28 August 2012

One Year of DC Comics: The New 52

This month brought us the twelfth issues of The New 52 relaunched titles from DC Comics, or at least those that weren't canceled along the way. It's been a mixed bag. Overall, it's been a boon to DC sales and the tide has lifted the chatter boat for the entire industry, though of course that hasn't necessarily translated into a boon in sales for non-DC titles. Some books have been hits, others have already been canceled and yet others have limped along with decent sales but incurring the ire of readers every step of the way. Some characters have been given the short shrift, and some creators, too. You can find a rundown of all that elsewhere. My remarks are going to be confined to my own experience as a reader.

When The New 52 was announced, I was among those who expected it to turn out to be just another in a long line of overhyped event stories. "Everything changes!" Sure. Just like everything changed all those other times. Still, my interest in comics had been rekindling for nearly three years by that point and I found the chance to start fresh with new monthlies appealing. Until the New 52, I had concentrated exclusively on filling in gaps in my collection by rummaging through the back issue boxes at The Great Escape and Half Price Books. I hadn't touched a new comic in ages. I took a look at the 52 titles, even running a series of anticipatory thoughts on each of them here in this blog, noting my level of interest, etc. I became more excited as we got closer to the launch.

Initially, my two must-reads were going to be All-Star Western and Batgirl. What appealed to me about ASW was that it was set outside the rest of the titles, taking place in the late 19th Century. That meant little chance of it being roped into inevitable crossovers and universe building, though I did anticipate plot points would be established there that would manifest in present-day books from time to time, given that it's set in Gotham City. However, out of convenience, I began buying my New 52 comics at Barnes & Noble and they didn't stock All-Star Western so I missed out on it in the beginning and just sort of let it go. I did eventually pick up the first issue at The Great Escape, and I have another issue (#4, maybe?) but it's safe to say I've failed entirely at reading that book.

Batgirl, however, I've read throughout the year. It's been one of the most rewarding monthlies I've ever read. My absolute all-time favorites are, of course, Batman titles. My favorite was/is Legends of the Dark Knight, with The Batman Adventures and Batman: Shadow of the Bat right behind. Batgirl is on the same tier as Shadow of the Bat for me through its first year, and I can easily see it moving up the chain from there.
What I've enjoyed most about Batgirl is that Batgirl herself is a fully developed character. She has flaws. She has emotional triggers. She has a terrific sense of humor. She is steadfast in her values, but still working on her self-confidence. The parallels between her and myself as I've worked through my Year of Hell are obvious, and I readily admit I may have an emotional investment in Barbara that biases me in her favor.

I did pick up some other New 52 books, though. I bought Action Comics #1, intrigued by it being set five years prior to the rest of the New 52 present day. I liked it well enough and I was interested to see where it would go, but then before issue #2 even came out, it was announced that after issue #6 the book would jump forward to the present day. I felt cheated out of the primary appeal of the book and bailed.

I also picked up Batwoman and Detective Comics. I was interested in Batwoman because I was intrigued by the character (I hadn't read anything featuring her before, so it was only intrigue for me). The art by J.H. Williams III was admittedly gorgeous, but that first issue was almost entirely told with splash pages. It took me all of about five minutes to read and I felt it was awkward, full of clunky exposition, and yet simultaneously vapid. The second issue was a marked improvement, but it's been a very inconsistent book. I stuck through the first arc just to give it a fair shake, and decided to try the second primarily because I was interested to see how differently it would go with Amy Reeder handling the art. Then she was one of the various creators unceremoniously discarded by DC mid-story and I only completed reading "To Drown the World" because I was already halfway through it. I did, however, decide that issue #11 will be my last. I'll happily check out the third arc in collected form eventually, as I do like the character and I believe in this series's potential, but I'm just not enjoying the storytelling.

As for Detective Comics, I hadn't planned to buy any Batman solo books originally. I didn't have a strong feeling for which to pick and I didn't even want to start with something that was going to compel me to wind up following all four. But then after I picked up Action Comics #1, it seemed natural to also buy Detective Comics #1. I had a conversation with my pal Jandy about it and I think I was also drawn to 'Tec because it was the first Batman comic I ever bought (Detective Comics #603 in 1989). There's some kind of salmon-back-to-the-stream psychological association at work, drawing us back to whatever titles were our firsts.

The first issue had a few missteps, but overall I absolutely loved the first 4-issue arc. It was my favorite of the three books I read at the time. Then it began to adhere to the law of diminishing returns. I still liked the second arc, featuring The Penguin, but it was a step down from The Dollmaker arc. Then came this stuff with Mr. Toxic and I just can't even say I care about it. The back-up stories featuring Catwoman and Two-Face have been terrific, though, and they've helped offset my waning enjoyment of the primary stories. Writer/illustrator Tony Daniel is leaving the book (or has been thrown off it; I'm unclear) after Detective Comics Annual #1 (due tomorrow) and next month's Detective Comics #0. I'll give his successors a trial, but if they don't wow me, I may bail on this book, too.

