New52: End of the First Wave

Today, the New52's 9th issues start rolling out, which means the First Wave is behind us. Six of the 52 series were killed after 8 issues, making way for a Second Wave of books, hopefully more like DC's successes than the failures they're replacing. So it's a good time, I think, to look back at the first 8 months of the new DCU and see, first, if DC managed to make good on their promises and hype, and second to compare my reading habits after the first month and now.

The first surprise, I suppose, is that none of the 52 books are late. Each and every one of them hit #8 in April. To make good on its "no late books" promise, DC instead chose get fill-in artists as needed. Of the 52, 10 managed to do without help (All Star Western, Batman, Batman and Robin, Captain Atom, Flash, I Vampire, Red Hood, Static Shock, Voodoo, and incredibly, Hawk and Dove). The problem, of course, is that the new DC is much more focused on art, and marketed a number of books as showcases for artists. Consequently, Batwoman has lost some readers who were only in it for the J.H. Williams III art. Justice League hasn't had the services of Jim Lee in a couple issues. Chiang, Paquette, Morales... they've all missed the odd issue. Now, I'm NOT usually in it for the art. I'm a story-first comics reader. Not to say all the fill-ins have felt subpar. Some editors have found a way to integrate guest artists better than others, giving them flashback or offbeat stories set within a framing tale drawn by the book's main artist, for example. It's not just artists, of course, it seems that many series were designed to switch writers at opportune "for the trade" moments. This has felt particularly disingenuous from DC who put high-profile talents on the initial books with every intention(?) of yanking them off after the hype wore off.

Of the six books just cancelled, I was still reading two. Mister Terrific wasn't the strongest book, but its high-concept science-adventure kept me reading, wanting it to get better. The much-lamented OMAC (at least, on the Internet) was the other, a book too gonzo for the masses (what is it with Giffen's crazy little projects that the mainstream never wants to encourage them?). Of the other four, Men of War is simply turning into G.I. Combat, so it hardly counts. I predict it'll keep changing names until DC has solidified its copyright claim on every war title they ever published (see My Greatest Adventure for more of the like). I got to a couple issues of Blackhawks before giving up on what appeared to be yet another covert ops team book (if I really want that stuff, I'll just grab IDW's G.I. Joe). Lasted on Static Shock only an issue longer before giving up on it due to generic villains and lackluster art. And you couldn't make me support a Liefeld project to save my life, so I wrote off Hawk & Dove immediately. How Liefeld was then offered three more books to screw up speaks to the Image nepotism going on in Jim Lee's office, but at least, they're three books I actively dislike.

If the new stuff is indicative of what DC thinks were its successes, we might learn something from looking at them. A strange dark version of Dial H? Obviously, the big surprise hit of the New52 is the work being done in small Vertigo-lite books like Animal Man, Frankenstein, Swamp Thing and Demon Knights. The troubling thing from my point of view, of course, is that all those weird, wonderful books could still have been done within an unrebooted universe. On the flip side, it seems like X-Men rip-offs in which superheroes are treated like filthy mutants are also a success. How else to explain a book like The Ravagers? (Mackie and Churchill? Really?) Earth 2 and the related World's Finest seem to have been greenlit not because of any New52 book's success, but because of Robinson's Shade mini-series. And of course, there's Batman Inc. which we always knew would return. Between Morrison's return to Batman and the Huntress' participation in World's Finest, they basically added 2 Bat-books to the 52, which already had 10 (or up to 14 if you count All Star Western's use of Arkham, and Batman's and Red Robin's key roles in team books). The big loser? Variety. Three books headlined by minority heroes have been axed. A female-led book has risen from those ashes, which is hardly compensation.

My Reading List
Back in September, I read each of the New 52 books, and at the time, was enthusiastic about 15 and willing to give 25 more a chance. 8 months later, those numbers have dropped to 9 and 14. That's 17 books I've culled, some of them almost immediately despite my intent to check out a second issue (Blue Beetle, Savage Hawkman, Men of War, Detective), some before they hit #4 (JLI, GL Corps, GL New Guardians, Batwing, Birds of Prey), and others more recently, usually out of frustration after giving it "one more chance" (Fury of Firestorms, Batman and Robin, Legion Lost, Grifter). Stormwatch became a victim of the authorial musical chairs - I jumped ship after Cornell left - while I started picking up Green Arrow again when Nocenti started writing it. I have an interest in 4, maybe 5, of DC's six new launches, but even if you add them to the list, I've still culled 12 books, and I may yet make room for them from the 23 I'm already reading. DC Universe Presents could be in danger after jerking my chain with an abortive Challengers story, Lobdell on Superman may be a reason to finally drop the book, and both LSH and Resurrection Man are hanging by a thread spun only of loyalty.

