But with the rebooted universe — titled by DC as the "New 52" — heading into its third year, there have been a few changes in direction that are becoming more and more obvious. With DC's recent announcements during New York Comic Con, and the company's continuing revelations about what's coming in 2014, we've noticed a few notable trends.
And with Geoff Johns insinuating more changes on the horizon, as well as hints from the company about new characters and upcoming events and weeklies, we thought it would be worth highlighting how the New 52 has evolved.
When the reboot line-up was first introduced, the titles were divided into "families," or categories. There was, not surprisingly, groupings for the Justice League books, the Batman books, and the Superman books. There was also a group known as "Green Lantern," since the franchise had become so successful since its Geoff Johns-led rebirth in 2005.
But the other three groups were perhaps a little less expected — "Young Justice," for DC teen heroes; "The Edge," for books that have more of a gritty feel to them; and "The Dark," which usually deals with the supernatural.
Recently, DC has quietly stopped featuring its "families" when it releases its solicitations. The Young Justice books dwindled down to having only one ongoing left (Teen Titans). Many of the Edge and Dark books that launched in 2011 haven't fared well, but DC has at least replaced a few of them with other, comparably "edgy" and "dark" books.
The lack of teen-focused, "in continuity" books at DC is apparently on the company's radar. When a fan at October's New York Comic Con asked about the possibility of Young Justice TV characters coming into the New 52 — and about a re-expansion of the teen hero comic lineup at DC — the response from the DC was "a simple 'yes,' which drew applause from the crowd."
The new weekly series Batman: Eternal is also promising a focus on young characters within the Bat-universe. James Tynion IV is writing a story that brings former Robin Tim Drake closer to the Bat-family, and he's confirmed that a New 52 version of Stephanie Brown is part of the story. "[I] have a deep affinity for the younger characters of the DCU," Tynion told Newsarama about his story for the weekly. "The Bat-family has always been my favorite characters — the Robins in particular. In Batman: Eternal, I get the chance to explore them in this series, in a very 'Gotham' story, that brings them all together in a big, new way. I really think it's going to be incredible."
And to be fair, there are a few out-of-continuity books from DC that feature young adult or teen characters — like Batman Beyond Universe, The Vampire Diaries and Scribblenauts Unmasked.
But a glance at the titles being promised for 2014 also indicates that while some groups might be fading or evolving, others are most certainly growing.
It's Superman and Batman, Stupid
One of the more noticeable differences in the current New 52 — when compared to the 2011 line-up — is that there are more comics with the words "Super" and "Bat" in them.
When DC rebooted its universe in 2011, the Superman and Batman families combined for 15 titles.
In February 2014, Superman and Batman — or members of their "family" — will combine for 23 titles. (And if we count Worlds' Finest, since Batman and Superman themselves are going to be featured during the title's crossover with Batman/Superman next year, the number becomes 24.)
That growth in Batman and Superman ongoings doesn't tell the whole story, because the biggest increase isn't really in family members. The biggest increase comes from Batman and Superman themselves starring in more comics.
In September 2011, Superman and Batman were lead characters in a total of six in-continuity comics (not counting the team books in which they appeared.)
In February 2014, Superman and Batman are the lead characters in a total of nine in-continuity comics. And in spring 2014, DC will launch the weekly Batman: Eternal series, meaning four additional in-continuity Batman comics every month for a total of 13 Bat/Supes-led titles — more than double what it was when the New 52 was young.
February's solicitations also prove the power of simply using the words "Batman" and "Superman. "A comic about Lois Lane is called Superman: Lois Lane, and a comic about a young villain in Gotham is called Batman: Joker's Daughter.
Of course, it doesn't require a degree in rocket science to figure out that Batman and Superman titles sell extremely well for DC, and that's motivating the renewed focus on those characters. And even the most casual comic book reader will tell you that a "Batman" book is going to outsell a "war" comic.
But if it's common knowledge, then why didn't DC go that route in the first place? Did they really think they'd succeed with a war title? Or was it more about trying some different ideas?
It was probably an effort to use the high-profile New 52 event to get more eyes on their lesser-known characters for awhile. And to be fair, it worked remarkably well for some of the company's supposedly "C-level" characters, whose titles have stood the test of time — Animal Man and Swamp Thing being the most obvious long-lasters.
But one group of characters that haven't been a hit in the New 52 are the WildStorm and Milestone characters, which DC folded into its mainstream universe upon the reboot. Although former Vertigo characters are still doing OK, the early loss of titles like Grifter and Static Shock indicated that DC readers perhaps weren't willing to adopt WildStorm and Milestone characters. And while Stormwatch is technically still being published, it undersells comics that are already being canceled.
But who knows? Maybe the rumored Five Years Later jump will see the WildStorm characters taking over the whole universe, and maybe we'll see more focus on them in the promised upcoming weekly.
Round and Round We Go
There's also been an evolution that seems to favor new ongoings over new mini-series. Right after the reboot, DC announced a few mini-series — The Ray seemed to attempt a Freedom Fighters revival, while Huntress set-up the introduction of Earth 2. Since then, the mini-series from DC have been more sporadic, with a few more Freedom Fighters stories, some character spotlights, and a well-publicized "what if"-type Damian Wayne story.
Of course, there are also the current Forever Evil minis, which tie into a high-profile event at DC.
But that doesn't mean DC characters aren't getting "limited" stories. Everything from the space-based heroes in Threshold to the quirky world of Dial H could have been told within limited series. But they were given ongoings in the New 52.
In fact — outside the ongoing titles related to Batman, Superman and Green Lantern (which are selling well and clearly sticking around) — many of DC's other "ongoing" comics haven't actually been very ongoing. The original New 52 list of in-continuity comics included 33 ongoing titles that didn't relate to Supes, Bats or Lanterns. Only 12 of those are still around.
DC's "Second Wave" in May 2012 included six comics, of which two are still around. The Third Wave in September 2012 had four titles, of which two are still around. The Fourth Wave in January through March 2013 included five comics, with one already canceled (Threshold), two ending in December (Vibe and Katana), and one changing its name and focus in 2014 (Justice League of…). This summer's Fifth Wave of new titles are still hanging on, with six new comics, although one has already been canceled (Green Team).
Return to Weeklies
Recent evidence has also pointed toward DC's renewed interest in weekly series. While the digital series they offer have increased since the New 52 began — and some of those utilize a weekly format — the print weeklies haven't officially been utilized. (And the reason we say "officially" is because technically, it could be said that the four Green Lantern titles are a pseudo weekly, particularly as often as they cross over. And the same could be said of Superman titles during crossover, or Batman titles.)
We already know that DC is launching the weekly Batman series Batman: Eternal in spring 2014. DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio recently stated that there were "other weeklies," including the still-not-officially-announced Five Years Later.
Once both of those series launch, that means retailers would be stocking two weekly comics from DC each Wednesday.
It's not clear how long that would continue, but DiDio's hints about "other weeklies" (note: plural weeklies) indicates there's a possibility for more.
Could the digital format of small weekly stories be influencing the evolution of the New 52?
Or is the revival of the weekly more related to the fact that readers are less patient than they used to be during the information age?
Whatever the reason behind the sudden DC interest in the weekly, it's clear that the next phase of the New 52 will include series that don't give readers much time between issues.
Change Come April
Our Newsarama interview with Geoff Johns this week also exposed the fact that the New 52 is going to continue to evolve.
"Come April, the DC Universe will be a very different place leading into and throughout 2014," Johns said. "The first phase of the New 52 is drawing to a close and as Forever Evil wraps up [in March 2014], a new phase begins — one that will see the introduction, and re-introduction, of a lot of characters, concepts and a decidedly new center to the DC universe."