DC Comics The New 52 Year One In Review Part 1
Chris and Jordan
To mark the anniversary of one of the biggest comic stories of the past decade, Chris and Jordan take a look back at the first year of DC Comics New 52 Relaunch. Look for part 2 of the discussion tomorrow, and a special edition of the Review to Be Named Podcast on Wednesday, wherein Chris and Jordan will take a look at 10 specific titles that best represent the strengths and weaknesses of the New 52.

Where does a year go?  It seems like mere months ago, that Fans, Creators, Retailers, and Publishers alike counted down the agonizingly slow summer days leading up to September 2011, a month that will forever be remembered as a watershed mark on the history of American Comic Books.  When it was first announced, no one really knew what to make of DC's New 52 initiative, other than that it was big, it was bold, and it was equal parts scary as it was exciting.  One year later, titles have come and gone, creators have walked on and off titles, questions were answered, new questions were raised, and everybody is still kinda sore about Starfire (more on that later).  Love it, hate it, or don't really think it's your thing but wish those involved well, the New 52 was a game changer for those who work in and follow the medium.  And as with any monumental anniversary, we here at Review To Be Named Comics think that it is important to take stock of DC's current catalogue, and evaluate how successful the initiative has been at meeting its intended goals.  We're also going to take some time to look at where DC is headed in the next year, and take a close look at 10 titles we really feel epitomize the strengths and weaknesses of New 52 in a special edition of the RTBN Podcast (more on that later as well).  So let's kick things off by welcoming back my co-writer of our first go around on the New 52 feature coverage, RTBN Editor In Chief Jordan.  So Jordan, what titles were you reading at the start of the initiative, and what are you reading now, one year later?

I should start by congratulating DC on making a monthly reader of me. As I'm sure I mentioned a year ago when we first started this, I had never read a comic book monthly when September 2011 came around. Yet here we are, a year later, and I am a very active reader of monthly books by DC, Marvel, and several independent publishers. When we agreed to do this cross talk last year, it was premised on the idea that we would read all 52 new books by DC. Reading all 52 of the #1s last year was a herculean undertaking and revealed a definite mixed bag, quality-wise, but I found myself sticking with many more of the books than I would have guessed, giving some an arc or two to win me over, and giving others far more time than they deserved (Damn you, Detective Comics! I wish I knew how to quit you). One year in, I am still reading 20 books from DC on a monthly basis (21 if you include the return of Grant Morrison's Batman Inc.), and I am enjoying many of them that I would not have guessed I would still be reading. On that front, the biggest surprise (and my pick for one of the greatest books on the shelf right now) is Wonder Woman, which took the character in a new direction that made her interesting to me for the first time, and continues to be a surprising, exciting, and thought-provoking book month in and month out. What about you, Chris? What are you still reading as we round out the first year? What are your favorite books right now? Are there any that you wish you could stop picking up every month, but just can't bring yourself to part with?

I started off reading about 22 books from DC.  12 months later, and I'm sticking with 16 titles (including books I have picked up because of creator switches, and second wave launches), which I think is a pretty impressive retention rate.  Well done DC.  As for my favorite books right now, I am loving Batman, Swamp Thing, Justice League Dark, and Aquaman.  My two biggest surprises were Animal Man (I still consider the debut to be the best first issue of the entire initiative) and Wonder Woman (this book is constantly competing with Batman for the honor of being my favorite title DC is currently publishing).  Birds of Prey and Green Lantern Corps are two books I have stuck with thus far, but are walking dangerously close to the edge.  I find Birds a bit repetitive and GLC seems afraid to fully embrace its cosmic side.  

Your conversion to monthly reader is a big win for DC, as one of the main goals of the initiative was to drive readers into the stores (retailers or digital) week after week.  The monthly sales are the best way the publisher has to judge the overall health of the catalogue and of the individual books.  While many readers like yourself do prefer the "wait for the trade" reading experience, as it provides a longer more complete story, many books in the middle and the lower end of the sales spectrum may be cancelled before their time as a result.  Tell me Jordan, did our week by week reviews hook you, or was it the consistency of knowing which books would come out during which week of the month?  Ensuring that the books shipped on time and that they shipped the same week every month (e.x. The Flash always ships on the fourth Wednesday of the month) was a major goal for the publisher, oftentimes prioritized over artistic consistency.  Did you find the frequent turn over in artists to be noticeable or jarring?  Or do you prefer that the books shipped on time? 

I think our week by week reviews really got me into the monthly reading camp. I was always of the opinion that reading the complete story, either in trade, or after a run was finished (I tore through longer runs like Neil Gaiman's Sandman, which remains the high water mark for comics, and literature, as far as I'm concerned, at break neck speed) was preferable, and I'm still someone who often collects certain books monthly but holds off on reading them until I have several (I caught up on The Flash and Mark Waid's Daredevil runs this summer, when I had nearly a year's worth of story in front of me). But I solved the problem of getting only a fragment of story each month by simply reading more comics than ever before. Where I used to read one book at a time and marathon through its back catalogue, I now read somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 titles every month. Its a lot, but it solves my need for a fuller immersion that I used to get from trades, while allowing me to start building up a comics expertise to rival other areas of pop culture I am more knowledgeable about.

One thing I will admit I still lack great awareness about is art in comics. When its done well, I stand up and take notice (which is why names like Quitely, Immonen, and Jock stand out to me), but if you gave me a pop quiz, I probably couldn't tell you the artist on most of the books I read. I know the view is reductive and antiquated, but to me, comics is still a writer's medium, and I am much more drawn to books because of their author than because of their artist. So I may not even have noticed a fill in artist unless it was specifically pointed out to me. But I certainly noticed if the trains weren't running on time, so to speak, and a late shipment can kill the momentum on a book for me. When books skip a month or ship late, I often find I don't remember where things were left, and that means the book has to work twice as hard to get me back on board. So, to make a long answer shorter: I prefer the books shipping on time.

You know, this is going to sound worse than I intend it to, but it's very difficult for me to talk about what I like about the New 52 in broad strokes.  That's not to say that I don't think any good came out of the initiative.  To the contrary I think tremendous improvements were implemented as a result of the relaunch, but most of those amount to smaller more individual and specific triumphs.  Let me try and explain.  

I think the best thing to come out of the New 52 was the American comic industry being grabbed by the scruff of the neck, and dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.  The major publishers had been dipping their toes into the water of digital distribution for years, but until 2011 had been afraid to fully commit, most likely out of the fear of undermining or pissing off the retailers, whose niche stores that sold the physical comic books.  These stores had been the lifeblood of the industry to date even as they themselves struggled for survival, many closing their doors as the readership shrank.  If you live in a city, chances are you have a few retailers within easy travel distance to choose from.  Not everyone else is so lucky, and when you factor in travel time and gas costs to the already steadily rising prices of the periodicals, it's easy to see why the industry is bleeding readers.  Then along came the New 52.  Every book available for digital download, simple as downloading a song, released the same day it hits the shelves in print.  The other companies, including Marvel, soon followed suit, and now all the major publishers release their entire catalogue day and date digital.  Allowing simple and direct digital distribution was vital to the longterm sustainability of this medium.  DC recognized this, and it is to their credit that they made that bold first move while their competitors stuck with the wait and see approach.

The other major success I can speak of in terms of the Initiative as a whole is the diversification of DC's line.  When you compare DC to Marvel, DC always came across as more of a homogenized fictional universe while Marvel was much more secularized.  Let me put it this way, (the past decade aside) most characters in the DC stable would make sense as a member of the Justice League, while only about half of Marvel's characters make sense as members of the Avengers (the others falling into the categories of X-Men, Fantastic Four, Unaffiliated, or other).  This allowed Marvel the tremendous freedom to explore a shared continuity, or tell different kinds of stories with different factions of their universe, or at times set these factions against each other (Civil War, Avengers vs. X-Men).  DC did not have this capability as all of their major groups, teams, and characters were pretty much on the same page following the same kind of mandate.  Enter the New 52 and the publisher successfully establishes a very viable line of horror books brought together under the New 52 Dark banner.  These books can tell very different kinds of stories than the Superman, Green Lantern, or Justice League books can, and make for a more diverse, exciting, and unpredictable fictional universe than existed prior to the relaunch.

The other elements of the Relaunch I really have enjoyed are numerous, but harder to group under broad categories.  To name a few, I love that DC made an effort to put A-List talent on some unexpected books like Aquaman, Animal Man, and Wonder Woman.  I really appreciated the publisher's attempt to support genre books like All Star Western and G.I. Combat.  I was even won over by the idea of artists being given high profile books as their first writing assignments, a move I was very skeptical of at first, as Batwoman and The Flash are two of DC's most consistently critically acclaimed titles.

What about you Jordan, what do you think were the strongest elements to come out of the relaunch?

It's funny you should mention diversification of DC's line, because I have mixed feelings there. On the one hand, I totally agree that it is a positive to have DC publishing books as diverse as their Dark line, All-Star Western and their super hero tentpoles. But on the other, I think this contributes to my feeling that the Marvel Universe is more cohesive. You're right that Marvel has its factions, but I never have any trouble picturing an interaction between, say, Captain America and The Punisher, even though the two are diametrically opposed characters who are usually at the center of very different types of stories. Marvel feels like one universe in a way that DC never has for me, and the new 52 did not resolve that issue. I love Batman, and his home of Gotham City, but it never really feels like Gotham and Metropolis exist in the same world, and I would have hoped the relaunch might have rectified this complaint. The exception to this is the still ongoing overlap between two of my favorite DC books: Swamp Thing and Animal Man. While the official cross over between the books is just beginning, the struggles of these heroes have been intertwined since the first, and though I was reading two separate books, it was never hard for me to see the overlap and to feel that a cohesive world was being created and inhabited.

As someone who reads comics digitally, the importance of this move cannot be overstated. I would still not be a monthly reader if not for this new digital comics push, and DC deserves a lot of credit for taking the leap and moving the medium into the modern era. So kudos to them for a game changing decision that actually changed the game, at least as far as I am concerned. To take a different tack on the same general area, what do you hope to see from the DCnU in the next year?

Look back here tomorrow for Part 2 DC Comics the New 52 Year One in Review (we like rhymes) and be sure to check out a very special edition of the Review to be Named Podcast this Wednesday.)
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