Not Everything's a Winner1 of 12With Villains month concluded and the official 24th issues of the New 52 series that debuted two years ago, we took a look back at The Biggest Surprises of the reboot. Some of those were good, some were bad, but they were all things that we didn't quite have an explanation for.
Today, we give voice to the dissenters,and get our grumpy old man on. Here’s the 10 things Newsarama staffers, freelancers, and Best Shots reviewers came up with that that we don’t think are be bees’ knees of the New 52.
And don't get us wrong - the image we used isn't because that book is bad - Animal Man is one of our collective favorites, for sure, but the image of crying blood was too good to not use for this countdown.
Continuity v. Accessibility2 of 12One of the seeming chief reasons behind DC's "New 52" re-launch was to create a jumping on point for new readers who were often "shut out" by the burden of continuity and a lack of background knowledge of the heroes. It's a real problem mainstream comics face, and the New 52 looked like a viable – albeit controversial – move to bring in new readers. One the major impediments to keeping new readers, however, is the overreliance on company-wide crossovers.
Although there are some titles, such as Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's Batman that continue to deliver stand-alone stories, many other series haven’t taken this approach. And even stories originating in the Batman series regularly branch out to the other Bat Family titles (Night of Owls, Death of the Family and now Zero Year). Rise of the Third Army saw four Green Lantern titles roped into the overall storyline while Trinity War and now Forever Evil are roping in even more titles into their respective arcs. But it's not just story-related crossovers creating a potential strain on readers.
Over the past two years, DC has cancelled lower performing series in favor of titles featuring already established characters, such as Batman/Superman or the multiple Justice League affiliated titles. With so many crossovers, however, DC is potentially burdening readers with the same problem they originally set out to fix. Now, instead of having to go back and read old issues to catch up, one has to buy multiple current titles to keep up with one's favorite stories and characters and the result is the same.
What’s in the box? Oh...3 of 12The New 52 began as a mystery, one that many readers were excited to unravel. In the final pages of Flashpoint, a mysterious woman in red appeared to instruct Barry Allen on how to make the fractured timelines “become one again”. Then she has a cameo in every #1 issue, carrying on a tradition of an enigmatic otherworldly presence being around to witness great cataclysms and shifts in continuity. Breaking records by being the first character to make 53 appearances in one month, something even Wolverine has been unable to achieve (so far), she had all the potential of being a Watcher or a Monitor to help shape the direction of the New 52.
But it turns out the woman known as Pandora and her skull-shaped box didn’t hold the answers to the mysteries of the new 52. It just contained a lot more mysteries, like a reverse Russian nesting doll, with every layer opening up even bigger questions and providing fewer answers. It simply led readers to the next event, one in which Pandora is yet to be seen as relevant. It seems that in the New 52, doorways are forever being opened, with perhaps even DC themselves not aware of what they will find on the other side.
Putting Lipstick on a Czarnian4 of 12Sometimes there's no hiding yuck. Case in point: Some of DC's less-praised redesigns. The once-brawny, battle-ready Lobo was met with fan ridicule when his sleek, svelte jumpsuit hit the Web, as Kenneth Rocafort took a fashion-forward - or sartorially suspect - new take on the Last Czarnian. This redesign was such a departure that even one-shot writer Marguerite Bennett said she "respectfully disagreed" with DC's decision to release the artwork, saying that neither Rocafort's design nor Aaron Kuder's cover accurately represented interior artist Ben Oliver's interpretation of the character.
Yet Lobo isn't the only recent DC redesign that has raised some eyebrows. DC's new take on Katana has also been lacking in the coherency department, particularly since her characterization hasn't progressed much deeper than her redesigned samurai jumpsuit outfit. (She talks to her sword, which possesses the spirit of her late husband.) Well... actually, the real entity inside Katana's sword was the Creeper, a yellow-green-and-red Japanese demon who possesses people's bodies, in a malevolent rip off of Deadman. These aren't DC's only foul-ups in the redesign department - Zatanna and Suicide Squad were so last year - but there's no putting any lipstick on these Czarnian swine.
