Reflections on the New 52
(fair warning, herein be SPOILERS for the last month of DC Comics. You have been warned).
So, back in June, I talked about my feelings on the (then) impending reboot of the DC Universe. Now, as of last week, the entire line has debuted as we’re beginning the second month of the storylines, so I’ve had some time to read and reflect on what’s been going on there and so i figured I, like every other comic book geek out there with access to a blog, might as well share some of my thoughts.
Given the fact that I was pretty vocally against the entire revamp, it might be surprising for some to know that I actually went into this with as much of an open mind as I could muster. As a general rule I am against the very concept of retconning. One of my favorite things about serialized storytelling is that each storyline builds upon the previously established continuity. In fact, the thing I love best about the big two (Marvel and DC Comics) is the collaborative nature in which this occurs. While I find a greatly appreciate in an ongoing serial written by one person or team (in fact I write one), it’s always fascinating to see how a new writer builds upon the previously established mythos of the sum total of their predecessors.
My biggest problem with the whole New 52 thing was really that it removes that concept. While DC publicly announced that this was a “soft reboot” and that some of the old stories would remain in continuity, that essentially removed my favorite thing about collaborative storytelling. One of the most fundamental rules about stage improv performances is that anything goes. No matter what one performer says, other performers aren’t allowed to contradict it. They can build upon it, but everything that happens is canon. Retcons ignore this, and as such I hate them. I consider them lazy storytelling.
The fascinating thing about Crisis on Infinite Earths is that it wasn’t really a retcon. It was a reboot, yes, but Crisis firmly establishes that everything that had happened up until that point “still happened.” No one could remember it, but there were ramifications of the story that affected the ongoing Universe. Honestly, I could still have done without it, but what made it mostly acceptable was that the stories that came after it were GOOD! And the story of Crisis itself was GOOD. Eventually, we as readers were able to accept the Crisis because if nothing else, good storytelling came out of it.
So anyway, because of this, I decided that I’d give the New 52 a fair chance. I’d read everything with an open mind. Maybe it would surprise me. So starting with Flashpoint, the story that launched the line (much like Crisis before it)… well, it didn’t leave me very optimistic. Honestly, I didn’t even read the entire thing. Everytime I picked it up, I just found that I really didn’t care. And I didn’t care about the crossovers. Oh well, they can’t all be winners. Crisis was one of the greatest miniseries ever. That doesn’t mean the new line can’t be good.
And that’s what I get for getting my hopes up.
I promised to be fair and openminded, so let me say that they’re not all losers. In fact, there were some series that I really liked. Action Comics #1 was interesting. I quite enjoyed Superboy #1 a lot. Resurrection Man #1 was one of my favorite first issues of a comic in a long time. Teen Titans #1 wasn’t a homerun, but it has me intrigued enough that I am going to pick up the next issue, which is the best that a comic writer ever hopes for. I was kinda meh on Detective Comics, Nightwing, Voodoo, Justice League and several other titles. And then there were a bunch I simply didn’t bother to read at all.
Then there was the bad. I’m a big fan of Green Arrow. I’ve been reading it for quite a while, through both the good and the bad. So I had high hopes for Green Arrow #1. Did I expect to be blow away? Not really, but I wanted it to be good enough to make me go “hmm, I wonder what the new direction of this will be?” and make me want to pick up #2, sort of like I felt about Teen Titans. That won’t be happening. The damn thing was downright unreadable. I guess they wanted to give him a younger feel. I got the very definite impression that they were basing him on the Oliver Queen character from TV’s Smallville, a show which I was actually a big fan of But he WASN’T that Green Arrow. And he wasn’t the Oliver Queen that I’ve grown to know and love. He was… I don’t know who he was. He was a younger generic action hero with no real characterization of any kind. There was simply no reason to care about him. Essentially, it read like a comic that was REJECTED from the launch of Image Comics in the early 90s.
