Billions of dollars change hands in the comics game, which now stretches from last century’s pamphlets and graphic novels to today’s immersive videogames and popcorn blockbusters. The venerable DC Comics changed that game last month with a sprawling reboot of its legendary hero and villain roster. But did its revolutionary relatability upgrade explore any undiscovered territory? Two words: Mostly. No.
Some amazing comics shone like torches into the future. Some did serviceable jobs providing storyboards for middling movie adaptations. Some were so bad that heads should roll. I spent a month reading every reboot and tallied up the winners and losers at Wired.
Rating the Reboots: Best and Worst of DC Comics’ New 52
After enduring unhealthy doses of marketing and a head-spinning month of rebooted first issues, Wired.com’s verdict on DC Comics’ New 52 is in.
The good news? The New 52 dominated sales in September, with its expansive retooling of its characters pushing DC past perennial competitor Marvel Comics for the first time in nearly a decade. The bad news? Thanks to its sprawling series roster, the New 52 reboot campaign barely came in average in the narrative ambition department.
Overweight with everything from expository diarrhea and clichéd archetypes to outright misogyny and misguided “upgrades” (Wonder Woman has a dad?), the majority of the New 52 titles squandered a boatload of cultural capital.
When the first issues arrived in September, we were ecstatically looking forward to how DC would revise everything from its characters’ costumes to their reason for being. By the time the month’s deluge ended, we were almost spiritually exhausted by the stunning lack of imagination.
Well, not entirely. Five of the comics shown in the gallery above turned out to be as good as we hoped or even better (especially the cerebral psychedelia found in Jeff Lemire’s astounding Animal Man). But these winners crowned the peak of an underwhelming heap dominated by middling comics peddling casual ultraviolence, post-millennial sexism and surly superheroes in search of reasons to exist in a world needing champions more than ever.
Just like that fake superhero finally arrested in Seattle, the New 52’s superstars — save a scant few, led by Grant Morrison’s Superman — seem happier being self-indulgent antiheroes than gods of Earth and space. It’s a sad commentary on both the state of Marvel and DC’s comics duopoly, as well as what we define as heroic in a 21st century running out of empathy.