Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The New 52 Continuity: It ain't so bad!


A common criticism of DC Comics' recent relaunch, The New 52 is that continuity is a mess. Click on almost any message board discussion or blog entry that's critical of The New 52 and you'll find someone pointing out some of the many contradictions and problems thrown up by the reboot. Common questions include;

  • How could Batman have gone through all those Robins if he's only been active for five years?
  • How come the original Titans are referenced in Red Hood & the Outlaws #1, despite having never existed?
  • Why is Tim Drake referred to as a former Robin when he's always supposed to have been Red Robin?
  • Where does Batman Inc fit into all this?
  • What big events still happened and how can certain characters exist without them?
  • Where are Stephanie Brown, Wally West and Donna Troy?

There are certainly still knots to unravel with regards to continuity, particularly in the Bat-Universe where characters like Batman's ten-year old son, Damien Wayne, seem to fly in the face of the new five year timeline. But I would hesitate to say that this is evidence that DC Comics don't know what they're doing, or have planned all this in a slap-dash fashion at the last minute. In order to explain why I feel this isn't the case, let's take a look at DC's last big continuity reboot, Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Crisis was a 12 issue maxi series that ran from April 1985 to March 1986. Like The New 52 it rebooted continuity in the DC Universe and started the timelines of many characters from scratch. But these changes didn't happen all at once. In fact many of them didn't occur until several years after Crisis had finished. Let's take a look at some of these changes;
  • Power Girl was a resident of Earth 2, a planet that was obliterated from existence during Crisis. For almost a year Power Girl was a girl without a past until Secret Origins #11 (February 1987) established that she was actually from ancient Atlantis. Her origin was still being tinkered with as recently as 2005.
  • Batman and Catwoman's new origins didn't appear until Batman: Year One, the first chapter of which was published in February 1987. Jason Todd, the second Robin's new origin appeared shortly afterwards in Batman #408 (June 1987). For a year DC were still writing about the previous versions of these characters. Indeed, the previous version of Catwoman had featured as recently as January 1987 in Detective Comics #570
  • Much like Wally West, Stephanie Brown and Donna Troy today DC had no idea what do with the Justice Society of America in 1986 and so they were literally packed off to limbo until 1992.
  • Hawkman and Hawkwoman made several appearances in Justice League International throughout the late '80s until DC decided that they needed an update too. This occurred in Tim Truman's excellent Hawkworld miniseries in 1989. This mini-series and the ongoing series that followed it established that Hawkman and Hawkwoman were recent visitors to Earth, and their appearances in JLI were retroactively established to have been made by Thanagarian spies.
  • Wonder Woman had been killed off during Crisis and a big relaunch of the character was in the works. Unfortunately the big relaunch wasn't to be ready until February 1987. DC needed to publish at least four issues of a Wonder Woman title a year or the rights to the character would revert to the Estate of her creator, William Marston. The result was The Legend of Wonder Woman, a four part mini-series published in 1986 in which Wonder Woman's mother looked back on the adventures of her deceased daughter.
  • Aquaman received a new origin in The Atlantis Chronicles (1990). This completely contradicted a re-telling of his origin that had appeared after Crisis in a mini-series in 1986.

I'm by no means criticising the DC Comics of the 1980s but what I wanted to illustrate is that the rebooting of a fictional Universe is obviously a mammoth task. In the '80s it took several years before all of the many changes unfolded and settled into the DC Universe that many of us grew up with. Compare that with what DC have tried to achieve with The New 52. Fifty two titles, all relaunched from issue #1 in the same month, all occupying the same Universe. The fact that there's even anything resembling coherence at all between these titles is a testament to the hard work of the creators and editors at DC Comics. They're trying to accomplish something that took several years to achieve the last time they tried it. Personally I think they've done a pretty good job, but I'm not surprised that there are still inconsistencies. It would frankly be a miracle if there weren't.

So for those of you who don't like The New 52, I wouldn't dream of trying to change your mind, but there is one thing I would ask of you. Be a bit less judgemental in regards to continuity, because I would argue that DC continuity makes a damn sight more sense a year into The New 52 than it did a year after Crisis on Infinite Earths! 

9 comments:

  1. I'd like to say, as a reader who has been reading since Blackest Night #1 (Which was the first comic I ever bought. Weird to jump on to, but I loved it!), I've been a fan of DC through thick and thin. The continuity was so confusing and jumbled to me that I really considered giving up on comics after a period of time. But...I couldn't. I enjoyed the old continuity despite it's lack of consistency at times. After BK, the only series I was picking up was Brightest Day, which I loved at first but eventually became disappointed by. Yet I STILL stuck with DC. Leading into the last few months before the New 52, the only thing I was buying overall was Flashpoint.

    Then with the New 52, I enjoyed it from the start. Obviously there were series that I wasn't a fan of and things that bugged me (namely, the ending of Justice League: Generation Lost being completely written out of continuity). But I've stuck with seven overall series every single month. They make me happy. I like reading them. As a relatively new reader who wasn't entirely in-the-loop about the old continuity...I love it. The New 52 was a perfect jumping-on point for someone like me who knows a bunch of characters but not necessarily their background and such. Plus a lot of new creative teams turned out to be awesome. Like Geoff Johns and Jim Lee and Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. And old creative teams like Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke working gloriously like a well-oiled machine.