I'm told I would enjoy Scott Snyder's work on Batman, but I made the conscious decision to avoid that one shortly after I learned that "The Court of the Owls" story was going to be so long; and that was before it yielded to "The Night of the Owls" crossover that so awkwardly ran roughshod over other comics. Mind you, I actually liked both Daniel's 'Tec and Simone's Batgirl issues but both felt like interruptions in those respective series. I've heard it was even worse in some of the other books. Still, I'm curious enough that I'd like to sit down with The Court of the Owls collected edition and see what I think.
Though they're all published in different weeks, I've been holding off until I have all three books in hand to read them together. I've started with Batwoman more often than not, because it's been the one where my expectations have been the lowest. Each month, I called it a win if the issue didn't make me feel cheated. That's not a very rewarding feeling for an ongoing reader, though, which is why I've bailed. Then I'd read Detective Comics and get my Batman fix. Last is always Batgirl because I know it'll be the best and leave me on a high. I love that when I finish reading Batgirl, I have that rush of "ZOMG! WHY ISN'T IT NEXT MONTH ALREADY?!" That's the hallmark of a great monthly, and I want that feeling when I finish reading each comic. Tony Daniel gave it to me for the first five months of 'Tec, but it came less frequently and with less potency thereafter.

At C2E2, I also picked up two issues of the already-canceled Men of War. I was kind of interested in that one just because it wasn't a superhero book and I thought some variety might be nice, plus I absolutely loved the covers by Viktor Kalvachev. His artwork blew away all other covers on the shelves each month. There were only eight issues published (making it particularly irksome that the collected edition only includes the first six), so I'm thinking with Batwoman off my reading list I might begin rummaging through the back issue bins for the six issues I don't already have of that book. There's no immediacy to it, though.
When The New 52 launched, everyone knew it would go through this kind of attrition, losing readers along the way. The question was, once the dust settled, would it stand as a success? I hadn't touched new monthlies in about a decade. I bought four #1 issues (later another two). I've read three books through the first eleven issues and am still actively reading two of them. I could see myself replacing Batwoman with something else. Obviously, my reading isn't going to make or break DC Comics. But I suspect I'm fairly representative of a lot of readers from my generation who bailed around the turn of the century but have remained fans of the medium and were lured back by The New 52 to sample the wares. I can't say whether there are enough of us that DC is happy, but I can say that as long as Gail Simone keeps writing Batgirl, I'm happy.


  1. Ironically enough, I thought Batwoman #12 was the most coherent and exiting issue in quite a while. I've been sort of stringing along on it for a few issues, but I'm back in it now.

    I won't go through everything I've read here (I've at least dabbled in more than thirty titles, but a lot of them without buying them), but the ones that give me that "IS IT NEXT WEEK YET" feeling are, in descending order or excitement: Batman, Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Demon Knights (I'm frankly shocked myself at how excited I get when I see this on the new release shelf at the shop), and to a slightly lesser extent Batgirl, Catwoman, Supergirl, and Justice League Dark. Oh, and I guess Batwoman again now.

    We're still reading Superman, Action Comics, and All-Star Western, but they tend to be pretty variable in quality - some issues I'm like, ooh, that was awesome, and others I'm like, what the heck was that. Action Comics in particular tends to throw in a ton of WTF stuff that confuses the crap out of me, but then something really cool or intriguing will happen to make me go ahead and pick up the next issue. All-Star Western has been meandering its way around, but I like the setting and art so much I've stuck with it, and the last couple of issues have been quite good.

    We also picked up Dial H and Earth 2 from the second wave, and we'll probably be dropping Earth 2 soon. It's not nearly as interesting as I thought it would be. Dial H can get pretty weird and sometimes incoherent, but it also has some really unique and unusual concepts, which intrigue me enough to keep at it for now. And we'll likely be getting the Talon spin-off when it comes out, thanks to our love for Scott Snyder's Batman.

  2. One thing that's obvious about Batwoman is that it's not a monthly comic that's periodically collected; it's a graphic novel that's original serialized. It doesn't read like a monthly at all, and that's why I'm inclined to believe it may read better in collected form.

    I was originally interested in several of the titles you've mentioned, including Justice League Dark which I thought could be a lot of fun. I've also had high hopes for DC Universe Presents, being the fan of anthologies that I am. So far, though, I haven't been terribly interested in either the featured characters or creative teams enough to buy into the series, but I keep it on my radar. That's one where, because of the structure, I feel it's entirely fine to dip in and out depending on my interest level from arc to arc. I'm just waiting for my interest level to high high enough that I want to dip in.

    I wanted to read something with Superman, but after the "Never mind; we're going present day with this after all" reversal on Action Comics and the lousy word of mouth about Superman early on, I just couldn't talk myself into either. The emphasis on Supergirl as being a combative hothead just seemed lazy and uninteresting to me and I just haven't really ever cared about Superboy.

    Spinning out from a forum discussion I recently had, I think I would very much be interested in a Lois Lane solo book. Here's the pitch: To still be in business in 2012, it's clear that The Daily Planet isn't just being read in Metropolis and it's not just covering Metropolis business. It must operate on at least a national level with very likely a growing presence in international news. Since Lois is their star reporter and since she's not presently committed to Clark Kent, I say send her out to cover superhero stories across the country, even the whole world. She'd be like Anderson Cooper is for natural disasters, only without his dreamy blue eyes.

    As a book, it would operate both to give cohesion to the universe-building aspects that DC loves so much as well as functioning as a sort of backdoor anthology book. It might initially feel like a team-up-of-the-month comic, but what could really make it interesting is to see their world through Lois's eyes. She has no superpowers, and she's extremely forthright about her values. There's a lot of potential to see her as a highly capable field reporter, which we haven't *really* seen in ages. And the best part is, Superman doesn't have to be anywhere near this book for it to work.