There’s a nice young twenty-something lad at my local WaWa who will chat geek with me while I await my Barista Bar flavored coffee treat. The other day he said he was finally ready to get back into comics, specifically the New 52. “So, what’s your first trade going to be,” I asked, fearing I already knew the answer. “Justice League,” he retorted.
“Fuuuuuccccckkkkkk why does this happen every time,” resonated through my headspace.
Of course I know the answer. That first JUSTICE LEAGUE arc was the big news item. It’s the book that was covered by CNN and all of those credible media outlets with behemoth marketing budgets behind them. The book that had reach.
However, quantity of units sold is rarely the sign of quality. Every one-hit wonder and earwig we end up loathing after its 2 months half-life is indelible proof of this theorem.
“Dude, you having a stroke?” Obviously my face was more reflective of my mental yawp than I thought. “Why JUSTICE LEAGUE,” I murmured through pursed lips of rage. “I don’t know, seemed the central point.”
Hard to deny the logic here, but after 3 years into the New 52 experiment. That original JUSTICE LEAGUE story with the five years behind continuity and a team-up wonder team that just didn’t seem to gel on page, was the tarnished crown, not the crown jewel of the New 52.
In an effort to serve this nice young man and any others who might have missed the boat, but now want to jump on I give you the Rob Patey (Optimous Douche) complete New 52 frank talk. I’ve read multiple issues of every mother lovin one of them, and reviewed a high percentage of each title. Here though, the shall now live in one consolidated list.
The Stratums of a Universe- EMBRACE THEM
There is much to love about the New 52, there really is. Fanboys to Fangeezers love to dwell on the car wrecks, but many books have shone brightly. One smart move given the cacophony of chaos leading up to the New 52 was to create a universe of different themes. So all books live in one of the following buckets: Justice League, Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Young Justice, The Edge, The Dark and Other.
There was never an edict that we must buy every book on the shelf. Fanmen like myself, those of us weaned into DC from CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS became used to buying every book because it was an affordable endeavor. Also, it was years before the rise of the powerful indie. We would have to wait until the early 90s until we got to a time average comic shops carried something other than Marvel and DC. Ahhhh early Image.
With this presentation in place fans could really go wherever they chose based upon their particular comic appetites. This was a good call, even if the plan has somewhat imploded on itself during this new age of infinite cross overs and events.
The New 52 A Complete (ish) Breakdown
JUSTICE LEAGUE: Set five years before the events of all other books in the New 52, this was supposed to give our favorite heroes of Batman, Flash, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Cyborg a back-story and context for their doings elsewhere. It was also supposed to be a nuclear explosion of action and impending danger. What we got were a bunch of petulant children inside big splash pages and yet another appearance of Darkseid, well, sorta. Darkseid appeared for about 2 pages. The rest of the time we watched our heroes act far too young for merely a five year trip back in time and act contradictory – personality wise, not maturity wise – from who they were in other books. I love Geoff Johns. I love Jim Lee. I do not love them together. Jim is too bombastic and Geoff is too intimate. What it left was a hollowness in the title until we got to Thrones of Atlantis. Forever Evil has caused a bit of the hollowness again, but the other books in the crossover make up for the loss. JUSTICE LEAGUE can be a rand read, it simply wasn’t until it was tied to a crossover or given a great back up story with Johns and Frank giving a new birth to Shazam.
AQUAMAN: The fish jokes have never been forced and I love a good reluctant King story as Arthur struggles between the love of his Father’s world and the underwater world of his Mother. Also, his relationship with Mara is one of the best love stories DC ha sever seen. Despite the fantastic elemnst of the book, this bond is very authentic.
THE FLASH: I hate Barry Allen, Wally West is my Flash. Book never stood a chance. I have dabbled in a few issues here and there and quite frankly it’s only when Barry acts in a smart ass fashion like Wally do I find myself interested.
GREEN ARROW: Here’s another one where I will show my image. My Ollie Queen is best buds with Hal Jordan and looks like Errol Flynn. This new guy is just sort of there. There’s no relationship between GA and Black Canary either, and this I truly can’t abide.
WONDER WOMAN: AMAZING! Azarello has created a story for the ages as Dinah battles her sisters and brothers of Olympus to keep Zeus’ latest bastard safe and sound. The mixing of mortals (the baby’s mother) and those that have fallen to mortality has kept one of the creepier titles of the New 52 a first read for me each month it drops.
