We decided to discuss what we felt was wrong about DC Comics’ New 52 and compare it to Marvel NOW! We talk about costumes, Jack Kirby, Superman, Spider-Man, Hulk, Daredevil and a lot more.
Jason: There’s nothing interesting happening in the New DCU. It’s all just repetition of old comics and stories we’ve already seen.
Johnnie: Yeah, that was my impression as well. I mean, ideally the New 52 was designed to bring in new readers. But what they’re doing with it is so uninteresting to me, I just didn’t bother with 99% of the revamp. The only one I’ve gotten into is Batman. And even then I was already interested in reading Batman. Plus those costumes. My God.
Jason: We could write an entire book about why every costume in the New 52 is absolutely horrible. Superman has so many lines going all over his body that it’s hard to know what to look at. It’s like they tried so hard to make the costumes look ‘real’ that they look so unbelievably overdrawn and unrealistic.
Johnnie: Yeah, I think Superman is probably the worst offender I’ve seen. But it goes beyond just those totally unnecessary, goofy lines. His suit is also not like, cloth. It’s this weird alien technology. Like, I don’t even know how to describe it. What is it exactly?
Jason: It’s some kind of technology that materializes when he wants it to. No more itchy costume under his business attire. He can just rip off his shirt and mentally command his suit to materialize! It’s so necessary!
Johnnie: Why do that, though? Just ‘cuz? Just…for fuck it all’s sake? I’m going to miss him racing into phone booths and doing that whirlwind thing and coming out as Superman.
Jason: The problem is that DC promised new stories, new ideas. NEW. But they’ve just been playing catch up with continuity. Most of their ‘new’ is just a mix up of old and new concepts together. It was better the first time. Either move onto something new or just use the old ideas, stop trying to modify everything.
Johnnie: Well Superman didn’t start out with that silly line-filled costume. In the first Action Comics of the reboot, he was portrayed as this populist, Wall Street crime-busting hero. He wore an “S” t-shirt, blue jeans, work boots, and the cape. And he went around holding corrupt businessmen over ledges and threatening to drop them unless they confessed that they were paying their workers poor wages. It was like the weirdest, eerie propaganda. Like, seriously propaganda. I’m fine with comics with a message if the message is elegantly and unobtrusively placed. But this was just ridiculous. It totally turned me off with its heavy-handed preaching.
Jason: I think this is what happens when Grant Morrison is brought under DC’s whip and chain. They have total control over everything. The New 52 was advertised as a breeding ground for new ideas. All DC Editorial has done is push everyone in line and control this so called ‘creative process.’ Basically they’re conveniently organizing their continuity instead of just letting the creative process take place and go where it goes. So many creators left in the first few months of the relaunch and there’s plenty of proof that creators feel like DC is strangling them.
Johnnie: DC sounds like the Fox of the comic book world. Like, so tightly controlled, cancelling things without giving them time to grow and breathe, and just being general bullies all around. Do you think some of this has to do with desperation? With wanting to beat Marvel so badly that they’re afraid to let their creative teams run wild?
Jason: Perhaps, but I think it has a lot more to do with DC Comics’ evolution into DC Entertainment. Around 2009, I believe, Warner Brothers suddenly woke up from it’s coma and decided that DC Comics was actually a lucrative endeavor. They shifted things around, put someone in charge that knows nothing about comics and made Dan DiDio and Jim Lee Co-Publishers and Geoff Johns the Chief Creative Officer (whatever that is). Either WB had these guys do their bidding or this new brain trust had the brilliant idea to suddenly reboot the entire universe and erase 70 years of continuity, unless it was Batman or Green Lantern. The result was such an unorganized disarray of ideas that DC is still trying to correct. It essentially misfired on release.
Johnnie: As a Marvel guy, I never really “got” DC. They really are very opposite brands. It’s hard to describe though. I’m not sure why I feel like DC and the New 52 are so inaccessible to me. I think it might be because they frame their characters differently from Marvel, in general. With guys like Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, people like that, their powers are derived from magic, or from birth, or space aliens. But with Marvel, you have people like the X-Men, who are mutants. The X-Men are more accessible because they’re born that way. We as readers can put ourselves there. Feel like outcasts for being different. Other characters like Spider-Man, the Hulk, Daredevil, etc, gained their powers through freak scientific accidents. So again, more accessible, relatable characters. The only character I can think of in the Marvel U that is similar to DC in terms of how they frame their characters is Thor. Thor should have been a DC character, really.
