One Year After DC Comics' New 52 Reboot, The Same Old Problems Linger

I shouldn't be feeling déjà vu when I read a issue of Green Lantern that introduces a new hero. The last thing that should happen when Superman and Wonder Woman kiss after an emotional adventure is me yawning. Yet, here I am, struggling to stay excited 12 months after the exhilaration of a line-wide reconfiguration of DC Universe.

Yeah, I was excited last September when the first books of the relaunch started trickling out. Grant Morrison on Action Comics, years after his amazing All-Star Superman? Scott Snyder writing Bruce Wayne after turning a tautly compelling run where Dick Grayson was Batman? The return of Batwoman to print? Hell, yeah I was excited. And I gave various titles room to show me where they were going. One by one — The Fury of Firestorm, Teen Titans, Savage Hawkman — books started disappearing from my reading list. I found some surprises, though. I, Vampire was a title I'd written off as a cash-in aimed at the Twilight set but it's managed to be an entertainingly tortured vampire tale. Terrible name and raison d'etre aside — to bring Vertigo mainstay characters back into superheroland — I've enjoyed Justice League Dark. Same goes for Swamp Thing and Animal Man, books living under the shadows of beloved runs by iconic creators that managed to find strong voices of their own.

Then, my monthly diet settled into a core of titles, determined mostly by the creators I wanted to follow. But, lately it feels like there's a malaise underneath all the new romances, plot twists and origin stories of the New 52. Too many of the books from DC feel like they did before the reboot: rushed to print, narratively meandering and creatively conservative. Too many characters feel trapped in hackneyed, repetitive iterations where ultraviolent trauma is the only applicable impetus to altruism. Take new Green Lantern Baz, for example. Introduced in last week's Green Lantern #0. The latest Earthman to join the intergalactic police force seems to come from the same overused template as so many other latter-day creations. Parental trauma? Check. Edgy anti-authoritarian attitude? Check. Fumbly gestures at thematic depth? Check.

Baz may never have appeared in print before from a magic ring but he doesn't feel like new. And that's the problem I have with so much of DC's output now. Much of the superhero offerings from the publisher feel like they're on life support. The Superman title — y'know, the one starring the first superhero ever — is an atrocious read and has been almost since the start. And the middle range of the line — titles like Ravagers, Grifter and Suicide Squad — feels bloated and yearning for direction.

Let's look at Wonder Woman for inspiration, then. It's a highlight of the New 52 because it feels like it owes very little to the conventions of past iterations of the first female superhero. Are the basics there? Sure, they are. A lost tribe of Greco-Roman woman warriors, the Olympian pantheon and a young upstart who breaks away into the larger world… Azzarello hews to all of that. But he also jettisons parts of the character's origin to streamline and modernize it and creates a tonal variation that makes Diana interesting again.

Also, the Bat-books feel well-executed and clearly defined like little else in the New 52 line-up, for the most part. Most of those titles homes in on an aspect of their lead character's personalities to strong effect, whether it's Nightwing's empathy, Batgirl's resilience, Batwoman's passion or Batman and Robin's charged father-and-son relationship.

Part of the problem might be that modern-day comics readers get to know too much. We know that there's another crossover coming or that comic storylines need to be aligned to mirror movies or TV shows that may not even happen. But, it's still possible to craft good stories in the midst of all that transparency. One problem seems to be that DC's editorial triumverate struggles to engender the same kind of creative relationships that let Marvel, Image or other publishers draw on stores of loyal or freshly discovered talent.

I know longtime readers scorn the New 52 reboot. I didn't and still don't. But what does concern me is the creeping suspicion — and disconcerting proof — that so much of this reinvention is being made up as it goes along. The New 52 feels less like a lasting legacy and more like a desperate improvisation. The powers-that-be shouldn't have to reboot a reboot but that's sure what it feels like they need to do.


Comments

    Wonder Woman and Animal Man are my must-reads, Batman sorta fizzled out at the end of the Court of Owls stuff. The rest, I haven't really wanted to keep up with.

    I'm behind on Justice League, though. I'm remaining optimistic and need to catch up with it...

      Hasn't Court of Owls kind of just finished though? The Joker is coming!!!

    Dunno what it is with DC, they've struggled for years. The only character they seem to treat with utmost respect is Batman, everyone else is open for ruining. Look at the Atrocious Green Lantern movie, Hal Jordan could have been a good answer to Downey's Stark, but they went with pretty and popular rather than an actor who could do justice to the role, *cough Nathan Fillion cough* and a totally crap script and wooden supporting cast, with music straight from 80s action films. And the bit right at the end where Sinestro puts on the yellow ring for no reason whatsoever, just, why? That could have been the subplot of the second film, Sinestros temptation and inevitable fall, except better than Anakin Skywalkers.

    DC needs to overhaul the management of the company rather than blaming the characters and trying to re-invent them every 10 years.

      Nathan Fillion is just old.
      I like his charisma, I really do. He made Emerald Knights awesome. But Ryan Reynolds was a good choice, he was attractive so women would at least watch it and he is pretty funny so some guys would go see it.
      Just other people having their hands in the Green Lantern and the plot...oh god the plot.

    I just started reading some New 52 about a month ago and so far I've stuck to the Gotham based characters. Batman, Batwoman, Batgirl and Birds of Prey. I've only read about half of the released issues for all of them so far but I'm really enjoying them. The only one which could perhapes use some work is Birds of Prey.

    I'm absolutely loving Batgirl. The whole thing of her finding her feet again, no pun intended, and getting back into crime fighting has been really interesting. Also, I love her inner monologue.

    Swamp thing and animal man are awesome.

