Digesting the New 52: Introduction

29 09 2011

September is the month that fans of DC Comics have been anxiously anticipating, or in some cases dreading, since the publisher announced that the DC Universe would be relaunching. Every title would start with a new #1 issue, including books like Action Comics that had been running since the 1930s. Continuity would be reset and streamlined, with major changes in store for many characters.  Costumes would be changed and updated, and some characters would be completely different.

Comics fans are a cynical lot.  They don’t care for change, and take great pride in the amount of time, money, and emotional investment they’ve put into keeping up with decades of stories.  That said, the comic book fanbase has continued to shrink, even as movies and television have given superheroes a higher profile than possibly any other time in history.  The goals of the DC reboot were to make the stories more accessible, to modernize the looks and concepts of the characters, and to create a “jumping on” point for new readers.

As a comics fan, I sympathize with the resistance to change.  But as a teacher and a parent, I want to see kids reading comics, and that’s not happening these days.  The average age of the comic book reader keeps climbing higher, and today’s kid just isn’t interested in researching fifty years worth of continuity to understand what’s going on in a 20-page comic.  I can gladly accept some streamlining if it helps to make some new fans under the age of 30.

Despite my conservative preordering, I ended up giving about half of the new titles a try.   Some were good, some were bad, some were outstanding, and some were downright awful.  But for my purposes, I decided to look at the relaunch and assess two main components.  First, was the reboot even necessary for the story to succeed; and secondly, is the title accessible to new readers.

As for the first part, I found that well over half of the first issues I read could’ve taken place in the old DCU without any major changes to the story.  The Batman, Green Lantern, and Legion of Super-Heroes books seemed to pick up right where they left off.  Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Aquaman, Static Shock, and a few others seemed like typical first issues, establishing a new status quo for the title character and making some minor continuity tweaks, but otherwise didn’t involve anything that required a universal reboot.

A few, like Blue Beetle and Mr. Terrific made some changes to character origins and status quo, but how deep the changes go is yet to be determined.  Same with Wonder Woman, which makes significant changes to portrayal of the Greek Pantheon, but otherwise hasn’t revealed how this affects Diana’s origin or place in the world.

Of the books I’ve read, he biggest, most sweeping changes involve the Superman “family” of titles.  This is significant, since Superman and his mythos are so intricately woven into the entire DC Universe.  While Clark and Lois no longer being married (and in fact have never even dated) is a major change, it doesn’t have much of a ripple effect outside of the Superman books.  But any change to Superman’s history may have repercussions on the Justice League, the Legion of Super-Heroes, and his relationships with all of the major DC heroes.  Meanwhile, Superboy and Supergirl are all-new takes on these characters, and starting over from scratch with them opens up a whole new can of worms.

As for the second part of my assessment, the accessibility of the titles to new readers, things are looking to be pretty hit-or-miss, with a lot depending on your definition of a “new reader.”  This is something I’ll be looking at closely as I review each of the new titles – or at least the ones I’ve read – in a series of upcoming columns.

-dEV

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