One more week and we’re right on schedule!
This episode we talk about the history of Wonder Woman, her comics and media representations. It’s a geeky episode, but Wonder Woman is cool so it’s all good!
I really did end up loving the Brian Azzarello run of Wonder Woman comics. It started off rocky and the weirdness of all it put me off. I think the problem was, when it was released, it was so different than the other stories being published in the New 52 and I was looking for anything to make sense during that terrible time. But the second volume really won me over and now I think it’s one of the best series they’ve done and my favorite run of the character. You just have to read it like a Vertigo title, or an Elseworld story.
Did we leave your favorite Wonder Woman story out? Favorite episode of the old Justice League cartoon? Let me know!
See you next week, podcats!
It’s insane to me that Warner Bros. and DC Comics took seventy-five years to make a Wonder Woman movie. In that time, they’ve made movies for Steel, Jonah Hex, Catwoman, Supergirl, Constantine, the Suicide Squad and yes, I chose the bad ones to point out. I mean, they had a Lobo film in the works before they had a final script for their premier heroine.
But, the movie is here, so we can (but probably not for long) move on from that fact. Let’s focus on the film instead.
I had hesitancy about the movie leading up to seeing it. After all, Man of Steel made me rage until I had destroyed all the love in my life. (old blog, please come back to this one). Batman V. Superman was so dumb I just felt bad for it. And though Wonder Woman was a highlight in that movie, anything remotely NOT dumb would have been a relief during that two and a half hours.
But I was pleasantly surprised. For first two thirds of the movie, Wonder Woman is the film I wanted for years. The first third, which takes place in Themyscira, is great and the island itself feels exactly right. The Amazons have a Spartan vibe, without the machismo, and feel like a real society, even if our time with them isn’t that long. The action scenes that take place there have a 300 vibe, but those scenes are done with confidence and not in way that wears our patience.
Steve Trevor, as played by Chris Pine, is likable and charming, but he’s got an edge to him and also comes across as more progressive than his World War I society. The chemistry between him and Gal Gadot is on point and there’s some great interplay between the two early on.
The action is great. I think, like Captain America, we sometimes forget how strong Wonder Woman really is. But, unlike the First Avenger, Wonder Woman’s powers are big league. She can topple buildings, toss trucks and wreck through soldiers as she goes for jog. When her full powers are on display, such as the terrific charge through the front lines that ends the first half of the movie, she really is a full blown super hero.
But Wonder Woman is more than just a set of powers and lassos and bracelets. Gal Gadot is, and I don’t want to understate this, fantastic. For years, I thought Wonder Woman would be one of the hardest characters to cast, but I can’t imagine anyone doing the job better than her. There are times when I could of sworn the character walked right out the comics. She’s inspiring, she’s dangerous, she’s funny, smart, naive, she’s stubborn but for the right reasons. When she speaks, you believe her. When she charges into battle, you want to follow her. Gadot embodies the character in such a defining way that it feels iconic before the movie is even over.
And now, with all that praise, here comes my critique and my struggle to not spoil anything. And that’s hard, because my problem with the film, is in the third act and might qualify as a twist. For a long time, the movie seems like it’s going one way and it works. Characters are learning lessons, humanity is getting called out for being the worst species to ever walk the earth and it feels right. But, they need a big action scene to end with and after we’ve seen what a tank Wonder Woman is, the stakes have to be raised. The final confrontation is so fantastical and out there, it almost feels like it’s betraying the rest of the excellent movie that came before it. Actually, the excellent animated movie with Keri Russel might have hurt the live action’s take on the confrontation. It’s not a deal breaker, it doesn’t make the movie a bad film, but I feel like a stronger third act could have put this movie up there with Spider-Man 2, X2: X-Men United and Batman Begins.
But, please, don’t take my issues with the finale to indicate I don’t like the movie. It was great, should be seen and I look forward to watching it again. To meet expectations seventy-five years in the making is a daunting task, but Patty Jenkins was up to the challenge and delivered. This was the first live action DC movie I loved since the Dark Knight way back in 2008.
Oh boy. 2017, am I right? It’s going to be busy for people like me, who go to the theater for every single superhero movie. We have seven of them coming out this year, if you count The Lego Batman Movie. And you should count it. Don’t be so cold.
