Saturday, September 15, 2012

The DCnU 52: One Year Later!

Here follow some random ramblings on the “DCnU One Year Later,” actually compiled over the course of several weeks as ideas came to me. It is by no means systematic, although I have reordered a good bit into some semblance of order. Some points I develop out fairly fully. Others I don't. For a better understanding – and examples – for a lot of them, you'd have to troll back through my various blog entries on the books of the New 52 that I've published on this blog over the past year. There's a lot here that only a DC Comics reader will understand!   In any case, just because I don't mention something here doesn't mean I'm not getting or liking it. But these are the thoughts that sprang most to mind as I reflected on the past year.

Single favorite title (so far): Action Comics (with honorable mention given to newbies Worlds' Finest and Earth 2 – in fact sometimes I wonder if I'm really liking that little corner of the DCnU better even than Action)

Most gratifying to me personally: Aquaman. Nuff said. My first favorite superhero.

Biggest surprise: Batwing. I didn't even consider buying it at the beginning, figuring it would be the first to go. The name sounds a bit stupid and frankly the idea of a “Batman for Africa” didn't sound appealing. I quickly heard such good things about it on the Internet that I tried it out digitally – a convenience for which I thank DC, but the fact is they themselves benefited from it, at least in my case – and was preordering the print copies by issue 4 or 5 – and have picked up the print copies back to #1 to boot!

Most relief I felt at how a title developed as opposed to my fears based on the original solicits: Supergirl – and while the solicits continue to present it as if she's the angry super-brat that we first feared, that ain't the way Green and Johnson are writing what we're actually getting. Usually I don't like such a degree of dissonance between solicit and product, but in this case, Thank God!

Another major relief – that we didn't lose the recently “retrobooted” “original” Legion of Super-Heroes so soon after recovering them, and that Levitz is still at their helm.

Biggest disappointment: Justice League – I think everyone had huge, high hopes for this, but it's been a train-wreck on virtually every level, albeit a good-looking train-wreck. Not really gee-hawing with other titles featuring the same characters, not making a whole lot of logical sense – as currently portrayed, supposedly in the present now, there is no damn way those heroes have been working together as a team for five years!

Biggest disappointment – runner up: Their decision to renumber even Detective Comics and Action Comics. I've read and understand their reasons. I do not agree with them.

Biggest frustration: Increasing evidence they didn't have this thought through very thoroughly – Teen Titans (how many such teams have there been?, or is this the first?), Robins (how many have there been? - in five years?!, was Tim Drake one of them?); Also, the radically different presentations of characters from one book to the other, especially the Justice League characters between their own books and the team book. Now that as of issue #7 JL is ostensibly present-day, there's no excuse for the radically different flavor to Wonder Woman between her own book and JL – and even more so, Green Lantern, which is written in both places by the same individual. Is Geoff Johns himself schizophrenic? Does he know how they connect?

I'm currently reading my way through the titles DC published in August – by and large the #12's – and in a one-off appearance of Kid Flash Bart Allen in DC Universe Presents #12 (which I'll be reviewing later as part of my monthly round-up), on the first page, Bart's typically hilarious recap of events leading up to those depicted here end with what I think is pretty much dead on regarding DC's attitude toward “continuity”: “Continuity doesn't really matter! Clarity is overrated!” In the context of the story it comes off as something typically “Bart.” Unfortunately, I get the feeling that's really DC Editorial's position!

Character(s) I miss most from before Flashpoint: Stephanie Brown Batgirl, Supergirl by Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle, Conner Kent Superboy, the “guardian of time” Booster Gold, the marriage of Superman and Lois, Oracle.

Favorite New 52 character(s): Starling in Birds of Prey – the girl next door as a badass fighter and secret agent. Don't change a thing!

