The New 52 Report Card: Yea or Nay?

New52

DC’s magic month has come to an end. As we head off to our local comic shops today, no massive stacks of first issues will await our purchase  – unless we’ve got a bunch of second printings coming in — and we’ll slide back into the comfortable rhythm of following monthly comics that don’t really garner major media attention… at least, not without the death of a major character or Superman renouncing democracy or something like that.

A natural question follows from the release of DC’s New 52. Was it “worth it?” Did it work? No doubt this prestigious comic book publisher has a whole lot riding on their bold experiment, and when you play with big dice you’re apt to lose in a major way. So what’s the outcome of this giant gamble? Can we declare the New 52 a success?

My answer: a definite YES… but.

Now, it’s entirely possible that I’m only looking for negative things to say about the reboot because I feel that I have to. I want to make it clear that I totally support what DC has done, and so I’d like to start by focusing on what I consider to be the two key positive aspects of this brave new universe.

1. We got some amazing, excellent comics out of it. This is probably the most obvious thing I could say, but I also think it’s the most important. Books like Animal Man and Batman are so good that they’re pretty much worth the sacrifice of any ongoing title from before. The reboot was always going to live or die based on the quality of its output, and while not every comic was a winner, enough were to justify it.

2. For the most part, the reboot seems designed for new readers. Of course, book quality wouldn’t really matter if DC couldn’t meet their ultimate goal — bringing new folks to comic shops every Wednesday. And while we won’t really know if their scheme paid off for awhile, early sales reports are certainly promising. It undoubtedly helped that so many of these books were smartly constructed to play off only what readers would have known about these characters from general pop culture sources — Aquaman‘s probably the best example of what I’m talking about; there, every random person Aquaman encounters is basically a surrogate for us. Certainly a few books incorporated more comic book-y stories, notably the Batman and Green Lantern lines, but DC would have lost out doubly by ditching the excellent recent work of Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns on those respective properties — not only do they have tons of ravenous fans, but they told really great, even brilliant stories that ought to be preserved (is there any sense in not using a multi-colored Lantern spectrum any more?).

Working together, those two points give us great, accessible stories that are designed to tap into the iconic qualities of these characters, even if not all of the books have figured out quite how to make that work yet. But with most of these comics, I’d be confident giving a copy to a teen-and-up reader and understanding that he or she wouldn’t have much problem finding a foothold in the story.

So what about my reservations? I don’t really want to talk about gender politics, all-ages readership or any of the other usual controversial topics that seem to have followed the reboot around — those have been covered more thoroughly by plenty of talented bloggers. No, my worry is that, even though we’ve ostensibly been given 52 stand-alone books to enjoy as we please, DC may be up to their old marketing tricks, building a giant, reader-alienating crossover under our noses.

It all has to do with the character the website Bleeding Cool has been calling the Strange Woman, that weird purple lady who shared some weird mumbo-jumbo with Barry Allen in Flashpoint #5. She’s shown up in random scenes in every one of the New 52 comics, sometimes hidden in crowds, other times weirdly in plain sight, and never really doing anything… just watching. Why is she there? What is her purpose?

Obviously, this woman seems to know something’s changed in the universe, and she’s observing the heroes for some reason. The question for readers becomes whether she’s just a nice Easter egg to tie the books together or if she’s actually some in-story element, a plot point waiting to be exploited. If it’s the former, that’s cool, thanks DC. If it’s the latter, then I’m worried we have the makings of some kind of Heroes Return-type scenario here.

My fear is that, at some point in these books, our heroes are going to realize things are wrong… again (Flashpoint redux already)! Then they’ll try to band together to set things right, and the order of the universe will be restored. This Strange Woman will be at the center of things, either as the heroes’ mysterious guide or as their shrouded antagonist. My fear’s exacerbated by both the new Legion of Superheroes comics, which also call attention to the fact that history has been altered in the wake of the “Flashpoint barrier,” . Why make these story points if nothing’s going to come of them? A year down the line, are we going to get some giant crossover where all 52 books have a “Crisis of Proper Realities” or something (I know that’s a terrible title, so hopefully no one will swipe it)?

My friend Nikko hypothesized that the Strange Woman may provide a kind of back-door out for DC… in the event the reboot totally bombed, they could use her to pull the thread on the New 52 and restore the old status quo relatively quickly. I think that’s a pretty smart guess, and it’s my favorite theory I’ve heard so far. Since by all accounts these books are a success, that’s unlikely to happen any time soon, but if Nikko’s correct, DC could always hover over that trigger. We might have another Spider-Clone saga on our hands… it ends when it stops selling. That’s a terrible thought.

Now, do I really think that’s what’s going to happen? Honestly, no. DC seems really committed to telling new, fresh and accessible stories with this rebooted universe, I don’t see why they’d want to abandon it for such a gaudy, business-as-usual move as a giant, universe-altering crossover this early in the game. That said, you never can tell what comics publishers will do in an attempt to stay relevant and profitable. My sincere hope is that DC commits to their New 52 for a long time, letting the bad books wither and bringing in new characters, new creators and new takes as their publishing schedule opens up. Of course, much like Marvel’s Ultimate universe from a decade ago, these books will eventually become relatively inaccessible to new readers too, and then we’ll need another shake-up. It’s just how things go when you play in a giant, shared universe of gods and monsters. But I really hope we can all just sit back and enjoy this new status quo for a bit.

To mark an event of such magnitude, Nerdy Nothings covered all 52 of DC’s new releases over the past month. We’ve compiled all of the reviews below. They’re grouped by our “pull list verdict” — whether our reviewers thought the book should be purchased monthly, dropped outright or bought skeptically. The grades below reflect only the opinion of the review’s author.

KEEP IT:
Action Comics: B+
All-Star Western: A
Aquaman: A
Animal Man: A
Batgirl: A-
Batman: A
Batman and Robin: A-
Batwing: A-
Batwoman: A
Birds of Prey: A
Captain Atom: C
DC Universe Presents: B+
Deathstroke: B
Demon Knights: B+
Detective Comics: B
Flash: A
Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.: B
Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men: B+
Green Lantern: B+
Green Lantern Corps: B
Justice League: B+ (avg.)
Justice League Dark: B
Red Hood and the Outlaws: B
Resurrection Man: B+
Savage Hawkman: A-
Stormwatch: A
Superboy: B
Superman: B
Swamp Thing: A-
Teen Titans: B
Wonder Woman: A

ON PROBATION:
Blackhawks: C
Blue Beetle: C+
Catwoman: C-
Green Arrow: B-
Green Lantern: New Guardians: C
Justice League International: B-
Legion of Superheroes: C+
Men of War: C+ (avg.)
Nightwing: B
Red Lanterns: B-
Suicide Squad: B-
Supergirl: B-

DROP IT:
Batman – The Dark Knight: D
Grifter: C-
Hawk & Dove: C-
I, Vampire: C-
Legion Lost: D
Mister Terrific: D+
O.M.A.C.: D
Static Shock: D
Voodoo: F+

tags: the new 52

  • Dwight

    This is pretty cool. I was hoping there would be a “Here’s where they stand” article. If there were a “Sex-This-With-Love” button, I’d click it.

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