The Lego Batman Movie (February 10)
Just like my rundown for 2016, I’m putting this list out too late to give my predictions for the first super hero movie of the year. Because The Lego Batman movie is already out, and I’ve already seen it! But if I had to guess, I’d say I’ll like it.
I say that because I did like it. As someone who didn’t love The Dark Knight Rises and just feels sorry for Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, it was nice to feel excited for a Batman movie again It actually packed a few emotional punches I wasn’t ready to handle. While the film was never as funny as its first 15-20 minutes, it was enjoyable, beautifully and uniquely animated and still true to Batman as a character.
Excitement Level = Everything is Awesome
Logan (March 3)
While my love for the X-Men movies has always been strong, the Wolverine solo films are at 50% approval rating. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is one of the worst super hero films ever and killed a slew of planned X-Men solo films. The Wolverine, on the other hand, is one of my favorites, both as an X-Men and super hero film. It was thoughtful, true to the character and unique. And now the same creative team is putting out what might be the last show for Hugh Jackman’s iconic take of the world’s favorite mutant.
I’ll save the emotions I have about seeing the man who played one of my favorite heroes for the past 17 years for after I see the film. I’m both excited to see another unique and focused take on the character, but the R rating doesn’t thrill me like it does for some. I get it and it makes sense when a man’s powers are razor sharp claws that can cut through bone like paper. I just don’t need gore and f-bombs for the sake of being grown up. But then, I’m lame.
That hesitation aside, I’m excited for this. I like the western-vibe the trailers are providing, I like the inclusion of X-23 and I’m always happy to see Wolverine cut loose. If this is as good as the Wolverine, I think we’ll be very happy.
Excitement Level = X-Static
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (May 5)
One of the best Marvel films is getting a sequel. The first movie did a better job with the characters than some of their comic outings and it was hilarious to boot. I’m having a hard time coming up with things to say about the first movie, just because it was as good as it was and most people saw it. I should watch it again.
The second outing looks like more of the same, but in this case, that should be a good thing. With the introduction of these characters out of the way, we can get straight to the fun and team interaction. I’m pumped to see Kurt Russell in this film and to see how they pull of Ego the Living Planet. What’s great about 2017 is that, even with this movie coming out, it’s not the Marvel movie I’m most excited for, but we’ll get to that.
Excitement Level = High
Wonder Woman (June 2)
It’s 2017. They’ve been making big budget super hero movies since 1978. If we’re talking about the time since the first X-Men movie, than comic book movies have been in the golden age for 17 years. So it’s either been almost two or four decades before they made a Wonder Woman film. That’s insane, considering Warner Bros. and DC comics have made a Steel, Jonah Hex, Constantine, Catwoman and Suicide Squad movie before one of the biggest characters on the planet. They should be embarrassed.
Unfortunately, Wonder Woman is coming at a time where I’m not at all excited for DC movies. They just don’t seem to making super hero movies I want to see. And it has nothing to do with being dark and/or gritty. I like plenty of dark and/or gritty films, super heroes are no exception. If I’m enjoying Daredevil and Jessica Jones on Netflix, I can handle a grown up take on characters I like. But stupid, that’s another thing entirely. And Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad were stupid.
I want Wonder Woman to buck that trend. I want it to be great. And from the trailers I’ve seen, it looks like it could be something unique and exciting. While setting it in World War I might play a bit too close to Captain America: The First Avenger, I doubt it will be a problem. Here’s hoping that this is the first DC film since Man of Steel that values character over imagery, while still giving us the super heroics.
Excitement Level = Hopeful
Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 5)
Boy, just writing the title has made me tired.
It’s not that I don’t like Spider-Man! I love the guy! He’s one of my favorites. The first Spider-Man movie (2002) felt like a defining moment in my life and the sequel (2004) is one of my favorite movies ever, definitely in my top five super hero films of all time. It’s just that after fifteen years, five movies in which the last three weren’t the best and the speed of the reboot has left me underwhelmed.
