To begin with, let me just that I am not a hater of DC’s much touted New 52 relaunch. I think that in a time of declining sales and a transitional market, someone had to do something. DC should be applauded for taking the proverbial bull by the horns and trying something as radical as a company wide relaunch.
Kudos to you DC. You’ve got balls as big as Mogo’s.
During this brave and unprecedented move, there have been some universal successes (Batman, Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Justice League Dark, Demon Knights) and some absolute stinkers (Hawk And Dove, Mr. Terrific, Justice League International, Hawkman) yet, in general, the revitalization of DC has been a success. Sales are up, media interest has been at a premium and a genuine enthusiasm has been instilled into comic fans and creators alike (the occasional dummy spit from creators such as Rob Liefeld and Greg Rucka notwithstanding).
Yet, through this success, there is an overwhelming feeling, from the pits of comic book fans stomachs, that the New 52 simply doesn’t work. Sure, it’s great that new readers have been brought in and many heroes have been given the chance to shine again, unfettered by decades of convoluted back story, yet there is one failing that over rides the entire line and it is this which, ultimately, might be the undoing of the entire project.
Comic books and their characters are modern mythology. The worlds of DC and Marvel in particular are just as powerful and far reaching as those of the Norse, Greek or Roman pantheons and, in the future, will be just as ingrained in the psyche of society and culture as those images and ideas of Zeus, Thor, Loki and Hercules. Yet, what truly gives those ancient mythologies their power is their timelessness, or to be more specific, the amount of time they have existed.
There is something truly magical about the history that is entwined in the tales of Asgard, or in the time span of the Argonauts, an almost mythic sense of the history itself. These stories are eternal and they reach back to a time we no longer understand, and in that is part of their intrigue. These tales have been adapted and re-adapted for each subsequent generation, their stories updated and revised, only to be taken back to their roots and the whole process started again. This is the same power that DC have always had, more than any other company as they have the unequalled history of comicdoms’ first hero, Superman, closely followed by Batman. Is there any richer mythology to draw from that that of these two heroes? Created in 1932, first published in 1938, Superman alone has over 70 years of history to play with and when I read one of his books, I get a sense of that history, that heritage and it informs every word and action.
Comics are unique in that way. No other medium has had the blessing to be able to continually follow a character on a regular basis over the course of seven decades. It is a unique privilege for comic book readers to be able to access that history every single time they pick up a Superman book.
Yet, the New 52 has denied access to that history.
By stating that it never happened, DC has denied their comics the very thing which gave them their true power.
A sense of history.
Now, when I read Superman or Batman or Wonder Woman or The Justice League, I am constantly distracted by the fact that they have, supposedly, only been around for five years. It leaves me with a hollowness, a buzzing in my head which tells me that I can no longer access that mythology in the same way and that now, Superman is not an icon, is not the first hero, but is just a guy with powers, much like any other. Dick Grayson has always been one of my favourite characters, a big part of this comes from his service under Batman (as it were) for so many years and then going on and becoming his own person with the persona of Nightwing. Now that the whole process has been compressed to Dick only being Robin for a few years, closely followed by Jason Todd, Tim Drake and Damian Wayne, it devalues the character and his importance in the Bat-Mythology.
I no longer feel the same resonance with these characters and as great as some of the new stories are in the New 52, they ultimately feel empty and devoid of real weight.
I have waited to post this to see if that feeling might change. It hasn’t.
What’s the answer?
I certainly don’t think going backwards and reverting everything to what it was I the way to go. DC have committed to this path and I think it would be weak revert to a 'safe' status quo.
What I think needs to happen is that editors and writers need to really commit themselves to re-creating these characters with truly great new stories, truly great writing. Make us care about Superman again now that he is without that epic history. Give us a Batman that truly excites. Make the Justice League great again. We have seen some of this with Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder’s work on Animal Man and Swamp Thing, the Swamp Thing title being a particularly tough gig, what with the ever present of Alan Moore’s run hanging over the character. Yet the series is a resounding success and proof that great things can come from this.
If history is truly to be discarded (or severely condensed) in the new DC, then let’s hope that they start building a truly great new one.
Only time will tell if they're up to the task.