Unless you hate comics or just returned from The Phantom Zone (and you can’t have done that, ‘cause there ain’t one in the new 52 yet), you know that on August 31, 2011, DC rebooted all of its titles, dropping to publishing only 52 per month and rejiggering the stories of all of its classic heroes except Batman and Green Lantern. Or, at least that’s what they said. It seems impossible that all the pre-52 Batman stories are still canon, and it also appears that Legion of Super Heroes hasn’t changed at all. It’s still a crashing bore.
* By way of full disclosure, while I did read nearly every new 52 #1, I still regularly read only Action Comics, Batman, Batman, Inc., Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Wonder Woman, and Justice League. I pick up Batwoman, JL Dark, Flash and Aquaman and page through them, but they don’t separate me from my money.
But what we learned from the massive reboot?
Hit the break to find out….
THE TOP 10 LESSONS FROM DC COMICS NEW 52
10. “NEW” DOESN’T MEAN “IMPROVED”…AND SOMETIMES IS DOESN’T EVEN MEAN NEW
The “new 52” reboots were supposed to improve on their predecessors, but few, if any, actually did. I’d count among the winners Action Comics, Wonder Woman, and … That’s about it. Not that Batman and Justice League aren’t good, but they were good before the new 52. And in the case of Scott Snyder Batman, it’s pretty much the same thing.
And some DC properties have been mediocre for a very, very long time. The clearest example of this is Teen Titans. Since the legendary Marv Wolfman/George Perez run, the book has pretty much languished. There was a little spark when a young Geoff Johns brought some new energy to the title, but it left with him. (And apparently, that spark left Johns as well—he’s never been as good since.) This is equally true—or perhaps even more true—of Firestorm, who hasn’t been an important character since the 1980s.
Other characters have pretty much never been all that interesting. I’m looking at you, Captain Atom, Hawk & Dove, and Mister Terrific. Oh, and Steel. If I shell out $3.99 for a Grant Morrison Superman book, I don’t want a back-up feature about some character who was only created to sell toys.
Perhaps the reason for this is that DC wasn’t even shooting for a true “new” 52. Most of the creators of the 52 titles launched a year ago were already well established DC creators: Geoff Johns, Dan Didio, Grant Morrison, Scott Snyder, Brian Azzarello…And most of the storylines introduced in the new 52 were versions of what had come before: Recast origins, reliance on “old 52” supporting characters and themes…Not a single “new” character was so different that as a reader I turned around and said, “Wow! I didn’t see that coming!” So, apparently, new=recycled. Unlike Marvel’s own, less ambitious universe-wide reboot known as the Ultimate Universe, which turned Giant Man into a vicious wife-beater, Galactus into a planet-eating virus, Captain America into an asshole, and, eventually, Spider-Man into a Hispanic teen.
Related to the point above: Rather than make use of the wonderful mythology created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, the new 52 Raven’s daddy is Darkseid. See, the reason Thanos is so much cooler is because he’s not overused.
You can also file these under lost opportunities:
Manhunter, the innovative and fresh Andreyko/Saiz/Palmiotti title from 2005.
Shazam (turning him into something dark and vile was just … stupid).
9. COMIC BOOK NERDS DON’T LIKE TITS (ANYMORE)
Or at least if they do, they won’t admit it.
In an effort to appeal to “feminists,” comic book reviewers expressed “shock” at Starfire and Catwomen being treated as a sex object. The same reviewers revered George Perez’s original design of the Starfire character, complete with The Changeling’s constant ogling commentary, and Marv Wolfman’s idea that she’d absorb the English language by kissing Dick. (By which I mean kissing Dick Grayson. On the mouth.) The same reviewers had no problem when Catwoman implicitly had all kinds of affairs with Batman, including her appearance as a dominatrix in Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One and Catwoman: Year One, as well as her clearly bumping uglies with The Bat during Batman R.I.P. The Comic Nerd Intelligensia also slammed Voodoo for being about a stripper, when they should have slammed it for sucking.
8.5. TREAT THE RETAILERS RIGHT
Related to my next point: As part of their initiative, DC Comics authorized a no-questions-asked, automatic buy back of (almost) all of the new 52 titles issues’ 1, 2, and 3. What this basically meant is that if a comic shop ordered 100 copies of OMAC #1 and only sold 50, they could rip the covers off the unsold 50 and return them for a full refund. Normally, they have to eat the loss. This gave shops the freedom to display all 52 new titles, with no risk. I can say that this led me to “impulse buy” Stormwatch #1 and Teen Titans #1, so it worked. (I didn’t buy issues #2, though.)
8. TV MAKE PEOPLE READ STUFF
ALL BOATS RISE ON THE SAME TIDE
TV ads were a major part of DC’s new 52 promotion. And it seems to have worked. Much like an economic stimulus package, the new 52 did indeed bring in new readers and/or new sales. Sales of DC books are still higher than they were, but, more importantly, everyone’s comics are selling better. We could say that The Avengers movie has something to do with that, but it’s much more likely that DC’s full court press on the press helped increase awareness of the medium and contributed to its overall rising legitimacy in the eyes of educators, book readers, and the like.
