Quarterly Report: Whatever Happened to the DCU?

We’re now 3 months in to DC’s great “New 52” initiative. That means most of 52 new series are around the halfway mark of their first story arcs and things are just starting to get off the ground. I was incredibly excited when September finally rolled around and I got my hands on Justice League #1. However, as exciting as DC’s relaunch has been, as much as it has reinvigorated DC Comic’s brand and the comic book industry in general, I feel that the honeymoon period is waning. So far I’ve sung its praises, but in this segment I’m going to file  my complaints about the DCnU.

Issue #1-The Never-Ending Event

When DC announced the New 52, they pledged to abstain from big event comics and multi-series crossovers. This was done in the interest of giving each individual series a chance to develop on its own and allow readers to follow only the books they like, not the ones they feel obligated to read. The problem is, I can’t shake the feeling that the New 52 is an event itself. I keep feeling that this is something that will end and then things will go back to “normal”, a feeling I often have near the middle of a big event. The problem is that this is the new “normal”. So I am faced with, for the time being, a never-ending event comic, spread out over 52 different series. How daunting is that? I imagine that this feeling will start to dissipate once the books I’m following get through their opening story arcs, establish the new status quo for their respective characters, and find their footing in general. However, this leads me to my next two complaints…

Issue #2-New Series Fatigue

Something that I’ve noticed when it comes to super hero stories: the first story usually isn’t that great compared to the ones that come further down the line. The first story arc is the set up, the one where you catch all readers up to same page, lay down mythology, and in general lay the foundation for all the stories that are to come. That isn’t to say that the first arc of a new series can’t be good, because they can be really really good. To me, the first arc is like the appetizer before you get to the main course. So now DC has 52 different appetizers being served at the same time. Can you see where that might be frustrating to a long time comic book reader? I love giving new books a chance, because I look forward to the stories that will be told. But, and this is just an example, it was really nice to have a book like Grant Morrison’s Batman and Robin to read while I was reading the opening arc of Paul Levitz’s Legion of Super Heroes book that launched post-Blackest Night. On one hand I had a book that was in the middle of a long running story and on the other I had a book that was new and fresh, but still finding its footing. Now, I feel like I’m just playing a waiting game until all the books I’m reading actually go somewhere. I feel DC could have rectified this by making the opening story arcs shorter, 3 to 4 issues rather than 6 to 7. Story decompression is a common problem in monthly comic books, one that is glaringly obvious and in my slightly detrimental to the New 52.

Issue #3-The Blank Canvas

Because of the relaunch, all of DC’s past continuity is effectively null and void unless otherwise stated. Green Lantern and Batman remain essentially unchanged, but for all other characters we are left playing the “did this story actually happen?” game. DC has given little to no information about what stories are actually in continuity, at least in some capacity, in the DCnU. Even the stories that they say happened can’t have happened exactly the way they initially appeared due to changes in the DCnU. For example, Steel, a character first introduced in the aftermath of the Death of Superman, is now being introduced much earlier in Superman’s career. Likewise, Blackest Night and Brightest Day, stories that heavily featured the character Firestorm, can’t have happened as depicted due to drastic changes made to Firestorm in the New 52. I’m sure DC will be more forthcoming with how everything fits together, but now we are left with a relaunched universe that began in media res, with thousands of possible back stories.

Issue #4-What was, What Is, and What Never Will Be

As I mentioned in issue #3, changes made to characters in the DCnU affect the way older stories fit into the “history” of the DC universe. I used the example of Brightest Day and Firestorm. This example also shows another glaring problem of the New 52 relaunch; dangling plot threads from the pre-Flashpoint DCU. For the most part DC sidestepped this issue. Most series whose continuity was soon to be drastically altered, such as the Superman books, had time to finish all lingering story lines and tie everything in a nice bow before the relaunch. The problem lies in books/characters who had lingering plot threads pre-Flashpoint that can’t be continued due to changes in the DCnU. The main offenders are the two weekly series that spun out of Blackest Night; Brightest Day and Justice League: Generation Lost. I’m about to go into rant mode, so brace yourself/get out while you can. Also, major spoilers for both of these stories below.

Still here? Ok. Brightest Day’s conclusion laid the groundwork for what would’ve been the next few years worth of stories for DC, had the reboot not occurred. The status quo at the end of Brightest Day is:

  • Aquaman and Mera are back, along with the new Aqualad character
  • Hawkwoman is dead/a wind elemental and Hawkman is left alone, but apparently free from the curse that causes him to be resurrected.
  • Jason Rusch and Ronnie Raymond are the new Firestorm, but will explode in 60 days, destroying everything.
  • Deadman is dead again, but can apparently be heard by others, at least by Dove, his love interest.
  • Hawk failed to complete his mission for the White Lantern
  • Alec Holland has returned from the dead, and this time he really is Swamp Thing.
  • John Constantine is back in the DCU

This is where the DCU stood post Brightest Day. No mention of Brightest Day has been made at this point in the DCnU. However, you can quickly point out similarities between this status quo and some of the stories being told in DC’s current books. Aquaman’s book could easily have picked up right after Brightest Day, as could Swamp Thing’s, which even makes vague references in its first issue to an event that could be Brightest Day. In Savage Hawkman, we see a Hawkman who is ready to give up the mantle of Hawman, without any mention of Hawkwoman/girl ever existing. In Justice League Dark we see John Constantine, and a Deadman that can communicate with Dove, who he is dating. The only character that doesn’t match up is the problematic Firestorm. It seems as if Brightest Day occurred for some of the characters (Aquaman, Swamp Thing) but not for others (Firestorm, Hawk). Justice League: Generation Lost saw the defeat of Maxwell Lord and the reformation of the JLI. Now, post-Flashpoint we see that Maxwell Lord has no ties to the JLI, and the JLI is forming for the first time in what appears to be the “present” DCnU. This nullifies not only the events of all of JL:GL but all Justice League International stories. I may be making a big deal about something as inconsequential as super hero comics, but it erks me that DC would sweep a story that finished a mere 4 months before the September relaunch under the rug in such an undignified way.

So there you have it, the dark underbelly of the New 52 as told by me. I’m sure there are many problems that I haven’t touched on that are burning up fanboys everywhere. I still have high expectation and hopes for the stories that DC is going to tell in the years to come, but in the short-term I would love for them to address any and/or all of these issues.

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