Welcome to PANEL TALK, a brand new segment for DCComicsNews.com for the New Year. Each week, a different Staff Writer (whether News or Reviews) will tackle a different subject and offer his or her unique take on the issue presented. This will offer our readers a chance to get to know our writers a little more outside their normal News or Reviews fare, as well as bring attention to ideas and topics not normally discussed. Enjoy!
Comic book fans can be a fickle bunch. Just look at how the demographic is displayed in The Simpsons. The Comic Book Guy is a caricature, of course, but more often than not, I find myself thinking, “Oh man, I’ve heard someone say that in real life.” Comic Book Guy (whose actual character name is Jeff Albertson) represents the staggering reality of what comic book fans can be, and it’s not pretty.
A little over two years ago, DC went to great lengths to promote their line of work to a demographic of consumers known as ‘non-readers’. These are the individuals that don’t read comic books, and had no intention of doing so until reading about this newfangled ‘New 52’ in high profile news outlets such as the New York Times or USA Today. They read about how DC characters like Batman (of course because The Dark Knight), Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern would be rebooted to fit into the 21st century, how the ‘old’ continuity that was still technically shackled to the whims of writers in the 1940s was going to disappear, with a brand new timeline taking it’s place. They learned that more than ever before, it was time to give comic books a try.
Of course, the New 52 wasn’t designed purely for non-readers. I was part of one of the other major hopes for DC at the time of relaunch: bring back lapsed readers. Though I’ve read comic books since I was nine years old, there were large gaps in my reading history, the most recent of which was 2008. I was a broke college student that didn’t have enough money to buy weekly issues, and didn’t have enough time to research enough character history to jump on board with Detective Comics #7XX.
But there’s still a problem: hardcore fanboys (which you can read more about at length in DCN’s Showcase Presents #29: When did we get so Ugly? by Ash Mahtani). These are the readers who had kept up with DC through the years, spent countless hours, days, weeks, months, and years collecting rare issues and trade paperbacks of their favorite characters, took the time to read any major event in full chronological order, and felt marginalized by DC when everything they knew and loved was instantly ended so the company they were loyal to could (in their eyes) make more money instead of stay true to decades worth of material. In many ways, I sympathize with these readers. But the fact is, the New 52 is here to stay.
The New 52 has been an unrivaled success. Financially speaking, DC has seen profits at levels that haven’t been reached since the 1990s, when variant cover speculation reigned supreme and Rob Liefeld was considered a top-tier artist. From a creative standpoint, the New 52 has given many characters new life. Just look at Aquaman. Prior to the New 52, Arthur Curry was widely regarded as a joke, even amongst DC fan circles. Geoff Johns reworked the characters and now, Aquaman is one of DC’s top-selling titles each and every month.
Rebooting the DC universe was a good idea because it not only gave non-readers a literal new starting point, but it gave readers like me a fresh look at characters I loved, but hadn’t been passionate about in some time.
Since the New 52 started, there has been a vocal and ardent faction of readers who are absolutely convinced that this reboot is just a gimmick, and that the old continuity will soon return in all it’s “glory”. So the question I have for those waiting in vain is, “Why—if the New 52 has been a huge success—would DC ever even consider reverting back to the old timeline?”
I know that’s a rather simple response, but the fact is that the New 52 was successful at launch and continues to be successful more than two years later. In general, the comic book industry is more profitable than it’s been in some time, and a big part of that came from DC having the courage to try something new. Without the New 52, Marvel may have never considered doing their ‘Marvel NOW!’ relaunch, and a shared Valiant Comics universe may have never returned. The New 52 wasn’t just a success for DC: it’s been a success for the entire industry.
The New 52 is a platform that has enabled creators to tackle story ideas that wouldn’t have worked prior to the relaunch. With nigh-75 years worth of continuity to take into account, it was becoming increasingly more difficult to tell an original tale that still worked with everything that came before it. Geoff Johns was able to do it with Green Lantern because that franchise was rather low on DC’s radar for many years, but the with the biggest hitters—like Batman and Superman—creators were getting stuck between wanting to tell engaging stories and being forced to stay true to continuity and history. Now, things are a bit more open, allowing for fresh ideas and different perspectives on classic characters.
Forever Evil is an event two years in the making, and it’s one of the best DC’s done in quite some time. Part of that comes from the writers having a fresh slate to work with, allowing them to do things with these characters that would never have been possible in the old continuity. But that’s the beauty of it: creators are using classic ideas to craft new and exciting stories. The Crime Syndicate was part of the pre-New 52 continuity, but only for a single story arc that didn’t have much ramification on the overall DCU. In the New 52, the Crime Syndicate has become the overwhelming force of evil that it should be, and that’s exciting.
Even Batman—a character that actually didn’t technically get rebooted—is being redefined in the New 52. The Court of Owls was an ingenious creation of Scott Snyder, but the whole concept of a shadow organization controlling Gotham City without Batman’s knowledge would have never worked in a timeline where the Dark Knight had been active for decades. Now that Batman’s only been operating for five to six years, not only does it make sense, but it’s a powerful idea that has changed Batman’s relationship with the city he claims to know better than anyone.
And lest I forget Grant Morrison’s stunning run on Action Comics, a story that literally redefined Superman’s life: his tragedies, his victories, and his enemies. It’s one of the best story arcs of the New 52.
This is why the New 52 is here to stay. Reverting back to the old continuity would be…almost literally…taking a giant step backwards. Like anything in this world, the New 52 isn’t perfect, but the fact that it happened at all shows that DC wanted to move forward, and that’s a good thing.