It has been just over a year since DC Comics did the, to some people, unthinkable and relaunched their entire line of superhero comics. Across the board everything changed, most titles were rebooted, others reshuffled to fit the new continuity and huge swaths of DC Universe History were swept to one side. To put it lightly people lost their collective rag over it. Proclaiming at the time that DC was dead to them and that they had killed the comics industry, etc. etc. This is the internet, people overreact to everything and in particular comic books. But it has been twelve months and both the DC and the comics industry is still here. Something must have gone right though because the other guys are doing something similar but very different to refresh their line of superhero comics.
So what was good about this grand experiment? What was not so good? What does the future hold? What did I think of it all in the end? Well keep reading and find out!
The first thing I want to highlight as being a major success for DC was the move to day and date digital distribution of their comics. Looking at it now, only a year since it happend it seems old hat. It has already become the standard across the industry. But like the decision to reboot the whole DCU the move to digital was met with fear and anger. I was excited though because it meant that I could buy comics on my terms again. This is because I’m from England and in England comic shops are something of a rarity. They are ubiquitous in the major cities with chains like Forbidden Planet, you can also find them hidden in large towns, oh! and there are the odd ironic hipster ones in places only cool people live [Note: there are NO cool places to live in England]. Everyone else has to rely on mail order, getting people to buy them for you, making massive journeys to get your fix or buying the collected re-prints from places like WH Smiths. With the Smiths reprints being anywhere between six months to two years behind their initial American printing. Fine for most readers for sure but if you are serious about this comic book reading lark and have an internet connection, welcome to spoiler central!
For most of my monthly comics buying/reading life I had to deal with a mix of making massive journeys and relying on other people to grab them for me, mainly my brother, then getting them from him whenever I saw him. The problem with this approach was that I was never guaranteed all the comics I wanted and it got expensive. At one point I was spending £10 a week just to get to a comic book store! (That’s like $15-$20 for you American types) It was just not practical at all. So I jumped at the chance to buy everything via my iPad. It meant that I could get comics on release day, often at a reasonable price because the Dollar price actually converts into British Sterling so I get a £1 or so off each comic I buy if I was to by it in print. (Most UK comic stores see $2.99/$3.99 and just charge £2.99/£3.99 for it to cover their costs and for “simplicity”) I have instant access to all the comics I buy. I do not have to spend weekends sorting through long boxes and bagging everything. The distinct lack of a new long box appearing every six months or so has made my wife very happy!
Publishers going digital opened comics up to me once again. If I feel like trying something new I am just a few taps away from it. I no longer have to plan an excursion to the comic book store. It just makes them infinitely more accessible. I actually prefer the quality of digital to print too. I like being able to zoom in and really explore the finer details. The colours look a lot better too. Blah, blah, blah. I really like digital comics, you get the picture. DC were the first major publisher to take the plunge and really get the ball rolling so you have to give them props for that.
BAD: The new designs are very hit and miss
One of the key aspects of The New 52 was the redesigning of all of the DC heroes and villains. Some just received minor tweaks. Others much needed updates. Some are great like the new Wonder Woman, The Flash and Mister Freeze. I even like the new Superman costume (OW! Don’t throw rocks at me!). I especially love the jeans and t-shirt design that embodies the start of Morrison’s Action Comics. But then you get bad designs and things that make you weep such as…
Beast Boy now being red instead of green because….well nobody knows. He’s red and angry now and we have to deal with it. Like I said most of the redesigns are good or are at least passible. They can be changed and updated as time goes on which is something we are already seeing and that is a good thing. It helps keep things fresh and moving forwards. But something like changing the colour of a character is hard to do without it seeming to be forced (and if they make Beast Boy green again it will be a forced decision).
Seriously why is he red now? The only answer I can come up with is that he is red now because they could make him red, so they did. This is despite the character being known for being green and furry outside of the comics in cartoons like Teen Titans and Young Justice.
GOOD: The Justice League is important again
For a longtime before the reboot the Justice League of America comic just sort of happend. The team constantly changed, as did the writers, they fought some big bad guy or an opposing team but things just kept on moving. All the big major story/character/universe changes were left to the major events of the time such as Final Crisis and Blackest Night. JLA was just left to deal with the repercussions of those actions. For me JLA was a second tier book. A fun book but it just did not feel like it was the centre of the DCU. If you compare the JLA comics of the past few years to the Avengers comics from Marvel there is a big difference. The Avengers have long been the centre of the Marvel U and their various series always lead into and run along side the major events happening over there. If you want to know what is going down in the Marvel U you just have to pick up Avengers or New Avengers.
