The 6 Best and the 6 Worst Parts of DC’s New 52
The New 52 is over; long live DC Comics. After more than three years of sticking to their rigid, grim and gritty house style, the second biggest publisher in comics has decided to try something different — and I couldn’t be happier. I quickly soured to the New 52 and have barely hung on all these years later.
When DC rebooted their entire comics lineup in 2011 — including everyone from Superman and Batman to Green Lantern — they decided that the best way to reach fans was with dark, gritty comics aimed at teenage boys and young men. They published 52 comics a month and called the whole event the ‘New 52’. But comic book fans are prone to change, and nowadays we want a variety of different comics and styles, definitely not just grim and gritty. Marvel Comics, the biggest publisher, understands this and routinely beats DC in sales.
So starting in June, DC will abandon their New 52 way of thinking and will start offering new comics with new styles for new audiences. It’s a great plan! But before it’s gone, I wanted to take a look back at 6 things I liked and 6 things I loathed in the New 52. Hopefully DC can learn from this.
6. Scott Snyder’s Batman
Probably the strongest, most consistent comic in the New 52 was Batman by writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo. Snyder is a writer who just gets the character and his world, and has a particular skill in getting into Batman’s head to deliver pulse-pounding, character-defining stories. Snyder and Capullo are one of the only remaining creative teams who started in the 2011 reboot, and their consistent style has led to some great Batman adventures. They aren’t doing anything too crazy, like former writer Grant Morrison, they’re just telling some truly exciting and powerful Batman stories. The introduction of new villains the Court of Owls was particularly memorable. They might actually have the staying power to join Batman’s legendary pantheon of crazies.
5. New old Robin costume
Despite my unending love of all things Robin, I’m actually mostly lukewarm to everything that’s happened to the Robins in the New 52. I don’t love it, I don’t hate it. I’m annoyed at the changes to Tim Drake’s origin, but I’ve mostly gotten over that. I still don’t really like Damian Wayne as Robin, but I’ve mostly gotten over that. I’m also fine with what they’ve done with Nightwing and Red Hood, and it’s not so bad anymore that they removed Stephanie Brown’s time as Robin. I’m not all that happy with the Robins, I guess, but it’s honestly not that big of a deal. Most of them are being treated right, even if DC has made them worse than they were before.
But my absolute favorite Robin thing to come out of the New 52 is that DC went back and retroactively changed Dick Grayson’s original costume to the one pictured above. No longer was he a man-boy running around in short shorts and pixie boots. Now Dick Grayson wore this awesome, albeit complicated, red, black and green uniform. This is a huge improvement, and I’m glad DC had the courage and interest to really change history like that. The old costume may be classic, but it will always be an embarrassment.
4. Harper Row and Simon Baz
One is a new Batman sidekick, the other is a new Green Lantern, and both of them are some of my favorite new characters in comics. Both Harper Row and Simon Baz were created for the New 52, fresh faces to help brighten up long-lasting franchises. Harper is a street-wise engineer with a burning desire to help Batman, and Simon is a Muslim-American car thief with a heart of gold who is chosen as the new Green Lantern when Hal Jordan ‘dies’. Both have been exciting new characters, both had cool origin stories, and both really made an impact on arrival — and then both have fallen by the wayside.
Instead of becoming the new Robin, as she was clearly destined to do, Harper was pushed off into a side role as new hero ‘Bluebird’. And Simon Baz has become a third-string Green Lantern behind all of the previous Green Lanterns, who are still the stars of their respective titles. Both characters deserve a lot more attention and prominence, but just that they exist is good enough for me, for now.
Once upon a time, Batwoman was among the best comics in the New 52. With the surreal and emotional art of J.H. Williams III, Batwoman was an action adventure comic with real heart and love. DC had propelled a homosexual character to the very top of the company, worthy of counting herself among Batman, Wonder Woman and the rest. Heck, Batwoman’s team-up with Wonder Woman is a New 52 highlight. And her marriage proposal to girlfriend Maggie Sawyer is pure class and coolness, one of my all-time favorite DC moments. Batwoman was always at the top of my reading pile. The comic was just that damn good.
But all of that was once upon a time…and we’ll get back to this…
2. Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman
My favorite overall comic to come out of the New 52 was the new take on Wonder Woman by writer Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang (among others). Azzarello repositioned Wonder Woman as the daughter of Zeus, and thrust her into a family squabble of Olympian proportions. This pit Wonder Woman against some fascinating new enemies, and in turn made her more heroic and larger than life. She was the light that cut through the darkness and pettiness of her family. She was the stalwart hero who never gave up the fight and didn’t need a relationship with Superman to define her. She was Wonder Woman and she kicked ass. Azzarello’s Wonder Woman is the only New 52 comic that I’m going to pick up in tpb form for posterity.
