DC Comics timelines, part 4: The New 52

It’s been over a year since I last looked at DC Comics’ timelines. While I wrote about Earth-2/the Golden Age, Earth-1/the Silver Age, and post-Crisis continuity, I never got around to writing about the New 52. Mainly it’s out of my dislike of the latest reboot-du-jour, which led me to abandon “mainstream” DC.

But in the name of completing things, I’ll give writing the pros and cons of the New 52’s timeline a go. However, from the looks of things, it’s more “con” than “pro,” as the New 52 timeline makes little sense in various aspects.

Background

With the 2011 DC Universe reboot, came the idea that most of the characters’ backstories would be starting over. There was also an across-the-board de-aging of everyone, largely into their twenties.

A revived Earth-2 is also part of the new DCU, with its own continuity and versions of the heroes. Unlike the old Earth-2, however, the new one seems little influenced by the Golden Age comics. There’s no Justice Society, superheroes are called by the bizarre name “wonders,” everyone’s in their twenties, and they have no apparent ties to World War II.

Basic timeline of the New 52

The mainstream Earth is now called “Prime Earth.” It’s presumably to distinguish it from the pre-Crisis Earth-Prime/Earth-1.

The New 52 continuity roughly seems as follows:

  • Superheroes first appeared five years ago, with Superman as the first publicly active superhero. However, Batman, whose continuity is largely untouched, has supposedly been secretly active as an urban legend for some time before this.
  • Per the above, Batman’s still had his various Robins. Their lives are supposedly much the same as they were post-Crisis. Being a Robin is now deemed as like an “internship.”
  • The Justice League (no “of America,” which is now a separate team) was formed five years ago.
  • Green Lantern’s continuity from post-Crisis is also supposedly mostly intact.
  • Some pre-New 52 events have also still happened, such as “Identity Crisis” and “The Killing Joke.”

Like previous posts, I’ll list the pros and cons of the New 52 timeline below…

Pros

A fresh start

Superman #1 (2011)
“Superman” #1 (November 2011). Art by George Perez and Brian Buccellato.

Like post-Crisis, but on a much broader scale, rebooting DC’s universe makes it easier (in theory) for newcomers to get into the DC Universe. No need to read a Superman story from 20 years ago, or even five years ago. (Batman or Green Lantern, however…)

Rebooting almost everyone also means fewer stories to need to reconcile or account for. In theory, there’d be fewer conflicts versus post-Crisis (see: Hawkman).

Resolving the Justice Society

DC “resolved” the issue of the Justice Society being tied to World War II while having kids perpetually in their 20s… albeit in a dubious manner (see below). At least they’re on their own Earth again, where they can be their world’s top heroes. Similar to post-Crisis, however, Central City and Keystone City are still twin cities on Prime Earth, not on separate Earths.

Superman’s the first superhero

Superman’s once again regained his stature as the Earth’s first major public superhero, similar to Earth-1 and -2 continuity. (But again, see Batman below…)

Cons

A heavily compressed timeline

The New 52’s five-year timeline is the most compressed DC timeline ever given. Granted, most of DC’s line started over from scratch, but it still poses big problems.

The Batman family

Batman’s continuity was never rebooted or heavily retconned, so the books still assume most of Batman’s heavy history still happened…somehow. DC’s claiming that Batman operated as an urban legend for awhile before the official five-year start, which still doesn’t solve some problems. Namely, Bruce’s various sidekicks. He somehow still had Dick, Jason, Tim, and Damian within a five-year timespan.

Meanwhile, Batgirl supposedly only operated for about a year before being forced to retire from the role. Uh-huh.

Characters erased

Justice League #1 (September 2011) cover
The New 52 Justice League, from “Justice League” #1 (September 2011). Art by Jim Lee.

With everyone now in their 20s, including the Golden Age JSAers, some characters have been wiped out entirely from existing. Namely, Alan Scott’s kids Jade and Obsidian. Yes, Alan’s now gay, but that doesn’t preclude children from existing as much as Alan now being in his 20s does.

Speaking of the non-existence of some characters, there’s Ma and Pa Kent. Since the early 1950s, they’ve appeared regularly in Superboy stories (pre-Crisis) or in Superman stories (post-Crisis). However, DC’s reverted back to their Golden Age status quo in the New 52. The Kents died sometime after Clark finished high school, but before he became Superman.

Since New 52 Clark has no Superboy career to regularly write stories about, the only way to now see the Kents are in sporadic flashbacks to Clark’s youth. This doesn’t seem to mesh with most media spinoffs of late (“Man of Steel,” “Smallville,” etc.). It also goes against the idea that the Kents are relevant supporting characters.