Now though Justice League is the flagship book of The New 52. It opened this new DCU in a big way and major things that shape the whole of the DCU happen in it. Such as the recent coupling of Superman and Wonder Woman. It is also the go to place for all the build up for next year’s Trinity War event. Writer Geoff Johns looks like he in it for the long term so the book should remain consistant as he continues to shape the DC Universe in his image. It is also taking a leaf out of the book of Bendis and having great character beats and moments of pause that add to the team dynamic and its colourful cast of characters.
It also one of the books in the DC wide movement to make Aquaman awesome again,
BAD: Superman is still struggling
Poor Superman! The archetypal superhero that still, despite what many say, has so much potential for amazing stories is still being misshandled by DC. He should be the premier character for the company but he and his family of books are still desperately struggling to be interesting and compelling reading.
Superboy is an interesting if frustrating read as the boy of steel is learning what it means to both be alive and a teenager. It is your classic fish out of water story but with superpowers and a moody teen. Yet I cannot shake the feeling that there should be more going on in the book. This is mainly because Superboy seems to get more character development over in Teen Titans rather than in his own book.
Supergirl has so much potential but they have spent a year with Kara not being able to understand anyone apart from The New 52 version of the Silver Banshee (a really good reinterpretation of the character by the way). It has meant that Kara has been purposely isolated from the rest of the DCU. It has been done for story reasons in the book but the main problem I have with it is that it has pretty much isolated her from the non-kryptonian characters that make up the DCU. Where are the classic Supergirl/Batgirl team ups? (or a team up book!) What about adventures with the Teen Titans and the Legion? A new version of her weird father/daughter relationship with Batman? I get that this is me mainly pining for the elements of the pre-New 52 Supergirl that I love but it still feel like she is being kept from becoming a part of the DCU.
Superman has been the most disappointing however. It has just been plain boring reading. There is some interesting stuff in there like the shake ups with the Daily Planet and Lois Lane’s new boyfriend but that has been pretty much been it. The actual Superman saving people and fighting enemies has been in a word, crap. Hopefully moving the brilliant Lobdell and Rocafort team off Red Hood and the Outlaws to Superman will make it a great book again but man the past twelve month have been miserable.
The only shining light has been Action Comics but even with that you get the feeling that Grant Morrison has had to concede a lot to the DC Editorial Team and put a lot of things in there and speed up his story to fit in with their plans and ideas. Still at its best it is an amazing comic at its worst it is a good but slightly confusing read.
Things are looking up however. You have the new team on Superman that I already mentioned. The post-Morrison team of Andy Diggle and Tony Daniel on Action Comics looks like it could be interesting. Then you have the biggie that is Scott Snyder and Jim Lee on a new as of yet untitled Superman book that will be coming out around the time of the new movie next year and will most likely be called Man of Steel.
GOOD: A diverse range of books
The New 52 is not just about the big name superheroes punching stuff in exciting ways all the time. With the relaunch DC made the effort bring in elements from across the whole span of DC characters. Some of the books look at and explore some quite dark places, others focus on building up underexposed characters and untouched areas of the DCU. Variety is the key and the spice of life for DC the past year. So while Batman may be the top selling and most talked about book of the moment you have things like Animal Man and Swamp Thing that are very much doing their own thing and doing it very well. (If you have not read Animal Man and Swamp Thing yet, go do it! I have never encountered two so complimentary books in all my life!)
Granted not all of these books have been as successful as Animal Man/Swamp Thing and many have since been cancelled and replaced but we have been treated to a short but sweet OMAC series and a couple of great mini series such as The Shade. Justice League Dark also continues to be an interesting exploration of the magical side of the DC with an every growing cast of characters.
The plan for DC has been one of throwing these smaller books at the wall and seeing what sticks. If it works it gets to continue. If it does not, it is quickly cancelled and something else will take its place. It ensures there is a constant parade of new books and ideas on the horizon and for the most part even the books with the shortest runs are worth checking out.
BAD: There are too many Batman books
At the start of the New 52 there were ELEVEN Batman or Batman Related books:
- Batman and Robin
- Batman The Dark Knight
- Birds of Prey
- Detective Comics
- Red Hood and the Outlaws
That does not include books featuring Batman or Batman characters such as Justice League, Justice League International, Suicide Squad and Teen Titans. Part way through the first year we got a couple of mini series to add to the DC wide Batmania in the form of The Huntress and Penguin: Pain and Prejudice. Then let us not forget the continuation of Batman Incorporated! By the time Talon was announced to spin-out of the Court of Owls event I had reached the peak of my Batman saturation levels.