First Wave Floatsam and Jetsam
So what are my thoughts about this new DCU after 8 months of life?
-I really like the Dark corner of the DCU, which reminds me of that golden hour just before Vertigo was created when the craziest, darkest, most literary stories were told without jumping through that abstract partition. However, I see absolutely no reason why those books couldn't have existed in the pre-reboot universe.
-Even in some of those books, the new DC has a disturbing love affair with the splash page to the point where I wonder if it's part of an editorial mandate. DC now provides very quick reads indeed, and it's clear the focus is on art and not writing. The fact that some writers have multiple assignments may be a factor, as those books (Johns, Lobdell, Lemire, Krul) have a tendency to be splashier. Are DC's writers using the Marvel method to push their stories out?
-DC was unable to make the Milestone or Red Circle properties fit in the DCU, but somehow the Wildstorm universe is playing a huge role (because of Jim Lee, of course). There are persistent rumors that the Daemonites will be the next big thing affecting all the books, Grifter, Voodoo and Stormwatch, despite serious problems, have yet to be cancelled, and worst of all, the art design and character personalities across the whole DCU feels Wildstormed. The original Crisis merged Earths 1, 2, 4, S and X and we got a huge canvas filled with heroes from different eras and cities. Here, Earths 1 and 50 got hitched and it feels so much smaller. Shorter timeline, fewer heroes, a smaller scope in which people don't feel inspired by their heroes.
-As predicted, a partial reboot has proven a confusing affair (the intact Batman history makes no sense in the context of the new 5-year background, for example), but it would help if the books didn't contradict each other RIGHT NOW. I didn't think a reboot was necessary, but to speak FOR the reboot, I don't think most writers really went far enough. You've got Morrison on Action, a reinvention of the Firestorm mythos, and a lovely Robotman story in My Greatest Adventure. But then you've got the Green Lanterns and their played-out War of Light, Batman Inc. largely untouched, and Blue Beetle rebooted just so the same old stories can be told. And then you have some awful stuff like the Titans played as X-Force, thin and sexy Amanda Waller, and Billy Batson acting like a grade-a a-hole. Most of the reboots are tweaks that could have been arrived with without world-shaking events. Some show an obvious misunderstanding of what makes the character interesting and misidentifying of what its problems were. Fewer still actually create something new from the components of the old, while retaining the something iconic about the characters.
-Either to copy what they think the better-selling Marvel Universe was about, Image influences that stole wholesale from the MU, or more likely Bob Harras' philosophy, there's definitely a sense that the DCU has been Marvelized. The population mistrusting heroes is right out of X-Men. Heroes fighting each other for no reason steals a bazillion pages from Stan Lee. Frequent crossovers between books. Fewer of DC's fictional cities in favor of real places. Various secret organizations vying to be the next SHIELD. Bat and GL franchises treated like X- and Avengers franchises. It's probably why I like DC Dark so much - it's one of the things that feels most DC because Marvel never successfully tapped into that tone, and consequently never got its own version of Vertigo going.
-And of course, the other thing Harras and the golden boys of 90s Image are bringing with them is: The 90s. Now if only all anti-heroes with guns were like the weird and wonderful Frankenstein! Vertigo was a product of the 90s, so that gives us DC Dark, for which I'm thankful. It also gives us over-designed costumes on "heroes" with swords and guns, steeped in gore. At its best, it gave us gray moral areas like L.E.G.I.O.N. and John Ostrander's Suicide Squad. At it's worst, Punisher and Wolverine clones galore. Between Deathstroke, Grifter, Glass' Squad, Red Hood and Red Lanterns, guess which category I think nuDC falls into.
-For purposes of comparison, I am enthusiastic about 11 Marvel books and read 5 others, and am enthusiastic about 10 books from other companies and read another 10. (Oh yeah, and I enthusiastically read 4 non-nu52 books published by DC, all Vertigo; the number would grow only slightly if I threw in series I only read in trade.)

How about you? What's DC's scorecard at the end of their First Wave?