Tom Holland was fantastic in Captain America: Civil War and he won me over quickly. I guess what keeps me from getting excited about this new movie is that we know what to expect from a Spider-Man film, a Marvel film, a coming of age film, ect. While we’re close to the film I’m most excited for, this one is at the bottom of my priorities. I’m sure it will be great. It will be charming, action-packed and a fun time. But that assurance also comes with a lack of anticipation. I hope to change my tune soon.
Excitement Level = Less than Amazing
Thor: Ragnarok (November 3)
Now we’re talking. Now we’re firing on all cylinders. Now we’re discussing a film with a director I’m excited to see work his weird craft. Taika Waititi is such a strange choice to helm the movie but I’m glad to see him aboard. This is a case of me liking both character and director for different reasons and wanting to see what the two will produce.
The Thor films are in this weird, separate world from the other Marvel films and I’ve liked both offerings. The second is underwhelming until Loki is on the scene, but the first is almost a near perfect origin film, almost on par with Iron Man.
Now the third is going to be bringing the Hulk into the fray, along with Doctor Strange, making an almost complete Defenders team-up (not the Netflix version of the Defenders, the comic version, with Thor standing in for Silver Surfer and Namor, the Sub-Mariner). I have high expectations for this one and I hope those are met.
Excitement Level = The Highest
Justice League (November 17)
Zach Snyder made a divisive Superman movie, one that I hate. But that’s okay, he gets a second chance with the first Batman/Superman team-up film. And then it was stupid. Embarrassingly so. Well, that’s okay. He may have film a crappy version of two heroes, but now he’s done and will move on…oh, wait. He’s going to direct the Justice League now.
Great. Just great. That’s fantastic. When thinking of the Justice League, I always see them as dark, violent, image focused and stupid idiots who get tricked by dumb villain plans. This should work out just fine.
Or maybe my sarcasm will be for naught. Maybe we’ll get an iconic, inspiring and larger than life story with some of the greatest heroes ever created. Maybe it won’t be warehouse scenes and mother issues and fish hobos and super villains no one has heard about. Maybe they’ll be surprised and fantastic character moments. Maybe Maybe Maybe…
Excitement Level = Not Again, Lord. Please. Not again.
Batman: Lovers and Madmen
Now this is interesting. Michael Green writes a story that, for all intents and purposes, can’t be considered canon, since it contradicts The Man Who Laughs and The Killing Joke. Both of those are already considered the origin of the Joker. But here’s the thing; to me, this is a better tale. This story puts front and center the idea that Batman is responsible for the Joker, yet he’s only part to blame.
The character on stage is Jack, a skilled hitman who sees no point in life. He’s too good at what he does and keeps hoping a cop will get lucky and take him out. It’s when he sees Batman, all dressed up and out of this world, that Jack finds a reason to live. Batman is ridiculous and it’s nothing Jack has ever seen.
Over the course of the book, Batman has a few chances to stop the actions that are going to turn this guy into his worst enemy, but he doesn’t. Batman is still new to the game and even sets Jack up to get beat by some mobsters. The Joker is given life because Batman exists. Without him, the man called Jack might have just lived out his boring life and died on the job.
It’s well told and does such a better job at examining the Batman/Joker relationship, that I wish this was the official story, instead of the mediocre The Man Who Laughs or the overrated The Killing Joke.
Batman: Dead to Rights
Taking place after the events of The Man Who Laughs (or whatever is the first Joker appearance), Dead to Rights, written by Andrew Kreisberg, shows what happened the first time Batman dropped off one of his rogues at the police station. The Joker is on display here, as the first real super villain Gotham had and we get to witness how unprepared the cops are for this type of criminal. The book shows how handling these characters wasn’t always second nature to Gotham and how someone like the Joker, Riddler or Scarecrow can change the game forever. It’s a little goofy at times (because the Joker is full murder clown in this one) but the story is a smart one and worth looking at for an early history of the Bat-world.
Batman: Year Two
A direct sequel to Year One and it does not hold up. Mike W. Barr’s writing is not up to par but it is nice to see early Todd McFarlane art in the later issues. Due to that, however, even though this book was written in 1987, it reads and looks like a early nineties comic for all the wrong reasons. Bloody violence, overwrought religious undertones, giant capes taking over the page, it’s a trip.
