Many of those that are familiar with DC Comics know that their New 52 printing didn’t bode so well with fans for a myriad of reasons. While I had always been a fan of comics, I personally got into collecting them with the New 52 launch and amassed quite the collection before the Rebirth initiative. The New 52 began on August 31, 2011 and lasted until May 25, 2016 when DC Comics revamped their comic universe with the release of the Rebirth printing. Before we dive into specifics as to why the New 52 didn’t work for a lot of people, let’s look at how it came to be and what it did right.
HOW THE NEW 52 CAME TO PASS
So the New 52 was created in the wake of the Flashpoint Paradox and Infinite Crisis which served as the resets for the DC Comics Universe.
In Infinite Crisis (without getting bogged down in unnecessary details), Earth -3 Lex Luthor and Superboy Prime tried to recreate their respective universes, that had been destroyed, by smashing other universes together (just go with it). Every time that it didn’t work, the newly created universe was destroyed. It took the combined might of all the heroes of the Earth and the Green Lantern Corps to finally win; but by that time, the entire DC multiverse had been reduced to just 52 universes.
In The Flashpoint Paradox, Barry stopped an attack by the Rogues on the Flash Museum, only to be taunted by Reverse Flash that no matter how fast he was, he could never save the one person who mattered. Despite the counsel and warnings of the other heroes about what could happen, Barry ran back in time and saved his mother from getting murdered, which off set the timeline. Things get crazy: the Atlanteans and Amazons go to war, Bruce gets killed in Crime Alley causing his father to become Batman and his mother to become the Joker, Superman lands in Metropolis and is taken to a secret underground bunker, and Barry never gets his speedforce powers. Eventually the heroes figure out what went wrong and during the battle for the planet between Atlantis and the Amazons, they try to set things right. Barry eventually makes it back and rights the timeline which sets us to the beginning of the New 52.
WHAT IT DID RIGHT
When the New 52 was originally announced it was supposed to be the big push DC Comics needed to revitalize their stagnant sales. While the first few issues of each book were very well done, some of them were quite exemplary, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s run on Batman is the best example. While the rest of the New 52 printing saw some measured success, Batman sales sky rocketed. The Justice League titles began with a great re-introduction to the classic team with Cyborg being a founding member. Geoff Johns, the Creative Director of DC Comics, personally had a hand in crafting the excellent Justice League run as well as notable input on several other works being produced under the New 52 banner.
The thing that really struck me as something that was done well was the age of the heroes. The New 52 started with their numbering back at issue 1, which gave DC the opportunity to rejuvenate the heroes and make them younger. When the stories all begin, we are shown much younger and uncertain versions of our heroes as they navigate their universe. Probably one of the best things, is that when Justice League begins, none of them know who each other are. There is quite a few memorable panels from the first few issues of Justice League where the heroes are learning who each other are and coming together to work as the team the world needs.
It also helped to establish these heroes as inexperienced and without the prejudices they have been given after their decades long runs in previous printings. It brought a naivety to the heroes that hasn’t been seen in some time. It also helped to show some important interactions from a different light. It allowed for a romance to blossom between Superman and Wonder Woman which provided an interesting dynamic to later issues of Justice League when the shit hit the fan. One of the best things that it did right (in my opinion) was Forever Evil.
Forever Evil is the title given to an event that took place after Justice League issue #23 following the conclusion of the Trinity War. Pandora’s box, which was being fought over in the Trinity War, was revealed to actually be a boom tube device that opened a portal to the Earth-3 (evil Justice League Universe) which allowed the Crime Syndicate through. When the Crime Syndicate defeats the Justice League, the fate of the world falls on Lex Luthor and some other villains to stop the Crime Syndicate and save the Justice League. This event was for me one of the best parts of the entire New 52 as it showed that some of the villains are not quite as evil as once thought. The standout characters are obviously Lex Luthor, Captain Cold, and Black Adam; with Sinestro providing some great input as well.
Endgame, Death of the Family & Court of Owls. Nothing else needs to be said except that those are some of THE BEST Batman stories to come out in the past 20 years. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo took, arguably DC Comics most popular character, and gave him a run worthy of his reputation. It has everything superheroic you’re looking for as well as some great moments that firmly anchor the Dark Knight as a flawed human.
