Usually, when you hear someone discuss DC’s New 52 line-up, they’re talking about the disappointment they feel. While I can mostly agree with the naysayers, in this post I’m going to call out 4 New 52 comics I feel are worth reading.
What is The New 52?
Warning: Spoilers will abound here. I’ll try to be cool, but if you’re looking to experience these all for yourself, now’s the time to bail.
In case you’re just not into comics on the regular like me, you might not know what the heck I’m talking about.
Back in 2011, DC Comics essentially cancelled everything and relaunched 52 titles “from scratch”. That meant everything you knew about the past 75 years of DC history was out the window. They called this initiative The New 52.
Basically, they figured this would make everything more accessible to new readers and would give them a much needed boost in sales and mainstream buzz. Whether this was a good idea or not has been debated endlessly, but won’t be the subject of this post.
Just because I don’t really like posts that straddle the fence, my personal opinion is that this was a bad idea, and I wouldn’t have done it. That said, although I’ve tried virtually all of the New 52 titles at one time or another, there are only 4 (yep, only 4) titles that I don’t miss every month. Let’s get into it…
When Green Arrow first launched in the New 52, you couldn’t get me to touch it with a 10-foot pole.
I wasn’t a fan anyway, and the new Green Arrow was even worse than the old one – this Oliver Queen was a brash, cocky teenager with a lot of gadgets and bad one-liners. Almost everyone felt the same as me and gave it a wide berth, so the comic languished.
UNTIL…it was taken over by a dynamic team of creators. namely Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino.
They took away his gadgets and money, burned away (most of) his cockyness and made this kid struggle to simply survive. Out of the blue, he was set upon by enemies who outclassed him in almost every way. He begins to understand that maybe his entire life has been a test to prepare him for this, and he still may not be good enough.
The story has been so good it’s almost painful to get to that last page and have to wait another month.
And the art, man this artwork is ridiculous! Every panel is simply beautiful. I didn’t even want to draw Green Arrow for this post because I didn’t want my artwork showing up on the same page as his. Dude is good.
Even so, I might not have tried Green Arrow if it hadn’t been for my local “Comic Shop Guy”. He kept telling me “you gotta read this Green Arrow!” I would just say “eeeehhhh” and then go pick up an Avengers comic or something.
But finally, I had a slow week and decided to give it a shot. Man, am I glad I listened. Since that time it’s rare that I come in the shop and see a current issue still on the stands. If I hadn’t put it on my pull list I probably wouldn’t get my hands on a copy.
I don’t have a problem saying this is the best comic DC is putting out right now. If you’re looking for masterful storytelling, this is the one.
This comic is actually a “Second Wave” title, replacing one of the original New 52 titles that didn’t hit and was summarily ended. I guess we can just pretend it replaced the cancelled Mr. Terrific, since at the end of his series he disappeared from the main “prime” DC universe, and ended up on Earth 2.
Anyway, the situation with Earth 2 is very convoluted. Back in the day at DC, Earth 2 was where all the “old” superheroes lived. For example, Superman’s earliest appearances were circa WWII, so obviously we would see adventures from around that time in his comics.
As time passed, DC didn’t want to admit that Superman and the rest were really that old, or otherwise explain how they could be the same people, so Earth 2 was invented. That means that all those old Superman adventures actually happened, but it was just on another Earth. They were the Justice Society instead of the Justice League.
Except now you should forget all of that, because it’s gone. None of that stuff happened.
On this Earth 2 in the New 52, we actually have some ostensibly younger heroes who have been attacked by the evil god Darkseid and the hordes of Apokalips before they really had a chance to become the heroes they should have been. As a result, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are killed repelling the invasion in the very first issue.
This leaves a ragged handful of neophyte heroes behind to pick up the slack. We know the names, like The Flash, Green Lantern and Hawkgirl, but they’re all brand new and not used to their powers – or working with others. Normally, everyone knew to kind of fall in line behind the big three, but without them it’s every man for himself.
Also, you may remember a bunch of articles from a couple of years ago about Green Lantern being gay. Well, it was this guy (Alan Scott), not Hal Jordan, the main Green Lantern from the “regular” universe. It seemed like a bit of an okey-doke maneuver to me, but I guess they had books to sell.
Either way, the comic has been awesome. The situation is dire, the heroes are having a difficult time organizing into a cohesive force, they still have to contend with occupying forces from the war, and even worse, the return of a powerful former ally who has gone nuts and has proven almost impossible to stop.
And then, there’s Batman. Yes, it appeared that he died in the first issue, but suddenly there’s this superhuman, murderous Batman in the mix.
It turns out he’s 65 years old, and is using a drug called Miraclo to perform his superhuman feats, including taking a bullet to the head and then getting up and walking away.
