It’s been a little over a year since the launch of The New 52 so I feel it’s time to take a look back at this initiative’s success and look forward a bit to what The New 52 will look like in the future. Regardless of how you feel about the reboot it’s clear that The New 52 gambit worked out very well for DC Comics and, according to some, the comic book industry as a whole. In light of that, I wanted to talk about about the success of The New 52, the concept of reboots, and my concerns with how the New 52 will look like a few years from now.
First of all, if you’ve read my stuff before, you can probably tell that I’m a long time fan of DC Comics. However, something you may not know about me is that I used to sell comics. So, when I first heard the news that DC was going to reboot their entire line, I was extremely excited from a retailers perspective but a bit worried as a fan. What was exciting was that from a comic salesman’s perspective, there is nothing easier to sell than a brand new #1 of a major comic book character, let alone an entire comic book universe. From a fan’s perspective, however, I was terrified that they were going to ruin everything I loved about my favorite heroes.
A year later, dramatically improved sales figures prove that the New 52 is a bona fide success. It’s also allowed the DCU to become a much more accessible place. So much so that even Marvel loyalists are now following DC on a monthly basis! From a fan’s perspective, you’ve seen some of my concerns expressed on this blog but, overall, I’m extremely excited for what’s happened this past year and for what year two of the The New 52 will bring.
And lets not forget about this:
Beyond the developments that I’ve seen with the characters of The New 52, I’ve also enjoyed the changes in HOW their stories are being told. Many of my favorite New 52 books are now being told in 12-issue arcs, almost like a season of television. For many years, some readers have complained about the 6-issue story arcs that have been the industry norm for quite some time. As far as I can see, these fans definitely had a valid point. Books like Batman, Wonder Woman, Animal Man, and Swamp Thing have been able to tell truly epic stories with this new year long format and are easily the books I’m most excited to read. There are other books I’m not mentioning here that have also taken on this new format, and I hope that the rest of DC’s titles take on a similar format soon.
Now, let’s move on to the topic of reboots which leads into one of my concerns with The New 52. The reason the comic book reboot exists is to streamline certain characters (or entire lines) with confusing continuities. This is usually due to a combination of things including the fact that they’ve existed for decades and/or because poor writing or editorial choices have made their back story too hard to follow.
One of my favorite examples of this in the DCU is Black Canary. I won’t go into too many details here but a quick look at Wikipedia can give you the gory details. What I’ll say is that the character was first introduced way back in the 1940’s and, throughout the decades, eventually became her own daughter (!) before getting rebooted and simplified in Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Now, on to my concern. What is going to happen a few years from now when all of the shine and polish given to the DCU by the reboot has started to fade? There is going to come a point, from a new reader perspective, when so much has happened in The New 52 that it will be just as “convoluted” a place as it was before the reboot. It took Black Canary DECADES for her back story to become so confusing that a reboot was needed. Unfortunately, the rest of the DCU hasn’t been as lucky.
If you take a look at this article from Comics Alliance, you’ll see that DC has been rebooting it’s continuity for almost as long as it’s been around. The first big reboot occurred in the 1950’s when they decided to get rid of many of their Golden Age characters in favor of shiny, new sci-fi versions. This new era was known as the Silver Age and things were fine…for a while. It wasn’t long before fans of the Golden Age characters wondered where their old school favorites had gone. The solution to this led to another slight reboot/retcon in the 1960’s where it was revealed that the Golden Agers were safe and sound on Earth 2. DC took this a step further and declared that EVERYTHING seen in the early history of DC’s publications occurred on Earth 2.
The concept of multiple universes or the “multiverse” was, is, and forever will be one of my favorite concepts in the DCU (and in general…Sliders ruled) and was greatly received by fans and creators alike. However, roughly 25 years after, this fun solution started looking like more of a problem to the higher-ups at DC. This is when they decided to release Crisis on Infinite Earths which attempted to streamline the multiverse into one cohesive whole. While this did simplify many things in the DCU it lead to other problems including major continuity issues with the Legion of Superheroes and Hawkman, among others.
The picture above illustrates what can happen to some characters when they are rebooted. Even though the purpose of the original Crisis was to streamline the DCU, Hawkman’s continuity became infinitely more complex. I won’t go into details here but Hawkman ended up having so many origins that they eventually turned that into one of his superpowers! It took years of retcons and tweaks to get Hawkman to a point where his back story made some kind of sense again, but even then he was a tough character for new readers to get into.
Unfortunately, Hawkman wasn’t DC’s only problem, and for years after the original Crisis, they struggled to keep their continuity streamlined. However, no matter how hard they tried, they just couldn’t keep it simple. Every 10 years or so DC seemed to need yet another reboot in an effort to ensure new reader accessibility. While doing research for this post I learned that this is known as a “Continuity Snarl.” This is when constant reboots do the opposite of what they intend to do and actually make comic franchises impenetrable. That’s bad.
Fortunately for The New 52, I don’t think they have a problem as significant as the Legion or Hawkman. Although there are many questions currently in regards to the timing of things. With DC’s new “5 year rule” most of their character origins go back only 5 years. This problem is most apparent for characters like Batman and Green Lantern. We are now expected to believe that Batman has gone through 4 Robin’s in 5 years and that Earth has amassed 5 Green Lantern’s when 2 is generally the norm. That’s got to be some kind of record! This is just the tip of the ice burg as other questions exist and more could pop up down the line. However, since a lot of the continuity problems are a result of the “5 year rule,” I’m hoping DC can find a reboot-less solution for that soon.
My fear is that small issues like the ones I just mentioned will snow ball into larger ones down the line or that more continuity issues will arise. If they do, I hope that DC will find simple in-continuity explanations for them but, I’m worried that things will be as impenetrable 5 or 10 years from now for new readers. If this is the case, will DC find the need for yet another reboot? I certainly hope not, considering all of the work that was put into The New 52, not to mention all of the characters that were sacrificed in order to streamline DC’s illustrious continuity.
As a long time fan of DC Comics, I’ve never been fully on board with The New 52. Many of my favorite characters are now gone, while other characters have been re-imagined in some…unfortunate ways. Other than those few exceptions, I’m very excited with the direction that The New 52 has taken the DCU, and I’m absolutely ecstatic that the industry has seen an increase in sales. In the end, I doubt that this is the last reboot we’ll see from DC Comics. They seem to be a necessary evil when it comes to shared universes featured in big publishing houses like DC and Marvel. Here’s hoping that new readers will still find the DCU just as appealing in the years to come and that DC will be able to avoid yet ANOTHER reboot. For a while at least.