Polygon recently ran an oral history of the New 52 effort from DC Comics. It features then DC Co-Publisher, Dan Didio, as well as a number of writers from the era. It's a fascinating article for a lot of reasons, in part because of what those interviewed considered success and good ideas, and it seems that at least one person seems to have some difficulty separating fact from fiction on a few points.
A lot of talent - writers, artists and editors - seem to have turned down Polygon's request for an interview, some even citing that working on the New 52/ Nu52 was so unpleasant, they'd rather not talk about it. So the number of voices that you'll see represented are minimal and probably well insulated from being seen as "difficult" or "willing to talk" by the current folks in charge. After all, it's a tiny industry, and speaking out of turn even about deposed rulers can still label you as a problem.
In my opinion, reading the article, it's shocking how little self-reflection has occurred and how little awareness at least Dan Didio has about how it all ended - eg: being shown the door in early 2020 - just as he was gearing up to do a redux of New 52 and literally needed to be stopped.
I've always kept a hand in DC and Marvel. The twin forces of mid-80's Batman and X-Men were what got me into comics (certainly along with other characters). In college, thanks to some of the bold efforts like Morrison's JLA and Waid and Ross's Kingdom Come, I finally tilted more DC in what I purchased. And in doing so, I fell deep down the rabbit hole of Superman and Wonder Woman comics and their publishing history. I don't feel the need to outline why, but I cringe at the notion of the false dichotomy of picking one over the other. Still, it's no secret that for the past 20 years, my head has been more in DC Comics and paying much more attention, thusly, to what was happening at DC.
I actually remember Didio showing up as both a writer and the noise DC made that "we got this guy from TV". But his credentials, which DC seemed intent on promoting, weren't... very impressive. His claim to fame was Reboot, a syndicated cartoon that was mostly famous for being CGI. I'd only seen bits of it, and it... wasn't great. And it's a reminder of what a gutter comics were for professional writing talent even in 2000 or so.
But pretty clearly, and for no discernible reason, Didio was being set up to take on some major duties. Which was a concern as writing assignments he took on early with DC produced incredibly mediocre results. I recall he did some Superboy stories that kinda-sorta had a strong start and then absolutely petered out of energy half-way through. Which should have been a sign of things to come.
Eventually, Kahn retired, Levitz got her job and Didio took over as Editor-in-Chief, or whatever the equivalent is at DC. And immediately DC was thrown into an endless series of events, all with ties to the mid-80's opus Crisis on Infinite Earths. And, much like that Superboy run, Didio's events, I came to realize, would start with a strong or crazy idea, and then just sort of plod along and end with a very long, very sad, fart. Especially as DC would be promoting their next event before the very one you were reading was even done.
The old model of an event was to really get you set up to like a new character or characters and sling shot you into caring about some new thing. Didio's events existed to remind you that DC's Continuity was fundamentally broken, and editorial feels it needs a fix, and we're going to break it more by trying to fix it. Also, we'll actively do things you hate, because we don't know the difference between good attention and bad attention. (Ie: let's not just kill Ted Kord, let's show him being shot in the skull. Also, maybe a story about rape that's entirely from the POV of people who kinda heard about that rape?*).
Around 2010, there was a reshuffling at DC as Warner Bros. was frustrated that Marvel was suddenly a multi billion dollar branch of Disney and their own comics wing was putting out Green Lantern. Diane Nelson came in, and wasted no time turning things upside down, bringing in tons of people who seemed to know nothing about comics, and kicking Didio and Lee upstairs to Co-Publisher roles - claiming to be more hands-off and then putting Bob Harras in place as EIC.
It was a super weird fit as Lee is an excellent artist, and a seemingly nice guy, but also seemed to be there more or less to assure people Didio wasn't the bloviating dope he seemed to be whenever a mic was put in front of him. But, arguably, Jim Lee was pretty bad with story as evidenced by his own comics and what he made Claremont do on X-Men.
Didio only had about three ideas, and he recycled them endlessly, forcing DC's line of titles to go along so you couldn't really count on any continuity or long running storylines in the comics you actually cared about. He loved the idea of: 1) Multiverse fight. 2) Dead body and investigation. 3) Jump forward X amount of time. By the time Flashpoint - a very much "multiverse fight" event - came to life, I was already pretty fatigued and had just stopped picking up DC event stuff. But you sorta needed to pick up Flashpoint, because they were doing interviews and media, and it was clear the idea was that DC was going to reboot out of Flashpoint.