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm posting anonymously so I can say this: I've been getting every single issue of every DC New 52 comic via bittorrent, hot off the piratubes, and they're all sitting on my computer waiting for me to read them. And even that way, at zero cost to myself, I can't be bothered to read most of them. I used to collect bucketloads of comics, including every issue of some crossovers, which is why I feel I can justify this little experiment in "piracy": DC, I bought every single Bloodlines crossover; you owe me more than you can ever repay!

I loved Resurrection Man in the original series, but the new one drags interminably and makes very little sense. I've been a Legion fanboy for years, but the latest re-unboot was a nostalgiawank too far for me, so I haven't been bothered to keep up with LL or LSH. And I think the best reboot of any property in comics history was John Byrne's Man of Steel in 1986, so the fact that they've done it again without any charm or skill makes it all the more bitter for me. Oddly, I enjoyed Supergirl enough to read the first six or seven issues, but it started to pall once the interchangeable nineties-refugee aliens showed up.

I'm old enough to be disappointed by the Crisis on Infinite Earths, when they rebooted some characters (Superman and Wonder Woman, basically) but left most unchanged. I was adamant that they should have done a full reboot then. Now they've finally done it, except for the GL and BatFamily books of course because presumably they thought it would increase sales of movie tie-ins (ha!), and it's an incompetent mess. Big fail, big big fail.

Siskoid said...

I'm not judging Anon. And I don't want the thread to become about piracy either.

I've felt the same about Res Man - it's certainly missing the boat by not having the powers be any interesting - but can we call the experiment a failure? Critically, sure (if we're the two critics). Financially, which is all the publishers care about presumably, it hasn't been.

That's probably why Harras was brought onboard. His time at Marvel was likewise marked by flooding of the market with low quality work (I still think nuDC is better than 90s Marvel) and he got a nice profitable market share out of it. DC wanted to get into the Top 10 and it has. Marvel is still outselling them overall though.

I, of course, don't believe you should run a business like this like a competition. You're not actually selling the same product. Or are you?

snell said...

There's definitely something missing from the nu52...some sense of a coherent universe.

There's little feeling of exactly what the nuDc Earth actually *is*. There's little sense that, crossovers aside, Red Hood takes place in the same world as OMAC or Green Arrow or Flash. As good (or not?) as some of the mags are, there is little connective tissue in the nu52 tying things together.

A lot of that comes down to editorial. No one seems willing (or able) to tell Geoff Johns that his JL characterizations seem completely disassociated from the rest of the nu52. There is also little effort being made to put small touches into the stories, like a newspaper headlines or fragment of a news broadcast or other bits of fun, calling out stuff going on in other mags, making it *feel* liked a shared universe. For all the desperate emulation of Marvel and Image 1990s, the nu52 sorely needs some Marvel 60 & 70...

notintheface said...

I still like Resurrection Man, but I've got to agree about the lack of creativity in the powers. In the New 52 series, it seems like Mitch has gotten electrical powers more often than the entire African-American superhero community combined.

Other than the Dark books, there seems to be an underlying cynicism and lack of a sense of wonder, particularly in many of the superhero books, which is a HUGE problem. Take the most recent JL issue. Johns apparently thought that showing scene after scene after scene of the League being d--ks to Ollie Queen was more entertaining than showing a battle with AN UBER-POWERFUL KILLER ROBOT WITH THE POWERS OF THE JUSTICE LEAGUE.

DC also seems hell-bent on closing off as many interesting storytelling avenues as they can. Batman has had 4-5 Robins and the Earth has had 4 active GL's in 5 years, but in that same time frame the main League has only had ONE NEW MEMBER???

They also sometimes seem to forget
that they're DOING a reboot. Johns is flashing back to DCnU Aquaman's adventures with his first super-team when we've barely seen him with his CURRENT super-team. And the first story arc on SUPERMAN was predicated on "this isn't how Clark normally acts" before they'd even ESTABLISHED how DCnU Clark normally acts.

When you're launching a "Hail Mary" like a companywide reboot, you should put WAY more thought into it than DC did.

Matthew Turnage said...

My New 52 buying hasn't changed much since the second month of the relaunch. There were some series I wanted to read the first issue but didn't really intend to continue with, for financial reasons if nothing else (Batman, Detective, Batgirl, JLI). Of the ones I put on my pull list, I've only dropped Green Arrow. It only made it on my list for the Jurgens/Perez art, but once both were gone at #6 I had no reason to continue with the book. I was also getting OMAC up to its cancellation.

Justice League #9 could very well be my last issue of that title. We'll see how Johns and Lee do with the start of their second arc.

I'll be adding Earth 2 on a trial basis, and World's Finest will certainly be a regular read.