    One of my biggest problems with the new 52 is the fact theyve already started doing crossovers and events and confusing stories. They got rid of multiverse because it was making things too complicated and less than a year in its already back. Only planning on buying a few books? Teen Titans maybe? sorry, but now you have to start reading legion lost and superboy as well or else you just wont understand any of it. Court of owls spanned several books which was actullay one of the good crossovers, although why they needed to bring batwing all the way from africa just to spar with one of the talons was kinda weird. The first couple of batwing books were really great showing david zavimbe could stand on his own as africas batperson but 2 story arcs in and hes already had cross-overs with batman nightwing robin and the whole of the JLI. Lastly one of my greatest anoyances time travel, the first action comics story arc and they stuck in time travel, time travel is really hard to get right, its been done, whenever futurama uses time travel the seem to get it spot on but if you dont need it you shouldn't do it and in the first arc of whats meant to be supermans begginings is probably not the right place. sorry for the rant - carry on

      I have to stop reading Action Comics. I swear to God I had no idea what was going on. I really enjoyed the first few issues, and how they took a little of the super out of Superman, but my gosh- after that it went ridiculous.

        i'm trying to find a jump off point for both superman and action comics at the moment, what doesnt help is i still want to get supergirl and superboy but theyre having a crossover soon GRRRR

      I really like the crossovers I've read so far. Helps the world these characters inhabit feel a bit more alive. Lets you know the characters are out there and doing things when they're not staring in their own comic. The world these characters are in is filled with heroes, it wouldn't make much sense if you never saw them interacting with each other.

        my issue is when you are buying one book, and then you suddenly need to start buying 2 other books to get integral parts of the story, they've sone the harvest saga in teen titans/superboy/legion lost, they had a crossover in resurrection man/suicide squad, superboy/ravagers crossover happening right now, deathstroke/hawkman. some of these are single issues so its not too bad but for some people on a more restrictive budget, and considering how frequently these crossovers seem to be happening and so soon into the new 52 this is a problem.

    You only have to look at all the problems in the press lately to see that it's Editorial's fault all the way. I thought Didio on his own was somewhat bad and here we are at godawful with Johns and Lee in the mix. Who'd have thought? It's the same problem DC's always had: a combo of too much editorial control over the writers (which is ironic given how utterly terrible they are at even minor continuity and cohesion between books) and a fundamental misunderstanding of their characters and why the readers like them in the first place. And I say that as a primarily DC fan, although at this point I'm a fan of the characters/universe in general rather than the current incarnations of same.

    Batman and Batwoman have been fantastic.

    But I hear that there's a lot of behind the scenes turmoil at DC; meddling editors, mismanagement, etc.

    "ultraviolent trauma is the only applicable impetus to altruism".

    Ok now I feel stupid.

      Don't worry, it's not you.

      The statement sounds impressive, but it doesn't mean anything. It's a bit of pretentious nonsense.

    The reboot wasn't needed to begin with. All the damage done to the DCU before the new 52 was bound to find its way back in the moment they gave captain atom and Greenarrow to a writer everyone loathed and blamed in the first place.

    DC had to do something. Their titles with the exception of Batman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Flash...were in a hole.

    My biggest problem with the reboot is the unexplained continuity. Some big things still happened but others never did, and its almost like its up to the reader to find out though obscure interviews with the creators which is which. It was all so unnecessary in my opinion, and really alienated a lot of the fans who had invested time in these stories and characters.

    Adolescent power fantasies will be adolescent power fantasies.

    We're talking about grossly overpowered, over-muscled god-like beings dressed in latex. With sexy bits for young boys.

    That's not going to change. These comics aren't going to get smarter; they stick to these tired formulas because they sell.

    The biggest problem is when grown men cling to these childish stories, well past their due date.

    Sorry guys, I like a good graphic story as much as anyone, and am currently enjoying the early issues of American Vampire, but...

    if you're still reading SUPERHERO comics past your teens, then something may be missing in your life.

    Move on, become a mature reader.

      "grossly overpowered, over-muscled god-like beings dressed in latex. With sexy bits for young boys". So pretty much just like vampires then?
      If you take the time to post long, ranting, yelling-at-clouds comments on articles about things you dislike telling people what they can and can't be allowed to enjoy, then something may be missing in your life.
      Move on, become less of a pretentious uptight asshole.

        Sorry if I hurt your feelings.

        But if you have issues with someone pointing out that superhero comics are primarily designed for children and teenagers, then there really is something wrong with you.

        Perhaps you should investigate more mature reading material, and grow up a little.

          I have no problem with people point out things are designed primarily for children and teenagers. So is Star Wars, so is Doctor Who, so are the larger portion of video games which is presumably what brings you to this site in the first place. That doesn't mean people of all ages can't enjoy them just because you feel the need to restrict yourself to the heights of maturity like American Vampire. A mature person would understand that it's not a case of having only one or the other, but given your condescending rant above and your failure to grasp the english language below, it's highly doubtful you are mature in any sense of the word.

    BTW... this

    "Too many characters feel trapped in hackneyed, repetitive iterations where ultraviolent trauma is the only applicable impetus to altruism."

    What?

    The words all make sense. Just not together.

      Are you being intentionally antagonistic a.k.a. trolling, or are you just mean?

      I honestly can't tell.

      As far as i can tell, all those words are fine and make sense in the context. What word is giving you trouble exactly?

    While I acknowledge that the New 52 has had a few problems. I still consider it a good thing. Most of the changes made (such as they are) have been for the best -- especially regarding Superman's status quo; unfortunately his titles have lagged a bit, hopefully they'll pick up momentum soon. And the Superman / Wonder Woman romance in JL is definitely cool!!

    BTW I think you forgot to mention Aquaman in your article. Have you been reading Aquaman since the new 52??? It's a good, fun read! Check it out!

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