Limited Room for Growth5 of 12The flip side of DC’s willingness to try new titles is that no matter how much cult appeal a particular character may have, they still must move enough copies of their book every month. It’s not optional when the company business plan involves publishing exactly fifty-two regular books every month, leaving no room for struggling titles.
This can lead to some fan backlash, especially when it’s felt that the character hasn’t been given a proper chance or opportunity. A good example is Static Shock, featuring a popular Milestone character who even had a television cartoon at one point. The series floundered and it was one of the first cancellations in the New 52. There was outrage, controversy, and sniping between the creators involved in the comic, but ultimately it was the bottom line - poor sales - that doomed Static Shock. The same has been true for the past two years, as DC periodically culls the herd of the poor performers and replaces them with new ideas.
While this has led to a line heavy with books featuring Batman/Superman/Green Lantern characters, ultimately, it’s the market deciding which comics stay in the mix, and not even a name brand is safe (see Justice League International, which was cancelled after 12 issues and featured Batman). It hurts when your personal favorite loses out, putting business realities on this list of the downside of the New 52.
No Hope for Hope6 of 12In this era of “grim and gritty,” you’d think you’d be able to look to the heroes for a little bit of hope, but that seems to have gone the way of the old universe, even two years into this reboot. There are a couple of exceptions (Flash has kept a notably lighter tone despite serious subjects), but the rule seems to be: abandon all hope, ye who read DC Comics.
It’s the little things – the young heroes are all as angry and dark as their adult counterparts, characters like Billy Batson/Shazam are instantly corrupted, and even Superman (more on him later) doesn’t seem to be a shining beacon anymore.
In fact, SPOILER ALERT FOR Green Lantern: New Guardians: Hope has literally died in the DC Universe, with all but one Blue Lantern being obliterated on-panel, and the blue power battery wiped out – it was like a metaphor for the entire publishing line, presented unironically on the printed page.
We’re all for drama and action and devastating emotion, but let in a little sunshine every once in awhile, too, will you?
Legion Lost... Literally7 of 12The Legion of Super-Heroes came into the “New 52” strong with not one but two titles with Legion of Super-Heroes and Legion Lost, but two years later, both were cut down and unceremoniously cut out of “New 52” continuity all together. The team was last seen beaten down by the Fatale Five and sent off to retirement, with a passing reference by one of the characters saying that the “New 52” Legion wasn’t from the primary continuity, but from a future of Earth 2. While it might be intended as a way to give a clean slate to the creators on Justice League 3000, the dismissal of the Legion's place in DC's main Earth history (and the New 52) comes off as the publisher shunting off the team as it brought the title to a close. And it's particularly disheartening for fans of the Legion.
Superman the Anti-Hero?8 of 12Ask a person on the street what Superman means to them, and you’re likely to hear “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.” For nearly seventy-five years, Superman has been a pillar of idealism for both comics fans and those with only a casual interest in the medium. The New 52 Superman is a drastic change that hasn’t been for the better.
While some could argue that Superman’s old persona was boring and outdated (“the Big Blue Boy Scout” isn’t just a term hurled at him by his comic book enemies), changing his character to one of an angry young man carries with it dangerous implications. Grant Morrison wanted to get Superman back to his vigilante roots, but instead of it feeling like righteous anger, the tone of Superman as he’s written in the New 52 is almost bullying. He’s gone from being humble (perhaps a bit too much at times) to haughty, ready to blast and bash his way out of everything. There’s no subtlety or nuance now.
Part of what made Superman a hero was his restraint. He could have the world doing his bidding, but instead, he serves humanity. This Superman doesn’t possess that quality, and one wonders why a being so powerful lacking that superhuman moral center doesn’t just snap. There have been a lot of great things about the New 52, but changing Superman’s personality wasn’t one of them.
