Friday, January 20, 2012

Opinion: The DC New 52 Disaster!

September’s much-hyped DC New 52 reboot was enough to intrigue me - as a lapsed mainstream comics reader - to take another dip in the (admittedly shallow) superhero pool. If you read any of my reviews, you’ll know that my feelings were mixed, but it was enough to get me purchasing comics again and there were quite a number of series that I decided to persevere with, including all four Batman books, both Superman books, Wonder Woman, Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Justice League (both regular and Dark), Deathstroke, Flash, Aquaman and guilty pleasure Catwoman.

The future of DC. And you think I'M blowing things out of proportion!
Now, a mere five months later, I’m ready to drop everything. Which of DC’s recent decisions have left me feeling  alienated enough to quit mainstream comics a second time? Join me after the jump and we’ll duke it out!

But first some history...

IIt was back in the early nineties comics boom that I began to purchase mainstream comics, a relatively short-lived obsession that lasted roughly a year from 1993 to 1994. I was seduced by artist Jim Lee’s relaunch of X-Men, and then read Wolverine, X-Force, X-Factor, many Batman collections, and sporadic issues/collections/crossovers of Ghost Rider, Captain America and Superman. Then, when many of the “hot” artists started jumping ship to found Image comics I dabbled briefly in Wildcats, Spawn and even Youngblood - never satisfied enough to continue beyond a couple of issues.

What drove me away back then as an impressionable 17 - 18 year-old? It was a number of accumulative problems that seem to eternally plague the mainstream comics industry.

Firstly, there was a lack of consistency. Just as an admired writer and artist team found their feet they often left the book without warning and the quality dipped. Characters were wildly inconsistent between the various titles they appeared in. Liking Wolverine in the X-Men didn’t always mean that he was equally interesting in his own title. There were endless crossovers were stories were dragged out over various titles and became incomprehensible clusterfucks of shoe-horned continuity, often crushing any momentum that the individual series once had. There were missed deadlines at Image, or weird fill-in issues at Marvel. And let’s be honest, many of the books were just plain terrible soap operas with juvenile characters and dialogue. There comes a point for every young reader where you question if you’re continuing to buy due to misplaced loyalty for the character/title or if you’re genuinely enjoying the content.

And now, back in 2012, only five months after DC’s attempt to lure lost readers back into the flock, it feels like 1994 all over again.

Action Comics, with its fledgling, dickish, retro Superman was an immediate stand out for me back at issue one, but has been increasingly muddied ever since. The latest issue ditches the continuity and creative team entirely and gives us two shorter fill-in stories which amount to little more than a rehash of the origin and a character piece with Ma and Pa Kent. I appreciate that if you’re a super fan then that might be enough for you, but also appreciate that you’re most likely in the minority. The issue was a roadblock for me, offering very little entertainment or engagement and it certainly didn’t justify its cost.

We have so many avenues of entertainment on offer to us right now - more than ever before - and many at very little cost, and I just don’t understand how comics such as these can hold their own in this arena. It’s an absolute waste for the five minutes of flat “entertainment a book like this can offer me. I just don’t need it, and see no need in purchasing it beyond aforementioned misplaced loyalty, or the obsessive compulsive need to fill in the missing numbers before issue seven when (I believe) the original creative team will return and the story will continue. Actually I’d rather the book just ran late - I can personally wait two months for a better issue with the original team - I kind of resent the idea of just churning something out so that people still buy monthly.

Similarly, the last issue of Detective Comics was incredibly truncated (to the point where I’m flipping backwards to see if that was it) and again we get a back-up story to fill the gap, which strays further away from all of the interesting questions that the main story has raised (and, it should be noted, does not involve Batman).

We’re also starting to be bombarded with needless crossovers. I enjoy the more tense, thoughtful, adult nature of Animal Man, and even Swamp Thing (to an extent - it too is kind of going off the rails for me) but I don’t need to see the two books shoe-horned into their upcoming crossover. Worse still is Frankenstein Agent of Shade (which I enjoy) being thrown together with OMAC. I get that DC wants to generate more interest in each book, but what this is going to do is just push me away from both books. I don’t want a gimmick, I just want a good story.