To make things a bit more convoluted, in the “old universe” Miraclo was invented by the Earth 2 hero Hourman. It was a drug that gave him superhuman physical abilities, but it wore off after one hour. We pretty much find out the new Batman is hooked on it, but these are desperate times, and he certainly couldn’t do any of this stuff without it.
So the whole point of the New 52 is that you don’t need to know any of the old history, but they keep throwing these nods in there.
Ok, this one is crazy. Literally. It’s not necessarily meant to be a funny comic, but there’s so much dark humor in here it’s both bleak and hilarious at the same time.
You probably know that the Green Lanterns are like the policemen of the universe. The go out and help people, enforce order and try to protect the good people from the bad people.
The Red Lanterns don’t care about order, they’re all about revenge.
Recently, in the last few years, the Green Lantern creators went a little nuts and decided to make a Lantern Corps for every color under the sun. Yellow for fear, violet for love, blue for hope, indigo for…something…I don’t remember now, and even a black ring to make zombies or some other hackneyed plot contrivance.
If that sounded like a Lucky Charms commercial, well that’s about how ridiculous it was.
Anyway, the only good thing to come out of this whole fiasco were the Red Lanterns, who are driven by rage.
Their leader is a being called Atrocitus. Way back in the distant past, his family and entire planet were wiped out by the robot Manhunters. These robots were created by the Guardians of the Universe – the very same ones who later created the Green Lantern Corp. So Atrocitus is mainly motivated by his desire to destroy the Guardians and the Green Lantern Corps.
Admittedly, I skipped a lot of the Red Lantern’s appearances in the pages of the various Green Lantern comics, because most of that stuff was whack. But even though I wasn’t really interested in Green Lantern, I was interested enough in the Red Lanterns to see what kind of story they would have in their own book.
I don’t know if I mentioned this, but these guys are crazy. As soon as they put on that red ring, their conscious mind is subverted by pure rage. Not only that, but the red ring essentially replaces their hearts, so taking it off will kill them. Also, their blood becomes like napalm, and they tend to puke it out onto people as an offensive weapon. This whole deal is not to be taken lightly, even bad-asses like Lobo think better of putting one on (he wears it around his neck, instead).
So at the outset of the comic, Atrocitus is the only Red Lantern that can think or speak intelligibly, or act on anything other than instinct. He decides that maybe his Corps could be more useful if they could actually think, so he throws them into a lake and this somehow restores their consciousness. Ehhhh, it made sense when I read it in the book…
Bascially, after this these guys go on a spree of dismemberment across the universe. Ostensibly, they’re only punishing the guilty, who have committed crimes against others, but they don’t lock anyone up, they just rip people apart and bathe in their blood. They tend to attack each other if they sense weakness, and fallen comrades are definitely not mourned.
For some reason there’s a murderous cat named Dex-Starr hanging out with them. He has his own ring and everything (he keeps the ring on his tail). I missed the issue where they explained him, but that damn cat cracks me up every time. He’s only loyal to Atrocitus, and screw everyone else.
Recently, former Green Lantern Guy Gardner has joined up with the Red Lanterns, beat down Atrocitus and taken over the whole team. It’s been a pretty fun read, watching him try to lead this ragged bunch of angry monsters.
Something completely stupid usually happens and make me laugh, and then it might twist into something really dark. All these Red Lanterns are damaged by some trauma in their lives. If they weren’t they couldn’t even use their rings, and the darn thing might just up and leave, looking for someone who has rage issues it can use. This means there’s no dealing with your issues in a healthy manner. You’d better stay angry, because if not you lose your ring and die soon after.
I look forward to this one every month. Just seeing what these vicious oddballs get up to out in space each issue is worth the price and then some.
The Phantom Stranger
I don’t remember the first time I read about The Phantom Stranger (he has two origins at the link), but it must have been in some forgettable 1970’s/80’s DC Comic. By the time the original Crisis on Infinite Earths came out in 1985, I already knew who he was.
That doesn’t mean I knew the full story, though. No one really does. When DC had their “Secret Origins” comic back in the late 80’s, the Phantom Stranger issue had four separate origins, so you still never got anything definitive. I don’t remember them all, but a couple of them had very religious, Christian overtones. In one he was essentially the Wandering Jew, cursed by Christ to wander the world and never have a home until the end of the world. In another he was a fallen angel from Heaven.
DC was always different from Marvel in the sense that there is definitely a God in the DC Universe, like it or not. Usually they might refer to God as “The Voice”, or “The Presence”, but I’ve noticed in the New 52 many times they’ve just come right out and said “this is God.” This doesn’t bother me at all, since I’m an atheist, myself. It’s likely this could offend some readers, though, so it’s somewhat brave of them to go this route.
