It’s been close to five years since the famed reboot of the DC universe took the world by storm promising new beginnings for all characters and a more diverse group of books for the modern age. DC was basically asking established fans to ignore much of the last seventy plus years of history while telling new readers “You don’t need to worry about all that. It never really happened. Jump in!”
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Has the experiment worked for DC?
Yes and no. But I would lean more towards no. The initial excitement and curiosity made for a successful half a year. All you had to do was go into any comic shop looking for a new issue only to find none or be left with reprints. You certainly saw the diversity that DC was talking about with titles like I Vampire, Animal Man, Resurrection Man, Voodoo and many more.
But the excitement and bold moves soon turned to reality. As sales quickly dwindled many of those diverse books were on the chopping block. Mister Terrific, Hawk & Dove, and Static Shock barely made it to eight issues before being cancelled and it didn’t end there for a majority of the books.
Some characters certainly benefited from the reboot. Aquaman particularly saw his profile raised from Joke to badass. I’ve always loved the character but most of the general public did not share that love for him until the New 52 arrived. Wonder Woman is another character that rose to prominence again. The success of Animal Man is one that also surprised some.
When you begin to analyze the success of these books you wonder why did these books work but Mister Terrific, Static Shock and Hawk & Dove and others like them fail?
There are plenty of theories and no one has the clear cut answer, but here is my take on it.
Geoff Johns is one of the premier writers for DC so it’s a no brainer to me why Aquaman worked so well. It doesn’t hurt that he has a proven track record or reviving characters similar to Aquaman. The feat John’s accomplished with Green Lantern is something to behold. Throw in the brilliant art of Ivan Reis and it seems like a good bet to succeed.
Brian Azzarello was tasked with writing Wonder Woman with Cliff Chiang on art. Azzarello knocked it out of the park before with titles like 100 Bullets and the very successful JOKER and Luthor: Man Of Steel stories.
Jeff Lemire wasn’t exactly a household name when he came onboard with DC but he was well known in the indie circuit of comics. Travel Foreman provided excellent macabre art to go along with his equally dark and thrilling stories. Animal Man proved to be a success.
I won’t knock the creative teams on the other books (Except Rob Liefiled.) I won’t diminish their talent or abilities but I would argue that they don’t have the clout under their names like a Johns or an Azzarello. I was shocked to see Rob Liefield working with DC again. It’s no secret he does not have the best following these days. In fact he is one of the most divisive artists in the industry today. All you need to do is Google his name and the images that pop up will give you various examples of his “anatomically correct” art. Perhaps they wanted to give him a chance and hope that his past fame could help carry Hawk & Dove. Eight issues in and I think they received their answer. If this is the case, why would DC then allow him to helm Hawkman, Grifter, and Deathstroke? All three of which were cancelled by the way.
There are currently nineteen first wave titles left out of the original fifty-two launched in 2012. Most of which are the mainstays you would expect. To be honest a lot of the critical and finical acclaim belongs to an even smaller group (depending on what you hear and read.)
Then there’s Batman.
Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo were the creative team for Batman at the start of the New 52 and continue to be to this day, and they are doing amazing work with the character. I would say some of the most interesting and original stories out of the Bat universe in some time. The rest of the Bat titles are, for the most part, well received. Yet month after month they sell extremely well. One could argue it’s the character that’s the selling point not so much the quality. I think to a large extent they would be right.
DC seems to agree because there is an astonishing eleven titles featuring Batman or having Batman prominently in it. I didn’t even count Red Hood & the Outlaws, Harley Quinn, Grayson, & Batgirl into the mix.
The other part of the World’s Finest duo is Superman. Supes’s popularity has shifted in the last ten years but he still holds down six ongoing titles with him prominently in them.
Surely the saving grace is Green Lantern? The character that Geoff Johns resurrected for DC. So much so that its success spawned four more ongoing series coming from the same universe as G.L. Sadly DC will be cancelling three out of the four other Lantern titles in March. Those being Green Lantern Corps, Green Lantern: New Guardians & Red Lanterns. Sinestro’s ongoing series seems untouched for the moment.
With DC’s major event series “Convergence” on the way, it’s hard to say what the future will be. It seems DC is now saying that these different comic universes still exist and remain relevant and that the New 52 is only a part of a much bigger thing. It’s another experiment which maybear fresh or rotten fruit.
The biggest problem I see coming from DC’s camp is their reliance on the Dark Knight himself. We all love Batman. Hell, I LOVE BATMAN but he is falling into the same problem that Wolverine and Venom fell into during the nineties. Overexposure. You can’t rely so heavily on the character to the point that you ignore the rest. I know what you’ll say. “Batman sells and the others don’t”. Fair enough. I know I said that the character sells the book but consider the writers and artists working on Batman related books. Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Geoff Johns, Francis Manipul, Peter Tomasi, Gail Simone, J.H. Williams. The Bat books are enjoying a very fine roster of talent. Possibly the best DC has to offer if want to think of it that way. My question is, why not put the BEST talent on the lower or lowest tier character?
I think Grant Morrison working on Hawkman would be great. Francis Manipul could continue to reenergize the Flash, and Scott Snyder never should’ve left Swamp Thing. This is all wishful thinking, of course. The upper brass at DC certainly know more than I do but If they hope to stay relevant and compete with Marvel they have to embrace all that the DC catalogue has to offer and really go for it. If not, in ten years time you might as well call them Batman Comics not DC Comics.
Maybe things will be changing in the near future based on the solicitations coming from DC post “Convergence”. They are, once again trying to diversify their lineup with different flavors. I’m cautiously optimistic but skeptical at the same time because I’ve seen it before and I’m not fully convinced this will be any different. One can only hope.