Disparaging Remarks: In Defense of the New 52

I recently responded in the comments section of my previous post: “[Comic book] criticism is obviously subjective and necessary and there are many instances of what can only be classified as ‘bad’ or ‘subpar’ comic book writing. Via a constructive (or deconstructive) analysis, a reviewer or critic can (and should, if he is doing his job well) point out the inconsistencies of art, perceived flaws in narrative development, etc. However, […] most ‘criticism’ I see on the web these days is merely fanboy whining and harping, stuff tantamount to a right wing op-ed in a local newspaper or the comments section of a youtube video. I’d like to see a little more depth and balance. I won’t call out anyone specifically here, but I’m tired of certain reviewers and forum dwellers only chiming in when they have an angry diatribe to spew forth, groaning about how the New 52 can’t hold a candle to the Modern/Silver Age or how all of their favorite characters are unrecognizable because they’ve been butchered by current scriptors or that they are going to stop reading comics altogether. It feels like each time I troll the nerdiest parts of the internet, I’m wading through more and more hate-speech and, frankly, it bums me out!”

While I was hesitant to call out anyone in that comment, I would like to address someone whose opinion I respect greatly, author and comic book genius Timothy Callahan. Just a few hours ago, he “chimed-in” via his immensely trafficked When Worlds Collide blog on Comic Book Resources.

While I usually agree with Callahan, this article perfectly exemplifies what I’m talking about. Now, Callahan’s message here doesn’t bog down to the level of YouTube comment or right wing op-ed (far, far from it as Callahan is an extremely informed and intelligent industry insider), but it does register to me as misguided insight. And it most certainly does bum me out.

Callahan talks about how the New 52 reboot has left the DCU hollow and empty, whereas Brian Michael Bendis’ ongoing Age of Ultron has injected the Marvel U with fresh exciting life because it is able to reflect upon decades of history. Never mind the fact that Age of Ultron may possibly turn out to be the Flashpoint of the Marvel U, also acting as a rebooting retcon epic (it probably won’t be, but who knows right?)—Callahan’s suggestion that the New 52 reboot has ruined the DCU is ludicrous for another big reason. What about Crisis on Infinite Earths? Plenty of folks back then were up in arms about the changes and problems that followed that reboot back in 1986. Did Crisis, which erased much more than the New 52, ruin the DCU back then? No way.

As one bright CBR forum commenter (GrandHarrier) responds, Callahan’s write-up is “just depressing.” The commenter continues, saying that Callahan’s article is “seemingly biased” and closes with “Man, I just like my (DC) comics. I’m genuinely enjoying many of the titles coming out. Sorry that you aren’t.” I couldn’t agree more with this.

In further defense of the New 52, it’s been less than two years since the reboot. It’s really unfair to pass such sweeping judgment over the entire line when things are just getting started. We don’t know what the grand design is yet.

Another forum commenter (DocSpin) says poignantly that the New 52 reboot “was done to present a fresher, more contemporary feeling to the stories. And it has. If you want to nitpick on continuity, that’s up to you, but doesn’t subtract from the uniqueness of the stories.” Again, I agree with this statement. Lots of people (including Callahan from what I can glean from his post) think that the reboot was done to fix problems or to alter characters for no reason. That’s just not the case. And it really is up to the reader if he or she wants to nitpick on continuity. I certainly do nitpick, and as the ultimate nitpicker, I find things to be only slightly problematic, but answerable—and that’s half my enjoyment of the DC line! Callahan uses Age of Ultron and Marvel’s rich history as his weapon against DC’s sparse rebooted history. However, this is possibly the most ridiculous argument he makes.

As I’ve said for years, for most of Marvel’s major events  to make sense you have to actually ignore past continuity. I can think of a ton of tales from the 90s and early 2000s where this is the case. But commenter Allen T lists a good recent example: “AVX: No, it wasn’t Mastermind and the Hellfire Club’s manipulations that drove Jean Grey insane and become the Phoenix, it was the Phoenix itself (never mind that Rachel had wielded it for years with no problem). […] Yes DC [has] had some hiccups but they have a structure they are building upon. Marvel? It is what works for this story.” Marvel, in my eyes, has always put story above continuity. And I’m totally cool with that, but it’s one thing that has always turned me off a bit.  DC has good stories too, even though it may put continuity ahead of narrative development. Just because Marvel references obscure stuff dating all the way back to the Sixties in a lot of its current tales, it doesn’t make those tales “super correct continuity stories” that are “complex in a continuity-heavy sense.” In most cases, they actually don’t make much sense if we were to attempt to place them on a specific timeline.

