Thursday, March 29, 2012

A new comics reader discusses the New 52

Last year, DC Comics rebooted their main universe, partially in order to attract new customers. One of those new customers was Jake, a Huntsville native who decided to take the plunge into comics following the reboot. Seven months in, we decided to ask Jake how he thought the "New 52" were doing. Turns out he had a lot to say:

In May of 2011, the comics world exploded. Not only were Action Comics and Detective Comics going to be renumbered (especially when the former was legitimately close to reaching #1000), but the entire DC Universe as a whole was going to be rebooted that September. It was to be dubbed “The New 52” and was supposed to be designed to be new reader-friendly. I only had a passing interest in comics at the time. I was a child of the nineties and had grown up watching shows like the animated Batman and Superman series on Saturday mornings and therefore had a decent understanding of who these characters were and why this was such a big deal. But I had never collected or stayed current with their actual comic counterparts before, and instead opted for other equally nerdy things like manga and anime. I had no real interest in following comics seriously until I went to Comic-Con 2011 and heard about the New 52 from DC editors themselves. It was a sales pitch, to be sure, but it sounded interesting and a good place to jump on.

So here I am DC, that mythical new reader in that male 18-34 demographic you’re working so hard to impress seven months later.

So the question is: was the new 52 successful? Did it bring in new readers and keep them from the perspective of someone who had had only a passing interest in comics before? The short answer is yes. The longer answer is kind of.
It is an undeniable fact for me that without the New 52 initiative and the massive push DC gave it, I would not be as interested in comics as I am today. The idea of a total universe reboot is very appealing to someone who has never collected comics before and has an interest. It’s like the reboot/relaunch of Doctor Who in 2005: a TV show that’s nearly fifty years old is rather intimidating when you’re trying to get into it, but the relaunch provides a nice place to start that’s more manageable as a whole. It’s the same with comic books and in fact had already proven successful in comics before with Marvel’s Ultimate Universe in 2000.

The DC Reboot provides a place to start for someone who’s just starting out and looking for an easy place to get in.

At the same time, however, I’m not sure if the storytelling is particularly good. I can count on two hands and maybe a foot the number of titles that I can say are unequivocally good. At best, that’s fifteen out of fifty-two, which when you divide it out is about 28.8%. And even in those titles, there’s occasionally a part or two that just makes you scratch your head and wonder what the writer/editorial staff were thinking about the whole thing, even by comic standards. I can live with the idea that Superman needs armor; in fact, I was one of the people who were defending it after it was announced. But then you get the issues five and six of Action Comics where Grant Morrison decides to put the story he’s been telling on hold and start going off in some other direction entirely before bringing things back for a conclusion to the opening storyline after two issues. Even when you put it all together it doesn’t make much sense.

And then you have an entirely different problem with the reboot in that their target demographics are skewed towards the 18-34 male. You know, that demographic they’ve been going after since the 1990s. Comics aren’t really for kids anymore, and while there will always be things like Archie, why aren’t you trying to cultivate a new crop of readers? Every single one of the New 52 is rated T or T+, which if you go by the DC Rating Scale, means that all of their books are suitable for people either 12+ or 16+.

Now I understand the idea that comic writers like talking about more adult themes and issues, and that’s fine. Watchmen, Grant Morrison’s Animal Man, The Dark Knight Returns, and Transmetropolitan all have a right to exist and are all very good in their own way. But at the same time, we now live in a world where the critically acclaimed Tiny Titans is cancelled after fifty issue and the tie-in comic to Batman: The Brave and the Bold is cancelled after sixteen.
Why would you do this DC? Why would you not give these comics a bigger push to try and entice more readers into reading your books from an early age? Supergirl is the only comic I can think of off the top of my head that a parent I know let’s his children read from your current main universe line-up. I was a happy accident in that I landed in your panels at comic-con because there was no room anywhere else and you sold me on the possibilities of your new universe, but I am an exception. You need to go out to younger readers to survive in the future, DC. When are you going to realize this? DC Nation is a good start, but that’s on television and not in the shop, and even there we’re getting mixed messages. Which brings me to my next question: Do you just hate women DC?

There’s a story that’s now famous online where a little girl who loved Starfire on Teen Titans is shown the first issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws.

While you can argue that the book isn’t aimed at her anyway, seeing as how she’s seven, the point is that the Starfire portrayed in the book is nothing like the Starfire portrayed on the show. This was a wonderful opportunity to incorporate a younger female reader into your general reading public and you blew it. Super heroes are there to help bring out the best in people and there are so few super heroines in your books that girls are being left out of the equation and you push them to search for their role models elsewhere. While it’s perfectly true that women can like Batman and Superman, that’s different from them being a role model. And while the fact that I’m not a woman may hamper my argument a little, the fact remains that the New 52 is woefully lacking good female role models. Where are Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown? Why is Wonder Woman the only woman really allowed to be kick-ass, and even then we have provisos depending on what series she’s in. This whole reboot was supposed to bring in new readers and you completely missed one of the largest untapped markets for comics in the female demographic. And it isn’t even that women don’t read comics, it’s that they just don’t read superhero comics and you made little to no effort to court them at all.

Which brings us back to our original question of whether the New 52, as a whole, was a success in the grand scheme of things. DC certainly thinks it was as they posted Nielson survey numbers showing an increase in sales among new and lapsed readers. But from a personal perspective, I don’t really know. It did bring me in as a new reader and led me to start reading and loving these stories, but at the same time it’s face is marred by what I consider to be grievous missteps and missed opportunities. So the New 52 leaves me much the same way as comics have done on occasion: conflicted.

1 comment:

Josh said...

Great post - we should talk to a few more folks and get their takes on this!