Jason: Well DC’s philosophy is that their characters are larger than life. They are the Gods of mankind. I think the New 52 Justice League tried to emulate that with their regal attire and high collars. Essentially, DC used the Jack Kirby approach. Like Thor, like the New Gods, these characters are larger than life and therefore can’t be relatable to normal people. Instead of trying to bring them down to our level, we should be trying to bring ourselves up to theirs. That’s why Kirby creations have been so inaccessible after Kirby and that’s why DC characters are too. Superman is so god damn powerful that no one can relate to him. Instead of trying to make him worry about something, which leads to Superman: Grounded, where he wandered around the country for a year, don’t even try to. Accept what you have and let Superman be Superman. Let him fight giant space monsters and killer robots and instead of worrying about stupid crap, let him focus on actually having adventures. That’s what the comics used to be. Marvel characters have the luxury of being ‘relatable’ so you can have more humanizing stories. Superman can’t.
Johnnie: What I love about the Hulk is the pain of Bruce Banner. His struggle. THAT is interesting. THAT is something readers can get behind. And yes, we love to see Hulk smash, too. But there’s a human being behind it. Same thing with the X-Men. And Spider-Man. Daredevil was a horribly tortured individual up until recently. But at the same time I think there is an argument to be made for characters like Superman. He is framed precisely as you described: the ideal for humanity. I remember a long time ago seeing the teaser trailer for Superman Returns (this was before it came out and we all realized it sucked), and I got goosebumps watching it. It almost has this feeling of Greek mythology. And I loved that about it. I just don’t get that from the comics though. I mean, right now, Superman is gallivanting about with fucking Neil de Grasse Tyson? Like, what is that?
Jason: Didn’t you hear? They found Krypton, man! Using science and stuff. This is more important than writing a compelling story. Because in the end the New 52 is more about publicity than creativity. They want you to think they’re awesome and groundbreaking, when they’re actually just retreading old ideas. I think Before Watchmen proved exactly where DC’s priorities are. Mining old material, not creating new ideas. If they wanted to really start fresh they should have either rebooted the universe from day one, none of this vague five years later stuff, or just did what Marvel has done with Marvel Now and not dump everything, but just give everyone a chance to start fresh.
Johnnie: Yeah, I think you may be getting at the fatal flaw of the New 52. They have focused almost exclusively on superficial, surface details. Like costumes. They’re not getting down to the nuts and bolts of the storytelling to create compelling new plots and characters. Like, despite the fact that Scott Snyder is doing a great job with Batman, it’s still just Batman. Nothing has changed about the comics’ essential nature. As you pointed out, Marvel NOW! is not a complete reinvention; it’s a fresh start, but the continuity hasn’t been completely scrapped. And for good reason. I think Superior Spider-Man is one of the few, if not the only, comic that is undergoing a complete and total revolution, much to its detriment, in my opinion. So it seems to me that if DC wanted to reboot and reinvent its universe, they should have done that in a meaningful way, rather than just giving Superman a turtleneck.
Jason: It seems to me the best titles are the ones that could have easily existed in the old DC Universe. Batman, Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Green Lantern. Those titles still have ties to old continuity. Superman is all new, Teen Titans has been completely restarted, and Blue Beetle is basically a worse retelling of the same story that already took place years ago. What we’ve seen is change for the sake of change. All the big news has been about ‘this Vertigo character is now DC’, ‘this Wildstorm character is here now’, but there’s no news about the substance of the content. To me this universe is still just a mashup of concepts and doesn’t really feel like a true universe. A year has gone by already and no new title has run away with readers. Nothing new has really garnered a lot of attention.
Johnnie: Well, is it even the New “52” anymore? Aren’t there much fewer now that they’ve canceled a ton of books?
Jason: No they keep cancelling books and replacing them with new books. They keep trying to throw out these old properties that could never hold interest for very long, do nothing new with them and then are surprised when still no one gives a shit. They’ve published two war comics in the New 52 and both have been cancelled after 8 issues. No one wants to read about the war in the Middle East. DC seems to be so far outside the zeitgeist that they’re throwing out these random properties with no idea how to make them relevant and nothing works. Eventually they’re going to run out of ideas in a year or two if they keep doing this.
Johnnie: That’s another huge problem. Marvel has a whole stable of profitable, popular titles. Like, I can name a ton of Marvel properties that are huge, get their own movies, and make a ton of money. X-Men, Spider-Man, Hulk, The Avengers, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, even Daredevil. Ghost Rider got TWO movies! Punisher got TWO movies! But DC? Batman and Superman. Like, where is the Flash movie? Or Wonder Woman? I know a lot of these get mired in production hell and other problems, but just in general, from comics to movies, it doesn’t seem to me like DC has that many huge properties.
Jason: They definitely don’t. Yeah, DC has the two most profitable superheroes in the industry, but after that it’s a long drop off. They obviously get a lot of money from Batman, considering they can have 10 different Bat-titles out in any given month. But that takes away from other properties from getting their own titles. Wonder Woman still only has one title. So does Flash. I think the market can sacrifice one or two Batman titles in order to get some new ideas and concepts out there. How about a new team? That’s what Marvel does. They have The Avengers, The New Avengers, The Mighty Avengers, The Secret Avengers, 8 different X-Men teams, the Defenders, the Thunderbolts, Guardians of the Galaxy. Very few of them have brand specific characters. You can have those teams with anyone in them and that helps characters get a higher profile. DC has Justice League and soon Justice League of America, which is kind of a new team, but it still has Martian Manhunter in it and a Green Lantern and a Bat character. Other than that they have the Outsiders, the Teen Titans and Doom Patrol. All of which are generally the same team most of the time. Marvel has rechristened Thunderbolts into a team up of Red Hulk, Venom, Elektra and Deadpool, that’s awesome. Also New Avengers is Black Panther and the Illuminati. That sounds cool too. DC should take some of their fringe properties and put them together to create one strong title. Innovation, people!
Johnnie: Well, you also have like Batman Incorporated and the Green Lantern Corps. And isn’t there Red Lantern Corps now too? But Batman Inc seems totally wrong to me. Like, I agree with you, but I don’t think Batman Inc is the way to do it. It just doesn’t seem very Batman-like to have that kind of team.
Jason: Well that was the point! It’s very un-Batman-like. I’m kind of sick of the dark dreading Batman. Maybe it’s a product of so many Batman stories all at once, but I’d like to see something different. Batman Incorporated is something different and I’d be interested to see where they go with it after Morrison leaves (if they don’t cancel it). I’d definitely read an Adam West-like Batman book. Still serious, but not brooding. Like Marvel has done with Daredevil. Like you said, DC hasn’t changed the fundamentals of their characters at all. They desperately need a reinvention like Indestructible Hulk where it throws the concept on it’s head just so there can be some fresh ideas. Wonder Woman has definitely done that, though.
Johnnie: After so many years of Christopher Nolan’s Batman interpretation, it’s probably time for a new vision. The problem is, Nolan’s Batman was SO popular and SO successful with both fans and critics, I’m not sure that will happen for a long, long time. Scott Snyder is writing good stories, but it definitely fits that Batman mold. It’s dark. Very dark. Joker had his goddamn face cut off. It’s like a horror story. It’s definitely not like an Adam West Batman. But that may be just what he needs. Maybe we’re all sick of the Frank Miller/Christopher Nolan dark, depressing crime noir type Batman. Maybe we need a little more of this. And I’m dead serious. What Mark Waid has done with Daredevil, getting rid of that grainy, dark, gloomy stuff and letting Daredevil be a successful, relatively well-adjusted and mostly pleasant character, it’s opened up new opportunities and new stories we haven’t seen Matt Murdock in before, or at least not since the ooooold days. And it works. And it’s refreshing. The new Daredevil won a damn Eisner Award for Best Continuing Series.
Jason: See, this is exactly what DC claimed it would be to comics. They said it would give writers the freedom they want because there would be no more continuity. There may not be continuity, but writers definitely have to step in line according to DC’s master plan. I think a big difference between the way DC and Marvel handle their creators is that Marvel allows them to have an open ended run and do whatever they want. It was a big deal that Bendis was in charge of all the Avengers titles and now Jonathan Hickman is. The DC equivalent to that would be Geoff Johns with Green Lantern and basically everything else now. If Scott Snyder was allowed to take control over all Batman titles then we could see something grand take place. DC doesn’t have any of that. Everyone has their little run where nothing is really changed and then a new writer comes in, starts from scratch and doesn’t change much either. Then the title is cancelled and the process repeats.
