DC Comics Relaunch: Thinking about the New 52

There can be no doubting that DC has had an incredible month, garnering more interest from the non-comics world than they’ve had since they killed Superman, and having sell-outs across their entire line.  I don’t remember the last time I went into a store in the evening of a Wednesday to learn that mainstream, Big-Two books that I wanted had sold out within a few hours.  But, comics are not a one-time deal.  They are serialized stories that play out over months and years, and need to have a solid, reliable fan base that comes back month after month to be considered successful.

The notion of revamping and relaunching an entire line is a bold one.  Obviously, this was done for monetary and not creative reasons, but most people have been pleasantly surprised with the general quality of the resulting product.  Will that turn into sustained higher sales for DC, with an increased market share, and more power in the industry?  Is this a flash-in-the-pan?  Only time can tell, although every internet commentator is tossing their opinions around.

I thought I’d do the same.  Here are some of my thoughts leading up to the second month of DC’s new universe.

  • Creators are important.  For a reader like me, they are usually more important than the character.  I prefer a book to be late than have the art split between a variety of artists, or for new artists to be swapped out mid-run.  It doesn’t surprise me that DC would think otherwise, and place all the value on the character, but I think history has shown that it’s the people that make the comic that can make or break the comic.  And really, DC knows this, or they wouldn’t be risking using someone like Jim Lee, who has a huge following, but is hella slow.

 

  • It seems like DC is having personnel problems with their writers.  We’ve already heard about changes coming to Green Arrow, Static Shock, and Superman.  While I can abide (while not completely agreeing with) the argument that artists can be interchangeable, writers are not.  At least, not if you are looking for a consistent approach to these new characters and situations.  How many other series in comics history have been successful after being created by one person, and then abandoned in no time?  I was curious about Static Shock, but won’t be reading it at all now.

 

  • By resetting the entire universe, there is going to be a huge temptation for creators to revisit the classic stories of the past, to give them a ‘modern’ twist.  This is exactly what started happening in the Ultimate line at Marvel that caused me to drop it.  Every issue or two of Ultimate X-Men introduced a new fan-favourite character, and what made that line different from the original Marvel Universe began to blur some.  DC needs to take steps in controlling this urge – sure it would be cool to see Green Lantern and Green Arrow go on the road together, or for the Teen Titans to discover that one of their members is a traitor, or for Superman to die or something, but it’s a bad idea.  The stories need to be fresh and new, because redoing a classic rarely improves it.

 

  • How much of a plan do you think actually exists for all of this?  If we know that the Justice League has been around for five years, and that Batman was already active for a while at its inception (although whether or not he had a Robin by that point is unknown), have the people in power at DC figured out just which events in characters’ lives happened and which didn’t?  So many of these characters have coexisted for so long, it’s going to be mind-boggling trying to establish what can be kept and what has to go.  In many ways, it would have been easier to restart just about everyone, but DC didn’t want to muck up what’s been working so well with Batman and Green Lantern of late.  I can accept ditching all continuity as we’ve known it, but won’t like it if books start contradicting each other.

 

  • Both Legion of Super-Heroes titles (LSH and Legion Lost) made reference to something called the ‘Flashpoint Barrier’, which is making time travel to the past impossible.  This leads to a few questions – does that mean that the Legion are still ‘our’ Legion (which means the original Legion, having been recently restored to their pre-Magic Wars status by Geoff Johns and Paul Levitz)?  If they are, do they remember the pre-Flashpoint DCU?  They reference Superman in LSH #1, but which Superman?  I guess the answer to these questions is likely to be in the upcoming Origins mini-series (don’t remember its actual title), but sadly, I won’t likely be reading it.  I can’t see the Grant Morrison Superman of Action Comics being too inspiring if taken into the future as a teenager, and so LSH history needs to be overhauled a great deal, or established as having not changed at all, and tied to the original DCU.

 

  • I think anyone who insists that we’ll never see the old DCU again is naive.  It’s really only a matter of wondering when this will happen.  Obviously, while sales and interest are high, DC is going to happily stay the course.  But, once sales start to drop back to where they were before the relaunch (god I’m cynical), how long will it take until we start reading about the return of Superman in Entertainment Weekly or USA Today?  Remember, issue 19 of Detective Comics would have been #900 of the original run.  There is no way on Earth that DC won’t recognize that – and a year and a half is longer than most characters stay dead at Marvel these days…

 

  • For a gigantic overhaul of an entire line of comics, where’s the experimentation?  There is a high level of quality to most of these new titles, but if you look past the continuity changes, and new costumes, where are the radical new ideas, reevaluations, or fresh takes on what it means to be a superhero in the 21st century.  From what I’ve read, it’s only Grant Morrison who is using this opportunity to completely change things up in Action Comics.  Everything else is still pretty traditional in terms of the approach to story and character.