Favorite New 52 version of an old character: Vandal Savage in Demon Knights – Paul Cornell has made me like a character I couldn't stand before

Worst New 52 version of an old character: Billy Batson Shazam … but there's a lot of competition. There are opposing views, among them Paul C.:  "Why The Curse of Shazam is the right move for Captain Marvel"

Most consistently laughably stupid – and worst – title I get: Detective Comics – which has converted me from wondering why there were so many “Tony Daniel haters” to joining their ranks. Not really true. I don't hate him – but I now have no use for his writing, and frankly have become embittered toward what objectively is generally pretty good, if chaotic and lacking in story-sense, art. In fact, his name has become a disincentive for me to buy something, much as Azarello's work on Wonder Woman has. That latter is a funny case – I didn't initially plan to get it, decided to just because she's “the third person of the trinity” (dodging lightning now), and really liked the first issue. Or, on reflection, the ideas put forth in the first issue. But it dropped like a rock in my estimation after that. And I finally dropped it like a hot potato. In any case, Tony Daniel is leaving Detective fairly soon, but not soon enough, and hopefully things will pick up for DC's eponymous title.

Philosophical aspect of the pre-Flashpoint world that I miss most: The sense of legacy and the elder heroes of the Justice Society

Philosophical aspect of the DCnU that I like the best: Superman was the first public super-hero … “public” has to be included as a qualifier because it's apparent that Batman must have been active if only in secret before five years ago … but I like at least some primacy being given to Superman

Yes, I know those two things are mutually exclusive, but they didn't have to be. Return to the Multiverse with the Golden Age Super-heroes on an older Earth would have been a better way to go, regardless of the fact that I'm really digging James Robinson's Earth 2. You could have eventually even brought in a third “Middle Age” Earth based on the Silver-Bronze Age conceptions. Imagine that!

Stupidest constraint on the creators: The Five Year Timeline.

Stupidest way to effect a Reboot: The way they did it, as a partial Reboot, trying to have their cake and eat it too, keep a couple of franchises virtually unchanged while so radically changing everything else. Also, beginning in media res as they did, making the creators beholden to a continuity that hasn't been established yet. Even worse, as much as I like Action Comics, which is set in the past, to then make Superman in the present beholden to stories that are being concurrently told in the past, so that the creators here have no real idea what might be published next month there in Action that will invalidate what they created this month in Superman. And this is made worse by Grant Morrison's notorious reticence what he's up to, and editorial's hands-off attitude toward him – which led to their being forced to continually tamper with the product of one of the industry giants in George Perez on Superman because of Morrison's whims. I like much of what Morrison does ... when I can get my mind around it! (I find him one of the most "rereadable" writers out there) ... and really like what he's done in Action.  But it is a position that Perez never should have been in, especially if he was not informed from the beginning what the situation was. Rob Liefeld's experience seems to corroborate the feeling that it's pure chaos there, but then continued developments give me the impression the latter must be really hard to get along with in any case.

Better way to effect a Reboot: A clean slate. All in. Oh, but that would alienate some existing readers who like what was being published before? Duh – that happened.

Better-still way to effect a Revival: Good stories respectful of the past but not chained by specific timeline. Be vague as to the passage of time. Don't pin yourself down. That's how comics were written for decades, and it worked for the most part. The artificial adherence to some kind of seamless continuity is never going to work – especially when not everyone agrees from one day to the next what the continuity actually is. See the first part of my “Biggest frustration” above.

Most consistent irritant: The design esthetic (or lack thereof), both in the heroes' uniforms – way too busy and complicated – and in the villains' – among whom it seems quasi-zombies in bad makeup predominate, along with quasi-Lovecraftian horror-movie Cthulhu-wannabe rejects. As far as heroes' uniforms, Superman's gets special mention. In and of itself, it isn't bad although it could (a) lose some of the extraneous lines, and (b) tone down the overly complicated belt, which could also be helped with an accent of gold, but try as I might a year into the New 52, I don't see this as Superman. Make fun of it as much as we might, the red trunks are, after seventy years, an intrinsic part of his image. It would be easier for me, I think, to accept some modification to the S-shield than it has been to accept ditching the speedos. Ditch every other hero's briefs, but not Superman's. If they've gotta go, see the much better design over in Smallville Season 11.

