I think the New 52 is failure.
Maybe not commercially, it’s gotten plenty of publicity and I’ve read far more titles in the line than I would have before hand. According to my Goodreads, I’ve read 26 different trade paperbacks. But, if the objective is to bring new readers and to get them interested in new titles, the New 52 is not doing well.
Here’s an example. I’m not a new reader to comic books, but I’m not as into DC as Marvel. So, I tend to feel like an outsider when picking up a DC comic. The New 52 has given me the chance to read titles that I wouldn’t normally because they all started at a first issue. No matter what comic I picked, I should be on the same playing field as everyone else, right?
Or, maybe not. Because to understand Superman, I need to read Action Comics. To understand Teen Titans, I need to read Superboy. And it goes on with books like Nightwing and any Justice League title. Since the goal was to make the DC universe accessible, you would think that I could read one of the books without having read anything else, but it doesn’t work out that way. I was reading Justice League of America and I had to stop after the fourth issue because the next two were part of a crossover with two other Justice League series, of which I haven’t read and weren’t included. And, part of the reason I haven’t read the main series, Justice League, is because it crosses over with Aquaman.
Okay, so, I’m confused but it’s nothing a little bit of Wiki research can’t fix. But, how’s the quality?
Well, looking at my Goodreads, out of the 26 titles I’ve read, I’ve given eight of the series four stars, twelve have three stars, four have two stars and two have a one star rating. So, I’ve found a little more than a fourth of the titles to be great and another fourth to be terrible. That means half of the New 52 is mediocre and that’s not good for a line that’s supposed to be all about bringing in new readers. You know why nobody remembers the Fantastic Four movies? Because they were mediocre. That’s half of the New 52 (or at least, half of the half I’ve read).
How about diversity?
Well, out of the titles I’ve read; two are Superman with two Superman tie-ins, four are Batman titles with three spinoffs, four Green Lantern comics and three Justice League books. That means about a fourth of what I read stands alone from other series. Now, this is more of a critique of my own taste, but it does bring up the question as to why DC is using a line that’s supposed to feel fresh when I can find eighteen books that I’m used to instead of trying something new. Why does Batman need four titles?
Here’s the biggest problem I see, however. It’s not about diversity, it’s not even the amount of four star material. The biggest problem I see is how poorly DC reset the universe. For this, I’m going to be comparing the New 52 to Marvel’s Ultimate line.
When Marvel wanted to update their characters with modern origins and new takes on old troupes, they created the Ultimate line. They had four main titles; Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men, Ultimate Fantastic Four and The Ultimates. Crossovers were done in miniseries separate from their main series and were few and far between. So, as a new reader, I could read all about the Ultimate universe with only four titles and if I chose to not read a book, I wouldn’t be lost reading the ones I liked (which is good considering how off the shipping schedule was for some of those titles).
With the New 52, there are fifty-two books to read. Fifty-two! I’ve read half and I still feel lost most of the time. Every title has had some weird crossover, some series take place five years in the past while others take place in the present. I can’t read just one Justice League book, I have to read all of them. I went from enjoying two Green Lantern to having to read four and one I wouldn’t unless I didn’t want to be lost. Even with fifty-two titles, they still decide to cancel titles that show promise because of low sales. I don’t think they understand the concept of spreading themselves too thin.
When the Ultimate line was setup, Marvel didn’t cancel their other titles. So, if you didn’t like the Ultimate version of Spider-Man, it was okay because the regular Spider-Man still existed. You didn’t have to deal with the Ultimate universe if you didn’t want to, it was your choice.
With the New 52, if I don’t like this new version of Wonder Woman or Harley Quinn or Martian Manhunter, it’s too bad because that’s my only choice with these characters.
That leads to a huge problem. With the New 52, a lot of titles read like What If? takes of the characters. Justice League of America is really just the New 52 answer to The Authority or The Ultimates, except those titles weren’t the main canon of a line. A lot of the DC universe feels like material that could have been a miniseries or one-shot take, but it’s the real (fake) universe. Before, when DC had multiple realities, they could have just had a few of these weird titles over at Earth Insert Number Here, but they decided to streamline the universe into one. They did this to keep confusion to a minimum but I’ve already mentioned how that went.
Again, maybe this is all about taste. I don’t want my Justice League comics to feel like Watchmen or Supreme Power, I don’t want Wonder Woman to feel like a Vertigo title unless I have an alternative take. I don’t want Harley Quinn or Starfire or Catwoman to exemplify everything that’s wrong with most female superheroes.
There’s something to be said here about acting bold and doing new things, but there’s something else to be said about throwing away everything, including things that worked. It’s almost like DC was ashamed of everything that came before but overly proud and confident over their new ideas. Marvel is always ‘soft rebooting’ their characters, giving them new takes while keeping their history intact (or retconning it without removing everything along the way).
I guess you could say DC doesn’t doing anything small or subtle, and it’s up to you to decide if that’s a good or bad thing.