I’ve heard people bring up the similarities between this comic and Batman: Mask of the Phantasm but I don’t know if I would have found the comparisons otherwise. Maybe because they’re early Batman, maybe because the villains are reaper-themed characters, but that’s were the likeness end. This Reaper is dull, killing just because it was cool to have a villain kill with a scythe, all while wearing one ugly costume. Throw in some terrible Joe Chill (Bruce’s parent’s killer) and Batman using a gun (for very little reason) and you have a comic that you’re not sad to see leave canon.
By the team of Dan Curtis Johnson, J.H. Williams III, Seth Fisher, this story is right at the end of Batman’s solo career. He tries to form a team out of misfits, who would act more like an anti-crime cell than masked heroes. While that’s going on, Batman also has his first encounter with Mr. Freeze, which is also his first fight against someone with ‘superpowers’.
Mr. Freeze’s roll is largely forgettable, borrowing from the animated episode “Heart of Ice” and not adding anything very interesting to it. The team building is more unique because it flies in the face of how Batman wants to work; alone. But he builds them unlike a team of heroes and more like operatives. When it all falls apart, Batman decides that working with other people isn’t the problem, he just needs to go about it in a different way. And so he happens to see the Flying Graysons are in town, so…
Next week, we read Batman: The Long Halloween!
Eric: Batman: The Man Who Laughs was written by Ed Brubaker with art by Doug Mahnke and released as a one shot graphic novel in 2005. It’s reads as a direct sequel to Year One, dealing with Batman’s first encounter with the Joker.
I’m trying to remember what I thought when I first read this book way back when. In all honesty, I don’t think it left too much of an impact, it was just another book I grabbed at the Comic Book Palace (Haverhill, Ma). Sure, it was a little longer, being a graphic novel, but it read like any other one shot. At the time, I might have been interested in the Joker’s origin, but time has tempered that desire.
Kendra: I really liked this one. However, I wasn’t prepared for how dark it was. I have been watching a lot of the Batman animated series with Eric and though the Joker is bad news, we know Batman’s got it under control. Here, however, he was definitely a force to be reckoned with. In Gotham’s defense, they had never dealt with The Joker before so they truly had no idea what to expect.
Even though Batman: The Man Who Laughs was written 18 years after Year One, it is still written in the same style. We get to hear the entire story by going back and forth between Batman and Gordon’s points of view. Also, it seems to take place not long after Year One. Gordon is captain but still not commissioner, and he fills us in on what Batman has been up to since showing up on the scene. It was cool to read them back to back so it seems like a continuous story.
Eric: The problem with being a sequel to Year One is that the book just isn’t as good. I don’t mean it should or could be at Year One’s level, but it’s not as good as a story for what it’s doing. It gets from point A to point B, but without any real pathos or style. Considering this is the first battle between two legendary characters, you would expect to see something memorable.
Joker kills some people. Batman thinks maybe the Joker was the Red Hood. Joker is going to poison Gotham’s water supply. Batman stops him. The end.
It’s not very compelling. Jim Gordon is in it, narrating like he did Year One. The problem is that Gordon doesn’t do anything besides serving as exposition. Where his story was just as important as Batman’s in Miller’s tale, here Gordon is used because Year One used him. He explains what’s happening, gives us some plot and reaction to the Joker’s crimes, but he’s basically useless.
Kendra: Like I said before, this is really dark which is not usually my style but it worked. Some of the pictures were hard to look at. While reading this I realized that I was seeing a side of the Joker I had not seen in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. The Joker’s poisonous laughing gas seems to be an integral part of the character in the comics and animated series, but they left it completely out of the movie. I wish Nolan had used this in his film. I think maybe they didn’t use it because in Batman Begins, the Scarecrow tried to poison the water system. Still, Joker loses some of his personality when all he’s doing is planting bombs everywhere.
Eric: The parts that work for me in this book are small. Seeing the victims of Joker’s experiments as he tries to perfect his toxin is creepy, if not overly grotesque. Batman may feel responsible for the Joker and he’s willing to make some hard choices to stop the clown’s plans. If this is canon, I suppose it gives us the most solid look at the Joker’s origin, but we might have been better off not knowing.
