DC Zero Issues Should Have Been First Issues

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.

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Anthony Falcone
Anthony Falcone is a freelance writer living in Toronto and he is the Ayatollah of Rocknrolla. You should definitely follow him on Twitter.
Articles: 216

13 Comments

  1. I’d still say the best cold reboot we’ve seen lately has been the Valiant Universe. If DC had decided to do an actual reboot instead of the wishy-wishy “is it or isn’t it” approach I think we would see better reader support… and yes… starting at the beginning would have worked much better.

    I’d like to add that Diamond sales are based on retailer orders, not actual sales. If anyone is lacking in any of the 0 issues I have plenty of each title. Not a single sellout in 52 titles.

    However, I will add that Batman 13, out today, is an strong example of how you can produce comic books that sell. When you have a great creative team on an iconic character doing a major storyline starring that characters arch-villain people sit up and take notice.

  2. Yes, sales numbers are imperfect for the issue you have mentioned but we don’t have anything better so we need to use Diamond sales to dealers.

  3. From a retailer’s perspective, I was certainly hopeful that DC could pull off another coup with zero month and as a result I upped the orders on some of the upper and middle tier titles, but found there’s a definite resistance to DC’s offerings.

    There were quite a few zero books I enjoyed and recommended, you mentioned the Flash, but I also quite liked Batman and Robin, Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps, Aquaman, Batwoman and Wonder Woman. Aside from the regulars, there was little to no movement on the racks.

    However, “Death of the Family” does have the attention of people not already getting subscription pulls. Batgirl and Batman are almost sold out.

  4. Why would it have been better to start at the ‘beginning’?  

    Why?

    Having the origin story safely tucked away in your toolbox with (in some cases) 5 years of back story to play with, you can plant new stories into the new universe… at a point in story where it’s immediately relevant and interesting AKA the beginning.

    “These issues would have been the perfect starting point for you.”

    Why can’t they be that now?

    I didn’t like the covers.  Lazy.

  5. It would have been better to start at the beginning because using a 5 year floating timeline is less accessible for new readers, not more. Why did Ultimate Spider-Man #1 start with Peter getting bitten by a spider? Because you are re-establishing the origin for new readers and presenting a known story in a new way to established fans.

    That isn’t to say that one cannot play with structure and paradigms but I think that an a universal concept it has not worked well across all 52 books.

  6. I like what they’re doing, and it leaves a lot in the bag for upcoming September. I hope DC continues what they’re doing and making September their ‘event’ month. Next year it can be like a ‘year one’ or something issue for everyone. The sales of the 0 issues have been strong and it’s renewed interest in a lot of people. Good stuff all around.

  7. “a 5 year floating timeline is less accessible for new readers.” – why is it?

    New readers are just people whom like story and art. They are simply new readers, they’re not new to planet earth.

    Have you ever enjoyed a movie that confused you to begin with? Have you ever felt jaded by a predictable movie?

    Frankly, Starting a ‘new’ Spider-Man story with the Spider-biting-incident is lazy and I’m surprised it was enough to sell the idea of ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ to the readership. With a guy like Spidey, I think… if I asked my mum how he got his powers, she’d be able to tell me. If they’d started USpidey some years down the line — and the ultimate origin was still a mystery — as a storyteller, you could share it any time to generate new interest. Would there be a buzz about an Ultimate Spidey origin book if we were still in the dark now? Course there would be.

    Not all the 52 books were good. A lot of them were an embarrassing, horrific waste of pages. But, for the books that DID work, the slow, well planned approach to the first year was not wasted on me, for one.

  8. But you have knowledge of comic books, the characters, and how sequential storytelling works for this genre. Starting USpidey with the bite wasn’t lazy, it was normal storytelling in a linear fashion. The series worked because they kept everything good about the character and updated the funny 60s moments that don’t work in the new millennium.

    I think that you need to remember that new readers won’t have your level of understanding of superhero books and the history of their shared universes. I’m not saying that starting in the middle of action or years down the line doesn’t work, as you pointed out it can, but it only works when you have a very strong story that fills in the missing pieces as you go along. As you noted not all the 52 did that. So in most cases it would have been better for a simple linear tale.

  9. We’ll have to agree to disagree on the grounds that, you are wrong and I am not.

    Storytelling works when the idea is both engaging and intriguing. If I arrive at the moment of asking “why” something is the way it is… then, I am both engaged and intrigued. The difficult part — as a storyteller — is guiding people to that point through the moments that ‘happen’ within the idea.

    Origins in the Superhero realm are riddled with cliché and predictability. Starting one new title with an origin story is one thing, but if Marvel pulled a 52 and rebooted everything all at once, would you really want to see an origin story in every book? How would you achieve the range required for the range of interest? Would 52 sets of parents die together in the same incident?

    in the case of 52, I think an origin story from the start would’ve worked better on some titles. I am however, still quite relieved we didn’t get 52 stories all playing the same note – with no real way to revisit the freshness in a years’ time. Not to mention having a whole year to perfect the 0 story and an extra month to plan the on-going.

    My opening sentence obviously comes from a place built of humour 🙂

  10. A year ago they couldn’t have started with the new origins, as they hadn’t decided on what they would be yet, plus they were still trying to convince people that this was the same old DCU with some minor cosmetic changes so as not to completely alienate their existing readers who were concerned about the sweeping nature of the changes. New origins are not minor changes.

  11. They should have, yes. Considering the constant tweaking being done as issues are reprinted in collections, things that the creators thought were approved have been changed after the fact. Plus, the creative team changes have been happening regularly, and very few of the creators who did number one were still with book when it was time to do the editorially mandated zero issue.

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