Comics and Cosplay Features
Why I Love The New 52: Five Things DC Did Right

Marshall Lemon | 8 Oct 2014 12:00
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DC Comics' New 52 still gets a lot of hate, but there are many things it managed to get right.

It's been four years since DC Comics unveiled its New 52, the biggest continuity overhaul since 1985's Crisis On Infinite Earths. While DC has played around with soft reboots in the intervening 25 years, the New 52, with the exception of recent events like Batman Incorporated or Green Lantern's War of Light, has seen every character's backstory dramatically changed to fit a timeline where costumed heroes had been around for only five years. Established and well-developed characters saw extensive personality changes, with altered personal histories and costume designs that barely resembled their pre-Flashpoint crossover versions.

For those who aren't familiar, Flashpoint was a crisis event that saw the entire DC Universe altered thanks to a rogue time traveller. While the Flash was able to "correct" the timeline, he couldn't do so perfectly, creating a new canon that let DC largely wipe its slate clean. Naturally, comic book fans on the internet completely lost their minds. And I was right there with them. I'd followed DC Comics since the tail end of "Reign of the Supermen", and saw a significant portion of my childhood being carved away to pull in new audiences. And this was after writers like Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, and Mark Waid used an encyclopedic knowledge of DC canon to present engaging stories for old and new readers alike. Ending it all with a flimsy time travel accident felt like a slap in the face.

Then I started reading the books. And enjoying them. And eventually found myself loving the New 52 in spite of myself.

Okay, not all of it. There are all kind of problems with how this reboot has been handled. Beloved female characters like Catwoman and Starfire weren't portrayed in the best light. Continuity errors began cropping up immediately. Editorial disagreements tore apart multiple creative teams. That's not even getting into the multitude of books which sold so poorly, they were cancelled in a year. And I don't think I'll ever understand the logic behind making Lobo a super-serious anti-hero.

Regardless, there are some fantastic things coming from the New 52. Wonder Woman became a New York Times bestseller. Justice League and Forever Evil made Lex Luthor a halfway-believable superhero. One of the most consistent critically acclaimed hits of the New 52 is Aquaman. I repeat, Aquaman, who most non-comics readers thought of as "the fish guy", is the among the best books DC Comics is putting out right now.

Even the stuff about the New 52 that doesn't "work" (or more specifically, clashes with pre-reboot character designs) has a refreshing air of experimentation to it. Building a new timeline from the ground up created room for new ideas that were difficult to establish in previous canons. Now we have a Justice League that represents Canada. Nightwing is a spy investigating the seedy underbelly of DC Comics lore. A Muslim hero joined the Green Lantern Corps. Batgirl can walk again, but carries PTSD from her shooting. Superman and Wonder Woman are a canonical couple, after decades of readers wondering "Why haven't they already?"

Are these visions as iconic as the superheroes we grew up with? Not always. But that doesn't make them less interesting, compelling, or enjoyable. If the New 52 was a parallel universe to established canon, like Marvel's Ultimate line, comic fandom probably wouldn't have reacted with the same hostility. But since the New 52 is our default timeline, wiping out everything that came before with reboots and time travel, it's harder to see what's good about it.

But change is inevitable and unavoidable. And there are good things about the New 52. Broadly saying the entire line is flawed is unfair to creators who used the premise to do something special. More importantly, it implies that readers just want those pre-New 52 stories over and over, without changing the "iconic" formulas. Whatever you may think of the New 52, at least it was willing to shake things up to see what stuck.

We've spent years talking about what doesn't work; maybe it's time to highlight what it did right. Things like:

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