The next great failure of the new launch was Stormwatch #1. I was actually interested in this one from the promotional picture that had been released. I was a big fan of the early runs of the Authority, and despite the name switch, it was pretty clear that this was an attempt to bring the concept into the prime DC Universe, with the added bonus of tossing J’onn J’onzz, Marian Manhunter(a favorite character of mine), into the fold. Complete and utter tripe. I forced myself to finish reading the book and I kind of wish I hadn’t. There was simply nothing of any value that happened in it. Basically it read as though someone missed the entire point of all the intellectual deconstruction that the Authority was trying to do and instead became the very thing that it’s parodying. “Ooh, wouldn’t it be cool if we had superheroes who weren’t afraid to kill people?!?!” Ummm, no, it would be boring.
And then there’s Bird’s Of Prey. I’m not sure why they even bothered. Was the world really clamoring for a new Birds of Prey series? I liked the old one, but I don’t think it was all that popular. And really, it was mostly about Oracle. No one cares about the name of the book. It was that character that held the book together. A story about the agents that a paralyzed former hero employes and her relationships with her charges. Without Oracle the book is pointless. And that’s how it read. Casting Black Canary (who was more recognizable than the Green Arrow, but only barely) in the lead role and giving her a sidekick who was so unmemorable that as I write this, I can’t even remember what they named the character. Throw in a ONE time mention that she’s wanted for murder with no real explanation (i think that’s supposed to be drama we’re going to build on) and you have…. umm… nothing that I am going to continue with.
And then that brings us to the controversial. I admit Batgirl #1, which may have been the most controversial title prelaunch was actually an interesting read. It wasn’t great, but it was interesting and Gail Simone is a good writer, and if I had never heard of Batgirl before, I’d be intrigued, so that’s a good thing. But my problems with it are what they were before. I HAVE heard of Batgirl. And moreover, I’ve heard of Oracle and was, as I just said, a big fan of her books (both the previous incarnations of Batgirl and Birds of Prey) and these things were simply retconned out of existence here. Not explained away with a storyline that might have been good or might have been controversial. No, instead, they were merely hand waved out of existence. The very definition of lazy storytelling and the very reason I was against this reboot in the first place. I’ll stick around for issue two, but I’m cautious.
Weighing in on the other controversial comics that came out of this, the ones that everyone and their mother are dog piling on, I have to address Catwoman #1 and Red Hood and the Outlaws #1.
I’ll start with the Catwoman. I’m actually completely ok with what happened in the first issue of Catwoman. For those who haven’t read it, basically, on the last page, Batman and Catwoman fuck. Whoopdeedoo. Also, the entire comic is full of gratuitous sexualization and objectification of Selina Kyle. Here’s the thing though. THAT’S not a change. That’s what the Catwoman book (and character) has always been about. The entire character is based around raw animal sexuality that Batman has trouble resisting, and basically, since the relaxation of standards in the comic industry, beginning in the 90s, he hasn’t bothered. They’ve had sex many times before. Hell, go watch the movie Batman Returns. The whole
movie is about them wanting to bang each other. In some ways, I found this to be the most pure of the rebooted comics. The only aspect of Selina’s core character that’s changed is that she no longer knows that Bruce is Batman. It actually makes for an interesting story, because she’s having a relationship, based purely of physicality, with a man she doesn’t even know. It’s not about love. It’s about a capable woman who is basically reduced to a groupie around a legend, but is alluring enough that the legend can’t resist her. Is it misogynistic? Maybe, but it’s something that could happen and it’s enticing fiction and I want to see where it goes.
On to Red Hood and the Outlaws. This is a little different. Because all of the characters HAVE changed personalities. Greatly. Starting with Starfire, who is taking the brunt of the heat here. She’s basically been turned into a vapid emotionless sexual dynamo. A bit formulaic, but I don’t have a problem with the concept. I have a problem with the fact that it’s Starfire. She’s unrecognizable from the earlier version of the character in all but name. But that’s kind of ok, because so are her co-stars (and lovers) Jason Todd and Roy Harper. Basically all three have been transformed into slacker, directionless 20-somethings. A killer babe, seemingly devoid of emotional connection, who is willing to spread her legs for pretty much any dude to satisfy her primal urges or possibly using sex as a replacement for intimacy and two dudes without much going on in their lives who are basically hanging around because every once in a while some pussy comes their way. You know, I know all of these people in real life. It’s a completely believable story. It’s just not characters I’m used to.
