Monday, May 23, 2016

The Top 10 Best Series From The New 52

In celebration of DC Rebirth, let's look at the few very good series that actually came out of DC's The New 52.

I rarely get a chance to talk about comic books on here. Usually if I talk about comic books on this site, it's usually in relation to how much I dislike superhero movies now. Based on how often I rag against the genre, a lot of people have wrongfully assumed that I just hate superheroes in general, and that couldn't be further from the truth. I love superheroes and I love comic books in particular. I'm a huge DC nut when it comes to comic continuity to the point where you can ask me about any major comic book event and I can tell you its impact on DC continuity and comic books as a whole. So I just wanted to take a little break from the movies, the video games, and the anime to talk about comic books just for a second. Why? Because something pretty big is happening this week; DC Rebirth.

For hose of you not aware, DC Rebirth is a huge initiative by DC Comics to relaunch nearly all of their comic books in an attempt to retcon the past five years (more on that in a bit), get new readers interested in reading comics, and to bring Action Comics and Detective Comics back to their original numbering so that both series can reach an issue #1000 in two or so years. It's a pretty big event with a giant 80 page comic being sold Wednesday for $3.00 to get people interested in the event. But this huge event is partly due to a reaction against something known as "The New 52", or as some dedicated comics fans will call it, the worst thing that ever happened to DC Comics.

Back in 2011, DC had a line wide reboot called The New 52. In it, continuity would be reset and 80+ years of history would be wiped away to start off with a clean slate. That way, new readers can jump on board and enjoy whatever series they wanted without having to worry about continuity, or all of the character's backstory and history. To coincide with that idea, 52 new series were launched with #1 issues to give a book to everyone that was interested in reading comics. There were superhero stories, horror stories, action stories, fantasy stories, sci-fi stories, you name it and DC made a book about it.

So what went wrong? Well, many things actually. Several series were cancelled after only a few issues, the tone of every book was dark and morose with nearly every hero acting out of character, horrible stories, horrible sexism, more time dedicated launching books than making good books, and the fact that 80+ years of comic book history just didn't matter... except some stories still did happen, but DC Comics never confirmed which stories still did happen and which ones were erased. If The New 52 was a car, then it would be one of those really nice cars being sold at a car show, but all of the parts inside of it were rusted, useless, and didn't function well. Yeah it got many readers, myself included, into reading monthly comic books, but at what cost?

So with DC Rebirth wiping the mistakes of The New 52 away, fans are rejoicing that such an evil and terrible brand and universe is gone. However, that doesn't mean that good stories weren't told in The New 52. Just because 80% of it didn't work, that doesn't mean that the good 20% of it is irrelevant. So today, in honor of Wednesday's relaunch, I'm going to count down the 10 best series that came from The New 52. The only two qualifications to be on this list is that I had to have read the series and it has to have The New 52 branding on it. If it doesn't then it doesn't count. As long as it came out from 2011-2016, it should count, but graphic novels and series like "Multiversity" don't count. All of these series are great, and I'm going to go the extra mile and attach links to each book on Amazon because if these series got me into comics, then hopefully they can get someone else interest as well.

#10: All-Star Western (2011-2014)
"All-Star Western" was the first series that I ever read from DC Comics. The series revolved a bounty hunter named Jonah Hex who traveled around Gotham City in the 19th century taking on odd jobs and bounties. Usually he would team up with a psychologist named Amadeus Arkham, and together they would bring criminals to justice. As the series went on, Jonah Hex met up with even stranger characters like Booster Gold, a time travelling superhero from the 25th century, and even time traveled himself to a 21st century Gotham and met up with Batman. It was a fun and wild ride of a series held together by its main character.

"All-Star Western" was a pretty damn fun western series at heart that sported some fantastic artwork by Moritat, who's plain yet detailed style just seemed to mesh with the series. Whenever Johan was riding around in the West bringing criminals to justice as violently as possible, I had an absolute smile on my face. As the series went on though, my interest in it waned just a bit, mostly because Jonah Hex in the 21st century wasn't that interesting. He was mostly just running around Gotham getting into trouble and meeting up with modern Batman characters, which was fun, but wasn't what the book was best at. It was best when Jonah was riding the West being as surly as he could be.

