Nearly one year ago DC Comics gave their superheroes a makeover with a company-wide “soft reboot.” The entire DC Universe was given a “fresh” and “modern” interpretation, wiping years of complicated continuity away and making their heroes younger and more relatable in order to gain new readers. It is a “soft reboot” because the majority of DC’s stable of characters were rebooted with the exception of the Batman and Green Lantern titles; both consistently popular. The reboot, coined as “The New 52”, was ambitious and controversial. It was met with plenty of skepticism and criticism from comic book fans who felt slighted by decades upon decades of character stories being discarded for what seemed to be a publicity stunt. So here we are, one year later. Is The New 52 a success or just another failed stunt? It’s a simple question with a less than simple answer.
Before the reboot, DC Comics sales figures and unit shares were trailing behind competitor Marvel Comics, and from August 2010-July 2011 they only had one month where they lead the market in dollar shares. From August 2011-July 2012 on the other hand, DC had the top-selling book for seven months straight and saw an average increase of 6% in unit shares and 5% in dollar shares. That may not seem like much, but given the numbers “The New 52” could be deemed as a success financially. Calling it a critical success on the other hand is an entirely different matter.
The New 52 has two types of books: those that are story-oriented and helmed by seasoned writers, and those that are more concerned with changing character status quo and are written by relatively new or negatively-reviewed writers. Titles like Batman, Animal Man, Swamp Thing and believe it or not Aquaman fall into the former category; and have all been extremely popular with fans. Books like Teen Titans, Batman: The Dark Knight, Green Arrow and Detective Comics have been a part of the latter more ill-received category of books. Somewhere in between those two extremes lie books like Batwoman, Justice League and Action Comics, whose sales are steady (especially Justice League) but whose critical success varies from month-to-month. Along with the consistently bad titles are a group of TEN books that DC has flat-out canceled in the past year, including Justice League International and OMAC, which was written by DC’s own Co-Publisher Dan DiDio. Another slap in the face to DC fans was the replacement of many of the company’s sub-par creative teams with Rob Leifeld; a man who is synonymous with comic book awfulness.
So has The New 52 been a success? The short answer is yes. Their sales figures have improved and they have significantly closed the gap with Marvel (who is still leading overall.) But just because you get a passing grade doesn’t mean that you’ve achieved much. I would say only 25% of DC Comics’ titles are quality books that deserve buying, largely due to skilled writers like Scott Snyder, Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison. The problem lies in the alarming amount of books that are being handed to incompetent and frustratingly bad creators like Rob Liefeld and Scott Lobdell; who now have seven titles between the two of them.
It has been a year and I’m still not sold; (ok I guess I am sold because I buy their books but you know what I mean.) The New 52 is a world that still relatively young. And just like when our world was created the dumber, slower creatures were picked off and replaced by more efficient ones. Here’s hoping that natural selection works for comic book creators too…
FINAL GRADE: 75%
–Passing, but needs improvement!