An Accurate Indictment of the New 52
In his review of Green Lantern #50, J. Caleb Mozzocco writes the following:
The pre-Flashpoint, pre-New 52 version of Parallax Hal Jordan, plucked from the time-stream in the midst of Zero Hour by Brainiac for eventual usage in Convergence, coming face-to-face with post-Flashpoint, New 52 Green Lantern Hal Jordan. That sentence, you’ll have noticed, includes references to three inter-company crossovers and a branding initiative, spanning some 21 years.
It is therefore demonstrative of the core problem of The New 52 reboot, a built-in tension, a set of cross-purposes that makes the current DC Universe not only unstable, but often infuriating to read. The publisher schizophrenically wanted to streamline their decades-long, confusing and perhaps alienating continuity in order to start fresh, telling brand-new stories featuring new versions of their characters… while continuing to reference old characters and old plotlines, lazily resting drama on completely un-earned allusions to that continuity they were supposedly excising.
I very much agree with this analysis of the problem. A restart is a great way to attract new readers put off by decades of barnacled continuity, but publishers — and more, I suspect, creators — want it both ways. They want the pop (and status) of reintroducing famous characters like, say, the Joker, but they often do it in such a way that the characters reference and depend upon previous stories for their importance.
Maybe this is why DC’ sales are in such sad shape — they’re annoying new readers, who feel left out and lied to (since these aren’t real starting points), while annoying old ones, who feel discarded and disrespected. Unless you handle it with more skill than many people have, every good starting point is also a good stopping point.
Basically, this is picking the scab. If you want to start fresh, you need more discipline than anyone in comics seems to have. You need to stop taking story shortcuts for attempted short-term sales bumps (that half the time don’t succeed these days anyway). You need to write better stories, about more things than one ridiculously outfitted character punching another, and draw in ways that don’t feel like copies of popular art from previous decades.
But that would require work and commitment, and I feel like everyone’s operating under too much fear these days. After all, the new West Coast corporate bosses don’t need comics, given how many decades’ worth of issues are ripe for mining already. Safe isn’t successful, though. It’ll take someone with real vision to get the DCU back being interesting, and it’ll be risky.
DC’s already backed off on some of what they tried to attract new readers, because they didn’t see it making gains. But why would it? If you make material for a new audience but sell it through the same old shops where the same old customers gather, of course it isn’t going to go as well as you hoped.
Back when I started talking about comics online, we could only dream of an expanded market, with many more ways to find and buy diverse stories. We have that dream now, but DC seems to want to ignore reality, conducting business the same way as they have for twenty years. They’re never going to be Marvel, and without more skill and strategy and vision, they aren’t even going to be DC much longer.
Marvel seems to have found that sweet spot of completely rewriting their universe just to do new things with old characters (Spider-Man), create new-ish characters (Moon Girl), skip old continuity (Weirdworld), do books completely outside of continuity, maybe (Vision), and still have umpteen plus titles where people punch each other (Avengers to X-Men).
And yet DC, the originator of “The Entire Universe Begins Again”, can’t seem to master the trick. I don’t understand it either.