 

  • And then there’s the art.  Again, most of these books look very good, but there are more traditional artists at work here than anything else.  Okay fine, there’s Batwoman, All-Star Western,  and the Flash, where the artists are doing something special, but most of the rest of the line, while competent, is kind of dull.  Imagine if a title like Men of War or Blackhawks (which I think we all know are destined for cancellation) was drawn by someone a little more experimental in their approach?  Remember when Bill Sienkiewicz took over New Mutants and blew all our minds?  I would think there should be more titles where the art becomes the primary reason for reading the book.  And for that reason alone, I’m still upset the Marcos Rudy was taken off Suicide Squad.

 

  • Let’s talk about this whole purple mystery chick that has appeared in every first issue, creating a Where’s Waldo like game for readers.  Is there a point to this, or was it done to boost sales?  She does look a lot like the new Glorith that’s been knocking around the Legion Academy issues of Adventure Comics pre-relaunch, and is now in LSH, but so far, she hasn’t done anything.  Is she going to be at the centre of some new Crisis?  Is she the road to the return of the old DCU someday (the delaunch?)?  As a game, it’s been kind of fun, and I’m curious to see is she’s going to be added to all the second issues too.

 

  • I think it’s already been announced on Bleeding Cool that Men of War is going to be cancelled.  Also, we know that all of the new titles have to live up to certain sales targets, or their gone.  The question is, is 52 supposed to be the magic number?  Will that level be maintained, and replacement books rolled out as others get the axe?  It’s telling that any new books solicited for October or later are all mini-series (like the Shade and Huntress), or don’t take place in the DCnU (like THUNDER Agents).

 

  • Which brings us to the Justice Society.  This title was announced, with James Robinson and Nicola Scott creating, a while ago, but has not been solicited yet.  Partly, I think that’s because they rushed the announcement to head off some fan anger regarding the apparent deletion of the Golden Age characters, and the lack of female creators working on the 52.  Are they waiting for a slot to open on the publication schedule?  Have they even figured out how to use these characters?  There has been some speculation that this book will take place on Earth-2, which I think is a huge mistake.  Of course, the temptation to do a JL/JSA Crisis cross-over like back in the day may be too much to resist, regardless of whether or not that’s exactly the thing that caused DC to have to re-evaluate their universe back in the 80s.  We don’t learn from our mistakes in this industry.

 

  • The Simpson’s have three fingers because it’s too much work for the artists to draw four over and over again.  DC has taken the totally opposite tack, covering all new character’s costumes with dozens of unnecessary lines.  Sure, they may look cool, but how much longer must it take to draw, for example, Batgirl’s costume the way it is now compared to the way it used to be?  Does this mean we’re going to see characters out of costume a lot more?  Remember, if the artists fall behind, they get the axe.  It seems like contradictory messages to me, or just bad planning.

 

  • I don’t plan to weigh in on the exploitative portrayal of women in books like Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws.  I don’t like it, but I’m just not buying those books.  Vote with your wallets people.

 

  • Okay, so all the number ones sold out at Diamond, if not at every comic store.  Any predictions as to what will happen with #2?  I expect that retailers ordered conservatively at first, and have been rushing around trying to up their orders.  What remains to be seen is how many people will be coming in to buy them.  I expect that the non-comics reading public who decided to buy all the number ones as ‘investments’ (and yes, apparently these people still do exist) won’t be back, but the success or failure of this initiative will depend on whether or not new readers show up in the store.  It will be interesting to see if that will happen.  Of course, if retailers don’t have enough copies of the book, those people will be lost forever (or will switch to digital, which in the retailer’s eyes, is the same thing).

 

  • To wrap this up, I thought I’d list where I stand with the various titles – which ones I bought, and which ones I’m going to buy again.
  • Books I preordered, and am going to keep buying are Action Comics, All-Star Western, Animal Man, Batgirl, Batman, Batman and Robin, Batwoman, Frankenstein, and Grifter.  (Strange how they are all in the front of the alphabet).
  • The book I preordered that I’m on the fence about is Swamp Thing.
  • Books I preordered that I’m dropping are Fury of Firestorm, and Suicide Squad.
  • Books I picked up in the store that I’m probably sticking with are Blue Beetle, Deathstroke, Flash, and Men of War.
  • Books I picked up in the store that I’m on the fence about are I, Vampire, Justice League Dark, Resurrection Man, and Stormwatch.
  • Books I picked up in the store that I’m definitely not buying again are Batwing, Birds of Prey, Legion Lost, and Legion of Super-Heroes.
  • Books that I missed in the store and are still curious about are Nightwing and Wonder Woman.
  • Books that I am curious about, if I find them cheap are Demon Knights, Mister Terrific, and Superboy.
  • Anything not listed above, I couldn’t care less about.

 

  • In April of 2011, before they cancelled a raft of titles in anticipation of Flashpoint, I preordered nine DCU books, and picked up two others on the stands.  In October, I have thirteen books on my pull-file list (including The Shade), and intend to pick up four more.  By any rubric, that’s proof that the relaunch has gotten me to buy more titles.  Good job DC.

 

Part of me was hoping I could come up with 52 thoughts, but that’s just not going to happen.  What are your thoughts?

 

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