30 Aug 2012

The Roundtable: The New 52 - One Year Later

A year ago tomorrow Justice League #1 was released, ushering in the reboot of the DC Universe called The New 52. We figured this was an anniversary we couldn’t let pass by without comment, and so we decided to have a little chat about how we felt about the whole thing a year on…

Matt C: One year and 12 issues later, it feels like a good time to look back and decide whether we consider DC's New 52 to be a success, a failure, or somewhere in between. Before the relaunch/reboot at the tail end of August 2011 I was massively enthusiastic about the whole idea, believing it would reinvigorate the entire line and provide an opportunity for readers to get in on the ground level, so to speak, and engage with characters they may have only experienced in a minimal capacity beforehand. I must have picked up 20 plus issue #1s during the first month, almost half of the initial output, and while I decided not to pursue all of them, I whittled my DC pull-list down to 13 titles, which seemed like a healthy figure to me. 12 months on, I'm down to 3 ongoing titles (Justice League, Batman, Flash) and as that essentially means that, give or take, I'm getting the same number of books as I was pre-New 52, is it just a case of me losing interest or could it mean that the whole reboot didn't quite have the lasting impact DC hoped for?

James R: For me, the New 52 has been business as usual. As a fan whose loyalty is split between Marvel and DC, before the relaunch I was still picking up a lot of DC titles, mainly Bat-books to boot. When the roster was announced, I went for creators rather than titles - the books written by Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder were must-buys, and there were a few that either looked stunning in the preview pages (All-Star Western) or just seemed novel (Justice League Dark). One year on, and I find myself in a similar spot - I've dropped some books (like the two previously mentioned) as they ran out of steam, and a couple run perilously close to being dropped after spectacular starts (Wonder Woman and Flash). As always though, as one door opens, another closes. When DC announced their ‘Second Wave’ I was immediately on board with Dial H as I love China Mieville. I think, in terms of industry, it has been as success for DC - just look at the sales charts - and I have friends who had been away from comics who were drawn back at the prospect of a fresh start... and they're still reading! In terms of quality, we seem to be where we were before - a handful of outstanding books and a whole lot of mediocrity. I know it takes different strokes to move the world, and I know there are people who adore what I think is so-so, but one year on I'd say the New 52 was a triumph of marketing, but not a brave new dawn for comics.

Stewart R: Unlike Matt and James, I was a little less enthused about the announcement of the New 52 when it rolled around; I'd only really been picking up a few Batman-related titles and most of the Green Lantern books in the previous three years and my greatest concern with such an audacious reboot was that my emotional investment to that point would count for naught moving forwards.  Bryan Q. Miller's Batgirl was the first casualty of the announcement and that had certainly left a bitter taste in the mouth.  I also wasn't quite as savvy with the vast 52-title creative line-up than my other PCG compadres, and I definitely only knew of some of the characters being given a second lease of life thanks to my love for DC's animated efforts.  Arguably, that limited experience left me in the position of sitting squarely in DC's marketing crosshairs as this would be a perfect sampling occasion and at $2.99 a pop could I really not afford to get in on the ground floor with this opportunity?  I went through the list of comics and selected a modest 14 books to look at during the first month and mentally stated that I would give each six issues' grace before making any harsh decisions.  Of course I'd based this on the standard 6-issue arc structure and my assumption soon came to prove a touch foolish in that respect.  I know you were a big Batman fan before the relaunch Tom, but how did you approach the news of the New 52 initiative and select from the titles on offer?

