For the past few weeks I’ve been neck-deep in a slew of trades from DC’s New 52 run, and as I’ve absorbed each story I’ve paused and reflected which, if any, I wanted to write about. Lately I’ve felt that my comics posts have been a bit negative in nature, primarily due to the fact that when I dislike a comic, I tend to have more to say about it than if I liked it. That being said, I don’t want this blog to morph into a comics-bashing site, so I’ve decided to write a more generalized post about the overall narrative in the New 52 comics.
When I realized that the New 52 was going to be a massive reboot of the continuity, I was a little annoyed. Again, really? Didn’t we just go through this not that long ago? Okay yes, it was a little longer for readers at the time, rather than the few months it took me to read through the trades since the last reboot. Still, is a reboot in the storyline really necessary every few years? I had a bad taste in my mouth before I even began, fearing that DC would start rebooting all of their comics every few years, simply for the sake of trying to garner new readers.
Since beginning the New 52 comics, my feelings have been mixed, to say the least. The individual stories themselves are good, with overall solid writing and interesting storylines. That being said, I was really unhappy with the massive overhaul that seemed to have taken place. It felt as though nearly the entire continuity had been rewritten, with plenty of characters completely changing while others were nowhere to be found. As I was reading, I found myself wondering, “What was the point in reading these nearly 400 trades, if they were just going to reboot everything so that none of it mattered?” Obviously that’s a rather cynical take, and it’s not as though those stories aren’t still part of canon or play a role in the stories being told. It just felt like I was being expected to forget what I had read, and replace it with all of this new information. If it was frustrating for me, a person who’s only been reading comics for a little over a year, I can’t begin to imagine what lifelong fans were going through.
Other than this obvious change to the larger story, one of my biggest issues was with the overall tonal shift of the comics. Prior to the New 52, DC had struck a good balance between tone and emotion with its individual titles. Some were dark, others were more lighthearted, but all had a variety of emotions that lent a level of realism to the stories. With the New 52, it felt as though DC believed the only way they would get and keep readers was to be edgy and dark, regardless of the title. Batman is edgy and dark most of the time, yes, but should a Superman comic really be the same? Or even worse, Shazam!? Certain titles that have no place being dark have been twisted and morphed into something they’ve never been before. I’m all for allowing characters to change and evolve over time, but some of these shifts were too drastic to be believable, and they were all inevitably towards this singular tone. It seems the days of lighter comics like I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League are gone, leaving me to wonder if the tone of the DC multiverse will ever be as varied and diverse as it once was.
That being said, I can’t completely hate the reboot. I genuinely respect what DC was trying to do, specifically in attempting to bring a level of diversity to its characters. Many of these characters were created 60+ years ago, and because of the time period they were created, most are white males. This doesn’t do much to bring in a more varied readership when there’s a large group of people who can’t relate to the bulk of your characters. DC’s attempts to modernize its characters are obvious: Earth 2’s Green Lantern is now gay, Hawkgirl is black (and completely independent, I’m happy to note; no sign of Hawkman as of yet). Even non-hero characters have been made more original and modern; my favorite being Lana Lang, now a strong and sassy electrical engineer who dives headfirst into danger and talks back to Superman when he’s annoying her. The diversity is noticeable, and I applaud DC for wanting to branch out with their characters and reach out to a wider audience.
Still, as I’m reading these comics I can’t help but wonder if the massive reboot was really necessary. Couldn’t more diversity have been added without adding in this whole “everything still happened, it just happened in 5 years” thing? Couldn’t they have changed characters’ races and sexual orientations without completely rewriting their backstories? If anything I think it would have been more powerful to reveal a long-standing character as gay, rather than completely rewrite their histories. The stories are fun and entertaining to read, but it’s difficult to keep track of what’s still part of continuity and what isn’t. I vastly prefer a multiverse where everything that’s been written up until that point, both good and bad, is acknowledged as having happened. Readers should be rewarded for their loyalty and knowledge, not pushed aside to make way for brand new fans who know nothing about the stories. (Is it obnoxious for me to say that, having only been reading comics for a little over a year? I’ve read nearly 400 trades in that time, so I’m choosing to say no it’s not).
It’s somewhat comforting to know that Rebirth is just around the corner. I have no idea what all is happening in the stories right now, but I’m confident that perhaps the continuity will be rewritten again, and hopefully for the better. Had I been reading these comics a year or two ago, before Rebirth was a thing, I would no doubt have been really angry, feeling as though the past 75+ years of comics were for nothing, and that DC was looking to rewrite nearly everything in its history. At least I can comfort myself with knowing that there is another reboot coming up soon enough, and will hopefully correct some of these issues I have with the New-52 era comics. In the meantime, I’m just trying to enjoy the stories for what they are and focus less on their impact to the overall continuity.