CC Issue 31 / Literature

State of the Universe

Just over a year ago, DC Comics re-launched their entire lineup during an event known as The New 52. Character lore and all previous stories were abandoned, and 52 “new” books were launched as #1 issues.

I don’t buy as many comics as I used to, but I like to drop in from time to time and take home a few current ones to see what’s going on with my favorite superheroes. I’ll never get the whole picture, as most single issues tell only part of a larger story. There is, however, usually enough to see if I’d like to read the trade paperback sometime down the road.

I’ve amassed a collection of DC stories that run from their very first attempt at a company-wide reboot, Crisis on Infinite Earths, to the Blackest Night event of a couple years ago. Lately, though, I’ve been largely out-of-touch with the current adventures of Batman, Superman, and the rest of the Justice League.

My last window into the DC Universe was with a dozen or so of The New 52 #1s. Overall, they hadn’t thrilled me. A week ago, I decided it was time to check in again, and walked out of the local toyshop with 15 titles from the $2 clearance box. They cover a hopefully representative swath of DC’s latest offerings. I came away with issues as recent as #13, or one month behind the current number, and including several of the #0s, which were part of a one-year anniversary event and function as prequels to the present stories. I was excited to see if the blank slate concept had paid off.

In short, the answer is “no”.

The New 52 is a mess of confusing storytelling, weak characterization, sexist overtones, re-tread plots, and over-the-top violence. This sucks all of the fun right out of the world. And fun is what comics should be. They should be adventure stories. You shouldn’t feel like you need to shower after reading them. Some are worse. Some are boring.

The “highlights”, then.

Aquaman spies on his teenage daughter as she changes her clothes in Batman Beyond Unlimited #7. She knows he’s there. That’s creepy.

Powergirl’s new, “modest”, costume keeps getting blasted off. Huntress makes a joke about this. That’s about all you’ll get out of World’s Finest #5.

The new Green Lantern in Green Lantern #13, Simon Baz, is of Arabic descent, and one of the first beats in his origin story is that he’s mistaken for a terrorist. Really? He’s an intergalactic policeman, and this is the best way to introduce him? Does a space comic have to play on ethnicity?

In Nightwing #13, Barbara Gordon, who, in the old continuity, was a strong, independent woman, even though she’d been paralyzed by the Joker, is healed. But now, as Batgirl again, she’s portrayed as nothing more than a whining, terrified little girl. It’s not an improvement.

For Birds of Prey #12, my only notes were “nothing makes sense.”

And in Legends of the Dark Knight #1, Batman says the following: “I hate space. It can kill you in under a minute.” That’s dialogue right out of “Attack of the Clones”, there.

Not quite everything was terrible. Three issues stood above the rest. Wonder Woman #12 was a creative fusion of Greek myth and DC’s New Gods. Batman and Robin #13 has a space-rocket ride and a zombie attack. It’s hard to go wrong with those elements. Lastly, Justice League #13 had several compelling story threads and colorful, vibrant artwork.

Still, on the whole, the quality of The New 52 is underwhelming. I’d really like to think that maybe this batch is an anomaly. After all, these are only 15 out of 52 monthly titles. Maybe these ones were in the bargain bin for a reason and the really good ones are sold out. Maybe, like in the first seasons of great TV shows, the writers need a little bit more time to play in their new sandbox and even this lot can improve. I hope so. Otherwise I’ll have to start reading Marvel.

The other comics that I based my impression on:

Batman #0

Batman and Robin #0

Detective Comics #13

Justice League #0

Red Hood and the Outlaws #13

Red Lanterns #12

2 thoughts on “State of the Universe

  1. As an avid comic book reader, it’s plain to see that this pariticular article wasn’t aimed at me. While there is still much criticism on DC’s [not so] “New 52” I have to point out that most comics contain stories and plot points that can’t be summed up in a single issue. This might explain why much of what you read didn’t make sense to you. I have to confess to recently dropping a few Dc titles from my monthly pull list due to the mediocrity of the storytelling, but there a few that are genuinely great reads. If you really want to give the New DC a chance, pick up some trades of Batman by Scott Snyder (the Court of Owls storyline was fantastic) and some Action by Grant Morrison. These are great reads of classic characters written by some of the best creative minds the industry has to offer.

    Also, I’ve been reading both Nightwing and Batgirl regularly and definitely got a more strong and independant vibe without noticing any of the whining you mention. Perhaps it was just the context of the situation you read.

    Anyway, I’m not trying to question your assessment, just add a bit more depth to it. The New 52 does have its flaws but I won’t call it the lost cause that most people believe it to be.

    Sometimes it makes more sense to follow a creator you like than to try to follow a character because they’re cool. It can be a more rewarding experience.

    That said, don’t give up on comics, just try a different approach

    p.s. Birds of Prey doesn’t make sense to me either.

  2. Matt,
    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. It raises a couple of points that I was not very clear about in my post.
    First off, I should explain that, for interest’s sake, I tried to limit my critique to raising one highlight or lowlight per issue, and even then, I didn’t cover all of the ones I read recently. A better idea may have been to choose fewer books, but focus on a more in-depth review of each one. I was trying to create a snapshot of this specific experience. My opinion was slightly less than positive, so to simplify, I didn’t delve into a lot of details.
    There were several books that weren’t too bad, but they didn’t do enough to grab my attention, and there were a couple of cases where the biggest problem that I had came in a book that, overall, wasn’t as bad as can be inferred from a single blurb.
    I have a pretty large collection of comics at home, so I understand that each issue is part of a larger story. Grant Morrison is a favorite. I’ve got most of his run on JLA, and Final Crisis. I’ve been hearing good things about Court of Owls but haven’t had a chance to pick it up.
    What I was unclear about was that the confusion I mentioned is on a more basic level. There were a couple of cases where the stories cut back and forth in scenes featuring even the same characters, and it felt like something was missing from that specific scene or issue. Usually when reading a single issue, I try to disregard story elements or plot holes that could have been explained in other books.
    I will fully admit that I haven’t been keeping up on the overall scope of the New 52. What little research that I put into this article beyond reading the books seemed to indicate that they are indeed doing a good job of keeping people interested. Unfortunately, I didn’t see a lot in the specific books that I bought on this occasion that really hooked me, although I wouldn’t rule out good stories overall, or that even the same series wouldn’t have appealing content. I live in a small town, and buying from the bargain bin pretty much guarantees that I’m not reading the cream of the crop. I assume the really good ones will have sold. I’m sure the next chance I get, I’ll be back to see what else they’ve got in store. I’ve also heard really good things about Animal Man, and Batwoman.
    Finally, thanks, also, for your recommendations. I’ll add them to my list!

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