Comics: A look at DC’s ‘New 52,’ 6 months in
Last September DC kicked off a bold initiative by restarting all of their superhero titles from scratch. Decades of history and thousands of issues worth of convoluted storylines were tossed out in order to try and attract new readers to the 52 new books. This was a huge step for the publisher. Opinions were sharply divided across fandom. Some were excited, while others vowed to never buy another DC book again. 13 new comics launched almost every week that month. (Technically, Justice League #1 started the last week in August). Now that about six months have passed and most of the titles have completed their first major story arcs, I thought it would be worth taking another look at the current status of the New 52, as DC’s comic universe is referred to.
Overall, the effort has been a resounding success. DC has reclaimed market share from rival Marvel Comics and dominates the best-seller charts. (DC had every single one of the top 10 best-selling comics in January.) The level of excitement surrounding DC is higher than ever. Once third-tier characters are now front-and-center in the DCU, even outselling some of their far better known peers. Despite the initial doubts, DC has done a fine job of maintaining the history of their characters when it made sense and jettisoning the stuff that was just needlessly complicated. This has created a fresh, dynamic feeling to titles that were all too often prisoners of what had gone on before.
That being said, all is not perfect within the New 52. Creative teams on several of the books have been changing at a disturbing rate. Much of this turnover has been blamed on heavy-handed, micro-managing among the editorial staff. This has resulted in some very ugly (and very public) finger-pointing. Some of the quieter talent shifts are just as ominous, if not more so. The latest of which saw Amy Reeder being replaced on Batwoman after only three issues by Trevor McCarthy, due to “creative differences”. Reeder was supposed to alternate art duties with J.H. Williams III, who also co-writes the title. This book was originally scheduled to launch LAST March, before being delayed for various editorial reasons and then finally shipped as part of the New 52. With the large amount of lead time, it’s rather striking that these differences are only now coming to light. It will be interesting to see if the churn of creative staff continues and if it negatively impacts the final product.
The first wave of cancellations has also swept through the New 52, claiming six titles (Static Shock, O.M.A.C., Mr. Terrific, Blackhawks, Hawk and Dove and Men of War. Much was made of the fact that half of cancelled books were those with minority lead characters. DC made a concerted effort to try and diversify their lineup of characters and creators, but once again, the bottom line proved to be the deciding factor, as these six were among the lowest selling of the relaunched titles. These books, which will wrap up with their eighth issue next month, will be replaced by a new slate of titles, including Batman Incorporated, Dial H, World’s Finest, G.I. Combat, Earth 2 and The Ravagers.
Back in September I picked up 30 of the 52 new books, as of this month I’m still reading 9 of those titles (in descending order of awesomeness: Animal Man, Batwoman, Batgirl, Suicide Squad, I, Vampire, Justice League Dark, Stormwatch, Static Shock and Mr. Terrific). Though it seems like a pretty big drop-off, before DC’s relaunch I wasn’t reading ANY mainstream DC titles. So the new initiative is actually a huge success for me. Despite some rocky patches, DC has done an exceptional job with the New 52. It hasn’t been perfect, but they find themselves in a much better position than they were last spring. With the shaky foundation of the industry right now, boldness and being willing to change are more important than ever.