On an even more personal note, Azzarello also had a hand in recreating Orion the New God for the New 52, and his take on the classic character definitely put Orion at the top of my list of favorite characters at DC.
I’d never given two licks about the New Gods before, but Orion’s arrogant, chauvinist hero was a pretty cool guy, especially when his temper was tempered by Wonder Woman.
Of course, Azzarello eventually wrapped up his epic story, and now both Wonder Woman and Orion are in less-skilled hands.
1. Aquaman the badass
The coolest thing to come out of the New 52 was the emphasis on turning Aquaman into a total badass — and I would definitely say DC succeeded. Writer and company executive Geoff Johns kicked off the reboot with a multi-issue run for the King of Atlantis, and he turned Aquaman into one of the publisher’s best comics. He made it look easy. Whether he was tackling the haters head-on, battling giant sea monsters or fighting tooth and tentacle with the now equally-badass Black Manta, Aquaman became the character to beat in the New 52.
Granted, now that Johns is off the comic, Aquaman hasn’t been as good. But writer Jeff Parker is no slouch, his run emphasizing Atlantean politics and family drama. And with Jason Momoa ready to bring the character to the big screen, everything is coming up Aquaman!
6. Green Lantern’s endless events
I am no longer reading Green Lantern comics, and it wasn’t that crappy movie that turned me off the titles. Nor was it Geoff Johns’ departure. I was ready to give the new guys a try. But Johns’ legacy was apparently impossible to shake, and the whole Green Lantern line suffered as a result.
Johns is the writer who single-handedly turned Green Lantern into one of DC’s most popular franchises, to rival that of even Batman. He took a low tier comic, started small, and then blew everyone’s mind several years ago with the monumental Sinestro Corps War event. It was huge and changed comics forever. Then Johns followed that up with the equally thrilling Blackest Night! And then came War of the Green Lanterns, followed swiftly by the Third Army, all leading up to the First Lantern. For whatever reason (probably sales), Johns and DC were stuck in an endless list of Big Events for the Green Lantern titles. There were no more downtime issues, no more character building. It was just event after event after event.
And it didn’t stop when Johns left and the whole line got a new batch of writers. At first, they seemed like they were going to settle in and tell some good stories, but almost immediately they launched into Relic, and then there was a war with the Durlans, and then Godhead, and whatever the hell else they’ve done, because I stopped reading a long time ago.
Big Events don’t make a comic. It’s the characters and the little things that make the Big Events.
5. Squandering Milestone, Wildstorm and low-selling characters
Remember when characters like Static Shock and Grifter had comics? Probably not, because they didn’t sell, so DC cancelled them as soon as they were humanly able. Same went for the Voodoo comic, and probably a few others that I can’t remember. Since the start of the New 52, DC had a policy of cutting any and all unsuccessful comics. At the time, they explained it was like TV seasons, where each year sees cancellations and new programs. If a comic wasn’t selling, then why keep it around?
Makes sense, except that the cut off point of ‘selling’ was somewhere around five issues or less. I realize today’s comic book market isn’t for chumps, but DC dropped a lot of potentially interesting and diverse books because they didn’t immediately succeed. Not only did we lose Static Shock, but we lost Blue Beetle and Mister Terrific, among dozens of others. DC cancelled these books straight up rather than maybe hand them off to a different writer or creative team. How many potentially new characters lost any chance at success because the New 52 was all about chewing them up and spitting them out? The Milestone and Wildstorm characters, whose integration into the New 52 was supposed to be a big deal, never had a chance.
4. The Destruction of Batwoman
Once upon a time, Batwoman was among the best comics n the New 52. But then DC decided they didn’t want the character to get married, and the creative team walked off the book in protest. Here was a comic that was all the rage, with art that constantly kept Batwoman in the comic book conversation. When J.H. Williams III and co-writer W. Haden Blackman departed the book, DC scrambled to fill their big shoes, and they picked noted writer Marc Andreyko. I had high hopes for Andreyko taking over…but then he started an insane slash and burn campaign the likes of which boggle the mind.
Andreyko started with a storyline about a masked art thief named Wolf Spider. The story stretched to an unbearable six issues of Batwoman being unable to do anything to stop a complete nobody like Wolf Spider. Then, Andreyko broke up Maggie and Batwoman. He just cast the relationship aside and instead had Batwoman hook up with a lingerie-wearing, sex-obsessed vampire babe. But the final straw to get me to stop reading was randomly sending the street-level Batwoman on an outer space adventure alongside the likes of Ragman, Clayface and a few other random jabronis. I have no idea what’s happening in the comic anymore, and soon it won’t matter, because Batwoman has been cancelled.
Once it was among DC’s best comics, an award-winning book; but then DC decided they wouldn’t do a lesbian marriage and fans revolted, so they systematically drove the comic into the ground.
3. The Justice Leagues
DC made a great decision at the start of the New 52 by putting Geoff Johns in charge of writing Justice League. Their best writer on arguably their most important book? Sounds like solid decision-making to me! And Johns’ Justice League has remained a top-tier book ever since. But then DC had to go and sully the very name of Justice League with failure after failure. Justice League Dark is doing alright, but does anybody remember Justice League International? That series didn’t last long beyond the start of the New 52 and is now a long-forgotten memory.
Justice League of America was even worse. DC took one of the most famous names in their comic book line, promoted the hell out of it as a sister series to the regular Justice League book, only to reveal that Justice League of America was just a big, fancy prologue to their upcoming Trinity War storyline, which in turn was just a prologue to Forever Evil. Then Justice League Canada turned out to be just a joke, as the title switched to Justice League United (and is largely unreadable, as far as I’m concerned).
DC took the name ‘Justice League’ and offered it to anybody like a cheap coat of paint. And they weren’t the only team that got shafted.
2. Teen Titans
Frequent readers of my site do not need to be told how much I dislike what DC has done with the Teen Titans, but I would be remiss if it wasn’t part of this list. Teen Titans, whether under original writer Scott Lobdell or current writer Will Pfeifer, is the worst comic that somehow managed not to get cancelled. Both writers wrote the comic with a distinct lack of character drama, instead treating the beloved characters as action figures to knock up against the latest super-villain. More thought went into designing and implementing the bad guys than in any aspect of the Teen Titans themselves. And that barely scratches the surface of all the problems with Teen Titans.
But the worst offense, the most mind-boggling offense, is how little DC seemed to learn from the success and popularity of the MULTIPLE Teen Titans cartoons.
Of all the DC cartoons that have come and gone, Teen Titans is the one that’s still on the air and is still hugely popular. The cartoon started in 2003, gave way to a more serious teenage superhero cartoon called Young Justice in 2010, and then came back as the sillier Teen Titans Go! in 2013. That’s more than a decade of popular cartoons about DC’s teenage superheroes…but the Teen Titans comic HAS NOTHING TO DO with any of those cartoons! Who makes that kind of decision?! Who looks at the New 52 reboot and decides to take their Teen Titans comic book in a completely different direction from the immensely popular Teen Titans cartoon? At best, the comic will have maybe 50,000 readers, while the cartoons get millions of viewers!
Few DC properties have seen as much media success as Teen Titans, and yet DC Comics apparently refused to translate any of that success into comic book sales. For that, and many reasons, the Teen Titans have suffered in the New 52.
1. The failure of Superman
But no one has suffered like Superman.
Try as they might, DC has not been able to make the Man of Steel work in the New 52. It doesn’t matter who they get to write the character, it does’t matter which legendary artists draws him, or which classic villains rise to challenge him, nothing has worked and Superman has languished. Whereas Batman and Wonder Woman came out of the gate on stallions, with industry-defining comics, Superman sputters at the back of the pack. And it’s not entirely his fault.
The trouble started at the very beginning, with the decision to set the two Superman comics at different points in his timeline. Legendary writer Grant Morrison wrote Action Comics about Superman’s early years, while equally legendary writer George Perez wrote Superman, set five years later in the present day. But according to Perez, nobody told him what Morrison was doing with Superman’s early years, so Perez had no idea what Superman’s status quo would be like five years later. Would Superman still be friends with Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane? Would he have always been a reporter for the Daily Planet? Perez had no idea!
Beyond that, with a character as financially important as Superman, Perez said that everyone up the executive ladder, all the way to Warner Bros., had ideas and rules in place for the Superman comic, leading to last minute revisions and changes. Perez walked after six issues. The guy that followed him didn’t last long either.
Then when Morrison left Action Comics, DC put out big house ads about his replacement, Andy Diggle, only for Diggle to leave the book before his first issue had even been published. At one point, DC brought in Scott Snyder and Jim Lee, both fan favorite Batman creators, to publish a new Superman book called Superman Unchained, but that faded faster than Superman flying off into the distance. Or what about Geoff Johns? His name has been on this list several times already. Johns is currently writing the Superman comic, and while it’s getting some press, it’s still painfully mediocre. And Johns is leaving the title after only 8 issues!
DC apparently has no idea how to make good Superman comics anymore. Big Events designed to capture readers and increase sales – H’el on Earth and Doomed – were largely ignored by the comics community as a whole. And books like Supergirl and Superboy are so unimportant that I’m not sure if either one is still being published. Heck, even Lex Luthor replaced Superman on the Justice League!
Superman has been spiraling downward since the start of the New 52, and this ship shows no signs of being righted. To think, the one man Superman can’t save…is himself.
And that’s deep. Red underpants.
What were your favorite parts of the New 52? What did you hate the most? What are you looking forward to in their new comics? Let me know in the comments!