Tom P: That was the problem Stew, besides Flash, Batman was all I was getting! Countdown put me off DC for years, it was terrible and looking back it had destroyed my interest in them in a big way. I did get into Flashpoint - what a brilliant event - accompanied by a few fine miniseries. They turned out to be real highlights that year so I was very excited by it all. One thing I liked the idea of, being a big Authority and Planetary fan, was the introduction of the Wildstorm characters to the DCU. It was such a bold and unexpected move and I was buzzing with excitement! It's fair to say I've always picked up more Marvel than anything else except Batman books, because, well, Batman is awesome, so this was my chance to get out of the Batcave and into the DC comics universe. I always enjoyed DC more in miniseries or graphic novel form, things like All Star Superman, Red Son and The New Frontier, and it looks like that may still be the case. The ‘Wildstorm’ books turned out to be a real disappointment compared to the last DV8 series by Brian Wood and Rebekah Isaacs - the characters  and writing just didn't click, what a waste! I purchased 22 of the New 52 and ultimately only still read four titles.  One thing that bugged me is how many Batman books do you really need? I get he's a big draw, but c'mon! In my opinion Batman is the only Bat book you need to read. Justice League still survives and it's not half bad, but that's only still being bought because of the terrific  Gary Frank drawn Shazam! backup. Flash started very strong and at one point I thought it was better than Batman, but it's started to slip in quality over the past few issues as it seems to lose its grip on what made it great to begin with. Wonder Woman has proved to be my sleeper hit - I love it. So many surprises and I dig the mythical direction. It's a shame I get so few again and I wasn't interested in any of the Second Wave, it all felt so irrelevant. But then again I am reading more than I was. It's just a shame the Superman books and Catwoman didn't work out - I want a good Catwoman series again, just like Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke used to make. What did you find to be the hits, misses and downright disappointments in your opinion, Matt?

Matt C: I think the main disappointment for me is that there isn't a Superman book on my pull-list. He's a character I unreservedly love, despite it taking a couple of decades, post ‘the world spinning backwards’ scene in Superman: The Movie, for me to fully connect with him. I wasn't keen on the retooling of Clark's life - I actually really liked the Lois/Clark marriage - and as this was more prominent in the George Perez Superman, I dropped it after one issue. Grant Morrison's Action Comics started off well, giving the overhaul its roots in the character's original Seigel/Schuster version, but after a while it started to feel leaden and uninteresting, not a patch on All Star Superman. I always had at least on Superman title on my pull-list for years, so I find this current state of affairs somewhat disheartening. That aside, I can't say 'disappointment' is the word I'd use for the other series I've dropped, or if I’d describe them as ‘hits’ or ‘misses’ - some of them I've got bored with, some of them I might have continued with if my money wasn't being spent elsewhere (the burgeoning number of titles put out by Image; Marvel sneaking in an extra issue of many titles a month), but generally I don't feel as invested in the universe as I was before. We've seen various 'Crises' befall the DCU, but there was always an ongoing continuity of sorts, but now - barring the Batman and Green Lantern books - it's almost like a lot of that stuff has been lost. I'm not a hardcore continuity buff but I like a shared universe with a sense of history, which is why I find myself choosing Marvel's 616 Universe over the New 52. And having checked out the Free Comic Book Day The New 52 #1, I can't say I’m even remotely excited by where DC are headed in the next six months.

James R: I don't think that the continuity has been 'lost' so much as mishandled! Right from the word go, we were told this was a 'soft' reboot - with two of their biggest hitters (Batman and Green Lantern) being in good shape, it would have been madness to reset these books, but it's left DC with a very odd universe as a whole. For example, in five years Batman has got through how many Robins?! In some cases it made the books frustrating reads, and from a year's distance it does look like there was a distinct lack of co-ordination or communication on the part of the DC editorial team. I have to say that I'm cynical at how much the 'Zero Month' issues will help. (In the case of the 'Rotworld' books, it's annoying that now it's finally started we now have to wait for the rest of the story, especially as both Animal Man and Swamp Thing's pasts were addressed early on). As for the future? I still think that DC have got some big twists in store but I'd like to see someone other than Geoff Johns take a swing at masterminding the next event - as strong as Flashpoint was, that first arc on Justice League was jaw-droppingly clumsy. The publishing cycle of the Big Two is now seemingly tied to big events, blockbuster movie-stylee, once a year - wouldn't it be good if DC thought of something other than 'Crisis Of Infinite Punch-Ups'?

