CASB: Your Requisite New 52 One-Year Anniversary Retrospective

Because I've been thinking about a few things and hey, there's been a few of these already, so what's one more?

Let's start with a traditional list of pros and cons, shall we?

PROS of the New 52
  • The Commitment to Genre Diversity: Even when DC ends a title in a given genre, they try to replace it with a title in the same genre that will hopefully find an audience more than the earlier one.  As a fan of All-Star Western, I appreciate this conscious decision not to concentrate solely on the capes & tights.
  • Using Earth-2 As Something Other Than an Acquired Properties Dumping Ground: Seriously, two of the books that I look forward to the most are World's Finest & Earth-2.  This world, rebuilding & reclaiming heroism after being devastated by Darkseid, is compelling and answers questions that many modern readers might have (especially in the treatment of Terry Sloane, who I always thought was a narcissistic creep at his core).  Meanwhile, we see just how good that world once was as two dimensionally-tossed natives build new lives on Earth-1.  It's some of the more solid writing I've seen from both Robinson & Levitz in years, and the art (especially on WF with Perez & Maguire) is dynamic.
  • Making Sure Cancelled Characters Aren't Forgotten: Setting up potential return gateways for players whose books have been cancelled is always good, and it's nice to see that Voodoo & OMAC haven't been totally packed away into storage.  Now if only the same courtesy could've been extended to Static...
CONS of the New 52
  • Reign of the Grimdark: Look, I can understand why people, especially publishers, get nostalgic for the boom times of the 90s, but the emphasis on the stereotypical 90s aesthetic has rendered the majority of the titles dark & joyless.  I LOVED John Rodgers' Blue Beetle, but the New 52 version is practically a checklist on tired angst-delivery cliches for teen heroes.  Teen Titans is finally removed from the whole "Culling" nonsense & lets the characters actually have fun & be characters, but the art is still dark, scratchy, & grimey.  Batgirl is setting up a lovely animal-torturing-roommate-murdering-psycho-brother plotline that isn't terribly interesting.  The cover of Phantom Lady promisted a light-hearted book, but the interior has "realistic" art & a dour, depressing story about a heroine whose main crimefighting tactic is to sleep around & also have a disposible roomie.  Even the much-ballyhooed romance between Superman & Wonder Woman is being treated as a terrible, world-destroying omen.  It's at the point where I'm strangely glad that no one was horribly maimed & murdered in the JLI annual (Kevin's coma comes close but there's a door for recovery there).  It's a very depressing experience, and when your real life is depressing enough, you don't need your prefered form of entertainment to be just as eager to grind you down.
  • Look At Me, Mass Media, I Am Being Relevant: While both of the Big Two can be pretty awful about this, it seems like DC can't stand to let more than a few days go by without a big alert-the-AP announcement.  There's the romance thing, the new GL, the new version of Alan Scott, anything it seems to constantly keep their name in publications that still have the "Bang! Zoom! Comics Aren't For Kids Anymore!" attitude.  Even if the end results are well-written & entertaining, it reeks of desperation and continues to make this medium & all who participate in it rather juvenile.  Let the characters & plots speak for themselves, not the PR department.
  • Alienating Bronze & Modern Age Fans Almost Deliberately: If there is anyone from DC Comics reading this, I want you to pay attention to this.  When you brush off questions about Wally West, you make everything worse.  When you brush off questions about Donna Troy, you make everything worse.  When you brush off questions about Stephanie Brown, you make everything worse.  I can understand if you're frustrated (no one likes a bunch of fans with tinfoil hats thinking that you're conspiring deliberately against them), but you need to be more honest than "no plans right now".  Tell us why you don't want to use any of the characters that readers from those two eras tend to really like.  Is it mere authorial preference?  Is it lack of a logical role in the stories?  The more you give people the cold shoulder, the more hostile they'll get.  Remember H.E.A.T. and all of their violence-threatening craziness?  We're getting to that level again, and it's freaking scary.  Just be honest with why you don't want to use Bronze & Modern Age favorites.
At the end of the day, I feel there's more bad than good in the current tone & approach to the New 52, but there's enough good in individual books to keep me coming back.  I am looking forward to Sword of Sorcery, if only because I'm dying to see what Christy Marx will do with Amethyst.  Here's a breakdown of the titles I'm reading for the curious:

All-Star Western: I was surprised at how solid this turned out to be.  The different creators are making really good use of DC's oft-neglected Western series.
Supergirl: One of my current favorites.  Kara isn't so much hostile as very confused & scared (she still only speaks Kryptonian), and her attempts to find out her parents' fates & learn her new place are actually very compelling.
Batgirl: I will probably bail on this after "Knightfall".  Gail Simone's affection for Barbara Gordon is obvious, but her characterization & inner voice are literally the most interesting element.  Her supporting cast isn't that interesting (I actively hate her annoying roommate & look forward to her eventual death), and with one exception (the "three thirty-three" plot), I find the stories to be blah.
Birds of Prey: Another one that I was expecting to have left by now, but the current team has an interesting, shaky-but-still-functional dynamic and get involved in straightforward action plots that showcase the characters.  It's good, but if it had to end, I wouldn't miss it too much.
Flash: The highlight of this series is Francis Manapul's amazing artwork; when he's absent from that part, it suffers.  However, he has done a lot to redeem Barry Allen after Flashpoint's toxic influence and given him an interesting millieu & cast to react to.
World's Finest/Earth-2: See above.  I cannot praise WF enough.  I may hate his current Legion run, but this book shows that Paul Levitz can still do an awesome job.  And while E2 isn't exactly "light", you can tell that Robinson is having fun thinking of how to make this Earth its own universe.
Frankenstein & JL Dark: While they're at the bottom of the pile, I do enjoy them.  They're in the same "I'll drop them if they're cancelled" boat as BoP.
Teen Titans: Now that the crossover's over, Scott Lobdell is doing the kind of work that made his GenX run entertaining.  If this book had a different artist, I'd bet people would be all over it.

DROPPED BOOKS: Wonder Woman (okay but nothing compelling); Legion of Super-Heroes (Harmonia Li still in this? Yeah, I'm not reading it); Legion Lost (liked FabNic's run but after that, it went downhill fast); Blue Beetle (see above - how to completely ruin a likable hero & his great supporting cast); Ravagers (I gave it a fair shot, nothing great); Phantom Lady (congrats, you lost me on your first shot with that depressing, sexist mire).

CANCELLED BOOKS: JLI (probably the most traditional superhero team book, not great but still fun; I'm pretty sure that "fun" was what killed it); Voodoo (much, much more enjoyable story of identity & alien nature than the first issue & its attendant controversy ever let on; sad to see it end & really hoping Basri gets another gig); Static (felt like it was repeating itself, although the story with Sharon was pretty interesting; here's hoping they bring Virgil out of Limbo & use him well someday); OMAC (I'll mourn ya till I join ya, favorite book of the relaunch; your insanity was too good for this sinful market).

I am sticking with DC for now - they're still my favorite soap opera.  But I just wish that they'd have a bit more FUN with it.  Like I said, not everyone wants to read a constant slog of gritty angst that seems like it's trying too hard to be daring.  I don't want to take another break like I did the last time the market thought that was a good move.


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