Back in the Game #29: Closer Look at the “New 52″

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I’m Thacher E. Cleveland, one of the Super-Fly Comics podcast hosts and until the end of November I was one of the two owners of Super-Fly Comics & Games. After a lot of soul-searching I decided it was time to hang up my Comic Guy license and move on to new adventures. Not only do I have a new job in a new city but I’ll be buying comics again for first time in almost 7 years instead of just reading whatever I want, whenever I want. With the comic industry at a turning point with price wars, “event fatigue” and digital distribution, I’ve picked a hell of a time to get…Back in the Game.

As more information about the new DC line-up and the relaunch is revealed, the more curious I find myself about where this whole thing is going. It’s hard not to spend a lot of time thinking about the specifics, especially when the other side of the comic news coin is yet another Spider-Man book and Uncanny X-Men’s five second cancellation before it gets relaunched (sans universe shattering changes, just a domestic dispute between Cyclops & Wolverine).

Initially it was thought that the relaunch would be more of a reboot, starting the entire DC Universe over again. In DC’s initial letter about the relaunch, they said “the new #1s will introduce readers to a more modern, diverse DC Universe, with some character variations in appearance, origin and age. All stories will be grounded in each character’s legend – but will relate to real world situations, interactions, tragedy and triumph,” as well as “We have taken great care in maintaining continuity where most important, but fans will see a new approach to our storytelling.” As soon as the Batman and Green Lantern family of titles were revealed, it became clear that while there were some radical changes being made recent stories like “Batman, Incorporated” and “War of the Green Lanterns” were still going to “count.” This has been confirmed even further by DC during their latest “road show” meetings with retailers, basically saying that the characters with best-selling storylines would be left alone (including the Hawman and Deadman & Dove romance from Brightest Day and apparently, the Legion of Super-Heroes and Green Arrow). There’s some wisdom to “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” but big changes in one place and no changes in another is rife with pitfalls.

For example, it’s been confirmed that Barbara Gordon would return to her role as Batgirl and no longer be the paraplegic Oracle, explaining it as returning a character to what’s considered to be her “most iconic” version. Given that DC has been pushing the Silver Age versions of its characters for the past several years, it shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise. In an interview with Newsarama’s Jill Pantozzi, Batgirl series writer Gail Simone was unable to share if Gordon will be regaining the use of her legs after a being Oracle or if she hadn’t been shot in the first place, essentially nullifying Oracle’s existence. Simone did state that “that the name [Batgirl] makes sense to Babs in the story, for reasons we can’t say yet. But I think it will make sense to readers, too, in context,” perhaps pointing to one of the previously announced “variations in age” DC had been talking about. Then again, other comments from DC editorial this weekend included “The Killing Joke” as one of the Batman stories that counts, and Gail Simone said at this weekend’s Calgary Comic Expo that “[t]here’s some things wired into her costume that is something that hasn’t been done before, which is the reason why it looks the way it does.”

Cellphone picture from the Calgary Comic Expo of Adrian Syaf's pencils for Batgirl

DC will have to work very hard to make sure that the changes made in this relaunch don’t require another event a year or two down the line, especially when there are characters like Firestorm, who is seemingly starting from scratch with a new origin, but was pivotal to the recent “Blackest Night” and “Brightest Day” events that will be a part of this new DCU (Dove continues her relationship with Deadman from “Brightest Day,” for example). Readers tend to get grumpy when told that the events they’ve read still sort-of happened, but specifics of what does or doesn’t count aren’t going to be dealt with. It’s a good technique to bring in new readers that are superficially aware with these characters but haven’t been keeping up with current events. It’s a delicate balancing act, and unfortunately one they are going to have to master quickly if this relaunch is going to be deemed a success.

Another complaint seems to be that there are a fair amount of DC’s current creators that did not get work announced in the “new 52.” Paul Dini, Jamal Igle, Chris Burnham, Cameron Stewart, Nicola Scott, Chris Roberson, Phil Hester and well as many others. On the flip side, creators like Fabian Nicieza, Scott Lobdell, Rob Liefeld and Brett Booth are making significant contributions in the the new line and are considered to be “90’s era” creators (current DC publisher Jim Lee could be included in that list as well, and much has been made of the “90’s-ness” of many of his current redesigns). Bob Harras was named DC’s Editor in Chief in September of 2010, and is well known from his tenure as Marvel Editor in Chief from 1995 to 2000, and many have speculated that he’s basically “getting the band back together” for more “90’s-style” superhero storytelling. As more news came out, it seemed clear that there was a lot of “compartmentalization” with regards to the information shared even with talent currently working at DC. Scott Lobdell said in an interview on Bleeding Cool that he met with Harras in December about working with DC, although it’s unclear as to whether he knew about the relaunch at that point or not. Igle, who had initially stated via Twitter that he “wasn’t invited to participate in the relaunch” has since said that he will be working on a project for DC that will be announced shortly. The same has been said for Nicola Scott (via Gail Simone’s Twitter).

It seems as though there will be a “second wave” of DC #1s coming throughout fall, most likely with talent familiar to current DC readers. How many of these titles remains to be seen, but it seems like DC was willing to bring in a large amount of new people to work in secret on relaunch books while not telling their current talent much of anything. It’s a smart move in the sense that DC seems to be pushing for a “zero tolerance” policy on lateness, and apparently they’ve told creative teams that they are to have three completed issues of their new series by the 31st of August. A bold and daunting task for some of those creative teams, but it makes sense to give them as much leeway as possible.

It’s also interesting to note that aside from indie rising stars Nathan Edmondson and Josh Fialkov, there weren’t a lot of new faces brought in from the non-superhero side of things (Marvel has been excellent at scooping up Image talent lately), not were there any surprising big names. No Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Mark Millar, Frank Miller or even . It’s not entirely surprising, as many of those creators and their ilk are already contracted elsewhere or perfectly happy doing creator owned work, but it would’ve been an interesting twist to push some high-level talent onto books that may not be as initially well-received as they could be. If CBR’s poll about new titles is to be believed, some of those titles and concepts could use as much help as they can (although it just proves that not enough people read Fialkov’s “Echoes,” as his work on that title makes me very interested in “I…Vampire.”)

In the long march to September, there are going to be a lot of assumptions and even more guesswork, but all we can really do is wait and hope. No matter how tricky “pick-and-choose” continuity works out for them, it’s important that this relaunch does well. If Warner Bros. looses faith in print comics, then we could be seeing a real and drastic change in how those books exist, or if they even exist at all.

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Who ARE these people!?

Thacher E. Cleveland is a contributing writer & columnist for PanelsOnPages.com, co-host of the Super-Fly Comics & Games PodCast, novelist & comic creator. Originally from New Jersey and previously from Yellow Springs, Ohio, he currently lives in Chicago. You can find him on Twitter (@demonweasel), tumblr, his personal website and even on Google+

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