Johnnie: Marvel writers certainly have more freedom. Like, if you read interviews with people like Dan Slott, it’s pretty clear they do basically whatever the fuck they want. And sometimes that pisses me off. Like, I am not happy with what Dan Slott is doing with Spider-Man. I know that was something Marvel higher-ups probably had a lot to do with, but I also know that much of this was Slott’s brainchild and Marvel’s attitude about such things is good for the most part because then you get guys like Mark Waid doing remarkable, new, exciting things with Daredevil and Hulk, and you get Bendis doing cool stuff with X-Men, but you also have to run the risk of some crazy goatfucker like Dan Slott just laying waste to your most profitable property. It’s a mixed bag.
Jason: True, but I think I’d like rampant freedom over soul crushing editorial edicts. At least you get the chance to get something remarkable here and there. DC just makes everything stay in the middle. Not too boring but nothing too crazy. Nothing new. DC is very unforgiving to their lower tier titles, but the big sellers aren’t allowed to do anything different. It’s a baffling way to run a company that relies on ideas.
Johnnie: What do you think they should do to fix it? Is it as easy as DC realizing they’re suffocating their properties to the point of mediocrity? And just letting go of the reins, letting writers be experimental?
Jason: I think so. They need to be open to finding new talent with new ideas and giving them a chance, because someone else is going to allow them to do it elsewhere. I like how they’ve allowed Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder free reign, but they need to bring in more talent instead of relying on old hasbeens from another era. If DC really wants the New 52 to matter to this generation they need to put people who get what they want on their books. No more old men on comics like Teen Titans. Get someone who remembers what being a teenager is like. Bring in great artists who will not just get the job done, but will actually be a draw to the book. Marvel is hoarding these amazing talents on their books and people are lining up to pick them up. DC needs to do the same. It wasn’t long ago that they had Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Greg Rucka and Geoff Johns leading the way on their books. If they want to be successful they need to be open to allowing creators a chance to tell their story, not the story DC thinks we want to read. Creativity sells itself.
Johnnie: I know you’re not going to like my saying this, but DC needs a Deadpool. A character like that. Not exactly that. But with that flavor, that style. And DC needs to have the same open-mindedness about their characters as Marvel clearly does about Deadpool. They hired comedian Brian Posehn to co-write it. THAT is experimental in and of itself. He’s not a comic book writer by trade. He’s a stand-up comedian, but also a nerd. Yet it works so well. And when you read Deadpool in Marvel Now!, it’s obvious they have little to no restraints on them. It’s a fun, experimental, hilarious book. And I think it’s because they have a fresh creative team and they allow them to do whatever the fuck they want. But with DC? Oh, Neil de Grasse Tyson found Krypton. Hey, I know that guy from The Daily Show! This comic is AWESOOOOOOME. Please.
Jason: People don’t buy comics because it’s a chore, because they have to, because they need to keep up with the latest event. People read comics because it’s fun. When DC originally announced that they were shying away from line-wide events in favor of character-based stories, people weren’t disappointed. They celebrated. They’re going back on that now, leading up to their ‘monumental’ Trinity War, because they realize they need to kick themselves in the ass and get people reading their comics. But it shouldn’t be because they NEED to, it should be because they want to. Event comics only get people in the door, it’s books like Indestructible Hulk and Daredevil that get them to stay.
Johnnie: It’s Marvel’s attitude about how they hire writers, and how they let them work, that gets you books like Daredevil, Indestructible Hulk, and Deadpool. And so I am not sure what the exact numbers are, but I have a feeling people are flocking to Marvel NOW! because of the cool things they’re doing with it. I know I was eagerly anticipating Deadpool, Iron Man, Hulk, and X-Men. And they all paid off. I got exactly what I wanted: great stories, new visions, and promise of future greatness.
Jason: The important thing is not the initial draw that DC seems to be emphasising, but being able to keep those readers coming back. DC is losing customers. While it might be too early to say what Marvel Now’s effect on the industry is, it does look like they will be much more successful at retaining their audience. With what they’re doing it kind of proves that it doesn’t pay to be the first to do anything. Marvel Now is a better New 52.