Basically, what’s happened is not really a soft reboot. They’ve essentially created the Ultimate DC Universe. And I would be ok with that. In fact, I’ve kind of wanted this to happen ever since the Ultimate Marvel Universe came into being. I like the concept of Ultimate Marvel. I like that there’s a place where classic concepts can be reimagined without affecting the prime continuity. But there’s the problem. Almost every criticism I’ve had so far would go away if the new 52 simply happened in the Ultimate DC universe, leaving the previous one trudging along for us long time fans. And don’t give me any shit about that being confusing for the fans. Marvel has been doing it for twelve years and it’s worked just fine. And by fine, that means that I enjoyed it for a while and when it got too far out of my comfort zone I was able to happily stop reading it, leave it to the younger kids, and enjoy the prime stuff (which I don’t always, but that’s another issue).
My next problem with the reboot has been sloppy continuity. As I said before, the whole fun of the DC Universe is the shared continuity. And yes, that gets hard when you’re trying to tie together 73 years of continuity. But you’d think that you’d be able to be consistent for the FIRST MONTH. But in one month we’ve learned that the advent of the superheroes was only six years ago. In that time we’ve had at least four Robins (Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake and Damien Wayne) possibly five (its unclear whether or not Stephanie Brown was still Robin so far) and two Batmen (Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson). Damien Wayne is ten years old, yet his origin requires Bruce to have been Batman before he was born, and since he’s been Batman less than 6 years. That kinda doesn’t work.
Roy(Arsenal/Speedy) implies that there was a Teen Titans that included him, Dick(Robin), Kori(Starfire) and others, including Cyborg who apparently will be “debuting” as a member of the Justice League instead. Kori doesn’t remember this because human needs are beneath her (including a years long relationship with Dick), but that doesn’t really matter because the new Teen Titans series implies that there have never been Teen Titans yet. And by the way Ollie, Roy’s mentor, appears to be no older than Roy, and just starting out his career, despite the fact that Roy was apparently his sidekick at some point.
Basically, what it comes down to is this. Comics fans read comics primarily for one reason. Good stories. Good is subjective here. I acknowledge that some people like different things than I do. But there’s no one out there saying to themselves “I really want to get into Green Arrow, but I dunno. That guy has been having adventures for 60 years. If only he was just starting out, I’d totally get into that.” Yes, a first issue is a sales boost, and yes this whole reboot thing has created a lot of buzz, but at the end of the day. It’s telling good stories that attracts and keeps readers. And a good story can be told with a character that is 1 month old or 73 years old.
But until the companies realize that the problem isn’t high numbered comics, it’s not being creative or interesting, then stunt publishing is all there will be. I hope for the best here. There are at least 3 series here that I’m interested in seeing the future direction of. But really, they could have started Resurrection Man up at any point in the previous incarnation of their universe and I would have been just as into it. Superboy is interesting, but it’s not really Superboy. The story could have been told about any random clone and been just the same. Catwoman would have been fine being written like this in the old universe as well, or could have just as easily been a new character. Even Red Hood and the Outlaws could have been written just fine in the previous continuity. In fact, it might have even been better because it’d be neat to actually have those three characters (who’ve never been teamed like this before and certainly haven’t been a collection of fuck buddies) thrust into that situation and DEALING with their shared past rather than sort of tangentially handwaving it away.
Practically everything that is relying on the reboot as a main piece of it’s continuity suffers from problems because of it. And lazy writing is still lazy writing. What’s done is done. I’ll just stay here, hoping for the best. I only hope that there is a “best to come.”
Oh, and one last thing. I’d like to take a moment here to remember Steve Jobs, co-founer of Apple Computer. In many ways, as responsible for my life as I know it as Stan Lee, Jerry Siegel or Bob Kane. He’ll be missed.
- Round-table Rant: DCnU #1′s Summary (readrant.wordpress.com)
- DC’s New 52 Final Thoughts (skoce.wordpress.com)
- DC Comics The New 52 Month 1 Round-Up and Report Card (dabidsblog.com)
- DC Comics controversy (lostateminor.com)
- Reading the New DCU (reversethieves.com)