Just about a year ago I made the statement that the New 52 worked. Now, one year and twelve-or-so issues after the publisher's linewide reboot, I am writing to update readers that--in the long run--it hasn't. At least, not for me. Nope, the bright promise I felt when I eagerly picked up a dozen new #1's two years ago has slowly faded away, and after this past week, I have to imagine that a lot of DC Comics fans would agree with me.
But before I dive into the latest public relations maelstrom the folks over at DC have found themselves in, I have to recount how I wandered into this DC desert. I went from buying around ten DC titles a month to just two--"Batman/Superman" and "Superman Unchained." Titles that I absolutely adored a year ago ("Batman," "Wonder Woman," "Swamp Thing," and "Animal Man") have fallen off of my pull list. Things are not going well.
By my own admission, I'm not the world's biggest DC Comics fan. I've recounted my strictly-Marvel childhood, teenage, and even college years around these parts before. It makes sense that I could drop these titles easier than, say, a title with as many emotional ties to me as "Uncanny X-Men." Sure, I have no deep loyalty to this company or these characters, but here's the thing: I wanted to like DC.
Two years ago, the promise of a fresh start reeled me in after decades of avoidance. I was going to be a "new reader" in DC's eyes, and I was going to try out these books and these characters! The first year went so well that I even wrote an article declaring myself a convert. And then the last year happened. All of the stories I loved from the first year just kept on going, with the narrative threads of "Animal Man," "Swamp Thing," and "Wonder Woman" stretching out well into a second full year. New launches like "Earth 2" failed to hold my interest. "Batman"--one of the final holdouts--declared it was devoting a year's worth of time to an updated origin story. I decided I could wait for the trade on that one. Then everything else started happening.
Creative teams were removed from books before their first issues came out. Creators walked off of books midway through story arcs. Active homophobe Orson Scott Card was given work. Just this last week, "Batwoman" lost its long-running creative team thanks to editorial refusing to let them follow through on the marriage storyline that all parties involved agreed to start months ago, prompting DC to double-down on its limiting "superheroes can't be happy" rule. The last year has been rough for me and DC, and without the years of loyalty that some fans feel for the company, I've pretty much split.
I want to like DC. I want to read their stories. I am as in love with back issues of Ed Brubaker's "Catwoman" and "Gotham Central" as I was a year ago; I want to read more stories like that. I am a lifelong comic book collector with an intense collector's mindset, money to spend and a place to publicly profess my love for comics every week. I'd like to think that DC wants my money, because it's money, but they just keep doing things to drive me away.
There are some things DC Comics could do to woo me into spending money on their characters, and honestly, they're things that have made digital first books like "Batman '66" and "Adventures of Superman" required reading for me every week.
I want DC Comics to start thinking outside the box when it comes to creators. The second and subsequent waves of the New 52 era have seen a lot of the usual suspects getting shuffled around on books, filling holes as other creators abruptly leave or are removed. While I want talented creators to get work no matter what age they are, I also want to see creators that excite me. Seeing Matt Kindt of "Mind MGMT" fame popping up all over the place is rad, and, on the other end of the spectrum, it's great seeing an underappreciated Marvel writer like Greg Pak finally getting the respect and acclaim he's deserved for years. These are two names that come from different corners of the industry, but they both provide a fresh take on these characters.
I want DC Comics to hire Jeff Parker to write more comics. I'm going to be buying "Aquaman" on the stands for the first time ever simply because his name is attached. Why? Because Jeff Parker is exactly what I want from DC Comics, and like Greg Pak, I think Parker will finally get a chance to get in front of a big audience at this company -- a bigger audience than the one his criminally underrated "Thunderbolts" ever got. Jeff Parker is a fun writer who is able to write big action sequences that also tie seamlessly into grand character development. The guy's a pro, and he deserves to be writing a Batman and a Superman book alongside "Aquaman." Make that happen.
I want DC Comics to remember that they are making comic books and stop being so serious. I want them to go over their "no happiness" policy one more time and then yell "PSYCH!" before high-fiving each other for pulling one over on all of us. I want DC Comics to embrace the fun that is inherent in their characters -- and fun is not a bad thing. "Batman '66" is fun every week, in a way that's totally different from how Pak and Jae Lee's "Batman/Superman" is fun every month. I think "fun" is closely tied to "freedom." DC's digital first books and a handful of ongoings still feel fun and free; they feel like the exact books that the creative teams want to make. They don’t feel forced and mucked with. "Batman/Superman" feels like the kind of story that's been in Pak's noggin for years. Kid Bruce Wayne hanging out with kid Clark Kent? Alfred and Pa Kent bonding over their status as adoptive fathers? Does that nuance have any place in "Forever Evil" or "Trinity War"? Probably not, but it's the type of nuance that pulls readers into comics for the long haul. More of that, please.
I want DC Comics to acknowledge the fact that the majority of their fan base exists because of cartoons. While reading Maris Wicks and Joe Quinones' excellent contribution to "Batman: Black and White" #1, wherein Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy get caught up in a nefarious plot involving overactive soy burgers, I remembered just how much I loved "Batman: The Animated Series." I remembered how captivating the DC Universe was to me as a kid, and I suddenly wanted more of that. I wanted more done-in-one stories with characters that I enjoy visiting every month, and less of the eighteen part epics I had been roped into back in Fall 2011.
Most importantly, I want DC Comics to just give its audience what it wants and what it needs. I want DC to acknowledge the fact that Stephanie Brown has a fanbase and to do something with that instead of keeping her needlessly in limbo. I want DC to not let a narrow-minded editorial edict prevent them from telling the very important and very relevant story of Batwoman's marriage to Maggie Sawyer. I want DC to get on the right side of history and announce that they are not waiting for an artist to complete Orson Scott Card's Superman story, and that it's been canceled. I want DC to crack down on the brokeback poses and needlessly impractical costumes that plague their rich cast of female leads. I want DC to be progressive and forward-thinking, something that other companies have been doing for a little while now.
Like I said, I have money and a love of comics. I'm not going anywhere anytime soon, and I'm perfectly willing to jump on board. I just need a few more reasons. I want to write a positive article in September 2014.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).