DC's The New 52: My take, ten years later...
In September of 2011, DC Comics did the unthinkable--cancelled all of their titles and relaunched 52 new ones with new first issues. This bold move, not really seen since, reset the board for the DC
multiverse and, in many ways, reinvigorated comics. For me, it was even more exciting with the local Hastings getting floppies and a plethora of reading options outside of the DC titles like I'd never seen before.
Sadly, it's a decade later and like Hastings, itself, the New 52 is long past. Several Crises later, the DC universe has mostly morphed into some amalgamation of pre-Flashpoint (the event that ended the old universe or not), the New 52, and more modern takes on characters like Jonathan Kent as Superman and Jace Fox as Batman.
From the previews and online chatter, what would've been my favorite book--Red Robin or something of the like, never made it to print. The Tim Drake that appeared as part of Teen Titans in the New 52 didn't seem right (New 52 had a tendency to make every character 'edgy") and it began a long slog of years that DC found themselves unable to use Tim in a meaningful way. Even the post-New 52 relaunch, Rebirth, put Tim Drake's Red Robin in a classic-inspired suit and made a key player in Detective Comics written by Tim fan James Tynion IV--only to fake kill him off a few issues in.
But, of the books that launched as part of the New 52 or the mid-52 "DC You" launch, few were memorable. Some were good and I just didn't read them. Other were okay, but nothing that lasted. Here were the ones that I can say that I looked forward to each week.
Batman - This was the #1 that launched Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo into a massive run that introduced the Court of Owls, among other concepts. A consistently good read and it made a lasting impact, even post-New 52.
Animal Man and Swamp Thing - I didn't always read these books, but it reminded us that DC could do good horror and while Animal Man has again fallen to the wayside, Swamp Thing continues to pop up in comics and other media, including the cancelled-too-soon TV series.
Teen Titans - Okay, these weren't Geoff Johns' Teen Titans, but it was a new take and mostly showcased the modern members like Tim Drake, Cassie Sandsmark, and some version of Bart Allen. It also introduced one of the few cool characters from New 52, Bunker.
Superboy - Like Tim Drake, this was a new take on Superboy and not the loyal Conner Kent we'd become accustomed to. Eventually, they killed him off and then a second version went away until Conner finally returned in Brian Michael Bendis' Young Justice. The art wasn't great and the stories weren't either, but it was Superboy, which is more than we get today.
Talon - An odd book, but still a gem for me about a rogue Talon from the Court of Owls.
Earth 2 - Set on another Earth, this series had modern takes on Golden age heroes like Green Lantern and the Flash. It's biggest draw for me was that fact that it had it's own continuity and wasn't forced into the strange continuity of the New 52 era.
Grayson - Dick Grayson "dies" and becomes a secret double agent of Spyral. The art and story were both great, but everyone knew he'd go back to Nightwing eventually.
Nightwing - I enjoyed the New 52 version, especially the first few issues. I, for one, didn't mind the new red suit.
The Flash - Great art and great Flash stories of Barry Allen early in his career. In more recent years, it feels like the Flash writers don't know what to do with Barry if they can't do something Speed Force-related, but the New 52 reboot was a creative breath of fresh air.
Batwoman - J. H. Williams III doing art and writing. It's a spectacle. I've picked up multiple copies of the trade of this run for the art alone. But alas, ten years later, including a damned TV show, and DC hasn't been able to tell a good Batwoman story--now relegating her to specials and cameos.
Hawk & Dove - Not a popular one, but with Rob Liefeld on art and more contained than some of the other books, I found Hawk & Dove a good read and a constant pick up throughout its 8 issue run.
Aquaman - This was a pickup for refreshed storytelling and Ivan Reis' art. It was successful enough that Aquaman even got a second series, Aquaman and the Others! Both eventually waned and DC went back to the godawful seahag look to align with the DCEU movies. Give me the blond and orange svelte version of the King of the Sea any day.
I, Vampire - The story was okay, but that Andrea Sorrentino art was both moody and stylized. This series led me to discover the character of Andrew Bennett, but I got to say this version looks much better than the classic Bronze-age vampire. The cover art to the 1st issue draws me back to read the trade every time. For that matter, why does DC suck so bad at doing posters of their great cover art?
Batman Beyond - This was the DC Universe Batman Beyond who died in the Future's End weekly event series only to be replaced by an older Tim Drake. While it meant 2 books with Tim, I just couldn't get that into this one. I read it for what it was and it wasn't horrible, but it wasn't the Batman Beyond I expected. Eventually Terry McGinnis returned.
Batman: Eternal - A weekly event series, followed up by Batman and Robin: Eternal. Red Robin featured quite a bit, as I recall, which meant it was a sure pick up.
The DC You mini launch of titles, the follow up to New 52 before the Rebirth reboot, included a lot of stinkers. The best of the lot were the aforementioned Batman Beyond and Superman: Lois and Clark, which set the stage for the Superman we have today and cleaned up the crap show that Superman had become in the New 52. Others worth a read were Midnighter, introducing the Wildstorm character into the DC universe in a sexy, violent series. And We are Robin, by Lee Bermejo. It was another beautifully drawn series and featured Gotham teens taking to the streets as Robins. It only ran 12 issues and featured Duke Thomas, but it could've benefited from having, you know, an actual Robin.
Was the New 52 reboot worth it? Absolutely. A lack of planning and mediocre titles weighed down what could've been a really great run in the history of comics. DC couldn't let decades of Batman history lapse and tried to force it all into a mere 5 years. There was no history of the DC universe or superheroes prior to the formation of the Justice League in New 52 (it's launch title). That's fine, but why did Batman have four Robins in that short time? How did all the great tales like Death in the Family and Killing Joke happen?
Should DC do it again? Yes and no. If I was calling the shots, I'd create a DC version of Marvel's Ultimate line from years back. Start the DC universe fresh with the naïve, but mid-western values laden Clark Kent. Bruce Wayne and his young ward, Dick Grayson. Diana Prince, in man's world fighting for our rights in man's war. Do it as a modern telling of Golden age stories or heck, put a modern spin on it. But most importantly, it would be fun and not burdened by 80 years of continuity.
But then I would keep half or so of the line as the regular DC Universe. This let's us have our favorite legacy and modern characters (yes, I mean Tim Drake, Conner Kent, etc.) And finally, I would bring back what DC tried with New 52 in having titles as part of families. "Justice League", "Batman", "Superman", "Green Lantern", "Young Justice", "The Edge", and "The Dark". I wouldn't use all of those, but the idea was good. I'm not complaining, but today it would seem that it would be "Batman Family" and "Others".
And yet, in all those titles, be it during the New 52, or today when 3/4 of the books per month relate to the Bat family, DC still doesn't have a spot for Tim Drake.