Greetings from the Odinson,
In 1938, Action Comics #1 introduced the world to Superman the Man of Tomorrow. The genre of the Super Hero was born, and the face of comic books and pop culture would forever be changed. In that moment, the DC Universe was born. Over the course of the next five decades, the DCU would expand exponentially, constantly adding new ideas and concepts, constantly growing and expanding. However, by time the 1980s rolled around, the storylines, histories, and continuity of the DCU had become so convoluted and nearly inaccessible for new readers (i.e. the next generation of comic fans) that the Powers that Be at DC decided it was time for a reboot.
1985 – Enter: Crisis on Infinite Earths, an epic tale that consolidated the DC multiverse and restarted the DC mythologies from scratch. Thus was born the Post-Crisis DCU. And, for the next twenty years, this would be the staging ground for some of the most ground-breaking storytelling in the history of modern day comics. This twenty-year continuity was bookended wonderfully by Infinite Crisis, a blockbuster tale that tied up all the plots and ideas of the previous era and drew the curtain on the Post-Crisis DCU.
2011 – Enter: Flashpoint, a world-shattering sci-fi drama that birthed a new multiverse. Thus was born The New 52. DC Comics once again rebooted its universe, but this time, it was for the New Millennium. Five years later and this is the current continuity.
So, how does the first five years of The New 52 compare to the first five years of the Post-Crisis DCU?
The First Five Years: The New 52 vs. Post-Crisis DCU
Reboots and Origins:
Post-Crisis DCU – At the dawn of the Post-Crisis DCU, in the pages of Legends, the world’s greatest heroes are drawn together to defeat the New God despot – Darkseid! This tale saw the formation of the foundation of what would become the Justice League. The interactions of the heroes in this tale, some of which were the first, would go a long way in defining their relationships for years to come. Tales like Man of Steel, Batman: Year One, SHAZAM: The New Beginning, Wonder Woman: Gods and Mortals, and The Flash retold the origins of the world’s greatest heroes. Though there were tweaks for the modern day reader, the characters still had enough familiarity for readers of the previous era, and enough originality to forge new myths.
The New 52 – At the dawn of the New 52, in the pages of Justice League, the world’s greatest heroes are drawn together to defeat the New God despot – Darkseid! And once again, the foundation for the DCU’s premiere super team was laid. One major difference is the fact that the heroes are all much younger than their Post-Crisis counterparts. Also, when the readers come into the New 52, within the continuity, five years has passed. This kind of soft reboot allows for the creators to pick and choose what previous continuity they will keep and what they will change. For instance, as far as the Odinson can tell, nothing really changed for Batman and Green Lantern at all. An odd side effect of this is that means Batman has had four Robins in five years. That hardly seems “Dynamic” in anything other than inconsistent.
Changes to the DCU and Its Characters:
Post-Crisis DCU – Right off the bat, the biggest change to this new era was the fact that there was no longer a multiverse. All the worlds of the DCU, Earth-1, Earth-2, the Charlton U, the Fawcett U, were all merged into one single universe. So, that means the Justice League and Justice Society, the Charlton Heroes, and Marvel Family shared the same world and were no longer from different dimensions. Lots of blips from the Golden and Silver Age that made for confusing continuity were changed like the history of Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes. Interesting new characters like Booster Gold and John Constantine were introduced and still make noise in the DCU to this day. Probably the two biggest changes of all were the diminished power level of the Man of Steel and the identity of the Flash. No longer able to move planets and blow out stars like a candle, Superman’s abilities, though still quite staggering, were reduced to a more manageable level. And, former Kid Flash, Wally West, took up the mantle of his mentor after Barry Allen’s sacrifice during the Crisis.