1. The Flashpoint mini-series were all mostly pretty bad and grim-dark
2. They also had nearly nothing to do with what came after in the New 52.
3. It was a grift. Totally unnecessary for following what was to come.
Before Flashpoint started, DC began putting out images of what the rebooted universe would look like. IE: the Justice League would be very matchy-matchy. Superman would wear light armor? Wonder Woman would bow to pressure and don yoga pants (until she didn't, because it turns out that design was bad).
DC was also going to start everything over at a new #1. Which seemed like a good idea for getting people to jump on, but a bad idea if you're talking about comics like Action Comics which were in spitting distance of hitting issue #1000. They promised dozens of new takes on familiar characters.
DC also said "so the continuity you love won't just evaporate, we're going to start the New 52 five years after the beginning of the new continuity. Except for some titles. Action Comics and Justice League will be before that."
It... made no sense. Why re-launch at a new #1 if you're not starting over? And you have a linewide reboot? Wasn't this just confusing for those new readers you wanted?
I was a child of Crisis on Infinite Earths. I got into comics simultaneous to the event and just dealt with the fact that in reading DC, I had to know that "because of this event, sometimes the comics people have no idea what they are talking about". And I watched as event after event, for 20+ years, attempted to fix the sins of bad management and editorship because no one at DC seemed to talk to each other.
"Keeping track of all of this is part of the fun!" insist some who worked at DC.
Well, it's not that much fun. And at some point you can't see the comics as stories anymore, you're just seeing the machinery and gears of a company trying to rearrange a lifetime supply of tupperware that keeps falling out of the cabinet, but they refuse to just spend the 45 minutes it would take to organize the stuff.
Surely, if any lessons could be gleaned from the events of Crisis, Didio and Lee, Co-Publishers, would go to the mountain and talk to Levitz and get his advice on what he would do differently knowing what he had inherited. But that clearly didn't happen.
It's worth noting here that Marvel had some terrific success at one point with the Ultimate line of comics. The line ran parallel to their in-continuity universe, which allowed readers to read Spidey, knowing he was the same fellow from Amazing Fantasy 15, with all the same experiences as a reader who had been with him for 40 years, but also enjoy a book in which things were rebooted and new and we could see a Spidey-origin that took place after the moon landing.
DC, hungry for some of that action, had tried (badly) with the All-Star line, which produced one good book and one that didn't finish. And, they tried with the Earth One line, which produced, eventually, a very entertaining Wonder Woman book. The Superman and Batman books were, despite talent involved, pretty bad. And slow to arrive.**
With those efforts not working (and I could go into why, but won't), DC decided for a Hail Mary and that's how we got the New 52.
Everything still exists, you big baby
Naturally, the *existing* fanbase for DC was a bit concerned. An unasked for reboot had the feel of being halfway through the fifth season of a show you liked, and the studio shut the show down for a couple of weeks and then came back with new actors, storylines that popped out of nowhere, and insisted "it's the same title. Some of these are the same actors. WHY ARE YOU CONCERNED? God, you're a whiner."
When asked about the concern from fans, DC took our hand, patted it, and said "shut up."
Or, more accurately, "the stories you liked will always exist! They didn't go away! No one took your comics away!" You could practically hear the "...you big baby!" in the silence that followed the statement.
The weirdly paternalistic, exasperated tone directed at the same people who paid their paychecks, was... a stance to take, I guess.
Look, the fans weren't stupid... we didn't (rightfully) trust anyone working at DC to make good choices and were aware they could potentially take down a company that had stood for 75 years. A company we knew had survived by being a bit conservative where it mattered - like managing a consistent IP with gradual changes. And big risks need to be done on a case-by-case basis and re-evaluated from time to time.
Clearly part of DC's calculus was that their dumb-dumb fans would buy any comic with their favorite superhero's name on the cover (a fair bet), and their brilliant marketing at movie theaters (?) would build enough on top of that to cover for the few people who would bail even on their favorite person in spandex.
Really, the condescension was breathtaking. That they really thought school-yard bullying in response to customers expressing their anxieties was a smart move tells me that Didio and Co. had never had a day of management or customer training. And yet they kept grabbing the mic to drop their two cents.
It was a hell of a thing to see DC tell a loyal audience that they were wrong for having liked the thing that DC had been selling them for decades, and that concern that those comics being changed for no discernible reason and no certainty that they'd like the new stuff - that was for dummies.
