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"Quick" Intro: What is the New 52?
The New 52 is a complete re-launch of DC's comic books with the ultimate goal being to get more readers, and more money. After one year, how has the New 52 measured up? Is it nothing more than a cheap stunt to boost profits? Was it truly necessary? Find out in this year one retrospective of the New 52.
Now, I'm not made of money (no matter how much I wish I was). I have not read every issue of the New 52 at the time of this retrospective, but have read and heard enough to warrant what at least I believe the series has accomplished and failed to do. This is not going to be an in-depth review of any series. Me and the rest of the writers on Player Affinity have already covered a lot of them, which you can find by clicking on the links below. Instead, I'm going to talk about the creative teams decisions during the New 52 and how they affect the comic book world at large in multiple segments that each have a theme.
The theme for this first part of the New 52 Retrospective, let's get one of the most heated topics out of the way first: sexuality.
Sex and Clown Cars
Saying women in comics are not meant to be sex symbols for male readers even before the New 52 is unrealistic. I mean, just look at 99% of the costumes adorning DC women. But the New 52 and sex – from sexual innuendos to... more than just innuendo – the New 52 has seemed to revel in sexuality more than before the re-launch. Especially with three of DC's sexiest women: Starfire, Catwoman and Harley Quinn, and also, Green Lantern Alan Scott, and a few other surprise femme fatales.
Starfire's descent into slut-hood didn't begin with the New 52, but was cemented by it. With the first issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws I was done with her. She was put in a bikini (and unbeknownst to her had her picture taken and sent out over the interwebs), but a little skin isn't what hurt her character for me. The problem is what she later tells Red Arrow. She tells him she simply forgets people, a part of her species. Meaning her entire monumental relationship with Nightwing means nothing to her.
Now, minutes after posting this retrospective, I had someone tell me she gets better over time. Unfortuantely, she was so unappealing in this first issue that I was not willing to waste my money to see her again. Is it possible she matured in future issues? I doubt it considering she mentioned that it was part of her species to not remember people, including her love interest Nightwing, and you can't change her species, but there are miracles...
Catwoman's sexuality is also nothing new to the New 52, but her relationship with Batman has definitely become much more obviously sexually motivated than before. They openly have sex in the Catwoman series and the emotional aspect of their relationship is much more hinted at. But Catwoman also shows a lot of skin without Batman on panel. This has had a rather negative impact on the Catwoman series, since Catwoman tries to convine herself that casual sex with Batman is just that - casual - which is ironically when the series took it's biggest hit since, after a lovers' spat, Batman has stayed out of the Catwoman title. There were also many instances in Catwoman's series where she is blatantly used for sex appeal, one instance being when she is catapulted by an explosion out of a window while she's only half-dressed. But while this is a blatant display, this is not far from Catwoman's usual characterization as a sexually promiscuous woman. Her costume is before and during the New 52 a form-fitting leather jumpsuit.
Harley Quinn may be the most prolifically changed character. Her origin was slightly tampered with (though let me stress slightly) and her outfit has become much more seductive. But her notable sexualization ran rampant in her series Suicide Squad where she made advances on Deadshot. Very... vivid advances. Now, Harley's relationship with Deadshot almost seemed like a step forward for her character, having her finally seem to "get over" the Joker, until you see how insane she goes when Joker is said to be dead, which leads to one of the creepiest and awkward scenes in not only all of the New 52, but for Harley Quinn's character in general. But that's for another retrospective.
A lot of what she has said and done has been scrutinized and often seems unnecessarily perverted. The most notable perversion was Laura Hudson on Comics Alliance, who said, "Harley has sex with Deadshot in a bathroom and apparently compares her own vagina to a clown car." She then says that Harley insinuates that she was going to have sex with a store clerk for food when the idea that she was just going to kill him seemed much more plausible. The problem? This is all speculation. These are all insinuations in the comic, so no matter how certain readers are of one interpretation, everyone is entitled to their opinion.
Though I do want to bash Harley Quinn's hairstylist over the head with a hammer.
Translate that however you like.
You do not need to argue that sex has been in comics before the New 52. It's true that it has been, but not as graphic with our mainstream DC heroes as it is now. But a lot of people take this out of fans' interpretation: they don't like sex in comics. With some people, that may be true. But my problem with it is when sex hurts how people see an established character. I hate seeing an established character's reputation get trashed. Overall, it feels like Catwoman, Starfire and Harley Quinn have all had some backlash in the New 52, but it has earned DC a lot of publicity.
But what about Alan Scott? He has a very different story than Catwoman, Starfire and Harley Quinn. Originally a Golden Age character, Alan Scott was a Green Lantern who was married with a weakness to wood. When DC announced one of it's mainstream characters was going to turn out to be gay, Alan Scott stepped out of the closet – but not the Alan Scott. This Alan Scott was from Earth 2. In the New 52 series Earth 2 he was openly gay with a boyfriend, who was later killed off. It's hard not to see his boyfriend as nothing more than a plot device, but this could become great motivation for the character and lead to some great flash backs of the happy couple to create more emotion for the characters. The real problem right now DC's decision to pick Alan Scott as their gay character feels like nothing but a cop-out. Alan Scott is not a "mainstream" character. Just because he bears the mantle of the Green Lantern does not mean people know him. If DC really wanted a gay mainstream character, why not the most famous Green Lantern, Hal Jordan? This was a safe way out of a situation DC saw themselves in: they wanted a gay character to stir publicity, but were afraid of making a prominent character like Batman or Superman gay for fear fans would react badly, so they decided the safe bet was to reinvent a relatively forgotten character in a different dimension. And they could still claim it was a "mainstream" character because of his iconic namesake. But while this is a safe route for DC, that does not mean the character won't do good for the gay community - as long as Earth 2 doesn't read like poorly written yaoi fanfiction and the character is upheld with dignity. So while he may be a cop-out, Alan Scott has the potential for a lot of good both within and outside of the comic book community. And yes, there are a lot of people laughing at the possibly completely consequential fact that Alan Scott has a weakness to wood... which led to many jokes. But really, you can find jokes about any character who turns out to be gay.
Even though all this sex has had some negative consequences for these characters, the New 52 actually makes an interesting case study for today's society. Decades ago, Batman was dressing up in pink suits. Batwoman was created to keep Batman and Robin from seeming like a homosexual couple (though ironically Batwoman turned out to be gay decades later). Today, sex is everywhere. Since DC's main goal is to get new readers in to comics - preferably a younger crowd since kids and teenagers are rarely seen reading comics these days - they are trying to relate to the youth of today. I love seeing how history is reflected in comic books, but this may be taking it a step too far and sacrificing some great story-telling for sexy full-page spreads. Starfire, Harley Quinn and Catwoman are not the only women sexified by the New 52.
Have you seen any of Batman's girlfriends? They continue to be sexy like before the New 52, but White Rabbit from Batman: The Dark Knight, stretches this trend by coming complete with bunny ears, a pink striped corset and pink underwear. She could be the official Playboy bunny! All this while her alter-ego is pure sexy and not slutty, not showing a ton of skin outside of costume (until the panel above, of course). How about the members of the Birds of Prey? While Black Canary continues to be sexy along with her new ally Starling, Katana continues to be covered up, something her character deserves considering she's a ninja. But ironically enough, Posion Ivy, the possibly lesbian-with-Harley-Quinn, covered with nothing more than leaves in her average issue, now a member of the Birds of Prey, wears a full body suit instead of leaves like she used to "wear" for lack of a better word, in the previous DC continuity. One of the sexiest villainesses of DC who looked like she belonged on a two-page spread in Playboy, obviously aware of her sexuality since she has wooed several men (usually against their will, but even with it I think they'd still follow her), and she goes from a couple of leaves to a full body suit with moss growing on it? Chances are, Poison Ivy will never be drawn as beautifully as she was before by artists, particularly Guillem March in a one-shot called Joker's Asylum: Poison Ivy. And these weren't perverted drawings, these were some beautiful renderings, ironically done by the same guy who blatantly showed off Catwoman's body in the first few issues of the New 52's Catwoman. Imagine what he could of done with Poison Ivy if she'd remained the same?
I may hate Starfire, but I still follow the roller-coaster of emotions that is Catwoman and the insanity that is Harley Quinn, as well as think about the positive prospects of having a gay Green Lantern. Sex is real, and it's being put into DC more and more. Let's see if they remember they still have to tell stories and keep some of their characters respectable.
Come back next time for New 52 Year One Retrospective Part 2: Bats in the Belfry - a Batman themed retrospective!