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA: I loves me some Amanda Waller, even this ultra skinny one who is more evil than pure Machiavellian. This is, I got enough of her SUICIDE SQUAD. I applaud a team of JUSTICE LEAGUE busters, but this ain’t the crew. Baz versus Hal…please. Catwoman against Batman, I bet on the Bat. Martian Manhunter versus Superman, sure as long as Supes gets his eyes gouged out. Vibe versus Flash…WTF?????? Also, this title was born for a crossover and has lived tere since. It has had no time to set its own pace.
EARTH 2 AND WORLD’S FINEST: I’m a parallel universe whore so take this recommend with a grain of salt. Objectively I can say these books are most reflective of the time before New 52. It’s a more adult universe with a more realistic bend on how the globe would operate were it overrun with Gods. Power Girl and Huntresses’ “fish out of water” tale in WORLD’S FINEST has been an almost in-universe catharsis as they complain how young and inept the New 52 holy trinity is compared to their now deceased family members Reality Deux.
VIBE & KATANA: See JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA review for why these two members never should have had their own titles. Both were well written, they just simply couldn’t compete even within their universe for prominent shelf space.
JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL: The first team of JUSTICE LEAGUE busters were too laughable to live up to the mission, but not laughable in the Bwahahahaha sense. More awwwww. They couldn’t do the job and had no gravitas to balance the funny. It was a still born resurrection of the old title from the 80s.
JUSTICE LEAGUE 3000: This hot mess of resurrected JUSTICE LEAGUE members in the year 3000 is hilarious, fun and just introduced a stellar story element with forgotten “garbage earth.” Finally a JUSTICE LEAGUE and future book that got it right, right out of the gate.
CAPTAIN ATOM: He’s a man of the atom. I only read the first issue. Nowhere near as impactful as the miniseries a few years prior.
FIRESTORM: Another one issue and done read for me. Sorry, just didn’t grab me.
MISTER TERRIFIC: This was a tragic case of too many rich smart dudes in one universe syndrome. No one knew what to do with this guy. So they basically cast him off to EARTH 2, which no one except me was reading before Taylor took over. Great character and well done dialog along with future pay off continuity integration when Power Girl appeared. Sad sad sad waste of potential.
5 years before truly rocked these titles. Even though DC tried to ignore it from a story perspective, comic fans could not be mind wiped enough to do the math on the four Robins bounding about. I love Damian Wayne, so I wouldn’t have supported any decision that would have wiped him or any of the Robins clean off the map. However, each Robin being Bruce Wayne’s ward for about 6 months felt like a bit of a slap in the face to those of who watched Batman and his Robins build years long relationships.
Still hasn’t really been course corrected even with the fugazi of Tim Drake’s Red Robin ruse.
BATMAN: Snyder has done some bang up work in Bats, first introducing to the court of Owls and then rebuilding a bunch of other new mythologies for Gotham’s most famous families. I enjoyed Death of the Family, but I also understand the rage of some fans since there were no real deaths – simply betrayals and separations. In the beginning BATMAN required a balls deep commitment to Batman Universe books to get the full effect, but f you’ve been thirsting for an open story without the extra work I highly recommend joining the fun with Zero Year.
BATMAN INC. AND BATMAN & ROBIN: A true yin and yang relationship. BATMAN INC. delivered the atrocity of Damian’s life while BATMAN & ROBIN showcased the joy of a loving Father and Son relationship. These books also gave us Bat-Cow and Titus, two gifts I will forever be grateful for having read.
BATWING: every fiber of my being wanted to like this book, Winick and team have created a quality book here month after month. It was wise of DC not to squash this one even though it doesn’t bring the thunder and the noise. I stopped reading it solely for ideological reasons. I thought the Incorporating of Batman opened the Kimono too wide and squashed any willing suspension of disbelief. Don’t be a purist like I am kids, you are only cutting off your own nose.
BATWOMAN: Some of the most gorgeous art to grace a comic page. I wish I gave two shits about Batwoman.
BIRDS OF PREY: This one sadly annoyed me after the joy I had with the old book. I’m pissed Black Canary is no longer with Oliver Queen and I just couldn’t let that nagging sensation go enough to enjoy this book.