The book was cancelled after three years, but it held on for an incredibly long time for what it was. No one ever thought that a western would get as many readers as it did, but Jonah Hex proved that a little bit of violence and cynicism could outdo any bad publicity.

All-Star Western Volume 1: Guns and Gotham

#9: Future's End (2014-2015)
"Future's End" is a bit of a controversial title. You see, back in 2014, DC had three ongoing weekly series, or series that had an issue published every week instead of every month. This was to lead up to a major event comic in 2015 called "Convergence", but that's neither here nor there. "Future's End" was one of those three weeklies, and the best way to describe it was if DC Comics did their version of The Terminator.

35 years in the future, Batman Beyond is fighting against a machine called Brother Eye, a giant super computer that's infecting humanity and turning them all into drones. Batman Beyond travels back in time to try and stop Brother Eye, but instead of travelling back 35 years ago, he goes back 30 years when Brother Eye was already active. He didn't take over the world or anything, but it was only a matter of time until he did. While Batman Beyond was trying to save the world, other strange things began to happen in the DCU, like superheroes coming from other dimensions and strange machines appearing in outer space.

With 49 issues and several one shots (stories that told a story in a single issue), "Future's End" was a massive series that a lot of people thought was simply okay. Personally, I enjoyed it a lot, though I can understand a lot of the criticisms around it. The biggest critique was that nothing really happened in the 49 issues, and that's somewhat true. Four major storylines took place in "Future's End", one about Batman Beyond, one about Firestorm, one about a hero named Grifter, and another about Frankenstein (yes, THAT Frankenstein). Out of the four storylines, only two had legitimate endings while one just kind of fizzled out by the end. The Batman Beyond story technically finished, but the epilogue took place in another book that spun off from "Future's End".

Personally, I thought that scope of the series was pretty impressive. Each issue always had something interesting happen, and while it may not have been the most polished of experiments, the overall story was still a satisfying one. Heroes were still able to be heroes, and some heroes were paired with heroes that would have never mixed together. From example, if you've ever wanted to see Deathstroke team up with a little girl that could rewrite reality at the drop of a hat, then this series is for you. It may not be perfect, and by God it really isn't perfect, it was still a satisfying enough story for me to give it a solid recommendation to readers.

The New 52: Future's End Volume 1

#8: Secret Six (2014-2016) and Demon Knights (2011-2013)

Both of these series follow similar premises, so instead of trying to decide which series was better than the other, I just said screw it and threw them both together. Because of course I can.

"Demon Knights" and "Secret Six" are both ensemble cast comics that take a random group of both heroes and villains and throws them together into a fantastical setting to see what happens. "Demon Knights" throws our heroes into Athurian Camelot, while "Secret Six" throws the cast... into suburbia. As ho-hum as that may sound, keep in mind that you have superheroes and villains trying to live together in suburbia and not make a scene out of it.

Both runs were so great because of how well the characters were written and how well their interactions were. Plot was hardly the focus of either series, but if you ever wanted to see Etrigan, a demon from Hell, drink and be merry with Vandal Savage, an immortal warlord that lives for murder, then "Demon Knights" is for you. If you've ever wanted to see four villains argue about who had sex on the couch last night (spoilers, they all did. At the same time), then "Secret Six" is for you. Both series are a ton of fun, but should have gone on for much longer than they did.

Secret Six Volume 1: Friends in Low Places
Demon Knights Volume 1: Seven Against the Dark

#7: Black Canary (2015-2016)
Back in 2015, DC had a new initiative titled "DC You". The point of DC You was to give readers a ton of new series that were focused on telling good stories and weren't tied down to continuity. It wasn't a reboot, but it was a way for DC to launch several series that filled niches that weren't filled before. One of the series was about Jimmy Olsen and Bizarro taking a road trip to Canada, or as Superman called it, "Bizarro America". It was weird, didn't really do as well as DC hoped, but it gave us some great new series, the best being "Black Canary".

