The New Era: How DC Gambled A Universe On The New 52
Intended to be a jumping on point for new readers, decades of continuity was abandoned in an attempt to make the line more accessible, and while the initiative is often remembered for its failures, some of the best DC Comics were published in the five years of The New 52 era.
When the Flash storyline "Flashpoint" began, no-one quite knew that it would have the impact that it did on the entire DC Universe; it was an alternate-reality tale in the vein of Marvel's Age of Apocalypse that featured a number of tie-ins starring incarnations of popular characters from an alternate possible timeline. However, DC shocked the comics world when it announced that --- just like Crisis on Infinite Earth twenty-five years prior --- Flashpoint would end with a new continuity and a new status-quo for many DC heroes.
As The Flash attempted to fix the damage he had done to the timestream, he was approached by a mysterious hooded woman named Pandora who told him that the world was not as it should be, and that Barry Allen could fix it. This "fix" involved folding characters from Vertigo and Wildstorm into mainstream continuity, and establishing a timeline in which superheroes had only been active for the past five years, starting with the debut of the Justice League.
Some characters and franchises were relatively unscathed; Geoff Johns was still writing Green Lantern, so that stayed exactly the same, while Batman’s biggest worry was trying to fit four Robins into five active years of superheroing. Other iconic heroes such as Superman were given radical reinventions from the ground up, while some reverted to older incarnations, like Barbara Gordon once again becoming Batgirl.
One of the most interesting aspects of The New 52 is how much DC tried to diversify away from superhero comics in certain areas. There were distinct lines such as “The Dark” and “The Edge,” and the publisher used its considerable catalog of characters to try its hands at other genres, including westerns, espionage, and modern warfare.
Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s Justice League really set the tone for a lot of what The New 52 will be remembered for, and unfortunately it was a book where heroes squabbled, Green Lantern called “dibs” on Wonder Woman, and the team fought relatively few villains over the course of a fifty issue run.
The aesthetics of a lot of the books and new costume designs were also often very off putting, reminiscent of the worst of ‘90s superhero comics. Jim Lee redesigned the majority of the characters along with Cully Hamner, and there were a lot of high collars and lots of characters wearing armor. Outside of a select few books, there didn’t seem to be a lot of fun to be had in The New 52.
The New 52 didn’t necessarily accomplish what it set out to do, and the publisher’s announcement of 2016's back-to-basics Rebirth initiative essentially acknowledged as much by rolling back many of the New 52's changes.
But the initiative had its high points. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s fifty-one issue run on Batman is one of the biggest creative accomplishments in modern superhero comics, and the line also featured acclaimed runs such as Grant Morrison and Rags Morales on Action Comics, Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato on The Flash, and Dan Didio and Keith Giffen on OMAC.
The New 52 also pushed the industry forward in one very significant way, as it was the launchpad for DC's move to simultaneous digital release for all of its titles. Marvel followed suit three months later.
It took DC a few years to find its feet after the New 52, and just when the publisher seemed to have things in hand with standout titles like Batgirl, by Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr, and The Omega Men, by Tom King and Barnaby Bagenda, it moved on to Rebirth.
The relaunch may ultimately be remembered as just one in a string of attempts by major publishers to adjust to a changing comics market, but some very talented creators put out some of their best work in those five years, and those are the stories that will ultimately be worth revisiting.
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