I don’t agree with every move DC makes and I don’t like every story. The same can be said about my feelings for Marvel. However, unlike Callahan, I don’t have to wrongly pit one company against the other—like my friends and I used to do when we were teens—just to make a point. Wait, what was Callahan’s point, anyway?


About Collin Colsher

Collin Colsher, the creator of The Real Batman Chronology Project and disCONTINUITY, is a writer, filmmaker, teacher, and comic book historian that currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. He has lectured at various universities, libraries, and book fairs. Collin has also served on the jury for the Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize, which is sponsored by the US Library of Congress.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Disparaging Remarks: In Defense of the New 52

  1. Darkmaster006 says:

    Oh, I almost forgot, for the Steph/Cass dissapareance topic I’ll leave this article here (http://www.comicsbulletin.com/columns/5172/we-hear-you-so-shut-up-already/) which explains a lot of this, the hate of (DiDio, I suppose) to them. It’s a really interesting article, you should check it out if you wanna know about the supposed future of them.

    • Whoa—never read that article before. I was obviously totally aware of the lack of Steph and Cass in the New 52, but I had no idea DC was going to such great lengths to keep them erased and forgotten. The change to Lil Gotham she mentions is nuts! It’s also strange that in the Lil Gotham Thanksgiving scene, it looks like Colin Wilkes (Abuse) and Katana are both present, but Steph and Cass aren’t. At least take solace that Grant Morrison gave Steph the best send-off possible (before DC eliminated her existence) in Leviathan Strikes. Her appearance in that issue is sheer perfection and is Morrison’s stamp upon the Modern Age that says STEPHANIE IS BATGIRL, the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.

      My hope is that they have something planned for them… otherwise why shelf them like they have when so many writers and fans are clamoring for them? Maybe they are saving them for something, right? Cassandra Cain was always my favorite Bat-Family member, and they did their best to fuck up her character, but she always overcame. Hopefully, she will overcome again. Unfortunately, if Cass (or Steph) do reappear they will be brand new versions of themselves, so it’s almost like… what’s the point.

    • Jamison says:

      I think the fact that Grant Morrison tried really hard to write Steph and Cass into Batman Inc v2 is proof that they exist in the context of this series. After all, Morrison is the god of Batman Inc, and his will is clear.

      • Darkmaster006 says:

        Yea, it’s not only unreasonable fan outrage when they claim for these two, it’s because they’ve gone too far, even proclaming a sexism hate or topic, that article it’s not just about them, it shows too the lack of woman writers and some problems they are having, mentioned there. But I don’t think they’re planning something big because why would they erase them in vane? Even recoloring the thing in Lil’ Gotham or changing Nightwing Steph to Nightwing Barbara in the last second :/. If they reintroduce them, and they will not, as you say, they’ll be totally new characters, just the names will last, just like Tim.
        It’s more fucked up than you thought uh?