I've never been a huge Black Canary fan, but this series had three awesome things going for it. First, it was written by Brendan Fletcher, who was also writing "Batgirl" at the time in an incredible run that we'll talk more about later. Second, it featured artwork by Annie Wu, a fantastic artist that has simple, yet sharp designs that are completely her own. Finally, "Black Canary" had a spin on the character that makes a ton of sense, but I never would have dreamed about it in my life. In this series, Black Canary is the lead vocalist of a band that travels around playing gigs and stopping any crimes along the way. It's a genius little premise that I completely adore, because it plays to Black Canary's strengths so well. She's strong, has a superpower related to her voice, and has enough energy to support her own solo series. 

I can't put the series up any high though because, as sad as it is to say, there's still one last issue left before the run is over. Issue 12 comes out in June, and it would feel wrong to put this series any higher than #7 when I haven't technically finished it. Still, check it out asap, because you'll still find this series on stores shelves. 

#6: I, Vampire (2011-2013)

When this title first launched, people immediately assumed that it was a cheap Twilight ripoff and was trying to coast along the success of that wretched franchise. However, after picking up the first volume on a whim, I was blown away by how great the art, story, and characters were. 

The series follows a vampire named Andrew Bennett on his quest to kill his former lover and now queen on all vampires, Mary. For two years, we had Andrew teaming up with Batman to fight an army of vampires, the revival of Cain, the first vampire, an all out war against a sect of insane Christians that kill themselves so they can become immortal zombies to hunt all vampires, to the point where they eventually confront Lucifer himself to save the world from evil. This series was insane and ever issue was brilliantly written and drawn. 

Clocking in at three volumes, the first two are a sheer joy to read through and left me in shock at the end of each issue. The story flowed so well and had so many great moments that I would even call the first two volumes to be some of the best vampire fiction I've ever read. 

And then the third volume happened. 

The third volume wasn't bad, but as is the case with so many comic books and especially DC comic books, the series was cancelled without a moment's notice and half of the volume is spent wrapping up every plot thread with weaker artwork. It's all still readable, but some twists don't make any sense, characters are all out of whack, and a big reveal about Mary still doesn't make any sense to me, and I just reread the whole series before writing this post. As flawed as the ending may be, I love "I, Vampire" to death and encourage everyone to read this fantastic series. Or at least the first two volumes. 

#5: Justice League: The Darkseid War (2015-2016)
Geoff John's run on "Justice League" is a very conflicting run for me. On one hand, I love the arcs and think that the overall stories are extremely entertaining and fun, but on the other hand, nearly every character in the series is written out of character. Superman mistrusts people, Wonder Woman is a blood thirsty warrior, and Billy Batson is an asshole. Not as much of an asshole as Damian Wayne, but still up there!

I think that aspects of his run are really good, like whenever he wants to write Lex Luthor, Aquaman, or Cyborg, but everything else is just surface level good. It's good when you read it the first time, but upon further readings it just comes across as okay. "The Darkseid War", which is the culmination of his run on "Justice League", is by far the best work he's done on the book. In this massive 18 part series, Darkseid, the big bad of the DC universe, decides to pick a fight with the Anti-Monitor, the even bigger bad of the DC universe. All that the Justice League can do is sit back and watch this war unfold, which results in new Gods being born, old Gods dying, and an epic conflict arising unlike anything else in the series. 

The storyline is divided up into three acts. Act 1 is the actual war, Act 2 is when the new Gods are born and a lull in the action, and Act 3 is when the battle picks up again with the two factions, the Justice League, and a surprising group of villains who decide to join the fight. It's a four way battle royale between the strongest forces in the universe, and it is completely awesome. 