I'll still be getting all 4 Superbooks and the 2 Legion titles no matter what, but I have enjoyed most of them (Action is the only one I'm really enthusiastic for, but I don't hate any of them). I'm still getting all 4 GL books, although I'm wavering a bit on GLC. Still getting Savage Hawkman, we'll see what Liefeld has planned. Fury of Firestorm is picking up a little, so I'm holding on to that one. I have enjoyed Aquaman, so that one's not going anywhere.

Final tally for me leaves 14 of the first wave still on my list, with one of those very much on the bubble and another heading that way. I'll be adding 2 of the second wave, but one of those is on a 3 issue trial period.

Craig Oxbrow said...

With Cornell off Stormwatch I'm reading Demon Knights and nothing else. I plan to pick up Dial H for Mieville writing and Bolland covers, doubling my current investment.

Admittedly even one book is infinitely more than I'm getting from Marvel at the moment. (I'd jump at a consistent Marvel Movieverse series by creators I like.)

Current winner is Dark Horse, with Buffy and Angel & Faith, and Hellboy when he comes back, and the odd Star Wars miniseries.

Anonymous said...

I admit I feel a lot of the potential of the reboot has been squandered. In my mind, you do a reboot to clean up missteps, not to restart for the sake of restarting. Basically, put as many characters as you can in a good position so they can be used as creative teams need.

Blue Beetle didn't need a reboot at all -- he'd pretty much just hit his stride -- and Superboy was also at a good status quo. "Wonder Woman" rebooted very very nicely, I'll give it that. "Action Comics" may well have hit a lull now that Superman is apparently the established idol of millions.

The the comics I'm most enjoying are "Batman", "Batman and Robin" (at least read the reviews on #8 to see if it was worth the wait), "Nightwing", "Green Lantern Corps", "Animal Man", and "Swamp Thing". No reboot needed for any of those.

And of course, we're still missing the legacy heroes, and I'm not pleased about that. While I am glad that Barry Allen is finally finally being written well, there's no reason Wally West has to disappear to make it happen. Here's hoping DC's got a plan to fix that.

As for the renumbering that accompanied the reboot, that did serve a useful purpose: it informed readers that now's the time to jump on and explore new comics. I'm reading more Bat-books than I ever did in my life, and the renumbering helped with that. (Of course, the renumbering was entirely symbolic, but symbols help once in a while.)

Siskoid said...

I agree with you Anon. The renumbering was a useful marketing tool (though I'd like at least Action and Detective to get split numbering after the first year, like 12/912 or whatever), and that DC made a good move for themselves in the short term. It's the lack of forethought about the long term that will end up killing them.

googum said...

OMAC and Static Shock got cancelled out from under me. (Their days were probably numbered once I started reading them, since I'm a harbinger of cancellation.) I'm down to Demon Knights, and I'm not sure how much longer for that. I got My Greatest Adventure as well; but I don't think that sold great.

I did read the first six or so issues of Batman at the library the other day: eh.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

Siskoid, I picked up Earth 2 and World's Finest today. I'd like your take on both and how you think they fit together. I enjoyed Dial H very much, and I started liking the artwork as I got further along. Great work. If you don't plan to talk about E2 and WF in a regular post, I really am curious as to your thoughts.

Best,

Wayne

Siskoid said...

Read one and not the other as yet, but I really liked Earth-2 (as my tweeted review reveals). There may be a post in it, yes.

CalvinPitt said...

I started out buying Grifter, Suicide Squad, and Resurrection Man. I dropped Grifter after 4 issues (liked the concept, but too little advancement and none of the characters interested me), Suicide Squad after 3 (only that many because I didn't want to stick my store with books I specifically ordered).

I was enjoying Res Man more the first few issues. I liked him being pursued by all sides of the afterlife. You're right about his powers, but I guess that doesn't bother me much in terms of my enjoyment.

I added Green Arrow when Nocenti took over (wish she had a different artist), added Batman Beyond Unlimited for Norm Breyfogle (bonus, the JL story is more interesting than I expected, but Krul/Porter's mopey Superman is a waste of pages). I added Dial H to my pull, but it'll be a few weeks before I get my books.

I was buying 3 books (Batgirl, Secret Six, Batman Beyond) before the relaunch, 4 if you go back to spring when REBELS was still going. I'd rank Batgirl ahead of everything, pre- or post-relaunch, and the other 3 titles well ahead of Grifter or Suicide Squad.

 

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