Inconsistent Continuity9 of 12Building a world that combines the legacy of the old DCU with the New 52 can’t be an easy task. That doesn’t excuse the blatant editorial gaffs that have plagued the New 52 almost from the start, however. We’re not talking about timeline issues (like how Batman has had four Robins and counting in only six years), either. These are mistakes that range from indecision to a lack of checking to see what’s happening in a book being published simultaneously.
An early instance of this was the confusing status of the Martian Manhunter. He states in an issue of Stormwatch that he is also a member of the Justice League, but later it becomes clear this is not the case, with no explanation given. More recently, Greg Pak’s Batman/Superman shows Bruce and Clark meeting for the first time as part of an epic story involving parallel universes and Darkseid. This appears to completely contradict the first Justice League arc on multiple levels, not the least of which is that Bruce should have known about Apokolips tech when he’s talking to Green Lantern. Two Face is in two places at once in the Forever Evil story, meeting the Scarecrow in Arkham according to Forever Evil #1 but attacking him on a Gotham rooftop in Batman and Robin 23.1
These are not nitpick-level errors, like “Jimmy Olsen has a Cannon camera in one comic and a Fuji in the other.” Problems like these bring up questions in the reader’s mind, especially when they happen in the same week, and mar the reading experience of the New 52.
Extending the Price-Parity Timeline on Digital10 of 12Shortly after DC announced the relaunch, they revealed that the New 52 would have a same day digital distribution, as well. With digital comics only a burgeoning horizon in 2011, this was a big deal. While the digital versions weren’t cheaper than its physical counterpart at launch, the digital price dropped $1.00 four weeks after release. That was a relatively short wait for fans that didn’t want to spend $2.99 to $4.99, depending on the issue. Ultimately, it was an incentive to buy for those who prefer digital or a reader looking to get back-issues.
With little to no heads up to DC digital readers, as of May 1, 2013 the date of the price-drop on previous issues went from four weeks after release to eight weeks. What? Why?
DC’s digital pricing still remains competitive, but considering there is nowhere near the amount of overhead on digital issues as compared to print - this decision is discouraging. The stories in comics come and go like the wind. Being able to get previous issues at a discounted price while the content is still relevant was a perk. Now, that perk is a lot less perky.
Constant Creator Shifts11 of 12Creators come and go from comic titles all the time, but the “New 52” ushered in an unusual number of sudden creator departures based on “creative differences” with DC editors.
First came John Rozum quitting Static Shock and J.T. Krul leaving Green Arrow. Then came quick exits by New 52 architects like George Perez, Ron Marz, Fabian Nicieza and Sterling Gates. High-profile departures got fans talking when DC executive Karen Berger left her long-time post at Vertigo, and when Gail Simone was let go from Batgirl in December of last year (although she was put back on the book soon after, thanks in part to fan outcry).
In 2013, the list of creators leaving unexpectedly grew, with Andy Diggle saying goodbye to Action Comics before he even began, and Joshua Hale Fialkov doing the same with Red Lanterns and Green Lantern Corps.
When DC announced it was pulling Jim Zubkavich from writing Birds of Prey before his first issue came out, writer Nick Spencer (T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents) said: “[T]he way DC treats a lot of their freelancers is absolutely abhorrent... When it happened to me on Supergirl, I didn’t say much, because I didn’t want to dwell on the negative. But when you see it happen to so many good people, and the damage it does to their careers, their incomes, etc…It’s just not okay."
Last month in an interview with iCV2, DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio said the creative shuffle is being blown out of proportion and is “a little bit less in the last decade than its ever been." His Co-Publisher Jim Lee said it’s the “normal course of business."
But from where we sit, with Kevin Maguire just recently being taken off Justice League 3000, James Robinson leaving Earth 2 somewhat unceremoniously, and J.H. Williams III and Haden Blackman leaving Batwoman, it looks like DiDio and Lee might want to make a change in the way freelancers are being handled by editorial.
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