BATGIRL: I’m fine with walkie Babs and absolutely dig her psycho Brother, James. Gail Simone has once again delivered the goods issue after issue. Babs is the heart of the Bat Family and that heart once again beats within enthusiasm as opposed to her somewhat maudlin existence as wheelie Babs Pre 52.
CATWOMAN: I loved this book under Winnick. The crazy hot passion between her and Bats, her cavalier attitude towards….everything, and some really well thought out heists and capers. Then Nicola Scott took over with some shit about Eclipso. Haven’t been back since that hot mess dark pall shrouded the fun.
DETECTIVE: A great Bat book for dabblers. If continuity gets you blue and you don’t have the resources to read everything on the shelves look no further than DETECTIVE. My favorite story to date was the Emperor Penguin takeover of Oswald Cobblepot’s empire.
NIGHTWING: I’m bugged by what the “five years before” have done to the ages of the Robins. I shun because I care.
RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS: Sadly, this has been a very good book that was mired in ridiculous controversy spurred by assed up mommy bloggers. Yes, Starfire is a wee bit more liberal with her orange ta-tas, but I say who the hell knows what an alien libido is like? Also, there are a ton of people who can’t abide the return of Jason Todd. Personally, I read the book for the camaraderie. Since we no longer have Ollie, Hal and Dinah these three are some very intriguing intergalactic wanderers.
HARLEY QUINN: A new entry that remains to be seen on staying power. The 4th wall breaking 0 issue left many wanting since we’re not all comic insiders. Follow-up issues have been a sadistic fairytale. The literal will walk. My advice is to just pretend that you are viewing the world through Harley’s eschewed lens and you will find a new level of joy in the adorable mayhem.
TALON: No, just no. Court of Owls were much more interesting as an entity than a personal tale of vengeance.
Another five year before that just did not fly. ACTION was Ok, but the rest of the books not mired in the past barely skimmed the surface of who Superman truly is beyond the cape. The course has corrected over the past 6 months, but there are still some tall buildings Superman needs to traverse to get back on top.
ACTION: I love Grant Morrison, but I did not love ACTION. It had nothing to do with jeans and t-shirt Superman and much more to do with the plot that felt like Johns’ SECRET ORIGINS and the fact Clark never felt like a corn fed kid from Kansas. Oh, then he became a fireman or some shit. This book didn’t hit its stride until Pak took over with the issue 25 ZERO YEAR.
SUPERBOY: I honestly read the first issue and never came back. Kids in fluid tubes just don’t do it for me.
SUPERGIRL: This little lady course corrects every other thing wrong with the SUPERMAN UNIVERSE books. We feel her pain as she struggles to understand a world that fears her. We truly see a fawn on new legs. She has also been on some great intergalactic travels and quite recently became a Red Lantern. A plot line that helped give her book a goose and actually got me interested in RED LANTERN for the first time.
SUPERMAN: If you’re into the talks of mergers and the politics of media, you found your book for the first arc of Superman’s new life. If you like villains that don’t mean shit to anyone akin to the mutants of the week from Smallville, then stay for the next couple of arcs. If you like a good comic book where Superman must balancer his hero life and the world of Clark Kent, start reading SUPERMAN when Lobdell takes over.
SUPERMAN UNCHAINED: I love how Snyder once again tried to inject real history into a title. I was on board for Sam Lane running a covert ops group compete with their own Superman. As we watched this Darkseid looking chap try to espouse the virtues of duty to country while Kal talks of saving humanity, you begin to realize why the New 52 was so necessary. The world is much bigger than it was in 1938; we need a hero that fights for truth, justice and that’s it really.
BATMAN/SUPERMAN: Quite simply this is the book for everyone who hates the New 52. The interchange between our New 52 versions of B&S with their older and wiser counterparts on Earth 2 satiates fans new and old. This was also a great read for EARTH 2 and WORLD’S FINEST fans. Love seeing worlds that recognize God’s walk among them and where the Gods get off their asses for some proactive world management. The second arc of BATMAN/SUPERMAN finally gave Huntress and Power Girl to out themselves to their Earth Prime family members, making everyone’s lives a little less lonely.