Mahnke’s art is solid, but too sketchy for my taste. Realism is nice, but Year One had that and wasn’t ever ugly. His Bruce Wayne looks older than Gordon at times. The Joker gets the benefits here, as he does look like a scary clown, but it’s still done is a way that tries to remind us that this grounded. Depending on your taste for such things, your mileage might vary with Mahnke’s art style.
Kendra: The only other problem I had with it was there was no big fight at the end. Batman just blew up what Joker needed and that was it. He did it in the nick of time but it still seemed too easy. I liked seeing Batman’s struggle with whether or not to kill the Joker. I did like being reassured that Batman is truly out for justice and that he’s not a killer (How ‘bout that Man of Steel)! Overall I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. A must read for any true Batman fan. Just be prepared to see the Jokers most evil side.
Eric: Kendra’s review makes mine sound harsh. Batman: The Man Who Laughs is still a solid comic book, telling a story as well as it can. It was also a sequel written twenty years later from the first part. But it doesn’t do anything more, or say anything about the relationship between the Joker and Batman/Gordon/Gotham.
Next week is our first recap week. I’ll be flying solo as I look at other stories set between Batman: The Man Who Laughs and Batman: The Long Halloween. This won’t be a ‘reread’ because I’m just working off of memory, but some (all) of these tales are still worth checking out. If you want to check them out before then, here’s the list;
Batman: Year Two
Batman: Lovers and Madmen
Batman: Dead to Rights
Eric: Batman: Year One was written by Frank Miller and drawn by David Mazzucchelli. After Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams brought Batman back from camp into the darker realism of his original intent, Miller pushed it even further. While O’Neil’s Batman was a return to grounded form, it was still a superhero that could exist in a world with Superman and Wonder Woman. Miller’s take on the character in Year One is a character that works best away from all that. Gotham is gritty and shares more in common with New York City circa the 1970s. While Superman is mentioned, his kind has no place in this world.
What struck me first, while rereading this book, was that most of what I remembered from this was in the first issue alone. Jim Gordon beating down Flass, Bruce getting the crap kicked out of him his first night out and the iconic scene of the bat breaking through the glass, these all happen in part one of four. I don’t know why these specific moments have stuck with me so long. Maybe it’s the idea of Gordon showing the corrupt cops he’s not to be taken lightly that gave me respect for the character. Maybe when I first read this, I couldn’t believe Batman was ever green enough that he would get hurt against a pimp and a twelve year old. I was only seventeen or so when I got Year One for Christmas, so my experience with the character in comic form was still limited by three or four books.
Kendra: This is the first real Batman comic I’ve ever read. Before this all I knew of Batman was what I’d seen in the movies and animated shows and the few times he has popped up in Birds of Prey. I had seen the Batman: Year One animated movie so I knew basically what they story was about. It’s very interesting to see Gordon and Batman’s characters before they became what we know them as. It never even occurred to me that there was a time before Gordon became commissioner. It’s new to me seeing him as a flawed character. I’m so used to seeing him as the only non-crooked cop in Gotham so it was surprising to see him do something immoral (cheating on his wife). I hated it but I suppose they did it to give his character more depth.
Eric: The rest of the comic, beyond the first issue, is still great. Batman fending off the police, working with Harvey Dent, jumping off the bridge to save Gordon’s son, these are classic moments. When Batman Begins came out, I was knocked back by how much like Year One it was, down to specific scenes. When Christian Bale, dresses as Batman, summoned a swarm of bats to escape Gotham’s special unit, it was like the comic panels were made into motion. The idea that Batman must become a symbol of fear, rather than just a man, is presented here as not something that Bruce realized right away. He learns the hard way that he needs something extra to truly fight crime his way. It’s a testament to the comic and the movie that those concepts worked so well.
Kendra: I like how parallel the stories of Gordon and Batman are. They both are just starting their new roles in Gotham, they both fail miserably at their first attempts at justice, They both have to find ways to make people fear them, and they ultimately end up forging the friendship we are all used to seeing. Its great storytelling.
Eric: I’ve never picked up on the fact that Gordon needs to learn to use fear to fight his battle. It makes the comparisons even stronger. What I’ve always noticed though, even back when I first read it, is that Year One is Jim Gordon’s story. While Bruce/Batman still has the title and own the major scenes, it’s more about Gordon coming to Gotham and taking over the police force. Batman has the criminal chain, Gordon has the corrupt cops. But Batman doesn’t really have to contend with Gordon’s presence, where the latter must to the former. Batman becomes an element that Gordon must either confront or join, and that is just as important to his success in Gotham as taking out the dirty commissioner.