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  2. Can you imagine the internet rampage if it were around during Crisis' time? Superman was supposed to die and start over, and they changed it at the last minute, but they killed Wonder Woman anyway without any plans for her!

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  3. "...I would hesitate to say that this is evidence that DC Comics don't know what they're doing..."

    I wouldn't.

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  4. I think it's difficult to compare the two reboots even-handedly, but well done for trying.

    Crisis (which, incidentally, I thought profoundly dull) was an attempt to tie everything together, to unify the DCU and somehow make it all make sense.

    The New 52, on the other hand, is more akin to starting everything from scratch. Which ironically is what DC wanted to achieve with Crisis. But they failed then, as ultimately I believe they will fail now. The problem, you see, is people LIKE the old stories. You can't sweep them under the carpet and pretend they're not there, because we KNOW that they ARE there.

    Most NEW comics are read by OLD readers. Yes, yes, I understand the need to inject new blood into the readership of a what can sometimes seem a dying art form. My increasingly laboured argument, which I imagine Paul you must be bored of by now, is that rebooting is NOT the way forward.

    Numbers: I know I'm obsessed with numbers. To me, the fact that a title is somewhere in the eight-hundreds is not an obstacle to getting onboard. The opposite in fact.

    "I enjoyed that issue, and what JOY to discover there are 800 more like it for me to seek out!"

    "Hey, that title has been running for 800 issues, well there must be something to it then right? Let's give it a go."

    Perhaps no-one else thinks like me, but I'd wager they do. I once dismissed a Vertigo title as an ugly cash grab, only to watch its issue count swell until ultimately I had to question, "is this thing any good?". There was only one way to find out, and I was not sorry I did. [Caution: this anecdote may be partially made-up, but it's an analogous approximation of something that did nearly happen so I'm leaving it here.]

    Seriously, the kind of people who only pick up #1 issues. Is THAT what the industry wants? In the short term sure, I bet Marvel loved old Toddy McFartlane back in the day. But those guys didn't hang around, there exist innumerable oh-so-cool 30-somethings with a box of foil-variant-covers in their Mum's attic who NEVER READ A SINGLE ISSUE. And moved on to other interests (sports or something) pretty damn quick.

    Back on topic (sort of): Comic fashion is cyclical, what seems silly and out-of-date now may yet come back in vogue. In the 80s it would have been difficult to predict the resurgence of interest in the JSA. They seemed like an anachronism, all these costumed vigilantes jostling for space with oily gods. Remember those silly stories where the Joker strapped Batman to some giant prop in order to (not) kill him, again? Silly right? Where does that belong in a post-Adams Batverse? You ever see a depiction of the Batcave that didn't have a giant penny? Or the T-Rex? No, Nolan doesn't count!

    Grant Morrisson himself took the Dark Knight and injected a LOT of the 50s/60s colour that we claim to hate BACK into the Bat. It worked, but that's Grant for you.

    My point (I think I had one) is that it doesn't really all HAVE to make sense. As a fan, you can pretty much pick and choose which stories you believe are canon, because there are MILLIONS of them. Especially for the big 2 Black and Blue.

    Digressing (who? me?) I love Star Wars but there are no Gungans and infant-Vaders in MY memory of that galaxy. I jettisoned that cr*p after I left the cinema (but not before I bought the DVD, strangely).

    So a story doesn't fit into the wider context of your world? It's OKAY. I mean, by all means TRY and keep a coherent continuity if you can. It DOES help. But don't sweat that a loose end in a back-up strip published in 1952 precludes the possibility of a story element you're trying to insert.

    "That was Earth-956".

    This is where I think Marvel have the right idea. All worlds are possible, so why constrict yourself to such rigid rules? REALITY doesn't make any bloody sense, so why the hell should fiction? If it was all perfectly coherent we international fanboys would have nothing to moan about, and where would the fun in that be?!

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  5. One of the more insightful commentaries on the New 52 that I've read on the web. Thanks!

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    1. Thanks for checking it out. :)

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  6. It ain't so bad? Baa-hahahahahaha! Who the IN God's name are they kidding? Thats a mere JOKE!!
    I'm sorry, but I don't care what these people who suck up to it and saying that it's not so bad. Thats a bunch of crap and i am totally disgusted of what they did to my favorite characters. The fact is that it IS so bad and so alienating and I can do a long list of it! But I will say that, it IS so messed up in so many was, it's not even funny at all.

    At this point, I ACTUALLY MISS THE REAL DC UNIVERSE!!!!!

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  7. But I'm sorry but What are they smokin? It ain't so bad? Bullshit. it almost sound like this guy is reading a different set of books, because it's more of muddled mess now that it has been in over 30 years.

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  8. Anthony, could we have some examples of how the DCU is more of a "muddled mess" than it was after the Crisis on Infinite Earths please?

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