Look DC I get that Batman is your most popular character. Everyone loves him and he has enjoyed being at the forefront of popular culture for decades due to the constant stream of TV shows, cartoons, movies and now games that popularise The Dark Knight. I can understand all the Robins apart from the one who will not be named or talked about having their own books. Catwoman, Batgirl, Birds of Prey and Batwoman I can understand too, they are great female lead books. But do we really need Batman, Batman and Robin, Batman The Dark Knight, Batman Incorporated and Detective Comics that primarily feature Bruce Wayne?
Change Batman and Robin into just Robin because Damian Wayne has earned it dammnit! The Dark Knight is just plain confusing at the best of times and is just yet another Batman book I would not miss it if it disappeared. Batman and Detective can stay as they are because of the legacy of both books. It currently feels like Batman is more active and saves the day more than Superman. The guy is everywhere and he is human! Sometimes it feels like The New 52 should have been called, “BATMAN! BATMAN AND MORE BATMAN! with a couple of other comics too 52.”
GOOD: It is actually new reader friendly
When the New 52 and reboot was announced I looked at was what being offered and decided that this would be a brilliant chance to attempt to get my wife and a few of my friends into regular comics reading. I talked it up and gave my best salesman spin to the comics that would be coming out and after much prodding my wife agreed to give it a go. She started with Justice League and read most of the #1’s I bought and as the year has gone on she has picked her favourites and looks forward to Wednesday evening each week when the digital version of the comics are unleashed on the various comics Apps for iOS devises.
The best part of it all was that if anyone, be it a friend or my wife had a question most of the time I could just say, “keep reading, they will fill it in soon.” Only in the cases of books that have seen very little changes such as Batman and Green Lantern have I had to explain things. The other times are when people want to know what the character did or was about before the New 52. It makes it so much easier to get involved when you are not having to read through lengthy Wikipedia entries or having to have someone with extensive DCU knowledge explain it all to you. You can just read, enjoy and actually talk about the comic you just read rather than something that happened X number of years ago in issue #Y.
GOOD/BAD: There are still characters missing
This last major point is an interesting one because it cuts both ways. A year into the New 52 and there are still several characters, both minor and major missing and waiting to be included in this new DC Universe. The reason this is both a good and bad things is simple.
It is bad because: I really want Stephanie Brown to come back! I loved her as the Robin who is never mentioned or talked about and she made an amazing Batgirl. Seriously that series with her as Batgirl was like Buffy but with crooks instead of Vampires! I also want to see Donna Troy come back because despite her very, very, VERY confusing past she is a great character. Also where the hell is Lex Luthor? He was in Action Comics at the start but that is set in the past. In the current day DCU where is he? Is he dead? Hiding? No longer a problem? Is he having a really long power nap?
It is good because: If and when these characters come back or randomly appear it will hopefully be in a big way and to make them more popular than before. The whole Stephanie Brown thing was something that bubbled away under the surface until she became Batgirl in the old DCU. Now you cannot go a day on the internet without seeing someone talking about her and why she should be brought back in The New 52 ASAP. She is currently more popular being unaccounted for than she was when she was initially around and when she first came back as Batgirl. DC is hopefully waiting for the right moment to bring her and other characters back.
The main issue is the waiting because the waiting game can be a long and painful one. Until then I have the Stephanie Brown and Donna Troy tags on Tumblr to quietly weep to while endlessly scrolling down.
My Top Ten New 52 Comics
I thought that the best way to end this look at the first year of the New 52 and the birth of the new DC Universe would be to quickly list my top ten books of the initiative. So here they are!
10. Demon Knights
If you want to read a comic that oozes fun and adventure Demon Knights is it. It takes all of the medieval/arthurian style characters that the publisher has and actually sets them in a tale set during medieval/arthurian times. Who knew that was going to work? They also throw a couple of immortal characters into the mix to give a connection to the modern DCU. Lots of twists and turns, lots of action, lots of funny moments and world building. Paul Cornell is leaving the book soon and it will be taking a big jump forward in time (30 years) with its new writer Robert Venditti. Now is the time to catch up!