  2. Darkmaster006 says:

    I think that something that people (and me) hate a lot about the News 52 is the unknown disappearance of some interesting characters such as Wally West, Donna Troy, Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown, and the last one are one of the most important because of their backstory, adding a lot of fans and of course, being in the Batfamily. What I want to say is that, if the Robins have been kept in The News 52, and even Barbara, why would you erase with no reason those two Batgirls, changing massively characters backstories like Tim Drake’s one. Dick Grayson has been affected too, Dick was the ultimate friend of all DCU, and where is he know? Who does he really know and is friend with? No one. Check out this article: http://batwatch.net/commentary/2013/5/12/h3le059ioibqde9z0luutk0idlvz3o
    Therefore has been numerous changes, we can mention Teen Titans, no more backstory, now it’s just a new group, where are the TT we grew up with? And we see a Tim Drake not even being Tim Drake, characterization and name.
    In other subjects, I do think that the 0 month was a fail changing the origins so unecessarily that changes everything, but they try to stay the Batfamily at least, the same, we can see Green Arrow too, he’s nothing really know and he doesn’t even have a family now.
    Sure, everything I’ve said is referring to certain characters I know the most, I can’t give a opinion of any other parts/chars of the DCU as I don’t know so much, but I’m sure they’ve changed, by this I’m not meaning that The News 52 are giving us bad stories, because there are some stories really good, anyways one of the flaws of this new continuity is having 52 series which 10 are “bad” and will be replaced in a as soon as they can.
    Where’s the progression of the heroes? The only thing they’re doing is rebooting all over and over pointlessly, where is the development, like when Bruce died and Dick took his mantle, if not, it’ll always be Bruce 35 years and never age.
    I’m implying that everything placed in this new continuity could have been done without erasing everything, or at least the major ones. But we still see Pandora and such hovering around, as we can assume there might be changes.
    Thanks for the space as well, you’re doing a great job both blog and chronology. Lastly, forgive me for some english errors I might have by not being my native language.

    • No worries about the language. There are no barriers is comic-book-speak! And thank you so much for sharing the link to the article on Batwatch. I’m not too familiar with that site, but you better believe I will be from now on!

      I especially like your point that the majority of things being done in the New 52 could have been done without the reboot. I think, however, as DC moves forward, things will shake up a bit more and the New 52 reboot will make more and more sense. (At least it better!) The only reason to reboot the entire line should have been to tell completely (and even radically) different stories without harping on the past. DC has done some, but needs to do more. As much as I adore Grant Morrison (specifically Morrison’s strong suit in superhero comics of always consistently molding the rich history of worlds into brilliance), I think that once he steps away at the end of the summer, DC will really begin to sever its ties with the old continuity completely and show us something exciting and fresh.

      And while I lament the loss of great characters like Stephanie, Donna, Cassie, and Wally, they are unfortunate casualties of the reboot. Necessary or not, I cannot say. Maybe a purer reboot would have gotten rid of everything and started entirely from scratch. I take personal solace in the fact that I’m not a super super duper fan of those characters like many people are. In regard to the Batwatch article about the loss of Nightwing’s character depth, it’s all sadly true. But that’s just how it is I guess—this is why Batman seems nearly as close to Jason (if not closer) as he does to Dick in the New 52. It’s also why he seems so NOT close to Tim. We are getting the beginnings of new relationships for these iconic characters. It’s an experiment. And DC will either sink or swim with it.

      I remain optimistic and try not to gripe too much. After all, the Modern Age still existed and we can still read those books. And who’s to say that the Modern Age isn’t continuing in some alternate universe on one of those unnamed spots in the DC multiverse? When I last saw MY Dick Grayson and MY Donna Troy, they were the leaders of the JLA. And Cassie was an amazing kickass Bat-Family member. And Steph was THE BEST Batgirl ever. And Wally was, for my money, the BEST Flash of all time. I’d be willing to bet they are out there in comic book limbo land, just waiting for the right time to reemerge.

      • Darkmaster006 says:

        Well, a lot of people who are very attached to the characters and their relationships, are really mad at this new movement, I am a bit, but well, I haven’t read so much old continuity so I have a looot to read yet. Anyways I do still think that if they keep the Robins there was no reason to erase the Batgirls and getting back Barbara as Batgirl wehn as Oracle she was even more badass :/. But I think it’d be a lot easier to do a “Ultimate” universe like Marvel to refresh the characters, and keep the old readers in the Modern continuity, it’d be so much more adequate and reasonable really, don’t you think?
        Instead of using 52 series in one universe, why not 26 and 26? Anyways that’s a huge number that I believe they aren’t managing so well, cancelling by months. At least a point I liked about this new age was the addition of Wildstorm characters like Grifter.

