September was another strong month for comic book sales, and Marvel’s AVX and DC’s New 52 Zero issues led the way. The zero issues allowed readers to have a look into the past history of their favourite heroes, and while they have, in general, been a financial success, they have also been met with widespread critical acclaim. This should come as no real surprise, for each issue presented a clear introductory story for the heroes and villains of the DC 52, and it raises the question of why weren’t these issues simply the premier issue 13 months ago.
The timeline for the New 52 is convoluted at best (and that is being extremely kind in my assessment). Action Comics sort of takes place around year zero. The first six issues of Justice League take place about 12 months after that and everything else takes place about 5 years later. And the Wildstorm Universe is also now part of the New 52. Some stories like Blackest Night still happened, and some haven’t. I don’t really know. You might need a PhD is such things to work it all out. If they gave out PhDs for disentangling the mishmash that are comic book universes. As Scott would say: Jiminy Christmas!
Any sort of reboot or universal restart is created to drives sales. And these sales are driven on the hopes of both convincing long-term readers to see how familiar characters are reflected in this new mythology and also enticing new readers with the promise of an accessible starting point. But by creating a starting point in media res DC has missed a chance to bring a clear vision to new readers. I do not believe that stories need to be spoon-feed to readers, and I do believe that every issue is someone’s first issue and should be written as such, but when you have the opportunity to share 52 origin stories in a fresh and creative way you should probably just tell a normal linear story.
Now sales haven’t really been hurt by this wacky timeline, but strong sales do not a great story make. I find this “five years ahead” approach puzzling in light of the strong stories found within the zero issues. Readers are treated to a true starting point, and if you knew nothing about the character, or had a basic “I know who Superman is, sort of” kind of knowledge, these issues would have been the perfect starting point for you.
I read three of the zero issues and was impressed by all of them in different ways. Action Comics #0 shows the first sighting of Superman in Metropolis, shows Clark working for the Daily Star, and sees Lois Lane first reporting on Superman. It is a brilliant throw back to Action Comics #1 (the 1938 original) as Superman is still leaping tall buildings in a single bound and is fighting thugs with guns. It is the book that I would give someone who wanted to start reading today’s Superman.
Batwing #0 takes a less known DC character (if you asked most people on the street they wouldn’t answer or they’d say something about a plane) and provides a proper origin for him. The reader is shown the character, his motivations are explained, and how he came to work with the Batman is clearly and concisely introduced. This type of introductory issue is essential when working with characters that don’t have the gravitas of Superman, Batman, or in this case, Red Tornado.
Finally Flash #0 has been my favourite of the zero issues. Do you know why Superman does what he does? Or why Batman fights crime? Or Spider-Man? If you are reading this website there is a good chance that you said something like fled dying planet, raised right by Kansas farmers, and saw parents killed so avenges all crime, or let criminal go and now is trying to atone for the death of an Uncle. Point being the big heroes have their with great power comes great responsibility moments. But why does Flash fight crime? Cause he got hit by lighting and chemicals and now is fast? That isn’t a reason. Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato give Barry his reason while telling the origin of the Flash in the New 52. The story is expertly paced, full of emotion, and should be an instant candidate for best single issue of 2012.
The New 52 is an interesting idea, and I want it to succeed, but it will be increasingly difficult for readers to disentangle the timeline as it stands. DC has hired talented people who can tell new and intriguing stories with the most recognizable characters in the comic book world. They would have been far better off presenting the zero issues and the introductory stories to the new 52 and then building the universe in a linear fashion from there.