Most people probably know that DC cancelled all of its titles in September of 2011 and launched 52 #1 issues of their “New 52” brand. I say most people because it was a pretty big deal at the time. While some of their books like Detective Comics retained their number since the first issue was released in 1939, no company had ever done something so drastic as this before.
What is less well-known is that the relaunch is actually an in-continuity timeline change that followed the company-wide “Flashpoint” event before the New 52 launched. Which means that while DC reset their book numbers they, technically, are working off the same kind of continuity reset that they did during Crisis On Infinite Earths. For the layman, that means we should think of the New 52 like a sequel to what came before instead of a reboot. All the old stuff that was canon before can still be considered so… but as part of an alternate timeline. It’s a subtle difference, but important for a couple reasons.
Continuity Is An Excuse
My biggest complaint about modern comics is how ridiculous the continuity is. Since 1985 DC has had four universe-altering events that changed the history of their characters. That doesn’t include all of the ridiculous crossovers (Crisis On Two Earths), cameos and smaller events (Death Of Superman). That minor distinction was important considering that the New 52 came with five years of history. Most of what had happened to the characters in the previous timeline still occurred in one form or another.
So despite the reset there’s still continuity.
And after reading Flashpoint, continuity feels like an excuse to make you pay for pieces of a story. The Flashpoint event consists of 5 main titles of the same name, but it also has more than 50 tie-in comics. All together, there are 60 books in the entire event:
- Abin Sur (3 issues)
- Batman: Knight Of Vengeance (3 Issues)
- Booster Gold (4 Issues)
- Citizen Cold (3 Issues)
- Deadman & the Flying Graysons (3 Issues)
- Deathstroke & the Curse Of The Ravager (3 Issues)
- Emperor Aquaman (3 Issues)
- Flashpoint (5 Issues)
- Frankenstein & the Creatures of the Unknown (3 Issues)
- Green Arrow Industries (1 Issue)
- Grodd of War (1 Issue)
- Hal Jordan (3 Issues)
- Kid Flash Lost (3 Issues)
- Legion of Doom (3 Issues)
- Lois Lane & the Resistance (3 Issues)
- Project Superman (3 Issues)
- Reverse Flash (1 Issue)
- Secret 7 (3 Issues)
- Canterbury Cricket (1 Issue)
- The Outsider (3 Issues)
- The World of Flashpoint (3 Issues)
- Wonder Woman & the Furies (3 Issues)
Sometimes you need to see it all written out. Many books of varying quality. And I will grant you, a lot of this stuff isn’t central to the main story. Comics like Hal Jordan, a what if to demonstrate how much things have changed, are pretty optional. There’s really only one key plot point in the book while the rest is context. And others, like Frankenstein & the Creatures of the Unknown and Canterbury Cricket are wholly unnecessarily and pretty poorly written to boot.
But a lot of these are essential and read as if they are missing chapters from the main story.
Here Wonder Woman discovered a plot between her aunt and Aquaman’s half brother that caused their two peoples to go to war. Now she’s running off to do something, but as you can see, you need to read the third issue of another book to find out what. This isn’t a small plot point. It’s not a throwaway moment. It’s a good example of why it’s so hard for amateurs to get into the big titles. Even if you only like one book, eventually there will be a crossover or event that forces you to read a bunch of different books or miss what’s happening.
Reading all of these makes it feel like you are paying for the story by chapter, which I suppose you are since that is the nature of comics. But it’s so self-referential and complicated to get one story from all these books at a combined cost of between $100-$300.
Even ignoring the cost, just figuring out what goes where is a total b****. Last spring I tried to read Countdown to Final Crisis, which was a prequel company-wide event to a forthcoming company-wide event, with over 100 books of various numbers. I actually had to research it beforehand and, I s*** you not, draw a flow chart to understand what to read. Once you figure it out, a lot of these could have most of their pages put in a sequential order that would work as a single, mass tome, but even the graphic novels have to be organized by kind.
Quality Control Is A Absent
Some of these books are absolute garbage. Obviously the main title, Flashpoint, is pretty solid and the art for Wonder Woman & The Furies #1 is absolutely gorgeous. Superman and Batman’s books are excellent, but the rest is so too inconsistent from a premier comic book business.
As an example, Booster Gold features a women named Alex. In issue #47 she and Booster Gold are captured by the army and in the span of 3 pages she experiences a seemingly random costume change.
What the hell? This is within 5 pages of each other in the same book. I get when different books doing the same scene have different art, but the same art team on the same book? Why? And this happens ALL OVER.
The Dialogue Is Awful
Something that really bugs me is that the dialogue feels hokey and out of place. Granted, this is a subjective area, but look at some of these and tell me I’m wrong.
Aside from using “thrashing” to describe listening to music and the flippant use of “old farts”, I’m pretty sure that’s an Ozzy Osbourne reference more than two decades out of date. The writer, Scott Kolins, is 44. It’s cool that he was a child of the 70’s, but was it too hard to ask his kids for a contemporary artist? Yes, it’s possible that this guy, who’s name escapes me, may just be an Ozzy fan, but it’s not believable and I’m assuming most kids that read these books won’t know who he is. Actually, do kids still read comics?
Whatever. Moving on.
That is Hal Jordan asking someone how fast his plane goes. I’m not an aircraft expert, but I expect a pilot to have some idea how fast his own plane can go before he gets into it. And the “gigahertz and nanoseconds” comment makes him sound like he’s trying not to be smart. If you can fly a supersonic jet you can, hopefully, do some math too. I fully expect him to ask “where are the brakes on this thing?” after reading this. No wonder he crashes his plane in everything I’ve ever seen him in.
Yes, there’s some wiggle room here since comic books are the first pay-as-you-go form of entertainment, but it’s not about the observed problems as much as what we learn about DC. First, I have no idea how much money it costs to organize, create, produce and distribute a company-wide event, but it feels like a lot of money that’s going into a very niche form of entertainment. It doesn’t have to be niche, but the interconnected nature of the titles, ridiculous continuity and prohibitive cost make it so.
Now extrapolate that. Since 2006 I’m pretty sure DC has had somewhere between 4-6 company-wide events depending on how you count the Green Lantern craziness that ended in Brightest Day. Who can keep track of all those stories? The funny thing is that it’s so complicated it’s kind of brilliant. All these stories do come together by the end which is a real accomplishment. A very exclusive accomplishment.
Second, I’m not surprised DC properties haven’t been able to tie together a unified movie universe. Launching a brand-wide comic event is way smaller and it’s not a great experience unless your a die-hard fan. Actually, that’s a guess. Maybe die-hard fans didn’t have so much fun with this either.
There has to be a better way, right? Or am I just complaining about the necessary evils of the comic book industry?