“The New 52” was an experiment that DC Comics published following the Flashpoint event back in 2011, more than 5 years ago. It was supposed to combine elements of the older genre of comics while bringing about a fresh start for those who didn’t have a history with the characters the way others might; however, even from the beginning, it had its share of pitfalls. Bad marketing and reader retention resulted in several titles being slashed before they were given a chance to succeed, as well as the ongoing lack of diversity in the comic writing staff. These issues eventually led to the entire line being cancelled in mid-2016 with the “Rebirth” tag being given to the replacements, though staggered as titles finished up their storylines.
A major problem with the Rebirth line is that it doesn’t change anything; it doesn’t bring about anything that’s new and, in fact, brings back some of the much older characters that were gone during the New 52 era. The only concept that really stuck out with the New 52 was the Earth 2 titles, characters that had an alternate telling of events that were relatively the same, yet still extremely different; however, that also soon fell to the wayside as the main continuity started to merge in many respects with this offshoot, making it yet another problem for the heroes and villains to clash about.
While the Flashpoint event created a “new” universe that the New 52 dominated, it didn’t have to be the only one. Many other comic companies have had alternate universes. For over a decade, Marvel had the Ultimate line, in which characters long defined and associated with Marvel could be retold in a more up-to-date fashion without having to revamp their entire line. DC’s Vertigo and Wildstorm comics were imprints that had different characters completely dissociated with the main continuity, and they’ve been very successful. So, why is it that they couldn’t have created a new imprint line that focused exclusively on the New 52 comics? One would think it would give the original continuity and the new one both chances to persevere.
One of the largest issues with the New 52 was that it wasn’t a reboot or a retelling, nor was it an expansion of the then-current universe; it was a mix of the two concepts, a blending in which some characters were rebooted while others weren’t, in a way that made no actual sense. A good indication of this is the existence of Damian Wayne, the son of Batman. In the New 52 continuity, superheroes are said to have existed for 5 years, at least publicly, and yet Damian is much older than that, yet it was never explained. There exists a story that could easily have explained this—genetic engineering—and it is used to show how he was given a nearly endless “army” of clone brothers who have popped up in later comics, but he himself was actually born. While it is said that the Batman Family of events was not being rebooted, several aspects still did not make sense in the new continuity, this being only the most prominent.
Another character that made no sense was that of Wally West, the third Flash and former Kid Flash. He disappeared from the continuity completely and then reappeared in a completely different ethnic background. I have absolutely no problem with this and, in fact, enjoy there being more diversity, but then the “original” Wally West shows up at the beginning of Rebirth, marking two with the same name and the same aunt. It quickly got confusing, and Wally One kept his mantle of being the Flash and Wally Two took on the new persona of Kid Flash, and yet Wally Two doesn’t know who Wally One is.
While the New 52 could have been so much more, it tried too hard to copy what earlier DC events had done by combining only certain aspects of the previously held continuity. It tried to do too much all at once. It might have been more successful if it had staggered itself with new entries, much like it has with the Rebirth line; however, it should be said that no matter what occurs, no matter what next event that defines the Rebirth re-imagining, all it does is show that 5 years of work and continuity have essentially become worthless.
Try harder, DC. You’ve been a giant in the field for so long that you’re becoming complacent in your role. Try to be better than what you are, or else you’ll find readers bowing out when you bring in another imprint line.