9. Animal Man/Swamp Thing
I have put Animal Man and Swamp Thing together because they are so tightly linked despite them only just starting to crossover a year in. Both have built up their mythologies in the past twelve months with the thread that links them together being the animal based powers of Animal Man and the nature based powers of Swamp Thing are part of the same life/death system. It is a beautifully elegant solution and watching the building story and the conflict between The Red, The Green and The Black unfold has been gripping every step of the way. There is a worry however that after the Rotworld event both books will be somewhat hard to continue seeing as they have both been building to it for so long but I have faith.
A year ago who would have thought that Aquaman would not only be a cool character again but also one of the best comics DC is currently publishing? Geoff Johns is taking the same rebuilding approach he took with Green Lantern and The Flash before The New 52 and the results speak for themselves. It is a funny and entertaining read that everyone needs to read. Especially the Aquaman haters out there. With Aquaman ready to step up to a central position in the next year as we move towards the Trinity War things are really looking up for the runt of the Justice League litter.
7. Batman Incorporated
Batman Incorporated is sort of an anti-New 52 book. It does not make any effort to make the characters and story of the pre-New 52 Batman Inc. fit with the New 52 version of the DC Universe. It just carries on as it did before with a few minor tweaks that have actually helped cut down on the confusion that Grant Morrison brings to his work (semi-intentional confusion but confusion all the same). It is all building up to the grand finale that will end Morrision’s current spell at DC and his character defining run on Batman. The prospect of Batman without Grant Morrison is an odd one but it looks like it is being left in very capable hands. (More on this below)
6. The Shade
The Shade was a long format mini-series (12 issues) that saw the reader follow the gentleman villain around the new world of the DCU with a variety of characters and artists to show it all off. I am a big fan of James Robinson’s writing and this was him really returning to top form. I would be more than happy to see The Shade continue forever but part of its appeal is that it is a very complete story told in twelve issues. It does however leave the door open for another visit but for now it is a brilliant hidden gem of The New 52.
5. Green Lantern
Another comic that is a sort of anti-reboot book as it just continues on from Geoff Johns’ insanely popular and amazing run with Green Lantern. The first arc has Sinestro and Hal dealing with a reluctant buddy-cop situation that sees them uncovering the secrets of the Indigo Tribe. Suddenly the rug gets pulled out from underneath the reader as the shit hits the fan and we are left with Baz, the new Green Lantern. Tasked with a mission that is not clear, lost, confused and accused, Baz has an interesting road ahead of him. This is edge of your seat reading and that is why I love it.
4. Action Comics
Grant Morrison’s redefining of Superman may hit a few bumps on the way but it is Morrison at his big, crazy and mind bending best. He takes even the most simplest aspects of Superman’s well treaded history and origins then breaths new life into them. While I was looking forward to much more of the young and less seasoned Jeans and T-Shirt Superman what has happend so far has been an exiting story that has kept me guessing every step of the way.
When Grant Morrison’s presence leaves Batman and DC next year it is good to see a rising (well risen by this point!) star already primed to take his place. Scott Snyder on Batman has been one of the most consistently amazing books of The New 52. Court of Owls was both new and exciting as it showed the dark side of Gotham and Batman himself. It has been full of landmark issues such as the spiralling maze of #5 that had me turning my iPad around to follow Bruce’s decent into madness. Things are only going to get better as Synder brings The Joker back to prominence in a very sinister way in the coming month. Although you probably know all of this already, Death of the Family is everywhere.
2. Justice League
The main reason behind my love for Justice League is pretty much documented earlier in this post but just to reiterate, I really enjoy this book. It is everything I have wanted from a Justice League comic for a long, long time and I am really looking forward to what is yet to come.
1. Wonder Woman
If you want one compelling argument for The New 52 it is Wonder Woman. Brian Azzarello and Co.’s reinvention of Diana and her mythology has been nothing short of outstanding. The changes to Wonder Woman’s origins may be really big and upsetting to some but let’s be honest here, they really work in the context of this book and the story being told. That is the whole point of The New 52. To do new and groundbreaking things with the characters we know and love all within the context of telling the best possible stories at this moment in time. Wonder Woman has not been this good since Gale Simone’s run or as relavent as it is now. While there is a growing call for strong female characters and heroes to take their place at the centre of both comics and wider media it is great to see Diana leading the charge once again. I eagerly look forward to every issue each month and when I read it I am constantly surprised by the level of quality and thought behind the book. If you are not reading it you need to catch up because this is the best book DC is currently publishing.