        • Your proposal is akin to a mash-up of what Marvel did with the inception of the Ultimate universe in 2001 (creating a secondary universe that supposedly holds as much weight as the ongoing primary universe, yet has less titles) and what DC did in the 60s with the Silver Age reboot (having the rebooted universe become Earth One and keeping the old universe going as Earth Two—albeit Earth One got 90% of the titles, so it wasn’t even close to an even split when it came to amount of books published). I would love to see more Modern Age tales told, but I think having an even split, as you suggest, would be overwhelming in the sense that a company shouldn’t be muddled in its focus. You have to have a primary universe, one that guides all the others, one that is your dominant selling product. Without that, things get murky. I believe initially it would be a good marketing strategy and storytelling strategy, but eventually having two concurrent universes running side-by-side (and in a sense competing with each other) would burn out readers. DC already gets a hard time from fans and industry insiders who complain that the New 52 was narratively pointless. How much flak do you think they would get if they cut the line in half and kept the old stuff—it wouldn’t send a very strong message about their business model.

          In 2011, DC was well past the breaking point for either aging its characters or rebooting. DiDio and Lee were obviously not going to age the primary line. So, the only option was to reboot. (This happens every 25 years like clockwork, and it will happen again in the 2030s, mark my words). Could they have kept the Modern Age going? Sure, but in order to bolster the main line it would have had to have been relegated to a minor role within the company i.e. it would have had to be a continuity with way lesser monthly publications. Furthermore, as I sorta kinda delved into above, the more nonexistent the other continuities appear the stronger and more dominant the main line appears. I submit that keeping the Modern Age going in any way shape or form would have derailed the New 52 from the start. That being said, I still feel that if the timing is right sometime down the road once the New 52 has settled a bit more, DiDio and Lee might eventually be able to drop the bombshell that the Modern Age has continued all this time and KAPOW just like that we’ll have a monthly that catches us up to speed and continues the superhero adventures of our Modern Agers.

          As far as people being mad about the loss of their favorite characters, I sympathize. I wish DC would have at least done a proper elegant send-off issue for each of the Modern Age books in 2011. Would have made the transition into a new continuity much smoother, more tasteful, and way easier to swallow.

          • Jamison says:

            Batman Inc should have been marketed as the last modern age story and as a limited series to give old fans their closure in a more overt way. But it’s fine, the dual continuity thing works for me too.
            If you haven’t read the old material yet, I strongly recommend it. Kelley Puckett’s Batgirl, as well as Andersen Gabrych’s are some of the best, funnest comics I’ve ever read. The great thing about the new continuity is that Dan Didio can’t hurt the pre-flashpoint version of the character any further. Those stories will always be there, and since you haven’t read them yet, I actually envy the joy that lays before you. I don’t really want to see Cassie and Steph in the new 52 anyway. Scott Lobdell will probably just make them supernatural or something dumb like that. Look at what happened to Babs.

          • Darkmaster006 says:

            Yes, at least we won’t see “Evil Cass” again or Steph dying stupidly and then no dying because the fans pressured as they should. And yes, I do have a lot of read to do luckyly, I can feel the ones who’ve grown with these characters and then they’ve been wiped out like nothing, it’s just horrible, I’m lucky because I have many stories of Cass and Steph to read yet, but it really annoys not seeing them well-portrayed or wiped out.

  3. Jamison says:

    Hey Collin,
    Recently I’ve been doing what many comic book geeks do — making up a bunch of top 5 lists in my head. It got me wondering about the opinions of the other contributors to this site. When you get some time, can you make a blog with some top 5 lists of your own? I have some suggestions:
    Top 5 Batman related comic runs of all time
    Top 5 comic book runs of all time (general)
    Top 10 DC characters of all time
    Top 5 comic book writers of all time
    Top 5 comic book artists of all time
    I hope I’m not the only one who finds favorite lists fun. Hopefully other people will chime in too.

    • Jamison says:

      Caveat: With the top 5 comic book runs of all time (general) make that excluding Batman related runs.

      • Caveat noted. People tend to get really angry in response to internet top lists (don’t they?). Haha, but this sounds like a great idea. I think the categories you came up with are fantastic. When I have time, I will def post some responses!

        • Jamison says:

          I didn’t realize people hated lists. I thought this might be a fun way to better get to know everyone who contributes to the blog posts. Of course these lists are all just opinions. No one should get angry or take offense at learning what peoples favorite characters and stories are. At least I hope not.

  4. Rhett Khan says:

    I enjoy the blog. Thanks for your hard work.

