Let’s wind the clocks back to 2011. After the company-wide crossover “Flashpoint,” DC Comics rebooted the entire DC Universe with an initiative called The New 52. Comprised of 52 new titles, this initiative was intended to simplify backstories, update character designs, create new stories, and welcome new readers--very much like the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” reboot from the 1970s. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal, right?
No, not really. Not at all.
Many of the 52 new titles were not received well. Outside of certain standouts like Scott Snyder’s excellent “Batman” series, titles like “Red Hood and The Outlaws” were labeled as either poor or mediocre. Sales were not as high as they could have been either, despite the initiative lasting for over four years.
So, what happened? The New 52 was supposed to be the big reboot that would bolster the company’s sales and draw in non-comic book readers. How could it possibly fail?
The short answer? The New 52 didn’t make good on its promises. In fact, it did the complete opposite of the things it set out to do.
Let’s start with the whole reboot aspect. The New 52 was supposed to clear up any cluttered narratives and start out as a fresh slate for newcomers. Here’s the problem: the initiative’s continuity begins with a time skip in which Batman is already Batman, Superman is already Superman, etc. As you might expect, this leads to some storytelling troubles regarding what has been rebooted.
Here’s an example; in the aforementioned “Batman” series, Dick Grayson, the first Robin, is Nightwing, while Bruce Wayne’s son, Damian, is the current Robin. No mention is really made of either sidekick’s backstory, you’re just expected to know everything about them from the get-go and accept that Batman has two sidekicks. On top of that, it is never said what has changed about Batman’s backstory. Yes, we know what happened to his parents and all, but if the New 52 is the reboot it brags about being, then we should get some info regarding his past and what has changed or not changed.
In this context, the New 52 just boils down to a newer-looking version of what came before, rather than the jumping on point for readers that is completely separate from pre-Flashpoint DC. The asinine time skip that kicks off the New 52 only serves to confuse new readers and annoy faithful followers, leading everybody to wonder how much actually changed as a result of the New 52.
Not that you’d want to see what changed, because over 75% of it is complete garbage that will make you wish the DCU was what it used to be. This is mostly thanks to the hack writing on many of the books, especially titles like the previously mentioned “Red Hood and the Outlaws” or “Catwoman.” In this universe, Superman isn’t a friendly beacon of hope; he’s a brooding edgelord with a red-and-blue uniform that just looks like Superman. In fact, dark is the norm here in New 52 land, where everybody has to have realistic costumes and serious backstories. News flash, DC: not everybody is Batman.
You know Two-Face hulks out on some kind of steroid and becomes “One-Face?” Yeah; the New 52 sinks to that level of stupid. Way to be “serious and edgy,” guys.
The unclear distinction between canon and non-canon and the negatively-received new ideas and mindset completely cripple the accessibility factor this initiative was supposed to have. On top of that, they reduce the DCU as we knew it to little more than a joke: a cesspit of unnecessarily dark stories, brain-dead writing, and incredibly jumbled timelines.
So here we are now in the year 2017, and DC is continuing with its latest event, 2016’s DC Rebirth. It is indeed another reboot, which might be jarring to some, but honestly? It’s probably the best thing DC’s editors could have done.
The wrong thing to do would be to continue with things as they are now because that would make DC look too stubborn to change and address criticism. If DC wanted to be taken seriously again from a comic book standpoint, then Rebirth was absolutely the best route to go. Hopefully, this means we might very well see the “DC for a new era” that the company touted back in 2011.
If their movies can make a comeback, I’m sure the comics--the place where it all started--can make a comeback too.