your favorite New 52 title?  Was it the one you thought it would be a year ago? Which books wow-ed you?  Which ones have you scratching your head?  Which do you hope get cancelled next?  Let me know below.

About David Vandervliet

Once, King of all these lands, but now I am just an aging nerd. I enjoy talking about my favorite things to geek about, and hopefully I say something to make you think a little too. My favorite things include: Comics, Doctor Who, Star Wars, Star Trek, Science, Astronomy, Math, Music, theatre, movies, writing, baseball, college football (Go Blue!)
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