SHOWCASE PRESENTS: The Shock Value Of The New 52

Editors Note: All editorials are solely the opinion of the author, and do not necessarily reflect  the views or opinions of DC Comics News or its staff.

If there’s one thing you learn as a comedy writer, it’s this: there’s nothing you can’t say, but there are definitely things you shouldn’t say. The meaning of that is very simple really. Censorship is a bad thing in comedy and, for the most part, in life. So, theoretically, you should be able to talk about anything. No subject should be off limits. After all, it’s the court jester who shows us truths while speaking lies. But shock value is unsustainable.

For those of you who don’t know, the fundamental different between shock and surprise is that something shocking seemingly happens and random for no real reason, while something surprising is something that catches you off guard but, when scrutinized, actually makes sense, likely being the only thing that could’ve happened following a course of events. Surprise is a good thing. Shock is not because it just needs to build on its own randomness. It’s nonsensical and pointless and, eventually, your audience will grow tired of it.

So I bet you’re wondering what the hell this has to do with DC Comics.

As of the writing of this article, the counter on HasDCDoneSomething is at 28 days. That’s the highest it’s been since the website was first launched. Naturally, it’s pretty easy not to do anything stupid when you don’t really do anything at all (except for announcing that you’re moving offices… two years from now). But, unfortunately, I would argue that DC has done something stupid.

Supergirl enters womanhood.

Today, Charles Soule talked about a crossover he’s writing for both Green Lantern #28 and Red Lanterns #28, which will ship as the same issue. In that issue, Supergirl will supposedly become a Red Lantern. Why? I’m not sure. Soule used the word “literally” a lot, which kind of distracted me (that was a joke, I’m a huge fan of Soule’s work).

The real answer is, honestly, shock value. It’s something the entire New 52 has been built on. Remember how many controversies there’ve been at DC since the New 52 was announced? All the way from creators walking off books to the WTF month covers (which really had little more than a tangential relation to what was in the books themselves), to the changing of the Justice League roster (seriously, it’s been 2 years and no one cares about Cyborg), to the intense focus on Starfire and Alan Scott’s respective sexualities, to the Harley Quinn bathtub fiasco, and oh-so many more inexplicable PR “catastrophes.” Hell, Rob Liefeld got to write and draw multiple books…at once.

Things that aren’t okay: this.

It’s all about shock value. Because when the fandom is shocked, comics get sold. Well, when shocked or hypnotized by Batman that is. There are…a lot of Batman books going on right now. Either way, DC is looking at good sales until they can come up with the next big random idea to piss off anyone who cares about decent storytelling.

I guess what set me off the most about this latest fiasco (which, admittedly, might only seem like a big deal to me) is that the idea isn’t even all that original. Prior to the relaunch, when Kara was reintroduced to the DCU in the pages of Superman/Batman, she went “bad” for a while. I put “bad” in quotes because, while she was “evil” (read: filled with teenage angst) she was, at one point, a member of the Justice League. Her evilness was a bit schizophrenic, really only popping up when the writers ran out of ideas for what Kara needed to be doing.

With the New 52, Supergirl actually started out as a fairly compelling character. She didn’t speak English, was lost on a strange planet, and she was scared. That all fell apart (much like everything else Scott Lobdell touches) with the “H’el On Earth” story arc—that ran throughout Superman, Superboy, and Supergirl—when she suddenly learned English for no real reason. And she’s honestly been in kind of a rut ever since. So now she’s going to become a Red Lantern. Not a villain, per se. Just not exactly a “good guy.” Maybe it’ll be for that one issue (with a “shocking” cover designed to sell copies to angry fanboys). Maybe it’ll be for a whole arc. Either way, it doesn’t take the character in any new direction. It’s an old story, repackaged. Granted, since Soule is writing it, the package will probably be highly entertaining.

“It will make them mad. And make us look good.”

I’ve stuck with DC for as long as I have because I love the characters. And I’ve kept up with the new 52 because of great books like Action Comics (at least, the Morrison run), Wonder Woman, Swamp Thing (which has benefitted from two amazing writers in a row), Animal Man, Batman, Aquaman, and handful of other kick ass titles. It’s because I know how great these books can be that I hold the rest of them to such a high standard. If Image has proven anything in recent years, it’s that great storytelling sells comics, too. I just wish DC would learn that lesson.