WHAT IT DID WRONG
It’s no secret that the New 52 was a miss for a lot of fans. Due to some terrible re-designs and some massive changes to characters traits some of the properties didn’t fare so well under the new publishing. Lobo was a big sore spot for a lot of people. Gone was the massive muscular bounty hunter we had known for years and in was a scrawny emo looking character that looked like he could be blown over by a medium sized wind. Here’s what I mean…
The second thing that it did wrong was the creation of 2 different Justice Leagues, the original Justice League and the Justice League of America. The main League consisted of the core members (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman & Cyborg); however the Justice League of America was created by Amanda Waller and Steve Trevor to counteract the Justice League should they ever “go rogue”. Each member of the JLA was chosen specifically to counteract a member of the main league’s power set. This unnecessary addition of a second league was meant only to create conflict with the main League and set up the Trinity War event. While I did enjoy the Trinity War, the entire thing could’ve been streamlined by adding the JLA members to the League itself, and having the split come that way. The explanation that is given in the run as to why the League has closed off membership is because apparently as Batman put it ” We tried that once.. it ended very badly”.
As I said, this unnecessary division of the League and the formation of the JLA was an interesting take but ultimately it fell in on itself and was nowhere near as successful with readers as originally thought.
3 Jokers. Yes, 3. This revelation came from the Darkseid War Part II when Batman sat on the Mobius Chair and became the God of Knowledge (yes, the literal embodiment of knowledge in the DC universe). He wanted to test the chair to see how effective it was and asked it who killed his parents, when he got the right answer he then asked it what is the Joker’s real name. We later find out that the chair told him there are three different Jokers. This revelation comes shortly after Endgame where we are led to believe that the Joker is one of the immortal beings on the planet. While some fans (like myself) thought it was a cool spin and added some answers to the Joker’s varying abilities over the years; there were plenty, who thought this took away from the essence of the character. The Joker isn’t supposed to have a backstory or a name, he’s just supposed to be the eventual ying to Batman’s Yang. As the heroes rise to prominence there will always be someone to challenge them at every fiber of their being, this is what the Joker represents. Making him into three different people takes away from his overall characterization and his accomplishments in the comics.
While some collector’s didn’t mind, one of the big issues with the New 52 was the restarting of the numbering for each individual issue. While I didn’t find this an issue (as someone who just got into comics at that time) long time collectors did find it to be irksome.
THE FUTURE OF DC COMICS
It’s not secret that DC Comics is crushing Marvel in sales; however, NOBODY can compete with the gargantuan franchise that is the MCU. DC Entertainment has gone through a major revamp since the critical failure of Justice League and is doubling down on creative efforts to maintain the DCEU continuity as a whole. That being said, the future of DC Comics is easy to see as it’s been in publication for quite some time now, Rebirth. Rebirth was the complete re-vamp of all DC Comic runs to coincide with the original numbering. reverting back to their pre-Flashpoint characterizations and numberings allowed Action Comics to finally reach it’s 1000th issue just a few months ago. It also served to put the original classic characters back in the driver’s seat for some heroes while keeping some of the fan favourites of recent years, Jaime Reyes as Blue Beetle, and Wally West as Flash are prime examples.
While Rebirth was a soft reboot of the comic continuity there were several aspects of the New 52 that remained, such as Jaime Reyes as Blue Beetle and the Court of Owls in Gotham City.
Most of the Rebirth stories thus far have proven to be quite good, some (like with the New 52) have really knocked it out of the park, Tom King’s run with Batman, James Tynion IV’s run with Detective Comics, and Ben Percy’s run with Green Arrow are some of my favourites. Rebirth has firmly locked DC Comics in as the top seller from the major companies, even prompting Marvel to release their Legacy imprint, which functioned much the same was as Rebirth did for DC.
As for right now, DC doesn’t seem to have much to worry about with their comic sales and have begun to actually incorporate the New 52 into their Rebirth arc. The event titled Doomsday Clock brings the Watchmen into the main DC continuity and postulates that the entirety of the New 52 was created and overseen by Dr. Manhattan himself. I’m waiting for the run to finish so that I can read it myself, but with Geoff Johns headlining the event, I have faith that it will be as amazing as his Justice League run in what has been coined by some as “DC’s Bad Footnote”.