How excited are you to read the outcome of this battle?
DC has recently announced six cancellations for later this year. None of them are books that I was reading or particularly interested in, but their cancellation is causing a ripple effect that will be felt across other titles. I’m quite enjoying Deathstroke, in spite of myself, but guys, I’m not going to purchase the book with new writer and artist Rob Liefeld. In fact, I’m not going to purchase it again at all. You’ve killed that one for me. Everything is shifting around long before its found its feet and I’m not engaged enough to follow.

And then finally we get back to the biggest reason of all. The majority of the books just still aren’t that good. Maybe that’s more a reflection on me, and my age, and my expectations, but I’d be an idiot to keep paying for something that elicits little more than a “meh” for the five or so minutes that I spend with it. I do enjoy Batman and Robin, and I think Wonder Woman has been interesting and consistent, and my guiltiest pleasure is still the exploitative silliness of Catwoman, but DC has clearly proved that any of this can change in an instant. There’s no unified vision here, and that doesn’t compel me to be a part of it.

Because you know what, DC? This all happens because you make too many assumptions. You just assume that I know or care about character X or Y but you don’t give me any reason to. You haven’t laid the foundations. I have no stake in whether Superhero A can beat up Villain B and couldn’t give a crap either way to be honest. So its a fatal assumption to assume that I’m already so invested in all this that I’ll continue to buy regardless of whether you change creative team, truncate the story or crossover with some random character that I’ve barely even heard of. You haven’t earned that yet. And if you’re a fan, you can defend all this with, “Well that’s just comics, that’s the business that’s how it’s always been” and I don’t disagree, but it also means that I’m not going to support it. Nor are many other people by the looks of it. And I think it’s genuinely sad that collecting comics is becoming about as popular as collecting bottle-caps.

It takes just five months to go from an optimistic fresh start to the same old bullshit. I think that’s a missed opportunity.

(And be sure to join us in the comments section for some differing opinions and a chance to hash it all out).


  1. I think you're judging them far too harshly. Then again, for the 3 dollars I spend on an issue, as long as there is one really nice drawing in it, I think it's more than worth the money. But I can barely draw and it would take me weeks to do a single page at 1/4 the quality that even the worst artist does. Ergo, I'm not a harsh critic AT ALL :D

    I do understand seem to have less mainstream tastes than I do...i like the admittedly formulaic and routine melodrama. Same reason I love sitcoms like big bang or the office (I'm even enjoying Whitney! Shhh don't tell!). I KNOW they are stupid but that's the sort of entertainment I want when I sit down to them...I guess it's the same thing as you wanting to watch "The room" or whatever...

  2. It's funny you bring up reading 90s xmen comics because that's actually been my problem with this DC 52 is it's felt like a step back to the 90s and even though this was the era I grew up on comics it is the worst comic era storywise.

    I really love what marvel did with the fear itself crossover that it wasn't so much about the event but more about its affect on the rest of the world. You can relate to that as it was more what it would be like dealing with a natural disaster. The thing is though I think those comics bombed sales wise and people preferred the dc reboot, play safe, stick to what they know approach. I don't think Disney will let the Marvel guys do that anymore.

  3. @Stryder. I think TV's a bad comparison, chiefly because it's free, and it's also going to last you at least twenty minutes entertainment wise. My feeling is that if you had to start paying $3 - $4 per 5 - 10 minutes of entertainment on TV then you might start to be a little more selective about what you watch. There might be a point - like I'm facing here - where you go, "You know, this just isn't good enough to make it worth it to me."

    Also, unlike TV, I'm hard pressed to think of memorable moments in the 70 or so comics I've read since launch. I can't think of anything particularly funny, or touching, or moving, or even exciting. Certainly not when compared to other entertainment that I've consumed in the last month.