The New 52 – This time around, it was the Vertigo Universe and the WildStorm Universe that was merged with the main DCU. Plus, the multiverse is back, but it is not nearly as infinite as it once was. There are 52 distinct planes of existence – Earh-0, Earth-1, Earth-2, etc. – that now make up the DCU. All the characters got make overs and New Millennium updates. Out is Superman’s signature red shorts and easy to draw costumes of the heroes. In are sleek costumes with busy, unnecessary details that make it hard for a child to imitate. Speaking of costume, Superman’s traditional “This is a job for Superman” way of changing clothes (Man of Steel #1) is replaced by a flash-suit of armor that just magically appears out of nowhere (Superman #11). Why does Superman, SUPERMAN, need to wear armor? Characters like Cyborg and Starfire, no longer relegated to B-List status, are being given a chance to shine on their own and among the stars of the company. Two of the biggest changes have to be the open romantic relationship between the DCU’s two biggest icons and the return of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl. Previous continuities had always hinted at the attraction between them (see Action Comics #600), but the New 52 threw flirtations out the window and the romance between Superman and Wonder Woman has become one of the brightest and story-driving subplots of the new era. After the crippling attack by the Joker in The Killing Joke, Barbara had a huge come back as Oracle, and established herself as a very essential part of not just Batman’s war on crime but in the DCU as a whole. She was an inspirational story of significance, a woman who suffered a horrible, debilitating tragedy who was not going to let that tragedy define her life. Oracle is a sorely missed character and asset from the DCU past.
Post-Crisis DCU – Seminal tales like A Death in the Family, The Killing Joke, The Cult helped evolve the Batman mythos and establish dramatic beats within the tales of the Dark Knight that would be felt for years to come. Exile showed the Man of Steel and his responsibility of ultimate power in a different light. Ambitious stories like War of the Gods and Cosmic Odyssey showed the breath of the DC Universe on a grand scale. Millennium and Invasion, with all theirs flaws, are still classic edge-of-your-seat, old school sci-fi. And, Swamp Thing by Alan Moore and Sandman by Neil Gaiman broke the mold of comic book storytelling and paved the way for the Vertigo imprint.
The New 52 – Without a doubt, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s run on Batman, with instant classics like The Court of Owls, Death of the Family, and Endgame, have established for themselves a well-deserved place in DC history. Forever Evil was a nice break from the norm and established this era’s Big Bads as true forces to be reckoned with. Meanwhile, tales like Red Daughter of Krypton and Doomed started with great potential but fell a little flat on the dismount. And, derailing storylines like Super Heavy and Truth just left the Odinson scratching his head and wondering – Why? Hopefully, The Darkseid War can end strong and earn a spot next to the All-Time greats. The best Post-Crisis stories weren’t seen until later in the 1990s and 2000s. Maybe the best the New 52 has to offer will emerge in the 2020s and 2030s?
The Golden Age and Silver Age were the comics my parents and grandparents knew. To be very honest, other than loving Superman, New Teen Titans, and Saga of the Swamp Thing comics, the Odinson was not a very big DC fan. In fact, most of my early childhood knowledge of the DCU came from watching the Super Friends cartoon, old 1966 Batman TV show reruns, and Richard Donner’s brilliant Superman: The Movie. It wasn’t until Crisis on Infinite Earths and the Post-Crisis reboot that I became a DCU fan. That was my jumping on point and that era was my generation’s DCU. Now, for the most part, my son’s earliest exposure to DC Comics as a child was through the Justice League Unlimited and Batman: Brave and the Bold cartoons and the Smallville TV show. The New 52 and its continuity came along at the right age for him and is now the DCU my son and his generation knows and loves.
I understood what was trying to be accomplished with The New 52, and when it happened, I was all for it (see The Odinson Takes a Look at The New 52). I truly believe that every generation of fans should have a continuity that they can call their own. The biggest problem I have with the New 52 is that it was a SOFT reboot. Many things changed and were reimagined, however, many things stayed the same and was business as usual. I just don’t feel like the current brass had the courage to back their conviction. As illustrated by too many windows and backdoor outs being left in play.
Thus, the Odinson has to declare the Post-Crisis DCU as the winner!
But hey, this just may be because the Odinson is biased. There may still be hope. The Post-Crisis did not hit its highest benchmarks until six, seven, and eight years in with All-Time classic dramas like The Death of Superman, Knightfall, and Emerald Twilight/Emerald Dawn, and even later with Grant Morrison’s mind-blowing take on the super hero genre in the pages of JLA. Maybe, given time, the New 52 will prove me wrong and in the long run actually show that not only is it as good as the previous era, but much better. After all, we are only five years in.
This is Odinson bidding thee farewell