I have been making an effort to be positive in my blog. To only focus on things I like and celebrating these things, rather than tearing down things I dislike. I hope to continue this trend. Which is why I was going to ignore this question. But I have a few thoughts on the New52 that I would like to share. I will try to keep this as balanced and objective as possible.
I think overall the New52 is pretty bad, but came from a good place and has a few successes. Beyond any knee-jerk, nostalgia goggled, nerd rage over changes I consider “ruinous,” it isn’t very good. But first:
The Defense. Based on where the DCUniverse and comics in general were prior to the launch of the New52, I have said before and repeat again: A reboot was in order. In some form, the DCU needed some bandaids. Superman just finished the really long, very intricate New Krypton crossover and was currently in JMS’s incredibly boring “humanizing” Grounded storyline that was so bad not even he stuck around to finish it. Wonder Woman had her entire history radically changed by JMS in his Odyssey story nonsense. The egregiously terrible JL: Cry For Justice and Rise of Arsenal happened. The Justice League of America was full of C-List characters. Etc. And from what I understand, sales across the board were pretty low.
So the idea of kind of getting back to basics in a few series, and wiping away some awful stories, and kind of getting the entire universe on the same page seems like a good idea. And reboots, if nothing else, grab attention and make sales.
And in that regard, the New52 was certainly successful. At first. I don’t remember where I read it, and I don’t care to look up any actual numbers now, but the New52 skyrocketed sales for not only DC, but across the board for all comics.
All of the titles were starting fresh at #1, giving new and old readers a great jumping on point. We had the Justice League looking like the iconic Justice League again. And things seemed exciting.
The problem was their plan wasn’t sustainable.
The Problems. Even from the get-go, the New52 relaunch was half-hazard and inconsistent. Batman and Green Lantern went relatively untouched, with their stories remaining basically in tact. Meanwhile, some characters were getting a new coat of paint and some were being thrown out and rewritten from the bottom up. And that is a really rough way to start your reboot that tried to build a consistency across their product line.
Beyond inconsistency in portrayals and how hard the reboots were, there was the drastic inconsistencies in quality. Some titles were great from the get go, with solid creative teams and solid, clear directions. Others were terrible. As we stand now, 47 of the 52 titles launched in 2011 have been cancelled. This shows not only a failure in creating a product that anyone wants to buy, but also shows the company’s lack of faith in their properties. But that’s something I’ll get to later.
Though things seem to have finally cooled off after a year or so of turmoil, the creative teams at DC were pretty visibly unhappy. We heard a lot of horror stories of creators walking off titles and being very vocal about the status of the heavy hand of editorial at DC. While some creators seemed to be getting free reign to tell the stories they wanted to tell (which shone through in the quality of their work), others were pigeon-held into telling stories that editorial wanted them to tell.
Which leads to another problem, the PR. I don’t know who is running the PR department at DC Comics, but they have done a terrible job. Between the Sex-Doll-Starfire outrage, Harley Quinn sexy-suicide scandal, the ban on Batwoman’s marriage and all marriage of any superhero, the death of Damian Wayne (more on that in a sec), a lot of the creator-editorial issues, and plenty of others, DC has gained a really abysmal reputation.
Why. What is the source of all these problems? If you ask me (and you have), the problem that DC has, and what I see as their biggest problem is that they’re a corporation first and make comics second. And yes, I realize that DC is a business and their job is to sell comics and to make money. I recognize that, and to a degree, I can appreciate it. But when your product is a comic book, a work of art, a story, and something that comes from a creative place, you can’t let the art suffer for the sake of the sale. And that’s what DC does. Constantly.
It’s pretty obvious to me, as someone who watches the industry pretty closely, that DC doesn’t care about making good comics. DC cares about selling comics. And the victims are not only us the fans, who don’t get quality work, but will eventually be DC, when their sales continue to drop.
The example of this mentality is pretty obviously illustrated by a lot of things. Most notably, the Death of Damian Wayne. A few days prior to the release of the issue of Damian’s death, DC went out of their way to exploit the hell out of the death of Robin. They deliberately spoiled the ending to one of their stories in advance, undermining the emotional and storytelling impact of Damian’s death as a character. And this says it all. They don’t care if you like or even read the story. They only care if you buy it.
Character deaths sell. This is a reality. This is why it happens all the time in public ways. DC went to extreme lengths to get people’s attention (which I can understand) on this title. But instead of selling the book as a story, they’re selling it at pure shock value. Pandering to the casual fan to get them to pick up that issue. And even then, a casual fan may not understand that characters and stories return and continue after a character death. Those sales are probably a one time thing.
But the fault cannot be entirely laid on DC’s shoulders. A huge problem with their business model is they’re relying only on the collector and ignoring the reader. Far be it from me to tell someone how to live their lives, but the Comics Collector is the nemesis of all fans everywhere, including themselves and they’re probably not even aware of it. The collector mentality is easily the worst thing to come of the 90’s. The notion is that somehow getting everything with a Bat on it, or getting every event-tie in or variant cover is going to be some day very valuable. It’s also a false notion. The problem is DC is making their comics as collectibles and not as stories. How many variant covers do we see a month? How many standalone Forever Evil or Futures End tie-ins? How many events have we seen? How many Batman titles a month? And how many of those things are even readable? This exact collector-business-model is what drove Marvel to bankruptcy in the 90’s. And why DC’s sales are continually dropping.
Another obvious problem with DC’s New52 is the homogony. Even from the start, DC’s New52 seemed targeted at one demographic. The adult white male that they knew was their strongest audience. I don’t know exactly how many of those #1s featured murders and/or sex, but I know it was a lot of them. The New 52 did nothing to expand the target audience to try to gain new fans or readers. And by targeting such a singular demographic, you’re alienating a lot of others. Most importantly, children. With so few (if any) books actually kid friendly, they’re cutting themselves off at the knee, without fostering a future audience.
DC has thrown all their eggs in one basket. And that basket is Bat-shaped. DC is making it increasingly clear that they really only care about Batman. They seem to believe he’s the only thing that will sell, and seem to just put out titles featuring other characters to retain the rights to them. As of November, DC will be putting out 14 in-continuity Bat/Gotham-themed titles (one of them a weekly series), and that’s not even counting the guest appearances or the Justice League. Even in mass media, it’s Batman all the time. And as a guy that really likes Batman and his mythos. I’m exhausted by it. It’s overwhelming. And that singular “Only Batman Sells” mentality comes at the expense of the fans again and will eventually bite DC in the ass when fans get tired of so much Batman, or only Batman at the expense of other characters.
Personally. I think that the New52 is a failure both critically, financially, and creatively. For me personally, my greatest disappointment with it is that I just don’t care anymore. DC has seemingly gone out of its way to make me less and less interested in anything it’s doing. I have almost completely given up on them until something radically changes. There are titles out there that I think are good, and will continue to collect in trade (Batman and Aquaman) but beyond those two titles, I just don’t care. Superman dating Wonder Woman? Don’t want it. Scott Lobdell writing Superman? Don’t want it. Superman turned into Doomsday? Don’t want it.
Despite my overall apathy and all that naysaying I just did, I still do hold out hope. And even now, I do have high hopes for Johns’ new Superman story, I have hopes for the new Batgirl creative team, and I will definitely be reading Grant Morrison’s Multiversity.
If you should check out the New52? I wouldn’t. Very few titles are worth it. Quick hits that may be worth your time: Snyder/Capullo’s Batman, Johns/Reis’ Aquaman, Snyder/Paquette’s Swamp Thing, Buccaletto/Manapul’s Flash, Lemiere/Pugh’s Animal Man, and maybe Azarello/Chiang’s Wonder Woman. But there’s tons of great stories from before the New52 that you can hunt down.