It’s been interesting to watch the reactions since this ambitious endeavor was initially announced. At first, there was an equal mix of cynicism and enthusiasm. That tells us more about fandom- and humanity in general- than it does about DC. There will always be pessimists prepared to declare a new initiative the worst idea ever and optimists ready to hope for something brilliant.
Then there was an exaggerated mood of disappointment when the actual comics were announced as if some fans secretly hoped that the line-up would be designed individually for them. I remember one of Captain Comics’ great philosophies: “I don’t like wrestling and I have no interest in wrestling comics but I’m glad they make them because it means they’re making comics for more than just me.” Some of the new 52 titles that I’m least interested in are the ones that have other fans the most excited. Good. I wasn’t going to buy all 52 anyway.
I’ve also been intrigued by the way in which many fans have assessed the new 52 for how well the list has conformed to their own continuity checklist. In the long run, that’s not going to matter. The books will succeed based more on quality than whether or not the right character is wearing the Robin mask. After all, I was prepared to dislike the third Firestorm series because it didn’t star Ronnie Raymond. But Jason Rusch’s adventures were so good that I was persuaded he’s the better Nuclear Man.
Yet, without the actual books to talk about, it is fascinating to discuss how these books fit with our own personal notions.
I’ll admit that I was disappointed when I heard about the back-to-basics approach for Superman. I grew up with John Byrne’s Man of Steel. I liked having a Ma and Pa Kent around. And I had no objection to the idea that Superman wasn’t the first superhero. Like Babe Ruth or The Beatles, he didn’t have to be the first to be the best. So I didn’t like the idea that DC was returning to the Silver Age status quo. It struck me as a move backwards.
But then I thought about it a bit more. DC isn’t trying to get old Silver Age fans back. They’re trying to attract new fans. Those potential readers would know about Superman primarily through the long-running TV series Smallville. Jonathan Kent died during that series (and Martha too for all I know). Plus, Clark was the first hero who eventually inspired and assembled others. I realized this isn’t about the Silver Age; it’s about Smallville. That’s especially evident in Action Comics where a beginning Superman hasn’t even adopted a costume.
They’re still not the choices I would have made (I’ll miss you, Man of Steel) but now that I get what DC is trying to do, I’m much more likely to give this new continuity a chance (say hello, Man of Tomorrow).
I’ve never been a dedicated Batman reader. I’ve sampled Batman from time to time but there were always too many titles for me to become fully engrossed in the line. That hasn’t changed- and it’s not going to. However, I have been a big fan of some of his apprentice heroes. On that score, the new Batman line has both a hit and a miss.
As much as I enjoyed seeing Dick Grayson finally wear the mantle of the bat, I knew that it wasn’t going to last. So I’m glad that he’s landed gracefully on his feet, back in his own title as Nightwing.
On the other hand, I wasn’t happy that Barbara Gordon was going back to her Batgirl identity. Like a lot of fans, I liked Barbara as Oracle. She proved a lot more effective beating the bad guys with her mind. And she increased DC’s diversity as a handicapped character. Plus, I liked Stephanie Brown as Batgirl. She had earned it after long service as Spoiler and a short stint as Robin.
But then again, I wasn’t currently buying either Batgirl or Birds of Prey. And I’m intrigued enough by this new series that I’m planning on buying Batgirl. I want to see if DC can make it work, even if I think they shouldn’t have done it. I guess it’s another case of fans saying one thing with their keyboards and another with their wallets.
The Green Lantern line was one of DC’s most successful franchises. So they didn’t have to change a lot. They did anyway. I approve. I like that they’re being bold, rather than rightfully resting on their laurels.
Some of the changes are slight. Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner have traded places, but they’re still both Green Lanterns. Guy and John now share the lead in Green Lantern Corps (Guy had been the lead in Emerald Warriors). Kyle now takes over the third Green Lantern title as New Guardians replaces Emerald Warriors in the line-up.
Other changes are significant. Hal Jordan has been kicked out of the Green Lantern Corps. Sinestro has been bonded to a green ring against his will. And, at least initially, the new Green Lantern title will feature Sinestro instead of Hal. Is it permanent? Probably not. Is it interesting? Very.
They haven’t changed everything, of course. The color spectrum is still represented by other corps, and one of them now receives their own title. Although older fans claim to hate it, the other corps have been incredibly popular. Even Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory has been spotted wearing T-shirts from the other corps.