It's a hell of a thing to read that oral history and see that the former powers that were, to this day, do not understand the problem with this approach.
So, with a movie-theater based marketing push (that made no sense to me. We were still well ahead of the 2013 Man of Steel release), DC started 52 titles at #1. And, friends, I read every single one of those #1's.
If $3.00 plus tax x 52 seems steep, it was. I was supposed to review the comics, so someone "loaned" me about 25 of the titles that I didn't buy, and of those, I found... most of them deeply disappointing.
Here at The Signal Watch, if you dig into the archives you can find my attempt to review the early issues of the super-titles. But... aside from Grant Morrison's Action Comics, they were mostly kind of bad. To this day, you can read Morrison's run on Action as a fascinating stand-alone reboot of the Superman origin with some neat ideas that only barely require that you already know all about Superman to make it make sense. It's also a fascinating critique of DC in that moment, that I'm not sure DC understood what they were printing.
Let's be really, really clear: DC made the same stumble with Batman that it had made at Crisis. They just kept Batman's continuity going like not much had happened. We're five years in, and Batman has 30 Robins, dead protege's, and DC leadership, knowing this was nonsense just waved their hands and said "yeah, he was really, really busy!".
But, they actually cared what Batfans thought about continuity and their favorite Gothamites in a way they didn't care if the same stuff impacted literally everything else. It was just a huge flashing sign that both said DC was not serious, and that they hadn't done their planning. But, mostly, that they were cowards if they felt like we really needed 4 Robins with 5 years of continuity.
Over in Justice League, occurring maybe 4 years before "current time", we saw the sloppiest possible meet-cute of the JL, and the unlikely bro-ification of Superman. And in Superman itself, let's just say that when I heard the editors had written an entirely new story over the art that was delivered by George Perez, I believed it. It was wildly weak and dull.
Superboy, meanwhile, just felt like no one had a story, just concept art. And Supergirl felt like it was written by someone who was actively angry they had the assignment and would not be putting their best work forward, thank you (a standard problem with Supergirl titles, tbh).
Overall - I recall promo art was coming out that didn't match other promo art (I still remember the weird Teen Titans version of Superboy that I don't think ever showed up in the comics, where they put him in whatever came after Ed Hardy).
As every book started in media res and DC had no established status quo not just for the individual characters but for their universe, all the books had this weird effect of refusing to explain the status quo while also basically only delivering about as much story as you see before the first commercial break in an hour-long drama.
I think Swamp Thing and Animal Man did so well because the creators actually bothered to start you at square one or explained square one, and fans said "neat, this is really good writing", but... maybe only in comparison to everything else? Those comics were *fine*, but I had been an Animal Man and Swamp Thing reader during the Vertigo era, and wasn't exactly bowled over. They were good, yeoman-like efforts, but there's a difference between steak and salisbury steak.
Of course DC sold well in the first months of the effort. We had characters we liked as fans that we wanted to see get a shot at the spotlight. FOMO meant we wanted to be there if lightning struck. And, many, many of us pre-order comics or have pull lists. So, for at least 3-4 months, a whole bunch of titles were going to sell pretty well as we figured out whether those new comics were good or not. And you had a genuine chance to find a surprise in the line. Maybe Resurrection Man was going to knock your socks off. Maybe the new take on Batgirl that you didn't expect would pay dividends.
But, there was also a fatigue I can say that set in during that first month when I'd read my 30th "this is not good" comic. I attribute most of it to the rushed, slapdash approach that was evident even from the outside as DC rolled towards an arbitrary launch date for the New 52. Mediocre to bad art in many comics, and first issues that were something that just felt weirdly flat and bland, even from name creators. Like - they hadn't come with a pitch, they'd been tapped to write a book, and were like "right. Right. Okay. What is Cyborg doing....? Uh... computery stuff. Oh, he's now wired with technology from Apocalypse? So he's now a Kirby character? No? Oh. Okay... uh... is being a hotspot a super power?" Add a generic villain, don't worry too much about introducing a supporting cast (DC doesn't *do* supporting casts anymore), show the character punch or laser someone, and we're off."