Most disconcerting (? word choice? ) development: Removing some bits of diversity in physical type for certain characters – the most notable example of course being the “healing” of Barbara Gordon, removing her as a shining example of a character heroically dealing with and overcoming a disability every single day of her life, but also the “fashion modelization” of former obese characters Amanda Waller and Etta Candy. DC's trumpetted its new diversity in such areas as Cyborg now being a founding member of the Justice League, which I have no problem with, but also by reimagining certain other established characters in “sexy,” trendy, politically-correct ways as “race-bending” Morgan Edge from white to black (also Etta Candy, so she's a twofer, I guess) and recreating Alan Scott, the Green Lantern of Earth 2 (originally the Golden Age Green Lantern), as homosexual. You want more minority characters, create more minority characters, don't fundamentally change previously existing characters. (Note: As far as race goes, I personally think you've got a bit more latitude when it comes to casting a live action movie, e.g. Laurence Fishbourne for Perry White in Man of Steel, as Pete Ross in Smallville, for supporting characters. Main characters, it's a bit more iffy, since that is a fundamental change to the very nature of the central character. Like it or not, we are not and will not be for some generations, I believe, a totally color-blind society. But when you change the race of even a secondary character – or the sexual orientation of a main character – the change itself makes that character into a statement rather than a person. Aren't we supposed to see people as individuals, without these qualities becoming their definition? That is, a person should described as white or black (adjectives) rather than identified as a white or a black (nouns) (ditto regarding sexual orientation). To do otherwise is to implicitly dehumanize them.)

I could add in here what I call the “Marvelization” of the DC nUniverse – the idea that the super-heroes are feared and hated rather than looked up to by society, the general darkening of the stories and overall atmosphere – but that had really been happening for some time before so I don't necessarily identify it just with the DCnU.

Overall assessment. Although I am reading and enjoying much of what I'm seeing in the New 52, I miss many elements of the old DCU and question whether such a radical reimagining as so many characters received was really necessary. One thing goes without question. Overall, from a financial standpoint, at this juncture it must be judged a success, with ramifications that extend beyond DC Comics itself. The overall comics industry got a much needed shot in the arm, and the effects have endured. Perhaps the same effect could not have been achieved without such a radical shift. That's a hypothetical question that can never really be answered definitively one way or another. But one thing goes without saying. For all my ranting, I am a fan of DC Comics, and I likely always will be, to one degree or another. I will be with them until the bitter end, which now seems slightly less likely to occur within my lifetime than I feared before. As long as I live and breathe – and have the financial wherewithal, of course – I do not see myself ever giving up comic books completely. I derive too much enjoyment from them, even if I do not agree with certain directions they have taken through the years and most recently in the DCnU Reboot. As with everything, there is good to be found with the bad.

There have been too many other such reflections and ruminations on the success or not of the DC Relaunch of 2011 for me the list here. A few noteworthy ones are, however:

The Comic Geek Speakers look back on the year in their podcase:  "DC's New 52:  One Year Later."


Siskoid's Blog of Geekery: “The New 52 and DC's Communications Failure” including the comments which are similarly excellent.

Paul C, the Last of the Famous International Fanboys – always thought-provoking and worth reading even if I often disagree with him – mounts a defense: “The New 52 Continuity: It Ain't So Bad!

And for laughs, something I've not seen any of the many other such reflections on the past year do:

Title that I'm most anxious to see introduced: DCnU: The Lost Generation – the adventures of Stephanie Brown, Donna Troy, Wally West, Garth – suddenly appearing in this new world and wondering what the hell happened. With the thematic substitution of Steph for the original Teen Titan Dick Grayson Robin, you could even call it Titans Lost.  This could be the cover:
Think about it – their double-take on meeting the now red Beast Boy; Starfire sexually mauling Wally as Donna stands there shocked and speechless at the change in her old roommate. Those two scenes could be worth the whole New 52! [I unfortunately did not note where I first came across this image – I think it was shared by someone on Facebook, but I can't be sure. Whoever it was, Thanks!]
* * *
Just for comparison's sake, here are side-by-side comparisons of what I was/am buying from DC before and after Flashpoint ushered in the New 52 last August-September 2011:

January 2011 
– a few months before
January 2012 
– a few months in
October 2012 
– about a year in
  1. Action Comics
  2. Adventure Comics
  3. Batgirl
  4. Batman
  5. Batman and Robin
  6. Batman Incorporated
  7. Batman: Streets of Gotham
  8. Birds of Prey
  9. Detective Comics
  10. Doc Savage
  11. First Wave
  12. Flash
  13. Gotham City Sirens
  14. Green Lantern
  15. Green Lantern Corps
  16. Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors
  17. JSA All-Stars
  18. Justice League of America
  19. Justice Society of America
  20. Legion of Super-Heroes
  21. REBELS
  22. Red Robin
  23. The Spirit
  24. Superboy
  25. Supergirl
  26. Superman
  27. Teen Titans
  1. Action Comics
  2. Aquaman
  3. Batgirl
  4. Batman
  5. Batman and Robin
  6. Batman: The Dark Knight
  7. Batwing
  8. Batwoman
  9. Birds of Prey
  10. Catwoman
  11. Demon Knights
  12. Detective Comics
  13. Justice League
  14. Justice League Dark
  15. Justice League International
  16. Legion Lost
  17. Legion of Super-Heroes
  18. Nightwing
  19. Stormwatch
  20. Superboy
  21. Supergirl
  22. Superman
  23. Teen Titans
  24. Wonder Woman

Digital
  1. I, Vampire
  1. Action Comics
  2. Aquaman
  3. Batgirl
  4. Batman
  5. Batman and Robin
  6. Batman, Incorporated
  7. Batman: The Dark Knight
  8. Batwing
  9. Batwoman
  10. Birds of Prey
  11. Catwoman
  12. Demon Knights
  13. Detective Comics
  14. Earth 2
  15. Green Lantern
  16. Justice League
  17. Justice League Dark
  18. Legion Lost
  19. Legion of Super-Heroes
  20. Nightwing
  21. Stormwatch
  22. Superboy
  23. Supergirl
  24. Superman
  25. Sword of Sorcery
  26. Talon
  27. Team 7
  28. Teen Titans
  29. Worlds' Finest

Digital
  1. I, Vampire
  2. Phantom Stranger
  3. Ravagers
  4. Superman Family Adventures
  5. Young Justice

Digital Weeklies
  1. Legends of the Dark Knight
  2. Smallville Season 11

So, although I started out about at parity in number of titles I was getting before and after the “Relaunch” (especially if you discount the “First Wave” fiasco titles First Wave, Doc Savage, and The Spirit, which were tanking in early 2011 and clearly weren't long for publication anyway), by about a year in I have increased the number of titles I'm getting from DC somewhat. Not by a huge amount – about 20% – but somewhat. And they've managed to keep me with most of the titles that I jumped on at the beginning. In that sense, even with me the New 52 is a success.

Cheers! – and Thanks for reading!

3 comments:

  1. Great blog as always Kent plenty of food for thought.
    I totally agree with you on the disappointment of JLA, and what was a surprise hit of the new 52 for me Aquaman. I haven't read Batwing mainly because there are so many bat books out there some of them have to fall by the wayside, also the Batman continuity is something that bugs me also. How can we have had so many Robins and still had Dick Grayson as Batman in a 5 year spell, but at the end of the day Batman and Green Lantern story's were fairly planed out for the coming years so they couldn't be changed. The comic numbering was also a disappointment for me as I wanted to see a Detective Comics 900, but its not going to happen in my life time.

    It was an interesting point about the changes to some of the characters both physical and sexually in some cases, the one that I actually took offence to was the slimming down of Amanda Waller why was that necessary. What is that saying in a world that is already bombarding youngsters with images of the so called beautiful people, you only get on if your slim and good looking not the image DC were telling us this new universe would be portraying.

    Keep up the good work, I always enjoy reading your thoughts.

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  2. Thanks for your kind words, Rob. As someone who's fought obesity through my whole life, the Amanda Waller/Etta Candy examples stand out for me as well. Even more egregiously, Geoff Johns' reconceiving slovenly Harvey Bullock to look more like Harvey "Apollo" Dent in Batman: Earth One which just recently came out. That's not strictly-speaking New 52, but very much of the trend.

    I see you're in Yorkshire. That's a corner of the UK I've only skirted in my travels, despite the attraction for me of the Viking artifacts at York itself. Maybe whenever I make my way back over there, we can meet up at a pub and have a pint or three...

    Cheers!

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    Replies
    1. Yes if you ever come this way I would like that we live about 30 minutes train ride from York, we spend a lot of time there just walking around and taking in the sights its one of our favourite citys. The Jorvik viking centre is excellent but the York Castle museum is also excellent and well worth a visit.As I said let me know and we can chat comics over a pint.

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