One Year of DC's the NEW 52: The 10 Best Things

<i>by Vaneta Rogers, Newsarama Contributor and <a href=http://www.twitter.com/graemem>Graeme McMillan, Newsarama Contributor</a></i> <p>15 months since the announcement. Twelve issues in. Ten canceled titles, ten new ones to replace. Several creative team shifts, a handful of mini-series, lots of new and changed characters, and <i>still</i> no Wally West sightings. <p>We're now days away from the first anniversary of the launch of the New 52. Beginning on Aug. 31, 2011, with the publication of <i>Justice League #1</i>, a new era of superhero comics began, allowing for new readers, updated concepts, and leaner back-stories to make these tales easier to navigate. <p>This week, as we recognize the one-year marker of its publication debut, we'll focus on how the New 52 has affected the reading experience. Tonight, Newsarama takes a look at what has gone right over the first 12 months of this daring initiative, declaring the 10 Best Things about the New 52. <p>Click through the list by pressing "Start Here" in the upper right hand corner, and head to Twitter and Facebook to tell us <i>your</i> favorite thing. <p><i>Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's <a href=http://www.facebook.com/Newsarama><b>FACEBOOK</b></a> and <a href=http://twitter.com/newsarama><b>TWITTER</b></a>!</i> <p> <p>

ARTISTS TURNED WRITERS

When DC announced the New 52, several names that showed up under the title "writer" were people previously known for their art. In September 2011, it became clear that DC was utilizing the relaunch to give artists the chance to try out writing. <p>While not all the artists-turned-writers have worked out as well as we'd like, we've been surprised by some of the results. While we always knew J.H. Williams was an innovative artist, he's proven his writing skills working with Haden Blackman on <i>Batwoman</i>. And the combination of Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul on <i>The Flash</i> has helped redefine the way comics are read, as they rely heavily on their art to explain what's usually spelled out in captions. <p>We're betting there are more writing stars within the ranks of comics' artists, and that DC has opened the door for more of them to try it out.

A BEST-SELLING AQUAMAN TITLE (NO, REALLY)

Before the reboot, Wonder Woman and Aquaman had a tough time getting much respect, whether in the DC Universe or in the sales charts. <p>They are two of DC's most iconic and well-known characters, but the company struggled to sell a solo title featuring either one of them. <p>For the relaunch, DC approached the two characters in unlikely ways. Fan-favorite creative team Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis revamped <i>Aquaman</i> by embracing the humorous dismissal of the character and turning it on its head. And for Wonder Woman, DC let Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang not only keep all those crazy gods around, but embrace the horror side of their story. <p>Results? Wonder Woman is consistently selling well for the first time in years, and Aquaman broke into the Top 10. Talk about respect.

GRANT MORRISON ON SUPERMAN

For years, it seemed like an idea whose time would never come. After the near-miss of <a href=http://site.supermanthrutheages.com/History/2000/>Superman 2000</a> and the majesty of <a href=http://www.dccomics.com/graphic-novels/absolute-all-star-superman>All Star Superman</a>, Grant Morrison writing an ongoing Superman series seemed to be something that would never happen especially considering that his hands were full redefining Batman's world on a seemingly bi-annual basis. The New 52 changed that, however, not only giving Morrison <i>Action Comics</i>, but also a chance to recreate the origins of the Man of Steel as he saw fit. <p>The result was a younger hero who wears his heart on his sleeve a little bit more openly, who isn't quite the spokesman for the status quo (and especially the legal system) that he once was, and whose monthly adventures now go through time and into other realities when necessary. <p>Morrison's reborn Superman isn't the breathless Easter egg-filled pop culture love letter that his <i>Batman Incorporated</i> is, nor is it the stately epic that was <i>All-Star Superman</i>, but something in between; not only one of the best of The New 52 lineup month-in and month-out, but arguably the best a monthly Superman title has been in decades. <p>Now that the <a href="http://blog.newsarama.com/2012/07/24/grant-morrison-plans-upcoming-action-comics-batman-incorporated-exits/">writer has revealed he's leaving the title after issue #16</a>, we should enjoy this benefit of the New 52 as long as we can.

THE RETURN OF EARTH 2

Despite the promise of exploring the multiverse more following <i>Infinite Crisis</i> (and before that, <i>The Kingdom</i>), the pre-New 52 DC Universe could never quite bring itself to fully embrace its "Infinite Earths." Sure, we had the <i>Justice Society of America</i> jump across and <i>Countdown: Arena</i> played the analogues off against each other, but for the most part, it was as if Earths 2 through 52 just didn't exist. <p>No longer; not only do we have Power Girl and Huntress trapped in worlds they never made every month in <i>Worlds' Finest</i>, but James Robinson and Nicola Scott get to show off their world-building skills by restoring the Justice Society as their world's greatest super-heroes in the ongoing <i>Earth-2</i> series. <p>It's not quite the 1980s heyday of Roy Thomas' <i>All-Star Squadron</i> and <i>Infinity Inc.</i>, but the future hasn't looked this good for DC's multiverse since 1985.

