I was fourteen when DC revamped its entire universe in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths. I was impressed that a major comic book company would be willing to toss out decades of continuity and start anew for younger readers like me who had no use for the imaginary stories of the Silver Age and thought that the doldrums of pre-Crisis DC paled compared to Marvel’s output at the time. John Byrne’s Superman and Action Comics, Frank Miller’s “Batman: Year One”, George Perez’ Greek-myth-infused Wonder Woman, and Mike Baron’s Flash were all right up my alley and frequently atop my reading pile.
Twenty-six years later, DC has cycled back around, but now I’m on the other end of the demographic scale. Other than lingering, festering, unwholesome bitterness at the unnecessary cancellations of Secret Six and Xombi, I don’t begrudge them their willingness to indulge in the tremendous gamble of reinventing the wheel for whatever generation replaces me, if one is duly willing to do so. In the spirit of renewal and multiple second chances, in September 2011 I generously ignored my monthly comics budget and tried eighteen of the New 52 series, all while holding fast to other companies’ output as well. Needless to say, that was an expensive month for me, even after rejecting DC’s other thirty-four new titles outright for myriad reasons.
Ten months later, I’m now following just four DC titles.
The winners are:
1. Demon Knights. I miss Paul Cornell’s lively Captain Britain and MI-13. This isn’t too distant a cousin — both are teams of disparate British super-personalities united for one cause, resulting in strange bedfellows, encountering explosive action, and inclusively allowing one Muslim member. Instead of present-day Marvel, our setting is DC of the Middle Ages, home of old characters Madame Xanadu, the Demon Etrigan, Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers version of the Shining Knight, and Vandal Savage. Tagging along are new characters Exoristos (an Amazon in exile), the Horsewoman (great with a bow, but cursed to remain forever seated atop her trusty steed), and Al Jabr (the afore-mentioned Muslim, fighter and hoarder of the more whimsical dialogue). Besides Cornell at the helm, its other distinguishing quality is that its time period makes it virtually crossover-proof. For me, this is key.
2. Dial H. The best of the New 52’s second wave that launched in the spring after eight underperformers were escorted off the premises after eight issues. The original Robby Reed version of “Dial H for Hero” was years before my birth, but as a kid I was a huge fan of the Chris King/Vicki Grant incarnation that ran in Adventure Comics (and was later relegated to ignominous backup status in The New Adventures of Superboy). As promised by the ad tagline, “The Hero Who Could Be YOU!” Robby’s successor dial-bearers turned into heroes created by Us, the Readers at Home, without benefit of complicated work-for-hire contracts. I didn’t care for the later New Teen Titans story that turned Vicki evil, but I was largely pleased with Will Pfeifer’s 2003 H.E.R.O. reboot, even if it was underrated and bypassed both Chris and Vicki. Alas, the closest thing for today’s consumers for some time has been Ben 10, whose own Omnitrix and resulting army of do-gooders owes a massive creative debit to the H-dials.
When DC announced the return of the concept at the hands of acclaimed author China Mieville, I was on board immediately. Admittedly, I haven’t read any of his novels in full yet (two of them are on my enormous reading pile), but the samples I’ve read were convincing enough. So far it’s spooky and very much off-the-wall, but I’m hoping the constraints of the dial’s current form as an archaic phone booth are only temporary. If dumpy protagonist Nelson Jent has to take a cab to the same magical phone booth’s deserted alley location at the beginning of every single issue, this may grow repetitive quickly, despite the outlandish single-use heroes popping out of every issue. (I’m sure I would pay good money for a Rancid Ninja one-shot.)
3. The Shade. Not strictly a New 52 title, this twelve-issue maxiseries began in the New 52’s second month, but could very easily be set in the previous timeline for all we know. I’m following along as a former big fan of James Robinson’s classic 1990s Starman series, hoping for glimmers of that old Jack Knight magic, but not yet 100% reveling in it, as the ex-Starman is still in permanent retirement and Robinson isn’t the same writer he was a decade ago. He arguably shouldn’t be, but I’m not in the same place I was, either. Somehow reader and writer aren’t quite as in synch as before. It doesn’t help that the capriciousness with which the Shade has changed alignment over the years as needs and continuity dictated hasn’t endeared him to me as a main character, largely because I can’t remember in which eras he was evil, and in which eras he eased down on the murdering. The guest-starring new heroes from other countries have been creative, so there’s that.
4. Batman Inc. Also a second-wave title; also not really in the New 52 timeline. Clearly these criteria really spoke to me.
I only sporadically followed Grant Morrison’s lengthy Batman run, so I’m ignorant of half the details of his long-running Leviathan storyline, and forgotten most of the other half. Throwing nuance and Easter eggs entirely to the wind, all I know is I enjoy seeing Batman’s exotic analogs in action, I find Damien to be irritating and entertaining at the same time, and I like watching artist Chris Burnham as he tries to keep up with Morrison’s scripts, with overall impressive results.
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Setting aside other imprints, that’s my entire monthly DC list for the moment. My capsule reviews of my first round of New 52 sampling are buried elsewhere online, but ten months into the relaunch, I’ve allowed all other contenders to fall by the wayside as a result of the following misdemeanors:
The reboot paled before a previous incarnation that I truly, vastly preferred: Blue Beetle; Fury of Firestorm, the Nuclear Men; Static Shock; Stormwatch.
Unlikable main characters: Batwoman; Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.; Red Hood and the Outlaws.
Heroes weren’t quite awesome enough to overcome how much I actively disliked their villains: Resurrection Man, Swamp Thing.
Artwork went to the dogs: All-Star Western.
I didn’t quit; DC canceled it out from under me: OMAC.
Quit because of crossovers, regardless of quality: Animal Man, Batgirl, Batman, Justice League Dark, Nightwing, Superboy. (Seriously: not in the mood. At all.)
Again: in general I’m not as bitter as the average over-40 message-board troll. DC desires an audience that doesn’t necessarily want what I want. I wish them well with that. I’m not out of comics to read yet. And I’m perfectly willing to revisit the New 52 as creative teams change in the future, such as when possible rising star Matt Kindt takes over Frankenstein. I may also check out Christy Marx’s new take on Amethyst (sometimes I do love odd choices) that will be one of several third-wave titles to emerge from the September Zero Hour rehash event.
For now, though, this is where I’m at. Also, I have one question I don’t think they’ve seriously considered:
How does the Horsewoman go to the bathroom?