    "The Room" for example is a shared experience with friends and a large crowd and it lasts a lot longer than you'd ever really want. That gives me a buzz. I get that. I have a reaction to that. I can throw spoons at that.

    And the fact that neither of us can draw as good as these guys shouldn't even factor into it. I can't cook, but I won't be served a plate of shit.

    I appreciate great art too. In fact I love art. And there's a whole world of it out there that you can enjoy in a variety of styles and subject matter. Seeing an action shot of a character like Green Lantern or Aquaman doesn't do a hell of a lot for me - certainly not enough to keep seeing it issue after issue. If I'm honest, it seems silly to me - although I do dig Batman but don't think the Bat books have been great across the board.

    If I'm to stick with any books it will be Batman and Robin for the story, and maybe Wonder Woman for the story and art, and Catwoman for the art/train wreck of it all. But nothing holds a candle to the thrill I get from a funny indie book, for example, which has a dedicated artist/writer with a unique world view. My accumulated DC reading doesn't come close to the enjoyment of reading Kochalka's Superfuckers, for example. That's very much a subjective taste thing too and ties directly into my own interests/sense of humour.

    But really it just comes down to the inconsistency. These aren't books created and directed by artists and writers. They're controlled by editors and publishers. It's all business. I don't listen to chart music, why the hell would I read cash-in studio produced stuff?

    @Tim I started on Fear Itself but it was too convoluted for me. I don't know why Asgard is crashed on earth, or that Red Skull has a daughter, or what Thor's beef is with his dad. Just tell me a good fucking story you assholes!

    Great discussion, guys. I appreciate it!

    1. the thing I liked about the 'fear itself' event was none of that stuff mattered at all to me.Like all what you said I didn't know that stuff either (Xmen world I know a bit more than marvel universe) but then that was never the crux of the story they were telling. It was just some crazy shit that was happening like a natural disaster and all the super heroes were just damage control trying to save the people and minimise the destruction. Avengers comics were all done in doco format about them talking about the incident in past tense. I think the fear itself Homefront comics were my favourite though. I liked how they used twitter effectively as a writing device and the whole Speedball going undercover to help the victims of a disaster (he created) then having his cover blown and nearly being lynched but still trying to save everyone even though his powers are pretty shit.

      I think though my taste in comics (and films) is I'm more a character person than a story person. Give me some interesting characters with real dialogue, making human mistakes, driving the story by their choices and you can have Sentinels built in the future being sent back in time, or an asgard world that falls from the sky, or a purple elephant that talks with jamaican accent because if he was to speak in french it would cause Spain to sink into the ocean I wont give a shit

  4. Yeah, I'm torn. I love good characters and dialogue, and sometimes that's enough by itself, but I do really enjoy getting stuck into a cleverly structured story. To be fair, I only read one issue of Fear Itself (so far) and had no issues with it, but nothing really stood out or grabbed me that I can remember. There are certainly a lot of characters in there - but is there a lot of character?

    1. oh I see yeah once you get past the initial super villain set up it's more about the characters. It's probably the reason I read comics in batches.

      One of the reasons I checked this one out was one of the events architects was the main writer behind Secret Wars. Now there's an insane stupid premise. A god(seriously) steals all the heroes and villains and puts them on a battle planet for his amusement. They executed that beautifully and it really makes Doom the greatest character of all time.

      I meant to write that I don't think Marvel is better than dc since its the same writer artist teams between both companies. Just these new 52 issues were just missing something that really hooked me in. The batman comics (except I really don't like the batman and robin comics) did have some good moments and I think that comes down to Batmans world feels more developed than all the other ones and also Batman is a cool character

      Oh and the 90s element in the 52 comes down to the butt jokes. Where characters would mention how great the male characters butt looks. That's like classic 90s Marvel like the Gambit miniseries.