I didn't and don't particularly get why nor care for Jim Lee's insistence that the Wildstorm characters be folded into the mainline DCU. Much of the reason those characters existed was a comment upon and reaction to the DCU and Marvel. We literally don't need Midnighter and Apollo sharing space with Superman and Batman unless they're talking about the fact they're sharing space. For the most part, even when I enjoyed Authority or Planetary, the ideas were great, but you didn't read them for the actual characters. They were only interesting in how they differed from what you knew. I can't tell you the slightest thing of what The Engineer was supposed to be like as a person and I read that comic for 3 years. But I knew how what she did was different from DC characters.
I don't want to go into every title, and most I barely remember and have long since given away or sold my issues (but I will complain that the attempt at a Jonah Hex book with Weird Western Tales... took place on the east coast? In a city?).
Finally - There was clearly and obviously an insistence that "now, everyone is Batman".
Grim'n'gritty was already becoming a punchline by 2011, but that memo hadn't reached DCU HQ. In fact, Diane Nelson was clearly doubling down on the idea as she moved her eye to a demo I'd say was "17-25 year olds who play video games where you shoot aliens or zombies" and away from "all these sad guys with kids still wearing their ill-fitting Flash t-shirts". That DC had captured these readers at some point and, as much as I use Dial soap and Crest toothpaste, I look at a DC comic, was not of interest.
I don't mind grim n grit. I read plenty of crime fiction, and I like, say, Alien Legion. But I also don't need to see all of my characters not just looking the same, Jim Lee, I need for them to be different characters. What makes the Justice League, Avengers, X-Men, and name-your-team-book interesting is well differentiated characters who are very different but still pull together.
A few writers got away with not making their characters growly grumps, but in book after book, it felt like some mandate felt had been passed down that leads would be miserable. Which is one way to look at the Batman or Spider-Man formulas, I guess. But it wasn't... fun? Even Shazam was pitched as a bit of an asshole.
I shed titles very, very quickly. And, apparently, so did everyone else.
I didn't even read Justice League past the first couple of issues, and it had been one of my staple titles.*** Of the initial 52 I'd guess I followed maybe 15-20 into issue 2 or 3, and by the time we got eight months in, I was maybe down to three or four titles, and Superman I was getting entirely out of habit. Mostly, that title was unreadable.
As a Superman fan - it was a weird and nearly existential time. The character was virtually unrecognizable. Sort of a Superman-shaped character with no real sense of what he was, other than "not your daddy's Superman".
It was pretty clear DC was trying to have a Superman that they could go with that would survive the endless lawsuits and very real possibility the Siegels would own Action Comics #1. So, Lois was all but missing, Superman had no red trunks, and he wasn't even reporting from the Daily Planet in short order. And with the new mandate, why not change everything? All the time? What even is a status quo?
In the Super-titles, the same flattening of story that hit DC with the first New 52 issues hung around and delivered issue after issue of "yeah, that was a comic". I vaguely remember Greg Pak doing some better than the low-average work, Johns delivering a story that sort of petered out after the first three issues, and the "you stupid fans don't know WHAT you want" approach that led to "street-level public identity Superman". Which wasn't bad, but it wasn't exactly the epic they seemed to think it was, either.
Meanwhile, DC had implemented it's policy that if a comic sold under a very high threshold, it would be canceled. So titles were launched and canceled within 4 month windows. By the time you were at issue 3 or 4 of a series deciding if it was okay (and $12 - $15 in), they were cancelling the title. But most of this new launches were no better than what they replaced. So. I quit trying new series.
I was barely paying attention, and it was clear series were ending before they started. Creators were being rewritten, artists didn't care if they drew the scripts they received, editors were rewriting, and mandates were constantly flooding down to everyone.
As DC didn't have faith in its own creators or readers, and the churn was surely hemorrhaging possible fans, both new and old. But DC also kept insisting on making more than cosmetic changes to every character as they rolled out. Mostly the changes were "let's just make them run around and fight generic bad guys for 20 pages".
Look - I don't know *exactly* what was going on at DC HQ. That's not for me to know or care about, but I can say that as a guy who knows and likes all corners of the DCU, it doesn't sound healthy. It sounds like someone with no management skills running amok.
For me: I wasn't enjoying their product, so I wasn't buying it. And I wasn't enjoying it, because it was bad.
I watched whole events launch that you could find practically no mention of at the time, and - now - no one remembers them. I vaguely recall some nonsense about a robo-future of the DCU. Which you knew was just a dead end, so why bother? Things like that. Didio name checks them in his interviews in the oral history - but he may be the only person who actually saw and read them.