Stewart R: You may well be correct on the 'big events' prerogative there James, as DC have no doubt enviously looked at the consistently high numbers that Marvel sell each year for critically mediocre tent pole product and obviously want to get in on the action.  The overriding problems for DC though:  potential lack of Universe breadth and an overwhelming density of (and reliance on) the two most popular sections - Batman and Green Lantern.  That last one is quite the hurdle as DC have swung a lot of creative weight in the past few years behind projects or events that involve either exclusively those characters and their 'worlds' or are broader but keep them churning at the centre.  In all the words that we've written here so far we've barely touched upon two-thirds or more of the entire New 52 line up and that's because those titles have either failed to capture our attention from the get go or slowly faded out thanks to indifference or frustration.  Certainly the biggest cause for the axe to swing down upon a DC title in the past six months for me has been the publisher's fist-clenchingly annoying decision to pair up or group certain titles together and thread mini-events throughout them.  Superboy was made near unreadable as his origin was constantly disrupted by important events unfolding in Teen Titans which I had no interest in.  Similarly, Suicide Squad went bye-bye as soon as Resurrection Man turned up and the doomed O.M.A.C. kicked the bucket earlier thanks to the crossover of Frankenstein: Agent of Shade.  DC had the opportunity to breathe new life into its canon of characters, building precise and interesting character arcs, but they apparently panicked and reached for the 'grab as much money as we can button'.  Did your reading suffer from crossover madness, Tom?

Tom P: Not really. I seem to be immune to DC events. As good as Flashpoint was, they don't grab me the way Marvel’s do; I picked up no extra ‘Court Of Owls’ books beyond Snyder’s Batman. I'm with you on your Superboy point Stew, and as good as Animal Man and Swamp Thing are, I had to drop them due to the cost and it felt like you had to read them both. Sadly for DC and the comics industry I only have so much time and money. The creators on a book is the guiding factor for me - when J.H. Williams III is on art duties for Batwoman I’ll pick it up, and Layman joining Detective Comics should be great. I’m interested to know what you guys think of the upcoming issue #0 books which mark the first birthday of the New 52. As you suggested in Ten Forward, Matt,  the Shazam-centric Justice League #0 looks groovy.

Matt C: I’m going with the #0 issues of the books I’m currently picking up, no more, no less. At this stage they’d need a heck of a lot more to reignite my interest. As for the ‘Third Wave’ of titles ready to be unleashed, with the likes of Talon and Sword Of Sorcery hitting the stands this autumn, I’m sorry,  but if you’ve not succeeded in getting me to pick up a Superman book, a Wonder Woman book, a Green Lantern book, on a regular basis, why would you think I’d want to go after some C-list characters in titles that are bound to have a limited shelf life anyway? As Tom mentioned, we’re less likely to follow books for the characters these days, and more likely to pick them up based on the creators involved, and currently most of my favourite creators are working elsewhere. Saying that, there’s every chance in a year or two that the pendulum will swing back again and DC will be at the front of the pack once more. At the moment though, it’s Marvel and various creator-owned titles that are demanding my money.

James R: Without sounding too dull and boring, my DC buying will stay consistent. I'll keep picking up the best of the Bat-books as long as they keep putting great talent on them. I'll look ar anything that perks my interest (as with Dial H) and I'll drop those titles that become too mediocre (Justice League Dark). Echoing what’s been said, my buying habits are driven by creators rather than titles, and after the initial splash, DC has just reverted to business as usual on my pull-list. I'm currently reading ten DC titles, and I can see that dropping to eight very soon. Pre-New 52, I was picking up six DC titles, so while there’s been an increase, it really is a case of 'as you were' for my DC reading.

Stewart R:  I'm in something of a similar position to everyone else now in that I've whittled the number of DC titles down dramatically since the huge launch all those months ago, but where James has found interest in the odd Second Wave title, I've struggled to build any enthusiasm for projects that scream of the publisher scratching around desperately trying to find potential diamonds amongst large amounts of rough that weren't good enough to be considered in the initial 52.  Here we stand, 12 months on, and I'm probably getting certainly no more, possibly less DC titles than I was before the relaunch.  If DC had taken an attitude of giving every book at least the year before bleeding over into crossover territory I may have kept more efforts on the pull-list.  The chopping and changes have smacked of uncertainty in their product and in a year where Marvel have upped their game and Image are challenging to make it the 'Big Three' instead of ‘Two’, it could be argued that DC have dealt some significant damage to some of their strongest properties at a time they could ill afford to!  How do you feel about this Tom: are DC in a stronger or weaker position than they were before?

Tom P: I wouldn't say on paper DC are weaker as sales are up. You're correct in saying Image have increased their presence on my pull-list but then so have Dark Horse. As a consumer I feel its been an odd relaunch full off continuity issues, odd character decisions and some bizarre creator revelations and disputes! But DC took a gamble ,they took chances with some interesting and brave new books as well as established hits. It was an exciting ride and I still remember all of us sitting in the pub flicking through Previews and flagging up each title we’d be reading in a few months. It did give the industry a good shake and I think the same day digital policy was a brilliant introduction -I knew a few people who started with digital comics that month, so that's a good thing. No, hang on - that's a great thing! I love this medium and if it's to survive it must take chances, it must innovate. These characters will evolve, change and adapt to tell stories to future generations, it may not be your Wonder Woman or Superman, Batman may become camp and filled with odd humour again, and it may not be printed on paper, but at least these iconic characters will still be here.

Matt C: Tom’s right – we’ve all been following these characters long enough to know that there’s generally no permanence to any changes they go through. Superman can die, come back to life, wear his hair long, marry Lois, but sooner or later the classic, instantly recognizable template will return into view. The New 52 may have been more successful for some than for others (and that goes for readers and creators) but the fact that we’re still sitting here talking about it a year on means they did something right along the way. I’m not exactly excited about the second year of the New 52, but my curiosity remains intact, and in another 12 months it may be the case that I have more or less DC books on my pull-list than I do now, but one thing’s for sure: at heart I’ll always be a fan of all these iconic characters, and that's unlikely to ever change.

8 comments:

Andy C said...

I too tried more DC titles as a result of the New 52 and some of these were dropped as my interest faded. But the fresh start encouraged me to try Animal Man and I, Vampire both of which remain on my pull list. More importantly it opened the door to try a wider variety of titles and publishers with Image being my clear winner. Peversely, I don't think I would have tried Saga, Fatale, Revival, Harvest etc if it wasn't for the DC relaunch!

Andy C said...

Conversely, the zero issues just feel like a lazy excuse for bland covers and unwanted distractions from the main run, particularly if they get in the way of an ongoing arc (Rotworld and Batgirl spring to mind). I find myself wanting to get them out of the way so we can get to #13.

Personally I don't get it. I just want great issues, not gimmicks.

I hope to be proved wrong by an outstanding offering of #0s.

Tom P said...

A small bit missing of my final point but I'm sure the gremlins will return it soon. :)

Matt C said...

Gremlins or DC nanobots... anyway, it's fixed! :)

Ian W said...

Nice article guys,as for me I'm very much still fully on board with the New DC and still collecting all 52 comics a year on, because as of yet not one comic has lost my interest,even the Rob Liefeld one's [and that's saying a lot]and I know the swapping and changing of writers and artists has been a bit annoying,but as of yet that's not put me off any title and for me personally it's the love of the characters that keeps me collecting.

Ian U said...

Interesting reading guys. You've puit into words a lot of what I've been feeling about the New 52 over the last 6 months. Everytime I dropped a title I would wonder if it was just me that felt this way and that I was missing something somewhere. I'm glad to know it isn't just me!
I think Stewart's point about emotional investment hit home for me - you can forgive the odd duff issue or storyline when you have years of investment in the characters but it's a lot harder to forgive when you no longer recognise the character that you are reading.
I also empathise strongly with Matt's comments about Superman - Superman without the continuity should be effortlessly epic, and All Star was, but Superman & Action are just limping along.
Overall you can't fault a comics company for experimenting and trying to bring in new readers but for me the New 52 was more miss than hit. It will be interesting over the next few months to see how Marvel Now works out.....

Justin said...

All I can do is let the numbers speak for themselves. I tried every single New 52 title and I'm currently buying only 1 - Batwoman, and *just* the issues that JH3 does the art on, at that.

Stewart R said...

I'm wondering if DCs constant fascination with the number 52 hadn't been a problem in this endeavour? Launching with just 20, or maybe even a dozen revamped titles, super strong creative teams and a vision on providing a strong new origin/history base for the best and most well known characters over the course of two years might've been a better play in hindsight. The fringe titles that appeared in the New 52 list have pretty much all bitten the bullet early (or on time?) as expected. I think even Marvel would have struggled slightly trying to throw that many new books at the market and then kept them all going.