By Devon Sanders
The DC Universe was a very dear place to me.
Today, I finally figured out why I don’t enjoy DC Comics like I used to:
It is simply a joyless, charmless place.
As a kid, I was a fan of superheroes. I would buy whatever excited my eyes. Artist John Byrne could simply draw Cyclops walking away on a cover and it would speak worlds. On the cover of a DC comic, Jim Aparo could draw The Justice League looking on in shock as Batman proclaimed his independence forming a team of so-called Outsiders and made me, the young reader, feel as though I needed to know why this thing was happening. From that one Batman and The Outsiders comic, a love affair was born. I never left Marvel behind but I gave my heart over and made mine DC Comics.
DC Comics would later tear down its universe in the promise of unification with Crisis On Infinite Earths and in a bit of brilliance, would publish alongside it, an encyclopedia of all things DC Comics, Who’s Who In The DC Universe. I would pore over these issues; learning, catching up, immersing myself into something far greater than anything I’d ever known.
Sure, Marvel had its Official Handbook where you could find somewhat valid arguments as to why The Hulk could always beat The Thing but in Who’s Who, with its gorgeous layouts and concise entries, I didn’t want fights. I found hope. Hope that somehow, someone would be clever enough to find a way to team Superman up with The Blackhawks in the pages of DC Comics Presents. I wanted to see more of them. I wanted to see more of this universe.
Over the years, I watched alien hordes invade, legions unite, women and men die; I bore witness as heroes were broken and reborn in order to show us why the world needs heroes. In that, I was taught the values of legacy and interconnectivity.
Interconnectivity that promised that in some way, the creation of Booster Gold was potentially somehow as important to DC’s world building as anything already existing within The DC Universe. In Crisis, through legacy, I learned of John Stewart and that he was a part of something grander. I learned The Corps was greater than Hal Jordan. I learned that while Alan Scott’s Green Lantern wasn’t part of The Green Lantern Corps and yet, he was an inspiration to them all.
I was taught in these DC pages that the good fight doesn’t end when with the death or retirement of one. No, it inspires and carries on and most importantly, it carries over.
I adored this universe. I loved that when all seemed lost, a hero would rally to save the day. Some days, it would be Superman. Some days, Jack Knight; some days, it would be Oracle. Damn, I miss her. At the end of the fight, you would know the heroes did their best and left it all there on the page for you.
There was a joy in that.
DC Comics was where you went to find the best of us; where you went to find the hero who knew exactly what to do. The DC Universe was where you were sure Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman would always be the surest in the room.
The New 52 of today bears little resemblance to the DC Universe I knew and this makes me sad.
As my colleague, Graig Kent, once pointed out, “There’s the odd thing that’s a really good read… Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man or Green Arrow, Snyder’s Batman and the new Grayson series but to your point, they don’t share well as a universe as a whole.”
And therein lies what I think is the problem with New 52, it doesn’t so much feel like a universe as it does a series of fiefdoms.
Nearly, four years ago, with the creation of The New 52, I didn’t so much as watch a world be reborn as watched it simply exist. This New 52 is built on the premise that it continues to tell the stories of giants while in actuality, New 52 does nothing but stand on their shoulders.
I tried with The New 52. I did.
If there’s a true letdown within DC’s New 52, it is this: it fails to inspire.
The heroes of the New 52 just don’t seem to like themselves much less their new surroundings. In The Justice League, when they’re together, more often than not, they act like they hate each other and would much rather be someplace else. The sense that they are a part of something greater seems lost upon them.
I tried to read Scott Snyder’s Batman but it just wasn’t for me. My Batman is sort of like the Swiss Army Knife of storytelling. In one story, he could be an urban legend, a thought, a savior or a nightmare; in another, a calculating man of indomitable will hellbent on giving justice its due. Or he could simply be the straight man on a Justice League team full of jokesters, delivering its funniest moment with one punch.
And to me, that’s a huge part of why I can’t seem to get into the New 52, it’s distinct lack of interconnectivity; its distinct lack of anything resembling joy. Scott Snyder’s Batman is just that… Scott Snyder’s Batman. It’s a Batman that plays to his particular writing strengths mainly suspense and horror. I think the moment I realized I couldn’t reconcile this Batman with anything else I knew was when Snyder’s Joker sewed Arkham inmates into a living, breathing tapestry. It was gruesome. It was horrific. It didn’t feel like The Joker. It felt like something from the Saw franchise. It was in that moment I thought, “He can’t come back from this.”
The great thing, to me, about The Joker was that he was a creature of re-invention. Grant Morrison said it best that when Robin entered Batman’s life, so did The Joker re-enter their lives. Gone was The Joker who’d shoot you just as quick as anything, reinventing himself as someone aware of tone and a new father/son dynamic.
The Joker of old was more often than not, cunning but rarely sadistic. When he was, such as in The Killing Joke, it was shocking because of its rarity. Had another writer soon after Killing Joke shown The Joker slitting throats, I’d have thought him too far gone then as well.
There’s joy in that.
New 52 Joker lives in a universe that fails to fold into the goofiness that is The Elongated Man, the absurdity of a Detective Chimp and even to a greater effect, the relentless optimism of a brighter tomorrow that is a Legion of Super-Heroes.
On the day it was announced that DC would no longer publish The Legion, I knew the DC Universe as I’d known it, died. I was never what you’d call a Legion fan but even I knew enough to know they represented hope.
The New 52 had won and I admit, I felt a bit left behind. The things I’d held up to the light were deemed the past.
But the past is simply that and I had the great fortune of truly falling in love with Wonder Woman courtesy of George Perez. I had the great fortune where I discovered the possibilities of Batman through Frank Miller, Grant Morrison, Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. I am spoiled and I am damned proud of it.
The thing about comics is wherever you came in is bound to be your “Golden Age of Comics.”
I think I’m feeling this way as everything I’ve seen from the DC’s New 52 has been done before and frankly, done better and it’s OK for me to feel this way.
As of next week, the New 52 evolves into something supposedly more inclusive. In the end, all it really comes down to is this: if there is a kid out there reading DC’s current output, they have my sincerest hope that in all of this they’re finding joy somewhere within the comics page.
Devon Sanders wants to ride a shark someday like Aquaman. Wish him luck on Twitter at @devonsanders.
*Thanks to Charles Tidball for his valuable input.