As a consequence of this, I believe the Stranger’s origin has been distilled into one: he betrayed many, many people, with Jesus Christ being among them -and is now being punished for it. At least, that’s the crime he’s called out on the most.
The Stranger is basically this enigmatic person/being/entity that kind of materializes out of the darkness when you least expect it. He very rarely has good news, but the things he does he’s told are for the greater good. He doesn’t actually know why he does the things he does. He’s being forced to atone for his grievous crime(s) from ages past, and apparently nothing he’s done is good enough to absolve his sins.
One thing you’ll come to realize is that no one, and I mean NO ONE likes the Phantom Stranger. No one is ever happy to see this guy, because by the time he shows up it means something has gone seriously wrong somewhere and that you are gonna have to do something you really would rather not to fix it.
Even demons and other hellspawn don’t like to see him coming. He’s known as a betrayer, and even those who accept his help are looking over their shoulder for the time he might stab them in the back.
Many times, the Stranger doesn’t even want to do these things, but as mentioned above, he has little choice.
Obviously, you can expect to read a lot of Biblical themes and interpretations in this comic. He’s had to descend into Hell, then force his way into Heaven, all the while receiving roundabout instructions and a little mocking from God Himself, who chooses to appear to the Stranger as a small terrier.
You can feel the frustration of the Stranger because sometimes he appears to know as little as we do about why he’s doing the things he does.
My favorite part of this comic is the strange magical journeys he undertakes, and the little clues we get to see regarding his past crimes. When the book starts out, I was shocked to see that the Phantom Stranger appeared to come home each night to a wife and kids! Whaaaaa..???
There was no way I was missing out on the explanation to this one, and it didn’t disappoint me when it came.
Recently, the title of his book has changed from simply “The Phantom Stranger”, to “Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger”. The other Trinity members being Pandora (of Pandora’s box…) and The Question who has curiously been changed from a street-level martial arts character to a cosmic-level entity in the New 52.
I’m not sure if this was to tie into the recent Trinity War (in which 3 Justice League’s fought each other) or what, but since the other two Trinity members don’t interest me, they might as well change it back now that the crossover’s done. But I suppose DC figures if you like Phantom Stranger you might as well check out these other mystical titles. Not me, but it was a good try.
Anyway, if you’re into some deep, crazy, and somewhat philosophical adventures that rarely result in a straight-out, feel-good solution, then this one is definitely for you.
I mentioned my “pull list” earlier. In comics-talk, the pull list is made up of comics that I will definitely buy each month.
This means I sign a contract with my comic shop, and they in turn will add my order to the comics they buy each month from the distributors.
The really important thing about the pull list is that this can tell Marvel/DC, etc. how good their books are doing. In the case of the aforementioned Green Arrow. My comic shop guy told me it was selling very, very poorly (at first). As a result, he might only order 2 or 3 copies. They can’t really send them back, so if they don’t sell, they’re stuck with them. They won’t order 10 or 20 copies because they would just lose too much money.
After it got good, and I tell him I definitely want Green Arrow every month, he knows to add one to the general order. So if he has 25 people who pull Green Arrow, that’s 25 definite sales. The 2-3 he would normally order can sit on the shelf for folks who walk in later. For Green Arrow, they order more than 2-3 extras now because it sells very well, but I still don’t see them on the shelf.
Regardless, I add comics to my pull list when I want to reward the creators and let them know they’re doing a good job. It’s definitely a vote-with-your-dollar sort of situation. Every once in awhile I might pick a Batman, or Nightwing or Action Comics off the shelf if I have a slow week, but I won’t pull those titles because they’re not consistently good. I don’t want to send a message as if they are good, or nothing will ever change.
Honestly, Green Arrow is the only one of these 4 titles that I would miss out on if I didn’t pull them. I always see the other 3 comics on the shelves, but I want to let these creators know in some small way that they’re doing something that I like.
Behind the Scenes
I decided to draw these up really quickly, because I had been doing a lot of 3D lately, but I was running out of time so I skipped the inking that I normally do, and just went right from pencils to coloring in Photoshop. Here’s a look at the raw pencil files.
The Wrap Up
So those are pretty much the only 4 DC comics I can read consistently and know I’m gonna get a great story. I have to say I’ve tried out almost all of the New 52 comics over the past couple of years and I feel pretty good that I’m not missing out on anything.
Still, if you have any recommendations or New 52’s that you like, let me know. Maybe something changed that I would like. I’m game to give a comic another shot if it’s warranted (I’m getting soft in my old age).
But that’s all for this post, I’m outta here and I’ll see you guys next time!