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The DC New 52 – A Year in Review

Posted on August 13, 2012 at 2:42 pm by Jeff Mueller

It’s been a year since DC Comics took the bold move to revamp and “reboot” its entire lineup with the DC New 52. So let’s take a step back and look at what that has meant for the DC Universe and how it has worked out so far, shall we?

DC New 52

So what exactly happened?  In August of 2011, DC Comics cancelled all of its books and established 52 new series which debuted in September 2011 with new #1 issues. (This was most notable for Action Comics and Detective Comics, which had previously retained their original numbering since the 1930s. Think about it, that was a bold move!)

The point was to simplify what had become a tangled mess of continuity and titles, as well as to entice new readership, and it worked! At least for me. I had stopped reading comics for the most part back in the late 90s because the universes had become so convoluted and complicated with cross-title events that it was a chore trying to keep up (not to mention prohibitively expensive). So when I heard DC was doing this, I took the bait and dug back into the DC universe. For the most part I think it has been a success!

Let’s look back on the year and examine some of the things that are working well, and some of the things that aren’t. Before we do though, let’s look at a grey area.

Even though DC made it sound like a complete reboot, it wasn’t. The restart followed a DC universe-wide limited series, entitled “Flashpoint” (don’t ask me what the hell it was about but I get the feeling it was another bloated cross-series complicated event); and while a lot of the previous storylines were wiped from the continuity, much of the DC Universe’s history has remained intact (such as War of the Green Lanterns, Batman: A Death in the Family and Batman: The Killing Joke. For a comprehensive discussion on this, check out what the DC editors had to say.) While restarting all of these books at issue #1 made it easy to dive back into the DC world, having a spotty history to figure out kind of detracted from the point. I guess the good comes with the bad when you look at it that way.

What are a few of the major pluses that have come out of the DC New 52?

  • A Manageable Catalog – While 52 titles sounds like a lot, it makes it easy to pinpoint the titles you want to follow. In the day and age of the immensely complicated Marvel Universe, this is a breath of fresh air.
  • DC New 52 - AquamanBelieve it or not, Aquaman – If there was one character that has continually been the red-headed stepchild of the Justice League and the DC Universe as a whole, it is Aquaman.  His costume, his power set, his portrayal over the years—all laughable until now. From the art to the well thought out storyline to the self-referential humor to just how much disrespect he gets as a character, Aquaman is tied with the next title as best series of the relaunch. Hands down!
  • A very compelling Animal Man storyline – There was a time in the 90s when DC took a handful of minor characters and gave them to very talented writers, and what came out of it was arguably some of the best stuff of that decade (most notably Alan Moore’s taking on Swamp-Thing and Neil Gaiman’s run of The Sandman.) This feels just like that. This book does a spectacular job of balancing the nature of the character—a family man with a minor power set existing in a world filled with epic super heroes and villains—with very compelling story which has been slowly unfolding over the last year.
  • Some Surprising Choices – Depending on what books you like to follow this could be a pro or a con. I look at it this way, though: DC could have axed niche characters in favor of more broad appeal titles, but it made some bold choices in what to include in this relaunch (Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.?!? What the hell is that?). To me this says they are willing to take chances, and not playing it safe usually pays off in the long run with surprise hits. It also can lead to buckets of fail, which DC is dealing with appropriately as the next item shows!
  • Willingness to Cut Poor Books – As of the date of this article, DC has axed 10 of its original DC New 52 titles. What this says to me is that they are trying their best to keep the universe lean. Now, I am sure the deciding factor is primarily book sales and not book quality, but it is a start in the right direction.
  • Same Day Digital Downloads – Man this is huge!  This, along with the reboot, was the main reason I decided to jump back into my comic nerd shoes. It was a stellar decision from a business perspective to embrace the inevitable shift from print books to digital downloads for devices like the iPad.

What are some of the misfires of the DC New 52?

  • Batmania – Okay DC, I get it.  Batman is your hottest character. Fine. But 4 out of 52 titles are Batman titles and another 7 are directly related? Really?!? All that effort to streamline and trim the fat and 21% of the catalogue is wearing a bat cowl? Serious overkill.
  • The Dark Fail – Not only are there 39402 bat-books, but a lot of them are pretty crappy, namely The Dark Knight. Stay away from this title until they find a different direction for it, unless you like your Batman with a double shot of testosterone and action with no subtlety or plotlines worth talking about. Probably the most disappointing title of the relaunch.
  • DC New 52 - DeathstrokeWoe to those who read Deathstroke – Man, I was looking forward to this book as I had fond memories of Deathstroke being such a great villain in the Teen Titans so many years ago. What I found instead was a book akin to The Dark Knight. All flash and giant action splash pages with tons of unnecessary silly dialogue and exposition and a craptacular storyline (it reminds me of back when Marvel used to have Wolverine say, “I’m the best at what I do, and what I do isn’t nice,” every three pages.  I get it, you’re a bad ass). Avoid like the plague—you have been warned.
  • Speaking of The Teen Titans – This book has the potential to be saved, but so far has been very underwhelming in terms of writing and story. The plot is razor thin so far, and the dialogue very wooden. Also, if you are dropping the ban hammer on your universe DC, why are you keeping around Kid Flash and Superboy? One of the hokiest problems with DC has always ben that every major hero needed at least one kid version with the same power-set. It was stupid in the 60s and 70s, and nothing has changed since then. Make them go away.
  • An easy to follow chronology? Not. – One final major complaint here. I admit I might be in the minority for taking issue with this, but it’s my article, so suck it. All of the major titles, which are supposed to be happening in the same universe, are supposed to be happening at the same time *except* Action Comics and Justice League are supposed to be occurring in the past in relation to the other titles. Why does it have to be so complicated? How are we supposed to know when the titles catch up to the others? Ugh.

So in looking back at the last twelve months, I think all in all that it was a successful gamble on the part of DC Comics with the DC New 52, even though I have a lot of things to pick at. I have highlighted my high and lows of the reboot, but what about you? Let us know what you think!

    • Mr. The Plague

      Does Aquaman have a hook for a hand?

      • thejerd

        No, he doesn't. They have done away with that attempt to make him gritty and bad-ass… I will say this though, the story they are weaving in the last few issues throws some definite dark onto his character; even though he has both hands.

    • Snackbar

      My favorite Auquaman is from Batman: Brave and the Bold. Always wanting to go on an adventure and narrating his exploits.

    • edgyarmo

      Maybe he''ll get caught by naughty fisherman. They'll pull him up on the deck, chop off his limbs and throw him back in the water. That will shake the very foundation of the DC Universe!

    • thejerd

      The trend of these replies is mildly disturbing, and unfortunately I wouldn't put it past the guys writing The Dark Knight and Deathstroke to try it either.

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