Not only is the scale gigantic, but the second act decides to take a pause in the action to examine the new Gods and what it's like for them to have all of this power. For example, the Flash is forcibly combined with the Black Racer, the personification of Death, so now the Flash is the God of Death. In his solo issue, the Flash tries to outrun Death and try to escape becoming the Black Racer in a fascinating look at the need of death and Barry Allen's relationship with death in his life. All 18 issues are great and offer some beautiful story moments, plus every character is written well! As a way to end Geoff John's run on the series before moving to greener pastures, it certainly ends with a bang. 

#4: Batman (2011-2016)
If there was ever a single title in the New 52 that you could trust, it was "Batman". This series never had a bad issue and gave us five fantastic stories with new villains, new takes on old villains, and so many fantastic moments that it's almost impossible to count them all actually. 

The series was written by Scott Snyder and drawn by Greg Capullo for 50+ issues, and every issue together was like staring at a tapestry unlike any other. Yes, other Batman stories may have been good, but Scott Snyder makes Gotham City itself a character in his run and always pushes Bruce Wayne to his limits. You have your standard Joker stories in his run, but the arc "Death of the Family" was a chilling and frankly beautiful examination on the relationship between the Joker and Batman as well as the relationship Bruce has with the rest of the Bat Family. 

I could gush for days about everything good that happened in this run, but I would be here for days if I did that. This run is so good that even if you don't read comics, you're still familiar with who the Court of Owls are and what the Joker has done to Batman repeatedly over the past five years. 

If I'm in love with this series, why is it only #4 on my list? Well, that answer is twofold actually. The critical answer is that sometimes Scott Snyder can spend a lot of time of making every character sound smart, but they don't really sound natural. Nearly every character in this run love to talk in monologues, or use metaphors to explain something simple, or spout narration about how a previous event is similar to a super villain punching them in the face. The series talks way too much for its own good. The other more personal answer is that I'm just not a huge Batman fan. I know that may seem a bit cheap, but I've read countless great Batman stories over the years to the point where when I see another great story, I'm just longing for the next great Green Lantern story, or the next great Wonder Woman story. Batman and Superman get all of the love, but I would love for the same level of quality to come through other heroes. 

Still, "Batman" is fantastic and everyone should read it now.

#3: Forever Evil (2013-2014)
"Forever Evil" was the first major crossover event of the New 52. In it, the Justice League was dead and the world was ruled by the Crime Syndicate, an evil version of the Justice League that wanted to conquer the world. The only people that could stop the Crime Syndicate was a group of villains led by Lex Luthor to overthrow the Syndicate's reign. 

Lasting only 7 issues, but with several dozen tie-in issues and three miniseries, "Forever Evil" was a pretty big deal back in 2013, and it lived up to the lofty expectations held for it. I personally love the Crime Syndicate. Seeing a group of evil versions of beloved heroes is fascinating to me, like watching the Superman analogue Ultraman terrorize the Daily Planet, eat Kryptonite, and break Black Adam's jaw because he can, or watching Power Ring, the Green Lantern analogue, scream in terror because his ring is an eldrichian abomination that powers on the fear of its host. And when you have Lex Luthor lead villains like Captain Cold, Black Manta, Black Adam, and Sinestro against the Crime Syndicate, while forming a friendship with Bizarro which culminates in the best Lex Luthor quote ever, and you have a miniseries that lived up to the hype. 

Heroes died, villains died, and it all culminated in a final issue that lasted for the ages. The final issue of "Forever Evil" is, and I cannot stress this enough, one of the best singular issues I've ever read in a comic book series period. Issue #7 is the high water mark for ending a major conflict, throwing in some major twists, changing the status quo for the Justice League, and having a climactic final battle against the Crime Syndicate. This is how a miniseries should be done, and this is easily on the best things that has ever happened to the New 52. 

#2: Batgirl of Burnside (2014-2016)
Confession time: I don't care for Batgirl. Like, at all. 

