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April 22, 2015

Go, Read: Articles Summing Up DC's New 52 Endeavor

Heidi MacDonald has analysis and a round-up of links concerning the New 52 initiative at DC Comics. This was a reboot of the entire line around the principles of 52 comics a month and combining their main imprints/worlds. It's now being tweaked and reconfigured a bit via a cosmic, narrative event I probably won't be able to follow.

imageNew 52 was hugely successful at the start. I imagine part of that was that it was the great lion-in-winter act of Bob Wayne, whom stores always trusted, to kind of get everyone on board with something that even at the time seemed a bit thin creatively. And the hook was really good. I think there were casual readers excited about joining the company at a fresh, new starting point. I thought the line as a whole might not catch, but I was wrong. It definitely seemed to shock the market out of a dismal period marked by a creative stupor at both companies, especially DC. Things had become very event-dependent and constantly in flux. New 52 was a nuke after years of strategic detonations. It was either going to work or it didn't. In the short run it did.

I read about 300 of those books overall, I think. That's not enough to give you an informed opinion beyond really facile impressions. My hunch is that DC didn't have the deep bench that might have facilitated surprise hits and new, strong performers. A lot of older names were used on the books, including some we hadn't seen in quite some time. I don't know anyone that was brought back to do those comics that now seems to have turned that into anything beyond more chances to work on more of DC's comics. A lot of the books struc4k me as exactly the same kinds of books I read back in 1997 when I read all the DC Comics offerings, but it was hard to criticize DC being middle of the road when their comics were selling that well. Anecdotal evidence from retailers suggests that chaos in terms of keeping regular creative teams on most books were a huge boon to Image, where fill-ins and line-up changes were rare.

None of the character reformulations beyond maybe the initial Wonder Woman struck me as an interesting or useful take on any of those characters. I found the new Superman super-unpleasant, bereft of joy or, for me, anything interesting, although I had fun making blogger jokes when Clark Kent turned to a bad Hollywood movie version of that fading vocation. I always thought that first Superman movie got the strategy of that character right: In these times, what kind of person doing those kinds of things would give people hope? And then, what kind of mirror-image decent man would you never suspect of being that beacon of hope? This guy was... I don't know. The reconfigured Batman worked okay, but so many titles and so many allies made him look to me that he was that much more terrible at his job. New 52 John Constantine is the character I'll probably remember most, a buff, wise-cracking version of the company's magic con man supreme reminisicent of a bleach-blonde Reggie Mantle, born from the ashes of what was for a couple of decades an enduring wreck of a character and probably the most significant corporate-owned creation of his time.

The initiative proved beneficial for several creators. Scott Snyder moved from solid-performer to A-lister, and Greg Capullo proved he could work with one of the iconic characters in a way that flattered artist and art. Jeff Lemire, Cliff Chiang, Travel Foreman and Charles Soule all got a solid boost for their work. It was good to have Ann Nocenti back. A few creators like Justin Norman quietly moved into the "solid pro" ranks. Aaron Kuder, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr, all of whom should be around for a long while, made a strong impression. Jeff Parker seemed a smart hire, a veteran pitcher that can work a lot of innings. As creators, Geoff Johns and Jim Lee seemed less like driving forces at the end of that run of comics compared to how they were perceived at its beginning, but each maintained enough oomph that anything they care to do remains news. John Romita Jr. parked his car across the street for a while, to odd effect. Grant Morrison did Grant Morrison things.

Before Watchmen fairly ended any momentum the company had in terms of taking on big, challenging, audacious projects as recurring strategy. Or at least it sure seemed to. In the regular line, there seemed to be the opposite problem: a lot of in-series events gripped those titles. Despite being advertised as new takes on these characters you could follow from the beginning, there seemed a surprising number of comics that depended on past history as part of their appeal. Readers were constantly asked to show a level of interest based on 20-30 years of comics rather than 20-30 months of comics, or at least it seemed that way to me.

I suspect that at first there was a big element of video-game culture being catered to, particularly as that perceived audience dovetailed with adults that remembered the early Image days fondly. This current shift seems to be a away from that particular conception and into a broader, all-ages friendly approach, which this new period will either solidify or fail to. I also think that whether whatever was going on with DC's serial comics during that time was key or if it wasn't, they seem to have a greater certainty in terms of how to blend their monthly line, their book program and their on-line efforts.

That's about all I have. I'm sure there were newsworthy events going on all over the place during the entirety of the publishing initiative. I'm sure I missed key creators. In the end, I think it's safe to say that New 52 knocked DC Comics out of a potential death spiral, and afforded several creators career-making opportunities. It seems equally a story of a wasted opportunity. We will long wonder if a stronger, deeper creative bench, maybe deciding to do something with the Marvel Family instead of Watchmen and more assured, more planned-in-advance character development work at the start across the board could have resulted in DC keeping more of that initial audience. And even then, maybe all of this is something that DC needed to experience in a period of relative comfort and safety purchased by those initial sales. Maybe all they needed was a breather. We'll never really know.
posted 7:55 am PST | Permalink

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