It’s nice to see Aquaman, Firestorm and Hawkman back in action. One of the reasons why I loved Brightest Day was that it resurrected so many of these older characters. Yet it was more than that. Brightest Day made them relevant again. I liked the new Aqualad. I liked that Jason and Ronnie now shared the Firestorm matrix. I could have skipped the Hawkman storyline, but at least he was alive again. I always hoped that they would get their own titles coming out of Brightest Day, just as Booster Gold got his own title coming out of 52. And now, my wish is granted. I’m especially pleased that they’re going forward with a combined Jason/Ronnie Firestorm. Their interaction has been a lot more interesting than any previous incarnation. I would have liked to see a Martian Manhunter title too but we’ll get to that later.
The Flash is the title that reminded me I have my own continuity checklist as much as anyone else. I like Wally West as the Flash and I’d be a lot more interested in this title if he was the lead instead of Barry.
The biggest continuity change comes in Justice League #1 as Cyborg replaces Martian Manhunter as a founding member of the team. I have no problem with that. I’ve been through enough ret-cons by now that I no longer bat an eye. Plus, my allegiance to both characters is about the same- they’re both safely in my top ten for DC heroes. I’m also intrigued by the new line-up in Justice League International. It’s nice to see one of the heroes from the Great Ten be integrated into the greater DC Universe, even if their own title didn’t sell well.
This section isn’t really for me. I’m ambivalent about whether or not the main characters belong in a separate Vertigo line or back in the DCU. I prefer a pseudo-Silver Age Animal Man with the cool orange costume to the warped Vertigo version. And I’ve never been interested in The Demon.
That’s okay, of course. I’m not the target audience for this and DC should be targeting multiple audiences. If this reinvigorates interest in Swamp Thing or provides some off beat cult hits like Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE or I, Vampire, that’s a good thing.
The one thing I like is the return of Resurrection Man. That was one of the underrated titles of the late ‘90s and it will be fun to get in on the beginning this time.
The big change here is the integration of the Wildstorm characters into the DC universe. I’ll lay my cards on the table: I’m all for it. I’ve read a lot of comments from people who are opposed to the idea. Some of them simply don’t like the Wildstorm characters. That’ s fine. You don’t have to read these titles if you don’t like them. But these characters have been around for 20 years now and, at a certain point, the complaints sound as ridiculous as old people criticizing rap music.
However, some Wildstorm fans have also opposed the idea. I’ve seen several suggest that the Wildstorm characters are better off on their own little world. I strongly disagree. They’ve been segmented off in their own little world for a long time and it hasn’t been a good thing. The last series was a great post-apocalyptic tale and it was practically ignored. The only way for these characters to become relevant again is for them to become part of the DCU.
I’ve heard similar arguments over the years about Captain Marvel, Plastic Man, Blue Beetle and the Freedom Fighters. “They’re fine in their own world but they don’t belong in the DCU.” I think it’s ridiculous. When SHAZAM had his out-of-continuity series in the ‘70s, it was quickly cut back to a bi-monthly and lasted 35 issues. The in-continuity series in the ‘90s lasted 47 issues. Ted Kord’s enduring popularity today has more to do with his appearances as part of the Justice League than with any of his solo series. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Plastic Man was given his first ongoing series in almost 40 years after joining the JLA.
The exposure is good for the Wildstorm characters. And though I’d rather see him in his own title, I’m fascinated by the idea of putting the Martian Manhunter in charge of Stormwatch.
I’m impressed that DC came up with a group name. This is a very disparate bunch. In terms of continuity, there are some backward steps, forward steps and corrected steps.
The backward step is Hawk & Dove. I’m one of the few people on this board who actually likes Rob Liefeld but even I’m disappointed by this class reunion. Why is DC intentionally trying to revive a minor hit from the late ‘80s? That seems like a bad idea. I’d much rather see Dove and her sister as Hawk than retread old ground.
The forward step is Static Shock. I know that some other observers think this is another backward step. After all, DC is reviving another ‘90s concept. But this isn’t a straight retread. They’re incorporating elements from the successful cartoon and building off of his recent appearances in Teen Titans. I’m intrigued by this new title and I hope it does well.
The corrected step is Blue Beetle. I can’t say that I was an avid fan of the previous series. I borrowed a couple of trades from the library after the series was already canceled. But it was very good. So this is a smart revival. DC could build on the positive reviews and the good will from the previous series.
There’s also a sideways step in the form of Legion of Superheroes. It certainly seems like the recently re-launched Legion is being re-launched again simply because everybody else is doing it. It’s essentially the same creative team and concept as before.
That’s my checklist. I know that it won’t match with everyone, or even anyone. We all have our own opinions about which character should bear which codename and which heroes should be in which team. Those opinions have been shaped by favorite stories and series of the past. Then again, it’s always possible that these new series could shape new opinions. After all, who would have thought in 1986 that they’d like a Justice League with Blue Beetle and Booster Gold?