STELLAR BAT-BOOKS

While the Batman line of comics has been strong for a while -- evidenced by DC's reluctance to make sweeping changes to the character -- the relaunch seemed to make the good even better, while adding some much needed diversity to the line. They may not all be perfect all the time, but the Batman lineup includes some fantastic work -- and they're almost all among the best-selling titles in the DCU. <p>Proof that it's working: DC currently has five ongoing comics featuring Bruce Wayne in the lead, yet fans haven't really raised much of a stink. And they all sell well enough to land in the Top 25. <p>The Batman books are also doing the type of crossovers we like. With May's "Night of the Owls" and the upcoming "Death of the Family," readers don't have to buy all the Bat-books, but can sample from a truly diverse line that all utilizes the same backdrop. According to DC execs, it succeeded in increasing sales in May, and the approach added cohesion to a line that was already strong.

(ALMOST) NO MORE LATE COMICS

If there was one logistical problem that kept plaguing comics in the last decade, it was books shipping late. Some comics became running jokes because of frequent delays, but others were just pushed back here and there to the point that there were months where some of Marvel and DC's best-selling comics didn't ship at all. <p>Those missed sales not only hurt the publishers' bottom lines, but they hurt retailer sales and longer-term reader retention. <p>With The New 52, DC has had an impeccable record for not only shipping each title once a month, but usually doing it on the exact same week of the month. It's even more impressive when combined with the earlier deadlines necessary to meet digital publishing schedules. <p>While we're not a fan of the fill-ins currently required to keep the trains running on time, the "late" problem has been soundly defeated at DC since The New 52.

UP WITH DIVERSITY

For a line of superhero comics, The New 52 certainly tried some interesting variations on tried and tested formulas. Reclaimed Vertigo titles like <i>Swamp Thing</i> and <i>Animal Man</i> offered more horrific takes on the genre, while <i>Demon Knights</i>, <i>I, Vampire</i>, <i>Blackhawks</i>, <i>Men of War</i> and <i>All Star Western</i> stretched definitions even further. <p>In terms of lead characters, the line launched with a number of non-white straight male leads that suggested more than the usual lip service about diversity from mainstream superhero publishers. Even if the market didn't support the majority of the more diverse (in terms of character and genre) titles <i>Blackhawks</i>, <i>Men of War</i>, <i>Static Shock</i>, <i>Mister Terrific</i> and <i>OMAC</i>, all of which featured something other than "white male superhero punches white male supervillain," were five of the six titles cancelled with #8 DC should still be applauded for the attempt, if only in the hope that it'll lead them (and others) to do more in future. The new Green Lantern being of Arab descent is an intriguing continuation of the idea.

THE DIRECT MARKET COMES ALIVE

The New 52 certainly jump-started the direct market and, we suspect, the digital market too, although we don't have sales estimates to back that up as much as expected, if not moreso. Not only did DC's overall sales rise dramatically in September, but it turned out that the line about rising tides lifting all ships turned out to be true: Sales rose across the entire industry seemingly as a result of the relaunch. <p>Losing market share dominance for the first time in years seemed to put a spark back into Marvel, as well, with the publisher coming back with <em>Avengers Vs. X-Men</em>, an event that sparked sales, and the newly announced "Marvel NOW!" gradual relaunch initiative, promising multiple #1s over the coming months. <p>When it was first announced, critics derided The New 52 as a sales stunt. That may have been true, but it's a sales stunt that definitely worked.

SAME-DAY DIGITAL

Until The New 52, publishers and retailers alike were concerned that releasing digital versions of comic books on the same day they were available in print would hurt comic sales overall. While DC, Marvel and others had dabbled in same-day digital, there hadn't been a major move toward the practice. <p>That all changed in September 2011, when DC proved that there's still a substantial print-only audience even if there's a digital version available on the same day. While that may be altered over time as readers become more digital-savvy or the print audience ages that would have happened anyway. Because of The New 52 switch to same-day digital, a new digital audience that may have previously been unable to find a comic shop can now find timely comic books immediately.

THE UNIVERSE OPENS UP

The New 52's simplest success was the one that was built into it from the very start: In relaunching the line and restarting the universe, everyone started from the same place, and thoughts of rooting stories in hard-to-remember past continuity suddenly evaporated. Rebooting the universe despite the idea of a reboot being denied by DC ahead of time forced creators out of comfortably lazy positions and had them addressing whether the stories could work for brand new readers picking the book up for the first time. <p>Some creators took more advantage of the cold open than others Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang's <i>Wonder Woman</i>, for example, feels like a story that would have been impossible with the previous version of the character but merely having that potential there, and the question of whether or not their comics could succeed as a jumping-on point, resulted in some great work that surprised and succeeded better than many expected.

One Year of DC's the NEW 52: The 10 Best Things

Date: 29 May 2012 Time: 08:34 PM ET