SUPERMAN/WONDER WOMAN: I’m pro on the Superman and Wonder Woman relationship if for no other reason than it makes Batman more nervous than the Joker having a map of the cave. Soule is doing a bang up job showing the dichotomy between these two despite being similarly powerful. WW’s being raised as a goddess and Clark’s humble bringing will ultimately be their undoing in my opinion rather than the obvious return to Lois. In the mean time it’s nice to see some real relationship turmoil permeate the fantastical.
GREEN LANTERN UNIVERSE
While there were no time travel shenanigans shoved into Gl, this was a book that remained virtually untouched from its pre Flashpoint happenings. Pretty much if it was written by Johns or Snyder the book was storyline saved from a reset. In this case it worked though as the universe course corrected around the Lanterns instead of the other way around. Lately, I have loved the fact the GLs are now the scourge of the universe since their mentors went batty. I’m also intrigued to see how long the corps can stop the other light spectrums from draining the universe’s emotional well. Sort of like being an arms control specialist in Compton.
GREEN LANTERN: Because we never skipped a beat from the old universe it’s safe to say the New 52 versions will sit just fine with lapsed readers. Johns continued to play with the light spectrum in the new universe as he dethroned the Guardians for a new universal order. Today, Hal is back in charge and Mogo takes the place of OA as the corps tries to get the rest of the light spectrum to conserve the finite well of power.
GREEN LANTERN CORPS: John Stewart is one of the most tragic heroes in the DC Universe. Guy Gardner one of the most hilarious. Put them together and you noy only get a great buddy book, but one with consequence. Stewart continues to make tough choice after tough choice as guy finds a new home within the emotional spectrum. The road to getting to these destinations is well worth the read.
GREEN LANTERN NEW GUARDIANS: I won’t lie, it took this book a long time to get to the point – basically making Kyle Rayner the White Lantern and introducing to more humane set of Guardians who were locked away by the originals. Not necessary reading, but if you dig Kyle this was the only place to get him. What’s also been interesting is the friendship that formed between Kyle and Carol Ferris. A Carol with options beyond Hal causes some serious strife for our favorite hot headed pilot.
RED LANTERNS: I hated this book when it was released. The one note rage of the Red Lanterns was fine and dandy in a supporting world, but made for very two -dimensional focal points in their own title. Fortunately Guy Gardner came in to take over and kept some of his pre blood ingesting wits about him. The latest crossover with SUPERGIRL has been sensational.
LARFLEEZE: More like Larplease. Same issue I had with the red lanterns at the outset, the embodiment of one emotion is a very flat experience.
This will be the biggest gaping hole in my review. For one, most of the books have been cancelled. Secondly, none of the kids have captured my imagination.
TEEN TITANS: No T tower, no Nightwing and no Marv Wolfman. No thanks.
BLUE BEETLE: I was done with BB the day Maxwell Lord put a bullet in his head. I like my Beetle as a fun nerdy science guy, not a mystical alien. Apparently the market agreed with me.
HAWK & DOVE: Bad art and a worse story. A trade you can skip. To be fair I never really cared about these characters. The only time Hawk was interesting was back when he took over the future during ARMAGEDDON 2001.
LEGION OF SUPER HEROES & LEGION LOST: I was never a big LoS guy, more a L.E.G.I.O.N. chap. Still, I went into these series with open eyes and mind. All we got was confusion and cross pollination between books performed by retarded bees. Not good, and a huge blow to the year 3000. Fortunately JUSTICE LEAGUE 3000 has been able to save the future.
STATIC SHOCK: A title that never stood a chance. The editorial meddling is well documented and unfortunately there are still too many myopic white kids buying books for a black superhero to truly take hold.
THE RAVAGERS: This short lived title didn’t make a lick of sense, not a lick.
Probably the most original and under appreciated corner of the New 52. Here is where Sci-Fi, westerns and more eclectic titles come to live and sadly die. The biggest problem with the The Edge, that like The Dark, many of these titles are set-ups for events rather than their own beasts.
ALL STAR WESTERN: The best Jonah Hex has ever been. His first few adventures in old time Gotham are great ole’ time tales and fish out of water stories. This series became even better by placing Dr. Arkham as Jonah’s dandy sidekick.
STORMWATCH: A tragedy and travesty from how good this book once was. I reiterate the point I made at the outset; you can’t place a pastiche of the JUSTICE LEAGUE in-continuity with the JUSTICE LEAGUE. I was right, as exhibited by the reboot around issue 20 when Jim Starlin came on. Now, I have no idea what the hell this book is trying to accomplish.
SUICIDE SQUAD: It kills me to see what happened to this book. A black ops group of criminals that was tons of fun until it had to go serve its crossover masters. This was also where Amanda Waller was at her best.
THE MOVEMENT & THE GREEN TEAM: Meant to be an analogy for our current economic class imbalances, one was mildly interesting and one was simply atrocious. Ever wonder what the world would be like if rich kids had even more in this world they didn’t have to work for? Neither did anyone else, which made GREEN TEAM wither on the vine. THE MOVEMENT was decent about poor kids with powers in New Orleans, but even Gail Simone couldn’t save it from the chopping block next month.
O.M.A.C, GRIFTER, VOODOO, TEAM 7, THRESHOLD, BLACKHAWKS, MEN OF WAR: Some of these were decent, but again they lived to simply serve cross overs, the need to integrate Wild Storm universe events, or were kept so separate from the rest of the new 52 there was really no reason to care. My favorite of the bunch was MEN OF WAR, but it also made one realize how unnecessary mere mortals are when capes are around. Not a great message about the armed services in a time when our country jumps from one war to the next.
An original world of magic, might and cynicism. I love this corner of the DCU even if I am beyond pissed about its perpetual implosion of titles.
JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK: A fine book when once again it is allowed to breathe. DC needs this book as desperately as Marvel needs to bring back Dr. Strange. Magic has a place in the superhero world. This team is a fine departure from straight fist-to-cuffs.
SWAMP THING: I never liked the character, yet I am still pissed I shunned the title. I heard it’s good. Any thoughts?
TRINITY OF SIN: PHANTOM STRANGER & PANDORA: Basically vehicles for the Forever Evil crossover. Vehicles more unnecessary than the Pacer.
CONSTANTINE: A fine attempt at making the main DCU a little darker. WARNING – this ain’t Vertigo. If that’s what you are looking for you will find this Constantine less than edgy. When placed against other books though he is absolutely bawdy. Decide what you want from your JC.
ANIMAL MAN: I am livid about the end of this book. I could care less about Buddy Baker’s ability to mimic animals, but I loved the fact we had a superhero with a real family and real family problems. This adoration grew even more with the complexity of Buddy trying t manage a budding acting career. This is the best book to ever get cancelled.
DEMON KNIGHTS: Another original title about the team that would one day become STORMWATCH assuming they could escape the middle ages. Very adult and very good. Also, very cancelled.
FRANKENSTEIN: AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E: DC’s successful swing at a BPRD league of weird powered super heroes. Fish chick, wolf man and an immortal leader in the body of a small girl this book had weird counterbalanced by Frank’s huge bleeding heart. The issue where he had to kill his child was probably one of the best moments of the New 52 that only I and handful of others ever saw.
I, VAMPIRE: Mary was made a vampire by John. John felt pretty bad about this and spent eternity repenting. He also had to spend it fighting Mary since she kind of dug the ultra violence. One of the most messed up and bloody love stories in comics that just never took hold with fans.
I really feel the New 52 is just coming into its own finally after three years. The rough spots have been smoothed and the books that will work are here to stay while the experiments become fewer and fewer. DC is not Image, they need to realize they are managing icons inside an equally iconic universe. DC main is not just stories – frankly that’s what Vertigo is for.
I still hold to the fact only two books should have been released at reset time: DETECTIVE and ACTION. From there, let new ancillary characters build who are reflective of now instead of then. I know this doesn’t work from a cash and licensing standpoint, but universes like EARTH 1 have ben critically and revenue proven to be the right choice.
Also, I’m dumbfounded by the dogmatic adherence to 52 titles. It was a cute nod to FINAL CRISIS and the multiverse, which hasn’t truly been explored since. It’s an albatross keeping great books either obscured from sight or weighed down carrying the lesser titles, and bad books getting the green light simply to fill an artificial quota.
I wouldn’t write 4,000 plus words about a topic unless I vehemently believe it is worth the time and can be improved. Also, I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t care. Take stock and heed of this DC and realize you have great stories in you as long as you can kick the fucking suits and money-men out of the bullpen.