Editorial whims

DC’s arbitrarily picking and choosing which events from before the reboot “still happened,” instead of letting them drop from continuity entirely. Most of these events seem chosen with little logic applied, beyond (apparently) personal favorites of DC’s leadership or whatever sells well in trade paperbacks.

Thus “The Killing Joke,” “Death of Superman,” “Identity Crisis,” and many of the 2000s events somehow happened. That’s despite being impossible for many of them to have happened under the New 52 setup. “Death of Superman” alone is problematic: Lois and Clark aren’t dating or engaged, the Kents died before Superman’s debut, and there’s different origin stories for Steel, Superboy, and the Cyborg Superman.

Related to all of this is the return of the post-Crisis Lois Lane and Clark Kent to DC’s continuity, largely displacing the New 52 versions. While sales and popularity seemed to dictate this move, it also seems confusing for new readers.

The ex-Teen Titans

Much like post-Crisis, the original sidekicks (Wally, Dick, etc.) from what I can tell still seem to be in their 20s. However, now their “older” mentors have been de-aged into their 20s as well. This reduces the age gap between them to a bizarre level. Jimmy Olsen seems only a few years younger than Clark, as is the same for Dick versus Bruce.

Late Earth-1 and post-Crisis stories seemed to settle on at least a 10-year age gap between the JLAers and original Teen Titans.

The Justice Society’s core appeals removed

Similar to Earth-1, there doesn’t seem to be any superheroes involved in World War II on Prime Earth. For that matter, there weren’t any superheroes publicly functioning (beyond a few “mystery men”) until Superman’s debut. (To be picky, the Earth-1 Superboy’s sliding timeline in the early 70s moved him from being set in the 30s to a 50s setting.)

However, the new Earth-2 also has no superheroes involved in its World War II. Its heroes apparently only debuted a relatively short time ago.

For that matter, other than some costume changes, there seems little to distinguish between the two Earths’ heroes (in terms of age, etc.). However, New 52 Earth-2’s Lois and Clark were at least a couple… before Earth-2 Lois’ obligatory death, of course.

The necessity of reboots at all

Like post-Crisis, not rebooting everyone regardless of whether a cash cow or not (Batman/Green Lantern) seems confusing. See: a largely-unrebooted Batman interacting with the heavily rebooted New 52 Superman. Shouldn’t new readers who’re Batman fans get the same supposedly non-confusing, fair start with the Dark Knight as Superman fans are getting with the Man of Steel? If not, what’s the point of a line-wide reboot if it’s not completely line-wide?

For that matter, if Batman’s selling well despite a confusing number of books, then maybe it’s not continuity confusion as the reason for DC’s sales problems?

Corporate motivations

Related to the above, DC still relies on the old continuity for trade paperback sales. Its top-selling trades are stories dating back to the Reagan administration (“Batman: Year One” and “The Killing Joke” in particular). This makes the argument for a reboot even more dubious, if fans don’t mind buying Batman stories written when cell phones were things only a billionaire playboy like Bruce Wayne could afford.

Some of the New 52 changes were clearly done just to jibe with DC’s theatrical films, given the low importance the comics are to Time Warner these days. Hence Superman’s ugly New 52 costume matching his “Man of Steel” look. However, “Man of Steel” has a 33-year-old Superman (as part of a forced Jesus analogy) just starting his public super-career. That’s the latest debut point I’ve seen in any version of Superman. Meanwhile, “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice” has a 40-year-old Bruce Wayne.

If the general public doesn’t care about a thirtysomething Superman fighting crime with a middle-aged Bruce Wayne, then why do Supes or Bats need to be de-aged in the comics?

Conclusion

Overall, the New 52’s problems seem fundamentally confusing and troublesome from a continuity standpoint. While the post-Crisis timeline had issues, most of its problems were resolved. Of course, the New 52 (and DC) has other problems as well, which explains the 2016 “Rebirth” revamp.

(Updated 10/27/16)

2 comments

  1. I have just finished reading all your DC Comics timelines posts. I have been reading DC comics since I was 5 years old (Batman 10 Nights of the Beast was my first comic and still my favorite Batman story) and I share a lot of your visions on the subject. I agree that Dan DiDio´s administration on DC has damaged the characters and the stories. New 52 was… not O.K. for some characters, but I still enjoyed many of the Geoff John´s comics (specially Green Lantern, love Hal) and Azarello´s WW, but still it doesn´t hold up as a new universe. Rebirth isn´t making this any easier…

    Well, good reading, mate, keep up the good work.

    Greetings from Argentina

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *