September is over. All of the New 52 relaunches have been read and reviewed. There are still a lot of questions and things left to be developed, but we now have a solid view of what DCnU now is. We also know why. Or at least, we've been told why. The state purpose of all this, as said more than once by Dan Didio and others, was to make the DC Universe a more modern, diverse and relevant place. So basically, DC has given us three specific criteria to judge their relaunch on, and I'm going to take a crack at it now.
This is a tricky one, because what is modern? It's definitely the most vague of the three criteria. For starters, I'm going to say that modern is not nostalgia. These two things may find some common ground occasionally, but they're technically opposing points of view. If you're doing something out of nostalgia, you can't honestly say you're trying to be modern. Secondly, there's our modern sensibilities when it comes to stories. You can kind of tell what kind of stories, subjects and characters we enjoy today based off what's going on in television and movies. So I guess the questions here are how much nostalgia is there in the New 52 and how much of the New 52 has caught up to the kind of things people enjoy in other entertainment media.
There's definitely a heavy trend of nostalgia in DCnU. How often does it really buck nostalgia in favor of doing something new? Right off the bat, you have Barbara Gordon's return to Batgirl. I know Didio made a claim that this was due to accessibility, but I don't think anyone can honestly say that nostalgia wasn't the driving force behind this move. There's really nothing about it that could be considered modern. This extends to other characters too. When the Silver Age reboot happened, DC actually changed some big characters completely to be more reflective of the times. That's where we got the likes of Hal Jordan and Barry Allen from. Well, we still have them. DC really didn't try to do that this time. Marvel did with their Ultimate relaunch, but DC doesn't seem to have a single Miles Morales of its own. I can understand the case for keeping Hal around. But Barry hasn't exactly won everyone over. Carter Hall is lucky to win a good number of readers over on his best days. Oliver Queen has a long history of ups and downs with readers and is currently down. Are you telling me DC couldn't afford taking the chance on replacing just one of their headliners with a new character?
I think DCnU fairs better when it comes to meeting modern sensibilities, though. Let's start with the most controversial. The sex. The kind of television programming on the rise right now are the ones on cable. These are shows that really don't hold anything back when it comes to language, violence and sex. Now, nothing DC has done this past month comes close to any of that. Really, they've done nothing you couldn't see on almost any given night on the CW. But their moral restraints in general do seem to be looser and frankly better handled that it has been in the past, which does fall closer in line to what appeal to a lot of people in other entertainment media. Not that every title is or should be that way, but if you're going to do 52 titles, there better be some variety. DCnU has its share of graphic violence as well, but that's nothing new for comics.
There were some failures in this too, though. I think Green Arrow's attempt to come off as modern with transparent Apple references fell pretty flat. With today's 24-hour news, Justice League International was pretty superficial when it came to appealing to the more publicized international conflicts and politics people get today. And while I applaud trying to make costumes seem more updated across the board by getting rid of the dated elements, several of the new costumes still seem ten years out of date instead of modern.
Overall, DCnU has some forward momentum when it comes to appealing more to modern sensibilities. But it comes to characters and some costumes, nostalgia seems to be more of a priority than being modern.
There are a couple different ways to approach this one. There's story diversity and the diversity of characters when it comes to race, gender and sexuality. Yeah, diversity in comics usually refers to the latter, but let's give DC some credit for the former too.
Genre diversity with the New 52 is actually pretty impressive. The Dark line of comics alone has brought a wealth of horror and fantasy books into the mix. We've got a couple military genre books in Men of War and Blackhawks. Two very cool alien scifi thrillers with Grifter and Voodoo. An excellent western in a title I don't need to spell out for you. The only thing I feel is missing is some kind of crime drama or police procedural that you would normally get from some of the Bat-titles but currently aren't. Mr. Terrific is trying to be a hard scifi book, but I don't think that is going to work out for it.
Let's get to the characters now.
When it comes to racial diversity, DCnU definitely has made some efforts to improve. However, the quality of some of those efforts and the absence of certain others is a bit suspect. At face value, there are a good number of titles in the New 52 with non-white leads. Unfortunately, DC only gave a few of them real quality creative teams that would assure reader attention, so half of these titles are pretty doomed. I feel good about Fury of Firestorm and Batwing. I have my fingers crossed for Blue Beetle and Voodoo. I think it's best not to get attached to Mr. Terrific, Static Shock or O.M.A.C.
There's an effort in team books too. I have huge reservations about what's going on in Teen Titans. But credit where credit is due. Scott Lobdell is trying to make things more diverse with Bugg and Bunker. He's also introducing Crux in Red Hood and the Outlaws. The most prominent example DC seems to be pushing is Cyborg in the Justice League, but I have problems giving them too much credit. Why should I? Wow. A black guy. DC did this last time too with Black Lightning, and they didn't exactly see it through very well. I know the team will also have Ryan Choi and Element Woman, but it's really no more racially diverse than the Brad Meltzer relaunch was. It also doesn't seem like DC is going to be bold enough to make a character like Black Lightning or someone a founding member in the revamped continuity.
That brings up the missed opportunities and new absences. I'm sure it's already been talked about to death how Cassandra has been damned to obscurity as Blackbat due to Barbara Gordon retaking the Batgirl identity. Despite the high popularity of the Green Lantern franchise, John Stewart continues to see no push for his character. Black Lightning is missing so far, and due to the deaging in general of the DCU, his daughters Thunder and Lightning are probably gone. Speaking of missing children, we seem to now be lacking most multiracial kids like Lian Harper, Connor Hawke and Iris and Jai West. Even though it's called Stormwatch, there is no Jackson King or Fuji, though it does have the new Adam One. Hell, it didn't even follow the trend and make Martian Manhunter's human guise black. Renee Montoya still exists but her exact status is left in question (accidental pun), and who knows if Crispus Allen will still be the Spectre.
Morgan Edge is black now, though.
I'm left feeling that DC's effort here is half-hearted. There are definitely some writers who are working towards increasing diversity in this area, but I'm not feeling a real effort on DC's part as a whole. There are too many overlooked opportunities, and DC's continuity changes and decisions feel like they have left too many non-white characters unnecessarily out in the cold.
Has DCnU really done anything here? I honestly can't help but feel we've broken even at best when it comes to gender diversity. I think we have just as many female starring titles as we did before Flashpoint. We traded Gotham City Sirens for Catwoman. We replaced Power Girl's breasts with Voodoo's. We swapped one Batgirl for another very similar Batgirl. Half of these female titles still depend on the Batman franchise. It really doesn't seem that DC has done anything but try to sustain the status quo in this regard.
There have been a few new female characters introduced, but if anything, it feels like DC has lost more than it has gained. How many popular female characters are now missing simply because of the JSA being taken out of continuity? Stargirl, Jesse Quick, Cyclone, Jade, etc. Hawkgirl has been ditched for the time being in favor of Hawkman. DC is skirting around the issue of Donna Troy's existence. We know we at least still have Karen Starr in some form, even if that form may not be Power Girl.
The missing may start to reappear in the months to come, but as it stands, this doesn't feel like an area DC really put any effort into.
This is another area where it almost feels like DCnU has only broken even. Sure, Stormwatch has brought in Apollo and Midnighter and Teen Titans has Bunker. I think I've heard Voodoo is bisexual? Batwoman has finally started her series for real. We've lost Secret Six and most of its characters, though. Birds of Prey has relaunched without Savant and Creote. It seems unlikely that Thunder and Grace will exist in continuity anymore. Without the JSA, I doubt Obsidian is really around anymore either, at least on this Earth. We know Renee Montoya still exists, but DC doesn't appear to be using her for anything in the foreseeable future. I'm sure Mikaal Tomas probably still exists even though the whole status of the Starman legacy is up in the air at the moment.
It seems that DC has more shuffled characters around than really increased the diversity in this regard.
DC has never had a lot of luck in this area. I mean, Marvel does Civil War and then DC tackles similar relevant issues with... Amazons Attack. It's generally a bit scary when DC goes for this kind of thing. But I guess the real question is whether they are even trying to with DCnU.
They definitely are when it comes to Superman. In Action Comics, he's much more about social justice, which is pretty relevant in today's climate. That doesn't come across as much in Superman, but even there, we still have a much more relevant Clark Kent and Morgan Edge as a Rupert Murdoch figure. This is a pretty good thing. If any property was in need of relevancy at DC, it was Superman.
There are a few other titles as well that have kicked up the focus on relevancy. Batwing opening up Africa to readers is pretty awesome. Blue Beetle looks like it may make interesting use of the U.S./Mexico border situation.
Meanwhile, pretty much all relevance got sucked out of Green Arrow. I mean, it's just a disaster there. You used to have Ollie with all his liberal loudmouthness, his multiracial son and his HIV positive partner who was a former prostitute. Now? Now, we have Apple references. Seriously, how exactly is Apple really relevant? Green Arrow used to be the champion of relevancy at DC. That sure isn't the case anymore.
It's also almost criminal that a book like Justice League International doesn't come off more relevant.
DC has another mark against it in this criteria too, though. Oracle. Actually, it's more than just Oracle. With all these men and women we have coming back from the wars going on, people with disabilities could not be more relevant. Yet, DC has given Barbara Gordon the ability to walk again. They have given Roy Harper his arm back. They have given Rose Wilson's eye back. Okay, we have Horsewoman in Demon Knights now. But come on. That hardly balances the scales. And you can't hold up Cyborg as the champion of this now either. Yeah, he counts. But he's a little too fantastical to be that relevant.
I also have to mention Apollo and Midnighter. Gay marriage is a pretty damn relevant issue right now, and what does DC do in this revamp? They basically annul Apollo and Midnighter's marriage. Come no. You were practically handed that one, DC.
DC have definitely put some effort into making their universe more relevant, but that effort is just so inconsistent. What's happened with Superman and Green Arrow is so at odds. Some books have put forth good efforts, but many books, even though they're good books, haven't really done anything to address anything relevant.
The claim that this was all done to be more modern, diverse and relevant seems to be more hyperbole than substantive. DCnU has taken steps in all these things, but these have all been baby steps at best. At worst, they have been steps in the wrong direction. If you're going to revamp and reboot your whole continuity for these alleged reasons, you've really got to take much larger steps than this. The minimal progress DC has made with any of these criteria is really something they could have easily managed without any sort of revamp.
And you know, I'm not saying that a lot of good books haven't come out of this whole thing. They have. But we've lost some good books and characters in the trade off. This was supposed to be the point of it all. There was a goal here, or we were told there was a goal here besides hyping up a spike in sales for DC. I've got to say... DC really didn't make much progress toward that goal.