I think that Batgirl is an okay sidekick to Batman, but when Barbara Gordon was Batgirl, she was frankly a much better hero when she became Oracle, a tech based superhero that pretty much functioned as the Justice League's human supercomputer. When "Batgirl" relaunched in 2011, I could have cared less about the series. It just seemed like another Bat book with no charm for me to gravitate to. Why should I read this series when I can get more out of Scott Snyder's run on "Batman"? 

And then issue #35 happened. 

When the new creative team of Brendan Fletcher, Babs Tarr, and Cameron Stewart took over, they remade Batgirl into a hero for Generation Y. She lived in Burnside, which looks and feels like a teen tech savvy New York, got a new supporting cast, and had a much cheerier outlook on life. The art was vibrant, Barbara Gordon smiled a ton, and every issue was fun and a joy to read. "Batgirl" felt like it was aiming for the age demographic that tweets every day and drink at Starbucks, but it didn't matter to me at all because the stories were a joy to read. 

Not only that, but every issue was able to stand on its own. In the first arc alone, which lasted six issues, each issue told its own story, but came together at the very end when the villain revealed that every that happened in those previous stories was all a part of their master plan. It's little touches like that that make "Batgirl" so much of a joy to read. 

I had two friends that I loaned this series to recently, and both of them adored it. They both loved how strong Barbara Gordon was as a character and how she always seemed to smile and have a good time. Remember back when I said that DC You was DC Comics attempting to listen to what its fans wanted to see in their comics? Yeah, most of the titles were heavily inspired by this run on "Batgirl". It was dominating sales charts and was critically loved. Hell, I still love this title, and it's not even my #1! Speaking of...

#1: Wonder Woman (2011-2014)
"Wonder Woman" is sheer perfection. I can't put it in better terms. This is by far the best comic series I've ever read and is near flawless in my eyes. 

Where do I even begin with this one? First, let's talk about Wondy herself. Wonder Woman is shown here to be a smart, caring, intelligent, and downright compassionate individual in every issue. She stands up to evil and never hates any unless they've killed or hurt her loved ones. Even when she talks to her enemies, she never thinks they're evil and she's always willing to turn the other cheek for them. When she says that she loved Hades, who threatens to hang her by her own lasso if she said she didn't love him, confessed that she loved him not because she genuinely loved him, but because she loves everyone equally. 

The art is fantastic and all of the Greek Gods are given new and lively redesigns. While some Gods like Dionysus and Hera look pretty much how you expect them to look, Gods like Hades, who's portrayed as a small child with a head of candles, and War, who's a balding and decrepit old man with bloody feet, look unlike any other interpretation they've had in comics. This is how a reboot should be done with a character and their supporting cast; maintaining their key traits but physically changing them and their relationships with one another. 

The central villain is fantastic and every issue just flows beautifully with one another. I know I just complemented "Batgirl" for having each issue hold up as a standalone plot, but "Wonder Woman" feels like all 37 issues of the series tell a single, massive, and thematically rich story. Every month when this series was still in publication, I would wait anxiously for the story to continue, but that's how you know it's a good series. Each issue feels important and the dialogue is so sharply written that I would have to read pages repeatedly just to get a full understanding of just what was said and what it meant. That's how great the writing is here. 

When this series ended, I was devastated. I wanted a good "Wonder Woman" series to continue, but looking back on it now, I'm happy that I was able to read this one. Every issue was absolutely magical, and the fact that I can still look back and read this series is all I need. I reread all of these series for this list, but I saved "Wonder Woman" for last because I knew just how good and perfect it would be. You may not be sold when you read the first volume, but I guarantee that this is a slow burn of a series that you will die to read again and again once you finish it. This is what the New 52 was capable of, and I'm eagerly awaiting the next phase of DC's life with DC Rebirth. 

I made a Patreon! Please consider supporting myself and the site at Any donation would help, and the more pledges received, the more I can do with the site! So please, if you have even one dollar, consider supporting The Critical Order!

No comments:

Post a Comment