I started using my comics money to buy back issues or nothing at all. Financially, it wasn't a bad period for me. A couple of Superman books, an occasional collection or trade. I found the New 52 Wonder Woman trades to be solid and maybe the most interesting thing of the New 52, even if it didn't really feel like Wonder Woman.
To be honest, it was mildly depressing to go into the comics shop and walk past the DC wall and know "this is specifically not for me". So, I just did other things.
DC was trying to push the new designs into proper reality. A cartoon armored Superman showed up in an ad for Target. Balloons and paper plates and whatnot sported the new designs for at least Superman and Wonder Woman, even as artists struggled with what were not particularly good designs in the comics, leading to an eventual simplification of Superman's suit.
Recalling how long the tail was on Mullet Superman showing up on stuff (I recall still seeing Mullet Superman product as late as 2002-2003), I also embraced knowing I was not going to be buying much new in the way of Superman and Wonder Woman doo-dads.
I found myself buying t-shirts branded "Vintage DC" to get pre New 52 versions of DC stuff I liked. And that felt... weird.
My feeling from conversations with a retailer of comics circa 2015 was that: DC was in fact cratering. I didn't see it up close, and it's not particularly something I've followed in well over a decade. I like what I like, and sales aren't a topic of much interest to me. But I also was noting how crazy the DC solicits felt, how nothing seemed to stick.
They were kind of getting by with some experiments like their Watchmen mini-series stuff, that felt... I'll say, it felt a little Weekend at Bernie's to me. Moore had famously split from DC (something I consider Paul Levitz's largest failure as publisher, when he damn well could have made it right), and Watchmen was done. I didn't care who was attached, I wasn't reading that mess.
So, shit like that was what I saw out of the company. Heck, they killed off the Vertigo line, which had been the thing that had kept me in comics in my teens when I was about to wander off, so the testing ground for new ideas and writers was effectively shut down, the value misunderstood (especially when watching Doom Patrol and seeing the @#$%ing Dead Boy Detectives show up, and Sandman about to blow minds on Netflix).
Death of Superman
Guys, I quit buying Superman as a title at some point.
I've since back-filled with comics I found in the dollar bin, so I think my run is now complete, but I haven't read those comics. I just have them.
Do you know what it takes for me NOT to buy a Superman comic?
Then there was the weirdness where DC was told to move from New York City, where it had been since the mid-1930's, to Los Angeles and the shadow of WB Studios.
If ever there was a sign that the corporate overlords were sick of not knowing what was going on at DC Comics and why they were losing so much money as a publishing unit... And, of course, yes, the desire to have better connections between the idea machine of DC and the movie wing. But it was a big deal to see them go west.
Anyway, DC would have to shut down for two months while the whole org moved coasts, so rather than leave a hole in the publishing schedule, they decided on a big event that would be self-contained and fill two months of stories. So, DC decided to reload the template they'd used for Arena - their dumb-dumb story about "what if the multiverse fought in video-game inspired battles?" and replayed same, but with eras of DC, which are also kind of the multiverse? It literally doesn't matter.
Convergence as a mini-series (and most of the spin-offs I read out of nostalgia) was pretty bad. I won't get into it. But clearly something was triggered at DC as they watched the sales for pre-New 52 versions of their characters, many written by talent who used to handle those characters before New 52. Because everything seemed to change pretty quickly after that.
The first sign that something was up was the announcement of a Superman and Lois mini-series that... and only in comics, folks... featured the post-COIE Superman now a refugee on New 52 Earth with Lois and a son, spun off the from the stories in Convergence.
I have no idea what sales were on that mini, or what sales were on proper Superman titles, but...
In short order, Superman of the New 52 was killed off.
Did you know this? DC's flagship character and a world-famous symbol for truth and justice was killed off in his own title AND DID NOT RETURN. And not one blip in the media or the comics-sphere.
I don't remember a tweet or angry post about it. Literally: no one cared that Superman died.
Think on that. Let it sit with you. The New52 had managed to do what thousands of adventures and villains had not done - it had killed the Man of Steel. It made him *forgotten*. And, worse, it had made him both boring and irrelevant. All while Superman enjoyed big screen treatments.
Well - New 52 Superman was dead. Post-Crisis Superman was fine.
How do you even do that? How little did people care about DC Comics at this point? Whatever the arcs were that Superman had been on from 2011 to now... did they matter?
