I know what some of you are thinking. “Why bring this up again? The New 52 is done. Dan DiDio is gone. Why can’t you just let this go?” Because this is a website that examines what has been done right and wrong in order to improve myself as a storyteller and the New 52 is a great example of the “wrong” category. It’s why I also harp on Identity Crisis, Heroes In Crisis, and so many other DiDio crises (seriously, dude was so obsessed with Crisis On Infinite Earths that he has more “Crisis” titles than Power Rangers has “Dino” or “Force” titles) during his run. It’s worth examining the failures of the New 52 in different perspectives to try to piece together just why it went so horribly wrong.
Here’s another interesting examination of why this hard reboot, the second hard reboot for the DC universe after soft reboots like Zero Hour, led to the further destruction of the DC universe to so many classic fans, be they from the Bronze Age like me or the “Dark Age” of the 1990s. From Comic Tropes, a channel YouTube has been trying to get me to watch for a while now, comes the history of the New 52 behind the scenes. I’m slightly over 8 minutes in as I write this and already I find this interesting enough to make this post. Oh yeah, sorry it’s late. I got woken up early this morning and it’s thrown off my whole day.
So it looks like I wasn’t too far off with the comment about DiDio’s “Crisis” obsession. He wanted his own Crisis On Infinite Earths, an event that would be all his. That tells me one of the failings of the New 52 was DiDio’s ego. Reports from longtime creators who left DC Comics like the late George Peréz was the issue of editorial mandates. Peréz complained that he wasn’t being told what Morrison was doing, and I guess the “do whatever you want” approach (which is how I view the current “Omniverse” model where everything matters so that nothing matter) wasn’t benefitting anything. DiDio wanted to be the showrunner rather than the editor and publisher, so he wasn’t really keeping things on track except for the gimmicks and event ideas he had in mind. That means he was failing at both and giving out mandates that nobody could follow. That doesn’t surprise me given Didio’s history was in television and his desire to darken up Transformers and ignore previous continuity is why Beast Wars was so beloved while his Beast Machines was dark and disconnected. Sad that for so many years it was Bob Skir and Marty Isenberg, mostly Skir since he was the one answering fan questions, took the blame for his moves. Perhaps we could have been warned what was coming with DC Comics.
DiDio did the same thing to the DC Universe, creating darker stories where the heroes came off less heroic. Meanwhile he brought back characters like Barry Allen only to give him a darker backstory than “inspired by comic book superheroes (even before the Jay Garrick Flash comics he grew up with were made historical after COIE) to become a crimefighter himself”, opting to have his mother killed and his father framed by Professor Zoom to get revenge on the Flash who foiled his plans. That meant the supportive parents and love of superheroes were no longer part of his story. Then there’s the whole brainwashing and rape-addicted Dr. Light in Identity Crisis that killed off Sue Dibney and the attempts to get rid of sidekicks in the early days of the New 52, especially Wally West.
I don’t have a problem with trying to diversity their titles or their cast. The problem came in that they wrote over so much of what the DC Universe had stood for and what set it apart from their biggest competition over at Marvel. Already DiDio was altering the tone, the heroes becoming less heroic, the events becoming ever more darker than even the 1990s, the light that the DCU shown growing dimmer, and an obsession with Batman and the denizens of Gotham City, which got darker still. The New 52 feels like DiDio and his acolytes remaking the DC universe to his tastes rather than the fans. Even if the stories were good, they didn’t feel like DC. Things fans liked were being regressed or tossed out. Barbara Gordon quit being backgirl long before she was paralyzed, but now they remembered superscience exists and Barbra was Batgirl again, Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown (who at least had a previous identity to fall back on) be hanged. Superman and Lois’s relationship disappeared completely so Clark could basically be me in almost every romantic situation I’ve ever had in high school (being attracted to someone and not having the guts to pursue–which is true of most of my adult life really) while Supergirl became angry and bitter (which she still is) rather than the caring and funloving Kara I know and love. Meanwhile the whole Barry Allen and Wally West situation was going on.
I didn’t know about the artificial number. If the comic was making money shouldn’t that be enough? Well, I think this is another bit of thinking from DiDio’s TV days. Studios don’t just want a profit, they want a huge profit. It’s not enough to make money, you need to make ALL the money. This runs counter to the current idea of the propaganda being enough but that’s another article. So even though these comics had fans and were probably making numbers indie creators at the time would kill for they ended the title. Now some indie creators are actually doing better than DC because DC never fixed their mistakes, they just made new ones and chased off fans who no longer see the characters and character types they grew up with. Not that “Comicsgate” is any better than reaching those young audiences who became comic readers as kids are still being denied superheroes outside of the preschool networks and programming blocks like Disney Junior and Nick Junior. Everything else is for adults except for Power Rangers. I think.
It’s that lack of cohesive vision I mentioned earlier that may be at the heart of the New 52’s failings. The continuity errors, the altered tone, the darker backstories, none of it was really planned out. I question how well the post-Crisis 80s was planned going into 1990 as some things didn’t match up but the New 52 had nothing planned. DiDio wanted his DC but didn’t really seem to have an idea what that was. Some trades had things changed from the initial periodicals. For example, between the monthly and the trade, the Teen Titans went from a longtime group of teen heroes to this being the first incarnation. That wasn’t clearing up a mistake, as sometimes happens between formats. They changed concepts between printings and had to erase an entire caption box. Hopefully the letterer used a program that put the text on a separate layer so they remove it without having to redo the art and coloring. Did they even have an idea what kind of threat Pandora had been trying to fight by supposedly “remerging” the DC, Vertigo, and WildStorm universe? I didn’t even think Vertigo had a shared universe, while some stories seemed to already be in the DC Universe like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, but from what I’ve heard that was a story about stories so that still could have been an alternate universe. Nobody really knew anything going in, which meant DiDio was even failing as a “showrunner”. No wonder he brought Bendis in, because Bendis doesn’t care about continuity either, and it seems a lot of writers in comics and the adaptations have the same problem.
So what was the ultimate problem with The New 52? A lack of continuity added to the already damaging issues with altering the tone of what made the DC Universe special. I also believe that DiDio thought that by ending the previous continuity (I call it DC 2 with the various soft reboots making it like DC 2.3 or something) he could get away with all the changes he wanted because “these aren’t the same characters or the same timeline so things are different”. The core idea of who the DC heroes are, how they approach heroes and villains, and the mythology involved has been replicated to varying degrees in other continuities like the DCAU. However good the stories are it failed in adapting itself, which is worse than failing to adapt from one format to another. DiDio wanted his darker DC and didn’t really think about how to do it right. He wanted his big moment, and he chased that through crisis after crisis, Rebirth being a soft reboot (DC 3.1) that he wasn’t in control of and tossed out as much as he could the moment he was back in control, like Superman losing the secret identity and aging up Jon Kent, one of the most celebrated parts of Rebirth being the chance to see Superman raise his son, which we lost. This whole thing wasn’t about good storytelling, it was about DiDio’s ego, and that was the start of everything else that went wrong.