    Wouldn’t the obvious “solution” be to have the Modern Age universe as a separate universe in the New 52? I mean, Pandora combined three universes in Flashpoint, but that still leaves 50 universes, so the Modern Age Universe can be Earth-29 or Earth-14 or something like that. The Silver Age got its own universe.

    • Thanks, Rhett!

      That answer is so obvious that DC probably won’t do it! But seriously though, I think that having the Golden Age continue on as “Earth-2” in the 60s was a stroke of brilliance on the part of DC. Why not do it again? Maybe one of the myriad universes in the DC multiverse will wind up as a continuation of the Modern Age. Here’s hoping.

  5. Jamison says:

    I feel like people are getting a bit too hung up on continuity in general when it comes to the new 52 books. I was listening to the latest Comic Vine podcast today and they spent a good 10 minutes tearing apart the latest issue of Tomasi’s Batman and … [Red Hood]. Though I agree the past couple issues of this book haven’t been the strongest in the series so far, the reviewers couldn’t help but look at this book in the context of all of the Bat-books combined and not just the series itself for what it is. For example, they criticized Batman allowing Jason the use of his guns during their team-up because they felt it was completely out of character for Batman to do such a thing, especially because they believed Jason would have to have been particularly unstable after the revelations at the end of the Death of the Family storyline. What they failed to see/accept was the idea of a Batman greatly, if temporarily, unhinged after the death of his son and his second greatest failure (the first being Jason’s death). It makes sense to me that Batman may do things out of character at this point. We couldn’t possibly begin to comprehend what’s going on in Bruce’s head. Even during his brightest moments, Bruce is, was and always will be insane by normal standards. He would have to be in order to do what he does. His compulsions are derived from madness. Batman constantly walks this line and because Tomasi wanted to justifiably explore what happens when he’s pushed too far, these reviewers just dismiss the book as terrible because ‘Batman’s out of character.’ Did they think Tomasi doesn’t realize this? Do they think Tomasi is incompetent? Tomasi has written some of the best Batman comics this year. He is up there with the likes of Greg Rucka when it comes to writing aspects like characterization and story telling. It made me frustrated to listen to them. They were also down on Batman #20 and had to mention that they found the idea of Batman Incorporated terrible…(It’s a throwback to a different era of comic books, damn it!) I don’t quite get what it is about DC recently that has been rubbing critics the wrong way. I’m not a huge Scott Snyder fan (utter blasphemy, I know), and for the first year or so I wasn’t all that big on the new 52 either, but continuity issues aside, there have been some absolutely fantastic stories in the past couple years, and the future is extremely intriguing to me. Snyder will probably make more sense of the timeline in Zero Year, Morrison’s fantastic grand opus is concluding, and the whole concept of the trinity war is awesome to me, and reminds me a bit of the amazing Justice League Unlimited cartoon.
    The thing I love the most about the new 52 is that I no longer feel the compulsion to be a completist in the new continuity. I did that before in the modern age, and now I’m more interested in following great creative teams and reading their stories. I don’t feel the compulsion to have all the continuity gaps filled. I can simply enjoy great stories and not worry too much about what happened before.

    • Nice comment, Jamison. The thing I am enjoying about the New 52 thus far is that you can indeed “simply enjoy great stories” without worrying compulsively about past continuity; yet at the same time, if you want to, continuity and narrative cohesion can be examined and made to fit! (I can simultaneously dig the stories and play my continuity games all at once). I guess I’m glad I missed that podcast—based upon your recap, these critics seem a bit out of touch. But, to each his own.

  6. Andy Smith says:

    Nice article Collin and I appreciate the positive attitude (likewise Sam’s post above). As you know, I’m currently doing a chronological reading of modern Batman using your site as a guide. The biggest vibe I’m getting is that once again I am reading comics in a similar way as I did as a youngster in the late 70s to mid 80s.