Kendra: After reading Year One, I thought “wow! Gordon should get his own movie or something!” Low and behold here comes the show Gotham. I hope it does a good job but you never know, we all thought Agents of SHIELD was going to be good and look what happened there. I have hopes though. Anyway I liked the focus on Gordon. I feel like it should have been called “Gotham Year One” or something because most of the focus was on Gordon.
Eric: It’s amazing to me how well this comic still holds up, almost thirty years later, and more than ten years since I first read it. Because of the tight writing and gorgeous art, nothing seems wasted. What needs to be told is told, with all the fat trimmed out. If there’s one element I don’t think works quiet as well as I once did, it’s the inclusion of Catwoman in the story. It’s still good, no question, but it does seem like an idea that you could cut and not lose anything from it. But it’s still gravy over the best turkey I’ve ever had, so I shouldn’t complain. I don’t even feel like I’m overstating the quality. It’s not for no reason that this was considered canon for Batman’s origin for three decades, no one wanted to even attempt this again after Miller hit it out of the park. I will say that I’m sad to see it go from continuity, as I am with most New 52 decisions. However, I’ve enjoyed most of Scott Snyder’s Batman work, so I’m excited to see what Zero Year brings to the game.
Next up, Batman: The Man Who Laughs!
What has been different this time is that I’ve been reading a lot of DC comics. And while I tend to enjoy stepping over to the other side now and again, I was over there for a long time. I began to notice something else; I wasn’t enjoying my comic book reading as much. It was starting to feel like a chore. Reading Batman was starting to feel like work!
Then, after reading a mountain of DC comics, I began opening my Marvel books and the chore was gone! I started to enjoy what I was reading again! I think I even gave higher-than-deserved stars to those books on Goodreads just because I was glad to be back on Earth 616!
I don’t hide that I’m a Marvel fan. A lot of people like to critique the two companies about being to similar but I don’t see that as the case. The universes, while sharing some common elements, are extremly different in ways that aren’t always appearent to outsiders. But, when you read both and, while being a true fan of one, you see how the other seperates itself, and not just in character names.
To me, the Marvel universe is more science based. Maybe not real science all the time, but believable science more often than not. The DC universe is more fantastic, even in it’s science fiction titles. Wonder Woman comes from an island of Greek mythology after all, Batman could easily be a swashbuckler like Zorro (his inspiration) and even Superman feels more legendary than alien.
But over at Marvel, radiation created most of the heroes. Even as time moves on and origins change, science is still very much the cause of these characters. Gamma bombs, super soldier serums, and cosmic rays fill backstories. Tony Stark is all technology and Reed Richards is the man of science. Thor has been defined as an alien lately, proving that Marvel can’t even let mythology have any credit.The Marvel universe also seems more down-to-Earth. Even with characters like the Hulk. It’s partly because it takes place in the real world, with real cities, instead of Gotham and Coast City. The New York City in the Marvel universe has character because the New York City in the real world has character.
I think a big element DC is lacking that Marvel tends to have in abundance is humor. I can’t think of the last time a Batman or Superman comic made me laugh. Even the Flash tends not to make as many jokes in the comics as his animated counterparts. Gail Simone tends to do well with humor in her books like Secret Six and Birds of Prey but it’s usually dark humor.
Over at Marvel, Spider-Man is always cracking jokes. Whether to himself or to others, he’s always saying something to make you laugh. Books like Deadpool and Hawkeye are always funny. I’ve never seen DC publish anything with the intent of being funny like New Warriors and Nextwave. DC seems to take itself too seriously, preferring to tell bad stories over funny ones, more often than not. When’s the last time you even saw Batman smile?There’s other differences, with plenty of them being in the favor of DC; DC has the interesting element of ‘legacy’ heroes and lets other characters carry one the mantle of famous heroes, they have a richer history, they have a darker tone that can tell more mature stories, they have Jim Lee and Geoff Johns.
But I’m a Marvel fan.
They have the X-Men.
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.