  5. You didn't even have to write this article. That picture at the top says enough!

  6. Good conversation!

    I tend to agree with Tim that I prefer characterization over event-driven stories, which maybe makes me a little more accepting. I don't care what the Flash is doing so much as long as he's there and being flash-like, right? On the other hand, all the arguments that you have made about the new 52 DC are exactly how I feel about Marvel. I didn't start out trying to be a DC guy, I gave tons of Marvel comics a try too and couldn't like any of them! Even though historically I love X-men, Wolverine, Hulk, etc...

    Obviously if you don't feel like you are getting 3 bucks worth, you should stop buying the title. I wonder though, if it hurts that you are downloading? I feel like a huge part of the charm for me is going to the comic book store, actually holding the issue in my hand and reading it. You know, holding up the big two-page spreads and checking out the pictures, etc. To me that's easily 3 bucks worth and I usually do that with almost every comic. Granted of course it's less entertaining the 20th time than the first, but if that's the case, perhaps you are just not a comic book guy! It's all good....

    As for TV, you're right, it's perhaps an unfair comparison. I'm just saying, my tastes tend to run more towards mainstream, cheesy and predictable mindless entertainment, whereas you, in my experience, look for more obscure/out there ways to amuse yourself in pop culture :)

    @J - What's wrong with the picture at the top? In all sincerity, I just don't see it. Just cause it's cheesy liefield? 90's style. But I like the 90's! It wasn't until x-men came out in theatres that I gave up on comics....

    1. Haha, it's a little too WWE for me? I'm not really sure. I'm partially just fueling the fire.

      I love the 90's style, but this one seems like it's overkill. The scaly shirt, metal hands, gun, sword, and split face? I would have went with two of those. The split face feels the most "off".

      But I'm coming in as an outsider. I know nothing about the character and just looking at the picture in the context of the article. I don't have many comics and when I do buy them, I go for the more stylized stuff. It's the same as my taste in movies, I guess. I'm rarely in it for entertainment. I want something life changing, every single time I watch or read something. That's a lot to ask for, but I only get so much time to dedicate to reading/watching, that it happens more often than you would think.

    2. I don't think the 90's-ness is the issue with Leifeld but the horrible anatomy and posing. It never looks like he's basing his art on any kind of reality.

  7. A few reasons why the hardcopy comics don't appeal to me:

    In Australia they'll cost me $5-$6 instead of the $3-4 on Comixology.

    Its hard to think of them as art objects with all the ugly advertising. The adverts always make me feel like an idiot. They're often pitched really young even though they appear between pages of graphic violence. It pulls me out of it.

    And I have no desire to physically own a comic collection. I like trades and graphic novels but they need to be damn good to earn a space on my shelves. None of the DC books are good enough yet.

    As for that Liefeld picture I think its hideous. He looks bloated and distorted like he's constructed out of water balloons or something. He has a tiny head balanced on a hugely mutated torso. Tiny hands on tree trunk wrists. And it says absolutely nothing. It tells us nothing about the story or the character. Doesn't appeal to me at all. I don't think Liefeld has anything substantial to say to us at all.

  8. Haha well, that's rob liefeld....:D Fair enough...

  9. Oh, I was planning on picking up a couple of 'complete' stories when some of the books hit six issues, but maybe I won't after all.

    I just read that they are already rebooting Huntress! A second reboot after 4/5 months?! Ridiculous!

    1. Yeah, the Huntress thing was more "She's been a different Huntress all along" rather than going back on any established reboot or something.

  10. they didn't really re-reboot the huntress. They're just admitting now that she's earth2 huntress...originally it was thought she was earth1 - the difference being her parentage...

  11. Great article and I totally get what you're saying. I'm still enjoying a few titles but no more than before, just different ones.

    I think the big missed chance is to move away from tiny monthly chapters. The thing I was looking forward to most was the end of writing geared towards collected trades but that shit's still around and way too obvious when every title is on the same issue number. The only reason it's still happening is because it's always happened which makes this no real new direction at all.

  12. A disaster, it is indeed. it makes me sick to my stomach for what they have done to my favorite DC characters. It is so alienating and messed up in so many ways, it's not even funny.
    At this point, i actually miss the old DC universe!!!!