Here's the thing - I also didn't care that Superman died on a page in front of me. I had no more connection to this Superman than I had to, say, Prime over at Malibu Comics. New 52 Superman wore a Super suit and was named Clark Kent, but he has no relationship to Lois. He kept quitting the Daily Planet. There was no story here, no status quo for me to care about, no Ma and Pa Kent to feed him and send him back out into the world to carry on the good fight.
That, to me, is the long tail of this whole thing. DC killed Superman. Not a person blinked.
So, yeah. We got post-Crisis Superman and Lois back, and it was a narrative mess. Just absolutely on fire.
These days, I cringe thinking about what even staff at DC think is happening or how they would define Superman's background. I mean, just in the last two years, DC said "oh yeah. By the way, the Kents are alive and well." It's a jumbled mess, and... maybe that's okay for a bit. They've created enough problems with the here and now that I'm fine with Superman just being for a bit without an all-new-definitive origin story.
I won't get into it, but it's absolutely crazy, when all you need for Superman is for him to be the last son of a doomed planet. You do not need reality manipulating Fifth Dimensional Imps ignoring poorly selling mini-series to merge New 52 and Post COIE Superman to save someone at DC's feelings. But that happened.
Some of this you could tell they really wanted to rewrite with Geoff Johns' Doomsday Clock series, but that thing was an unholy mess and seemed to have no idea what it was about anymore by the 8th issue. Having Dr. Manhattan much about with the DCU as a storyline is not much of a storyline, anyway.
Mostly, DC consolidated around the mainstays of the Justice League, plus a few pet franchises. We got a lot of Flash, Wonder Woman and Superman, but we also got a TON of Batman (like, enough. I quit even trying, Bat-office.).
Wonder Woman got a new Year One, which was pretty good and reset Wonder Woman. The mainline comics aren't great right now, but that's a thought for a different day.
Superman comics got a big boost from Rebirth and Jon Kent, etc... and then Brian Michael Bendis arrived and was set to take on Superman. And, while not amazing, his stuff was at least cohesize and coherent and left lots of toys for people to play with. I do have some bones to pick with his run, and I'm not sure what state he left the books in for the next writers, but when he was on, I wasn't pulling my hair out trying to understand what was happening. And I got a comic book series about Superman that took place at the Daily Planet.
And, yeah, from some time in 2018 or 2019, Dan Didio started talking about a new multiverse concept and a new timeline for DC that seemed to be a reaction to the success of the film Wonder Woman, and I just smiled grimly and said "well, I guess this is where me and DC part ways". They were, against all odds and common sense, about to do this thing AGAIN.
I wasn't reading Batman or Justice League, and I thought the whole Batman Who Laughs stuff was not for me, so I wasn't on board when the Metal stuff started. Consequently, I missed out on the entirety of what happened in those comics and year of events. Didn't and won't buy them. But it was apparently all part of what was supposed to be the big relaunch, Flashpoint bit for whatever was coming.
And then Didio got fired.
Look, I am not going to celebrate anyone losing their job, but... For a decade, a single guy held DC like his own personal toy, making demonstrably bad choices and making reading comics a chore and, really, about him. I would only be speculating about Didio's other failures, but we can agree he kept Eddie Berganza employed past the point of reason. That's kind of fucked up.
However, losing Didio didn't mean you could just turn the ship. My feeling from the outside is: the plan for his removal was secretive and/ or very sudden. When he left, there was over a year of momentum toward Didio's next big event that was already being worked on. New people needed to get in place, editorial needed to figure out who they were and what DC is and would be. It was a lot.
And then COVID hit.
I don't know how well DC has handled the post-Didio era. Or how much is left of what he had rolling and what is the new regime. I don't love "Future State". I don't really get it or what the goal is. It feels like folks had contracts and a backlog of stories left over from Didio and DC is just letting it play out here and there to see if anything sticks.
Crisis on Multiple Earths...
I have my fair share of guesses how the New 52 happened. It's hard to explain now how crazy and huge the re-org was at DC when Nelson stepped in, and all the pressure that must have been on the company within WB, which was suddenly actually paying attention to the comics (sort of. At least the bottom line.) But I think Nelson's lack of interest was apparent from day 1, and she handed too much off. And got schnookered by the New 52 and what a short term boost was versus a long term problem.
I will never get how Didio got into his wash-rinse-repeat cycling of events and didn't notice "this is bad". I cannot believe something the size of the New 52 jump was something he was sincerely pondering trying again when it was so near to the failure of the New 52 and so many would remember.
To be truthful, I was sort of planning on jumping off DC when the scheduled event was going to occur. It didn't happen, so I don't know what that would have looked like, but I sure thought about it. I wasn't and am not not psyched to read a comic about a Superman who is not Clark Kent. Maybe a supplementary title, but not a main title (which DC tried with a storyline circa 2007, by the way).
It's not a mystery why DC feels fan pressure to have a line of books in a fluid continuity stretching back 80 years, also how that makes things difficult. Marvel has continuity now reaching back 60 years. Technically, all DC needs to do is have a history that goes back to 1986. But all of that is really hard, I guess, if you need to please new readers as well as keep guys like me happy.
What I will never understand is why DC refused to try the most obvious thing of all: starting over with a second line of comics.
Why not take a page from Marvel and learn from the huge success and monumental mistakes**** with the Ultimates line. DC already had the notion of a multiverse baked in - why not just use that idea and say: we're starting a new line with New #1's all about the characters first appearing, meeting, etc... and the year is NOW.?
And while you try a reboot universe, keep the current line going. At least one title per property. So, you have your gigantic and unwieldy Bat Family, Superman can have a teenage son, and Earth can spawn 20 Green Lanterns. You can still buy those comics! They don't still just exist, they're ongoing!
But, start a new timeline where people can see these characters as they begin - actually have Clark meet Lois, and she doesn't know he's Superman. Have Batman take on a ward. Have Jon or Hal accept the ring and become Green Lantern. Make it new. Make it new reader friendly.
And here's the kicker - don't worry about cross-overs and all that. Don't worry about events. Just let the characters... be. Give them a status quo to which they adhere and which will make sense to readers. Keep it simple.
Look, comics is hard enough as it is. But it's also been around a while. Some things have worked, most haven't. But it's amazing to me how DC seems to fight doing the very, very obvious things and makes a lot of work for themselves. And has done for decades.
Just... simplify. No five year jumps for a reboot. No cross-overs or whatever. Just... do a good job first. Focus on quality over quantity.
We're likely on the precipice of a new wave of change as distributors change. The new leaders are in at DC, and they seem to be sitting back and kind of biding their time, sorting out what to do next. And that's... okay.
I seem to be okay with the current, seemingly unsustainable version of the DCU, but am massively reduced in what I pick up at the comic shop every month. I mean, comics are expensive for what they are, and my days of being wow'd and wanting to participate in everything are way, way in the past. But what I am reading, I'm enjoying.
I do feel like DC, through Rebirth and beyond, has tried to make amends with readers like me. I don't feel like they're actively self-inflicting wounds to prove some point.
Sure, some huge Crisis will occur again, and that's just what it is to follow comics. But I do want DC to understand: please stop making your inter-office problems the obvious drive for every story and every change. It's transparent and, at this point, sad. If you want to do something, just do it. If you need to adjust how you sell comics, just do that. Don't make me read about it.
But don't think we readers don't see what's happening as we read solicits. Maybe not everything, or most things, but the big things? We get those.
Also: try to have a point to your big changes and events. Look at what Marvel did with their movies up to Tony snapping his fingers. You can do that, too, in the comics.
Anyway - that's how I remember the New 52. Bitterly. It was a big, dumb-ass idea that went on for years, made bad comics and made a hole other people are still trying to repair. I know that there's no shortage of kids out there who came in during this period and have a lot of affection for The New 52, and to them I say "sorry, kid. Those were bad comics."
I'm glad it's over.
*I have to walk back some of what I said about Identity Crisis when it came out. I believed DC was trying to move into an era of recognizing that real crimes existed. I expected that if they put something like "rape" on the table, they were going to deal with it appropriately and delicately. They did neither. The whole industry didn't just learn a lesson, the industry did an about-face and the reaction to Identity Crisis may be the end-point of twenty years of comics trying to speak to a mature audience and in 2021, almost no "IRL" issues seem to reach the pages of superhero comics, something I have mixed feelings on.
**I believe that Wonder Woman took about six years from announcement to the final volume showing up
***I never recovered. I still don't read Justice League. I may try Bendis' run in TPB form, but between swapping out creative teams every time I blink and the general lack of cohesion in the DCU at this point, it seems like a filler title on their schedule.
****The Ultimate Line was not a failed experiment until it was. And picking at the things that made people give up on it isn't super hard. Mass killings. Greatly changing characters. Mass killings of characters. And a nihilistic viewpoint in the titles that was just both a buzzkill at some point, and got tedious.