    To explain – here in the UK comics were sold predominately in newsagents; there were relatively few specialist comic shops outside of London. US comics were sent over in bulk as ship ballast, and every now and again my local shops would take delivery of a huge pile of new and not so new books (you’d quite often get books that were a couple of years old or more). I’d pour through them, picking out the Batman titles and the occasional Superman and any number 1s they happened to have, plus anything else DC I could afford that took my fancy. But there was no order to the issues, no guarantee that I’d ever get a particular issue resolving a cliffhanger, or the issue proceeding one. I was dipping in and out of the DC universe and it didn’t matter one jot. Each issue was usually crafted well enough that it could be enjoyed on its own merits. There were clearly ongoing themes and arcs I was perhaps missing out on, but each issue was crafted to tell the story that that specific issue was meant to, even if it was part of a multi-parter. I quite liked not knowing everything there was to know, and would never expect to. Weirdly, most of this was pre-crisis, which seems to imply that perhaps there wasn’t such a problem to sort out as DC thought (especially as my fave was All-Star Squadron, a book soaked in retconned ancient history, which was perfectly readable and understandable to a kid who had never even heard of most of the characters).

    Reading the New Age comics in the way that I am now works similarly. Obviously there’s no danger of missing out on an issue, but by dipping into non-Batman books along the way, I’m again getting a sense of enjoying a comic for its own sake without worrying too much about the past history of character A or the characterisation of character B. Am I missing out by not reading every issue of (say) JLI? Very probably, but right now it doesn’t matter to me. Do I need to know what Wonder Woman’s latest origin story is to make sense of a Justice League book? No, and I shouldn’t have to unless I want to. It’s not all perfect (anything involving magic or gods sends me right off to sleep, but that’s just personal taste and has always been an issue for me), and I still think they could have been bolder with Bat-history (although it’s early days for me so looking forward to maybe being wrong about that). But I’m having fun again, and don’t feel the need to keep the (albeit excellent) Greenberger book within arms reach at all times as I did with the modern age (wonderful as much of it was). And they’ve sorted out the pants on the outside thing at last so all is well.

    • I appreciate your comment, Andy! It’s nice to see a few comments and e-mails (from you and others) agreeing with my humble opinions. It’s interesting to look at readership these days. I see what appears to be a DC fan-base that both chastises the company line for having done away with history and paradoxically trashes the New 52 for placing heavy emphasis on rebuilding a fresh continuity. I’m not sure what the average Joe wants anymore in this mixed up world we live in. Like you, I quite like not knowing everything there is to know also—and I quite enjoy filling in the pieces as I go along. Maybe that frustrates people? I seem to recall many frustrated critics harping about later Modern Age tales being too dependent upon the history of the DCU. So, here’s my message to the angry critics: I can emphasize and understand frustration on both ends and there’s nothing wrong about feeling negatively about what’s going on. But, dear critics, if you really are that miffed about things, then stop reading (as opposed to reading even more and incessantly complaining about everything you read in the most unscholarly and non-critical ways imaginable).

      And there I go, shooting off into a tangent. You get the idea. Again, thanks for the response!

  7. Sam Groover says:

    I feel like I have a unique perspective on this as a relatively new comics fan. I didn’t really begin to read and appreciate comics from a “grown up” perspective until just before the New 52 reboot (an NCO of mine in Afghanistan hooked me up with some The Walking Dead and a bunch of Marvel stuff in 2011, and I was hooked from that point). So I basically dove into the DC Modern Age and the New 52 at the same juncture. I annihilated the Modern Age Batman and Superman stories and most of the major crossover stories, and read the New 52 material gradually as the storylines came out.

    All that to say, I can see where some of the Post-Crisis stuff was shaky on its feet as well when getting started, and since I read them in parallel I can see some of the same growing pains. But look at how many quality stories came out of it over 20 years of Modern Age storytelling (although I really hope that the end of Morrison’s Batman run can provide us a suitable bookend to that era).

    DC’s propensity to reboot (whether by a universe-wide Crisis or not) can be a strength and a weakness, depending on the writer, as can Marvel’s insistence that every story from the 60’s onward is “canon” in some way or another. Neither is perfect and what’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander. I have learned to enjoy both universes for what they are.

    And I’m fully prepared to give the New 52 time to work out its stories. This and similar sites have made me appreciate comic continuity a great deal, and it’s my preferred way to approach these books now, but I also realize there will always be snafus and differences of opinion. But a little optimism goes a long way, and as a reader with much to learn I am still just enjoying my comics. And isn’t that what it boils down to in the end?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *