Lately DC Comics has endured a lot of negative press thrown its way over the DCYou revamping of its line. While critically praised for the most part, its direct market sales have been less than stellar.
That subject has been covered pretty well. And while direct sales do not reflect sales as a whole nor do they include other markets, they can’t be ignored. When DC rebooted in 2011 with the New 52, it enjoyed a fairly long period of increased sales in the direct market, even overtakingMarvel for a few months.
Of course, there were a lot of unhappy people about this. As there seem to be about anything DC does these days. But, in the last month, more and more people have taken to outright bashing the New 52 like it’s 2011 all over again. And most of those self-appointed arm-chair critics have obviously glossed over quite a few books that would ruin their narrative of “DC sucks.”
Last week was all about the titles that influenced or were influenced by popular DC TV shows. This week, Batman finally gets his due in this series. So, once again, friends and…the rest of you…let’s examine the final five titles you have to forget about in order to keep that anti-DC mentality alive.
You only thought this would start with the main title! Dick Grayson hasn’t been a sidekick for a long time, but it seems like every solo title he gets somehow winds up coming back to how he needs Batman around to actually be a hero. Not so in this one! Kyle Higgins and Eddy Barrows gave Nightwing room to spread his own wings and to show how he’s become a hero with a deeper backstory than anyone might have guessed. His first task after reassuming the role of Nightwing? Take over Haly’s Circus and try to make it into a great show again. Unfortunately for him, the circus is involved in a lot of different dirty dealings and even has a hugely surprising connection to the Court of Owls. While Batman is dealing with the Court in Gotham, Dick finds himself targeted as well and it all gets very personal.
Though this title does find itself tying in closely with the Snyder/Capullo Batman, it doesn’t lose itself in those dealings and manages to keep its own story firmly focused on Dick Grayson. In other words, Batman isn’t stepping in to save his former Robin anymore. And when the book shifts cities to Chicago after Dick learns the man who killed his parents is still alive, the tension and internal struggles for him ramp to a whole new level. Higgins brings a lot of passion to the title and clearly has a deep love of the Nightwing character. Every artist who worked on the title during the Higgins run brought something different to the table, but each found unique ways to show off how Nightwing is vastly different to the rest of the Bat family. It has big action, mystery, occasional romance and, of course, the trademark Dick Grayson wit. It’s just a fun title all around that sadly came to an end after Forever Evil. But, the current book, Grayson, is just as much fun, maybe even more.
Gail Simone. That’s all you should have to say with a new Batgirl title and people should be on board. In fact, they were! Batgirl, like her male counterparts, might have been wrapped in controversy at the beginning of the New 52, but when that first issue hit, people took notice of one thing: it was good! And then Gail proceeded to give us another classic run on a character near and dear to her heart. Sure, Twitter and Tumblr lit up with people decrying the absence/omission of Stephanie Brown, but Barbara Gordon is still the most popular Batgirl and the sales on the book show that to be the case. Moving her back to the suit was a good move and it lead to some really great stories. Especially when her brother James came back into the picture. But let’s not forget that Gail also progressed DC Comics without anyone taking notice at first when she introduced a new transgender roommate for Barbara, Alysia.
These themes have continued with the current creative team, who took the title in a vastly different direction, but also managed to attract a new audience. The move turned out so successful that DC decided to let other creators try new and out-there ideas for various characters to see what would happen. The term became lovingly and begrudgingly called “Batgirling.” While fans are divided over the issue of Batgirl’s change in tone, both creative teams have equal claim to having famous and popular runs on the character. And they can do that without slinging hatred toward each other. Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr have dealt with a lot of rhetoric and controversy in their short time on Batgirl, but they have moved Barbara Gordon forward in ways many people thought would never happen. This title has become an easy gateway into DC Comics for the fastest-growing comic-buying demographic: young female readers. Regardless of which take on Batgirl you prefer, it’s been one of the most consistent titles on the shelf and remains one of the most fun.
Batman and Robin
While Detective Comics and Batman focused heavily on two big mysteries centered on Bruce Wayne, this one featured a great dynamic between father and son. While the title features Batman, this is a book much more about Damian Wayne/Robin. Writer Peter Tomasi and artist Patrick Gleason made Green Lantern Corps a fun and energetic title for a good while and their skills are not lost at all on the dynamic duo. This book is about family and Bruce’s and Damian’s abilities to work together as a team and as father and son. Not to mention, this is the book where you get a more “out there” take on the caped crusader. While things started off very grounded, it moves into a more sci-fi-heavy title as it progresses. And while Damian and Bruce have amazing scenes, it’s the scenes between Alfred and Damian that really bring the emotional punch.
It’s easy to say that putting Batman in a title means it’s going to sell, but that really will only take a book so far. Just look how quickly (and unfairly) Justice League International was canceled. This title is one that helped give Damian a much deeper character, too. While Batman Inc. and the pre-New 52 continuity established him as a potentially great character, this title finally took him to that point. So much so that his current solo book, Robin: Son of Batman, is selling just fine and is enjoyed by quite a few critics, as well. Who says Batman always has to be dark and dreary? Robin: Son of Batman from Patrick Gleason showed us he’s as effective a writer as he is an artist. If not for this title, we might not have discovered that he was such a great double-threat. For those who want a different flavor when it comes to their Batman stories, Batman and Robin will likely give them exactly what they’re after.
So you thought the Batman segment of this list was all grit and gloom, didn’t you? Ha! If there’s one thing you should have picked up on by now, it’s that the New 52 was actually far more diverse than that. Harley Quinn has a history dating back to the 90’s when she first appeared on Batman: The Animated Series as an intended one-off character created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm. But she caught on and morphed into one of DC’s most popular characters and is as essential to Batman’s mythos now as Joker. But this title from the spousal team of Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner with artist Chard Hardin have taken Harley in a very different direction from her humble beginnings as Joker’s squeeze. Now, she’s a crusader for the downtrodden and kind of big on animal rights. Though she’s also still completely self-obsessed and likes to name things after herself, too. End of the day, this is how you do a slapstick comedy book!
Since it debuted, the Harley Quinn title has bene a consistently top-selling book for DC. It’s even gotten a few spin-offs like the Harley Quinn and Power Girl miniseries and the upcoming Harley Quinn’s Little Black Book. And the hilarity just keeps on coming! From talking beavers to creating her own strike team of Harleys, this is Harley Quinn as her fans have always wanted to see her. She’s front-and-center and making a real name for herself out from under The Joker. And we even get some classic team-up stories like her time with Poison Ivy, which also essentially made Harley and Ivy bisexual characters, showing that this title is all about increasing diversity, too. But just because it’s doing diversity work doesn’t mean the dirty jokes aren’t there. Oh no, there’s plenty of that to go around. It’s kind of a staple of this book, really. So, yeah, not exactly for the kids, but not so over the top it’s inappropriate, either. This is how you have fun with comics and, honestly, we could use a few more like it. So good on DC for recognizing this was a title that needed to happen this way. It’s paying off big for everyone.
You can’t talk about the New 52 without mentioning Scott Snyder’s and Greg Capullo’s Batman run! These two are, no doubt, going down in history as a Top 5 creative team on Batman. You could even make a case for them being THE creative team on this character. Snyder introduced what has become an instant-classic villain group with The Court of Owls. A brilliantly plotted and illustrated gothic noir thriller that kept us all on the edge of our seats for more than a year, his opening arc decimated the competition in sales and catapulted Batman back into the top spot for DC. Green Lantern had held onto that for some time, but now the king was back for his throne. And that Capullo art…it’s all just sickeningly good! And not just his character designs, but his layout ideas. Issue #6 even featured a layout that required the reader to flip the book as it went along so you could get the perspective of a man going mad in a maze. It was one of the coolest ideas ever presented in the comic book format.
But, they weren’t done there. Every story arc from this team has been vastly different. Death of the Family went for a horror/comedy style while Zero Year was almost pulp super heroics and Endgame was a big, blockbuster epic. Snyder and Capullo have found that balance between not trying to reinvent the wheel and creating a fresh story that actually feels new. One of the best aspects of the team is how they made Gotham City into a character all its own. Capullo’s designs evolved a lot over the course of four years and they’ve only gotten better. Not to mention…you know…that Snyder guy taking big chances and scoring nearly every time. Now Super Heavy is hitting its stride and going for the good old-fashioned cop drama with a sci-fi twist. It’s big, it’s bold and it never shies away from taking chances. That’s what makes it one of the best comics running. There are just a few of the reasons why Batman continues to be DC’s top-selling title and is a consistent Top 10 direct market title. Is it the best it’s ever been? Actually…yes, yes it is! Get on this book, buy the trades, do what you have to do, but don’t miss it.
That’s it, the countdown is done. I’d be remiss to not mention a couple of titles that came close to making the list. Blue Beetle, Justice League International and OMAC each came close to making it, but these 20 were the showstoppers. If you’re still not convinced to at least try after this, there’s nothing left to say. But the case has been made and if you’re actually a fan of comics and aren’t afraid of giving things an actual chance, you’ve got some reading to do. As for me…