7. BUT PROMOTION DOES NOT EQUAL STORY
There’s room to argue on whether the sales bump has lasted, but within 8 months several series were cancelled and others had already been through two or three complete creative overhauls. Just because it has a #1, don’t make it better.
6. WONDER WOMAN CAN ACTUALLY BE COOL AND EDGY.
One thing to applaud DC for is trying to have female-centric books. I’d expected Batgirl, Batwoman or Catwoman to be my standout faves, but I jettisoned both books after issue #2 or 3. Batgirl’s sudden ability to walk actually made her less interesting; Batwoman’s art was a pale imitation of the genius-level work of the pre-52 book; and Catwoman turned out to be a one-note book (she boinks Batman!). But Wonder Woman is consistently surprising and well done. And dark. I never would have expected dark….
5. DON’T TRY TO BE SOMETHING YOU’RE NOT
DC’S EDITORS STILL CAN’T DO THE MARVEL THING
I’ve never been a fan of Dan Didio, and the lack of cohesion between books in the new 52 is glaring and bothersome. Batman in the Justice League seems almost light-hearted and often borderline inept, while Scott Snyder’s Batman is more like the Frank Miller creation. And neither are like Grant Morrison’s Batman in Batman, Inc., which, frankly, doesn’t even make sense as a concept in the new 52 unless Batman has died/will die in a “Final Crisis,” which would kind of kill the suspense about it since the event has already happened in the old 52. Superman is also radically different in each of the titles he appears in. The portrayal of Wonder Woman in Justice League trivializes her, while her own book gives her weight and substance (see above). In fact, the only character who seems consistent across all titles is Dick Grayson/Nightwing—he’s a crashing bore who doesn’t deserve to have suckled off of Batman’s teat.
Just so that I continue to enjoy all the books I buy, I pretend that Justice League and Batman, Inc., are “Elseworlds”stories.
And it’s all because DC wants to make it’s universe more like Marvel—they’ve embedded a SHIELD agent with the Justice League; they’re trying to weave characters throughout all their books (tons of crossovers in year one of the new 52); and created alternate Justice League teams that feel exactly like Avengers (the classic JL), New Avengers (JLI, already cancelled), and Secret Avengers (JL Dark)….But DC’s best when it just tells super-stories: Grant Morrison’s Batman didn’t matter to the rest of the Bat Universe for quite some time; Vertigo is all self-contained; Justice League Classified existed outside of the “regular” continuity but attracted some of the greatest creators in comic books; etc. Why are they trying to be Marvel?
4. RECYCLING IS GOOD FOR THE EARTH. FOR COMICS? NOT SO MUCH.
“To thine own self be true” isn’t just true on a corporate level. Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder are not Grant Morrison. Lemire, the darling of Vertigo based on his tremendous “Sweet Tooth” series, took on Animal Man and Frankenstein, both characters who were rebooted with much acclaim by Grant Morrison. Scott Snyder is now the Bat-architect, as Morrison moved on to handle Superman. While these books are good, neither are anywhere near as good as Morrison. And both seem intent on recycling old Morrison storylines.
And this is even truer when you look at the mainstreaming of Vertigo. The Wildstorm comic line, particularly Warren Ellis’ take on Stormwatch/The Authority, were some of the best non-DC DC comics ever made. In many ways, they were a DC version of The Ultimates—one in which Batman really could be gay, the JLA really could reshape the world, and there wasn’t a silly Captain Marvel Family. It was designed to be the grown-up fanboy’s answer to the DCU. And most of the Wildstorm books are looked at as brilliant examples of superhero storytelling. That all changed when DC brought the characters into the new DCU, where they now play along the “real” DC versions of the characters they were created in response to. It’s kind of like Evil Troy and Evil Abed meeting up with the Community crew. It was a horrible idea.
And John Constantine has never—and will never—be better than he was when they took the leash off in Hellblazer. Now, he’s a pale shadow of his former self in the pages of Justice League Dark.
I can’t help but wonder…Are The Watchmen next?
3. DON’T BRING A KNIFE TO A GUNFIGHT
As the above shows, in the new DCU, Grant Morrison is not Grant Morrison—but it’s not his fault. Putting a man of Morrison’s vision on a single title, without giving him the latitude to develop his own “reality” of the character, has made Action Comics a very slow build. I still have hope that he will turn the book around, but so far the result of Morrison’s role with Superman have not seemed significant. And his work on Batman, Inc., is completely undercut by the new 52: Batman isn’t the same man with the same vision—he’s more savage under Scott Snyder, and much less Machiavellian. Under Morrison, Batman always seemed to be building up to something and his personal incorporation made sense as part of that larger goal. Now, it’s just confusing.
2. BATMAN IS STILL THE MAIN REASON PEOPLE BUY DC COMICS
Batman, or some person from the Batverse, dominates the top selling new 52 titles. The same was true for the old DCU. The more things change the more they stay the same….
1. DC EVENTS DON’T MATTER.
The first thing and most important thing I learned was that Flashpoint, the miniseries touted in the pre-August months as the one that would change everything…Didn’t matter a whit. It was a huge money grab of stories that were kind of like “Elseworlds” stories but since everyone expected the stories to matter, it just felt like a rip off. It was officially the last “event” miniseries that I’ll ever buy from DC, having been burned in the past by too many confusing Crises.