When DC Comics relaunched in 2011 as “The New 52,” there were a lot of…strong opinions. I was one of the people on board, as I had always wanted to read comics but never knew how to start. So, without the New 52, I might never have really read comics. But to the many others, after 4 long years the New 52 is finally over.
Well, sort of.
After their move to the West Coast and the mediocrity that was the Convergence event, DC has removed the New 52 tag from their comics and are shifting focus. Less emphasis is placed on continuity and consistency, and more is placed on simply telling good stories. This is the “DCYou.” Many of the heroes have undergone major status quo changes, which I’ll get into in a moment.
I’ve read a good chunk of the new stories, so I’m writing this little guide to let you, the reader, know which books are good, and which ones you might want to leave on the shelf. One big thing to remember is this: I’m operating on a budget. I’d love to read every single comic out there, every spin-off and one-shot, but I just can’t afford it. Unfortunately, that means some of the bigger named superheroes and superheroines I haven’t been able to read, and therefore I don’t know if they’re any good. I read Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s run on Wonder Woman, but I had to drop it when the new team took over. The same goes for Batgirl – despite the critical acclaim of her new direction, I haven’t read it, and therefore don’t have an opinion.
Without further ado, let’s get into it.
I’ll ease my way into it. I think it was IGN that described the Justice League comic as “the last hurrah of the New 52” or something along those lines, and that’s honestly the best way to describe it. Justice League is virtually unchanged from its pre-Convergence self, and that’s amazing. As much as I want to see the new Superman, Batman (more on them later), and Wonder Woman kicking it together, I can’t really complain about the main title. Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok are telling a fantastic story in “The Darkseid War” – a war between Darkseid and the Anti-Monitor with Earth and the Justice League caught in between.
I can’t really say the same about the JLA title, honestly. It isn’t bad, but it pales in comparison to the main Justice League title. Like Justice League, it features the New 52 iterations of the heroes rather than their current states. But, several issues in, it feels to me more like a Superman story featuring other members of the Justice League. It’s interesting, but I’m not exactly begging for more. Hopefully it changes.
Recommended comics: Justice League
One of the most common complaints about Superman is that he’s overpowered. Well, that’s been changed. A lot.
Superman has had his identity exposed by Lois Lane, and he’s lost most of his powers. He’s still strong, but no longer invulnerable. He can’t fly. He got a haircut. And people hate him. Everyone knows who he is, and they all want a piece of him. Everybody thinks they can be the one “to take down Superman,” and they’re right. There’s a vulnerability and a freshness to Superman’s character that’s been missing in a lot of recent years.
In the main Superman title, you find out the events that led to his identity being exposed and his powers nearly vanishing. In Action Comics, you see the fallout of that, and how everyone reacts to knowing that this alien has been hiding among them, pretending to be like them. (Side note: I don’t know about any of you, but I wouldn’t start hating on Superman just because I found out he was trying to fit in as a human. I mean, what else could the guy do in his downtime? The world turning against him is one of the few parts of Superman’s new status quo that I’m having trouble accepting, but for the most part it works.) In the Batman/Superman comic, the main draw is seeing the new Superman and the new Batman interact, but that’s honestly it. The story is fun, but I’m not as enthralled as with Superman and Action Comics. The same goes for Superman/Wonder Woman; it’s interesting to see how these two larger-than-life characters interact when one of them becomes just a little bit more human, but that’s really the only part that’s interesting. Read them if you want the entire “Truth” storyline, but they aren’t wholly necessary.
Recommended comics: Superman; Action Comics
Batman’s new status quo follows directly from the previous story, Endgame. If you haven’t read that story, do yourself a favor and go read it. For reasons I won’t get into due to spoilers, Jim Gordon is now a police-sanctioned Batman. He’s in a large, mech-like Batsuit that operates within the law, to take down the villains that the GCPD can’t by themselves, and to continue the trend of Batman as a symbol for the city. The creative team on the core Batman title is the same as it was pre-Convergence, so the quality of that book is as great as ever. Unfortunately, the same isn’t as true for some of the others – particularly Detective Comics. I had picked up Detective Comics when Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul took over, because the two made a great pair on Flash and I love Manapul’s art. Unfortunately, Manapul has since left and he took most of the quality with him. It isn’t bad, but the huge draw was the art, which is now just average.
There’s a less obvious status quo shift for Robin, but still important. The current Robin is Damian Wayne. Since his father is no longer under the cowl, he’s traveling the world in an attempt to atone for “the Year of Blood,” a year of intense trials from when he was still with the League of Assassins. Both writing and art is done by Patrick Gleason, who was one half of the previous creative team. He has a handle on Damian’s voice, but his handle of other similarly aged characters is a bit shaky (as is often the case when adults try to capture the teen voice). Some of the page layouts also muddles the action a bit, causing a lot of confusion while reading. It’s good if you’re a fan of Damian, but otherwise it can be left.
There’s also the new Batman Beyond comic, spinning out of the recent Future’s End weekly series. For those of you who were fans of the animated show, don’t expect to pick it up and know what’s happening. A lot of the characters are the same, but the series relies heavily on knowledge of events in Future’s End. I had only read about half of that series, so I knew the basics, but some events were spoiled.
Recommended comics: Batman
When the New 52 launched, the Green Lantern franchise was one of those that was almost completely unchanged. All of the large events, such as the Sinestro Corps War and Blackest Night, were still canon. It led to a large amount of continuity confusion, but it essentially let Geoff Johns wrap up his incredible 9-year run with an ending so great it could have been the series finale. Starting toward the end of his run and continuing into the next creative teams’ time, the GL franchise became too bogged down with crossovers. In order to get a full story, you needed to buy anywhere between four to six comics a month, in addition to whatever else you were picking up.
That has been fixed. Red Lanterns, Green Lantern Corps, and Green Lantern: New Guardians have been cancelled, leaving just the main Green Lantern series and a new, limited mini-series called Green Lantern: Lost Army. While both are related, they don’t tie in together – you can read one and be satisfied.
In Green Lantern, Hal Jordan is on the run from the GL Corps, acting as a sort of mercenary/bounty hunter. Instead of a ring, he now has a power gauntlet that operates similarly, but is vastly more powerful. It takes all of his willpower to keep it from unleashing its full power constantly. What led to his expulsion from the corps and how he acquired the gauntlet is kept a mystery from the reader, but it’ll most likely be explained in some amount of detail in the future.
Green Lantern: Lost Army follows John Stewart and a small group of GLs who wake up in a mysterious, unknown sector of the universe, cut off completely from the power battery and any and all other Lanterns. The main story here is them trying to figure out where they are, how they got there, and how to get back. Some GL knowledge is required to read this series to its fullest, mainly the recent Lights Out story, but enough information is given to adequately understand and enjoy the story.
Recommended comics: Green Lantern; Green Lantern: Lost Army
When Geoff Johns took over Aquaman at the start of the New 52, he brought life back to the character. The stories and art were both absolutely fantastic. When he left and Jeff Parker took over, it was still good, but not as good. That trend kind of continues here. Aquaman is still good, but not as good as what came before.
Aquaman has been stripped of his throne, and all across the world remnants of another civilization are bleeding into ours, killing off anything around it. Aquaman has also been given the powers of Poseidon, which makes him even more badass than he was. Unfortunately, those new powers aren’t showcased as often as I wish they were.
As it is, I can’t really recommend picking this series up, but I do think an eye should be kept on it. It isn’t great, but the potential is there for some really cool stories.
Recommended comics: Aquaman
The New 52’s Earth 2 was an odd series. In some ways, it was what the New 52 wanted to be – existing heroes and villains were completely reinvented from the ground up. Earth 2’s Green Lantern became closer to Swamp Thing than a member of the Corps and Flash was given his powers by a dying Roman god. With Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman dead in the first issue (sorry…spoilers), we were given more focus on these Golden Age heroes given a Modern Age makeover. At the same time, though, this was perhaps the least accessible of all the New 52 comics. You kind of needed to know who these characters had been to enjoy the novelty of how they’re reinvented. This whole series has also been one large, continuing story – the jumping on point is really only issue #1. There was the main series, which continued into the weekly Earth 2: World’s End, which lead into Convergence, which leads into the new Earth 2: Society.
I read and loved the New 52 Earth 2 series, but I couldn’t afford World’s End. I read Convergence (almost unfortunately…), and I’ve been reading Earth 2: Society. Honestly, I have conflicted feelings. In a fashion similar to Batman Beyond and Future’s End, it’s difficult reading this series not knowing what came before. If you read Convergence, you should be able to get a handle on this series pretty well, as it picks up following the events of that series. That said, you still won’t quite understand who many of the characters are unless you read the previous Earth 2 series. Much of the original novelty of “these are characters you know, but different” is gone, but there are still enough twists and turns to justify the read.
Recommended comics: Earth 2: Society
There’s a lot more that I haven’t touched on here, and many of them are good. Cyborg’s human body is beginning to grow back, a group of misfit kids has started a crime-fighting gang under the Robin mantle in We Are Robin, Harley Quinn is basically DC’s answer to Deadpool, and so on. These are also only my opinions, so if you’re interested in any of the ones I haven’t mentioned, or are still interested in some of the ones I have, of course feel free to pick them up. I won’t be offended. Feel free to comment below what you think of any of the plethora of amazing comics out there, whether it’s DC, Marvel, or any of the awesome indie companies out there.
P.S. If you’re interested in indie comics, check out “Squarriors” by Devil’s Due. You won’t be disappointed.