Published on February 20th, 2015 | by Kylie Peters
Collecting DC Comics: The New 52
DC comics are popular. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that, but looking at libraries’ collections, one might think otherwise. Many public libraries’ DC titles are old, obscure, or non-sequential, if they collect many of them at all. And since DC made up about a third of comic sales in 2014 by some industry statistics, this is a big problem. It means we aren’t offering our patrons materials they want.
My YALSA blog post Collecting Marvel and DC Comics for Teens was one of the site’s top ten most-read posts of the year. This added credence to the theory that led to me write the article in the first place: many librarians don’t know how to collect these titles. I don’t blame them. The comics are released in droves but are rarely covered by our professional review sources. They are constantly revamped, rebooted, re-released, and re-collected. Sometimes there are multiple series about the same hero; other times, multiple series cross over. It can be difficult to tell what order the comics go in, where an arc begins and ends, and which comics are most worthy of our limited collection funds. But don’t worry—it’s not hard once you know a bit about how superhero comics publishing works.
Collecting Marvel and DC Comics for Teens covers a lot of the basics of collecting from the two big publishing houses. Though the article focuses on teens, the information within is relevant to collecting for adults as well. I’ll recap some of the same information here, but if you’re new to these publishers, I suggest you begin with that article.
In this article, we’ll take a close look at the titles currently being released by DC Comics, with the goal of giving you the information you need to find the right comics for your community.
A note on the terminology: I use the term “graphic novel” only to refer to a specific bound book. In all other cases I use “comic,” including when talking about the genre as a whole or about a series as a whole. I could explain my philosophy on this, but that’s a whole article in itself. In the end, it’s just a matter of personal preference.
What is DC Comics?
The company that would become DC Comics was founded in 1935 and led the charge into the Golden Age of Comics in the 1940s and 1950s. “DC” stands for Detective Comics, which is the title of one of its series. DC published its first Superman comic in 1938. This is seen as the start of both the Golden Age and the superhero archetype.
DC and Marvel together make up the “Big Two” comics publishers. DC is known for publishing titles with storylines on an epic scale. Heroes have godlike powers and often come from supernatural or extraterrestrial backgrounds. Magic and mythology figure heavily into many stories. By contrast, Marvel tends to have heroes with less powers, more normal backgrounds, and less sci-fi and fantasy influence.
The New 52
2010 was not a good year for DC Comics. Neither was the year before that. In fact, DC had been in a slump for years. Their solution was the New 52. In September 2011, DC ended all its titles and launched 52 new titles beginning with issue #1. A few of these new series picked up where their predecessors left off (Batman and Green Lantern, most notably), but most of them featured major changes to the histories and characteristics of the heroes. This made it easier for new fans to jump on, and it also freed up writers to try new things because previous plot points had been erased. On the other hand, it meant the loss of a lot of beloved backstory and a lot of controversial changes. Check Comic Vine’s article on the New 52 for a nice overview.
Fans argue endlessly about whether the New 52 improved DC’s offerings, but from a marketing perspective, it was a brilliant move. Sales have skyrocketed, and DC has generated more buzz over the last few years than it did for a long time before that. For librarians, the new series make it easy to find a starting point for collecting titles. They also make it easier for us to guide patrons in discovering these comics and experiencing a complete story arc with no prior knowledge necessary.
Ready to jump onboard? Let’s take a look at some important New 52 titles that you might want to consider for your collection.
The Bat Family
If you could buy only one DC superhero’s books for your collection, your best bet would be Batman. The Dark Knight regularly tops the bestseller lists, as well as the circulation stats for the library comic collections I curate. Right now the must-have title is Batman by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. (All links are to the Amazon listing for the vol. 1 graphic novel of the series being discussed.) There are 5 volumes of this run available so far. Loved by both critics and fans, this comic is the centerpiece for all the other Bat Family comics.
Of course, Batman is too cool to have just one series. If your patrons can’t get enough Batman, give them Detective Comics, Batman and Robin, Batman Eternal, Batman ’66, Batman: Lil’ Gotham, or Batman: Earth One. (Those last three aren’t technically New 52 titles, but that’s a publication quirk that makes no difference from a librarian or library user’s perspective.) Each of these bestselling series puts its own spin on Gotham’s Caped Crusader.
Batman has a whole host of side characters with their own titles. Of these, my top recommendation is Batgirl. Batgirl has always been great (former writer Gail Simone is one of my favorite comics creators), and her new hipster look has garnered her a lot of attention this year. Bonus points: she’s a librarian!
Batwoman is a standout for its incredible art and LGBT protagonist. Nightwing, about former Robin Dick Grayson, finished off a successful run this year. Fans of the character can find more of him in the new series Grayson (coming in graphic novel form in June). Harley Quinn premiered late in 2013 to great success, but not without controversy. Catwoman gives a home to a familiar face in the Batman mythos. Less familiar but of arguably higher quality is the bestselling series Red Hood and the Outlaws.
Despite his cult status, Superman has struggled to find an audience recently. Still, Superman remains the quintessential hero and regularly tops “Best Superhero of All Time” lists. Plus, recent creative teams have brought Superman acclaim, so he may be about to take off. It’s a good idea to keep at least one of his titles in your collection.
There are two main titles running: Superman and Action Comics. Superman covers the present-day of the main New 52 universe, while Action Comics is a more lighthearted look at Superman’s origins. It’s a toss-up which series is a better investment. Right now I feel Action Comics is getting more love from readers, but that may just be a matter of opinion.
If you’re looking for a double whammy, you’ve got a solid choice in Batman/Superman, a bestselling title featuring DC’s two favorite heroes, plus there’s a movie in the works.
The third member of DC’s Big Three—and, naturally, the one who gets the least attention—is Wonder Woman. This is a shame, because Wonder Woman has been rocking the New 52. Wonder Woman by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang has earned wide acclaim, bestseller status, and a slot on many a “best of” list. It may not circulate as well as Batman, but it’s high quality and features an empowering female hero, and deserves a place in any well-rounded collection. Even better, we finally have a modern Wonder Woman movie in the works. Sadly, this November Azzarello and Chiang handed the series off to a new creative team that has already stirred up some controversy, and it remains to be seen where the title will go from here.
The centerpiece of the DC universe is Justice League, which teams up DC’s most prominent heroes to fight evil on a multiverse-wide scale. What happens in Justice League sends ripples into other titles. That, and the fact that it features so many favorite heroes, makes it a must-have for library collections.
Spinning off Justice League are a number of related superhero team-ups and alternate stories. Justice League United (graphic novel coming in March) and Justice League Dark are two currently-running team titles. (Earlier New 52 team titles Justice League of America and Justice League International have ended.) Teen Titans is another well-known team.
Despite a history of some ridicule, Aquaman has made a strong showing both with critics and in sales in his current title Aquaman. The Flash has also sold well, with the CW’s new TV show likely adding to interest. Green Arrow has undergone several changes in its comic form to help match it up to the hero’s popular CW TV show Arrow.
The Green Lantern isn’t actually a single hero; there’s a whole Green Lantern Corps., and each member bears the title. Currently, the star of the comic Green Lantern is Hal Jordan. Other prominent titles in this category are Green Lantern Corps and Red Lanterns, though both are schedule to end this March. The Lanterns are sort of a sub-section of the DC Universe, and can be tough to keep up with. Your best bet is probably to keep an eye on sales charts and pick up titles that are selling well.
DC offers a host of darker titles, including several reclaimed from the Vertigo imprint. These often do not feature traditional superheroes, or don’t have superheroes at all. Horror, noir, and experimental comics find their home here. Characters are more morally ambiguous, and the worlds less black-and-white, than in some of the other titles. Notable examples include the recently-ended All-Star Western, as well as the recently-ended Suicide Squad and its currently-running replacement, New Suicide Squad (graphic novel coming in July).
There was a lot of controversy when DC first picked up some properties from its Vertigo imprint, but DC has put out some great titles since then. I recommend the bestselling Swamp Thing and critically acclaimed Animal Man (which recently ended its run). These creepy, often gory tales offer complex and unconventional takes on the DC universe. Constantine, focusing on the streetwise magician John Constantine, who previously starred in Vertigo’s Hellblazer, has unfortunately garnered a mostly negative reception. If you’re looking to supplement NBC’s Constantine TV show with comics, try picking up the Hellblazer collections currently being released in paperback. Several characters from the Vertigo universe, including Constantine, Swamp Thing, Zatanna, and Deadman, appear in the team-up series Justice League Dark.
Secret Origins (graphic novel coming in February) tells New 52 origin stories, and the bestselling Earth 2 takes place on an alternate universe where different characters assume the heroes’ identities. The New 52: Futures End is a miniseries taking place 5 years in the future. Injustice: Gods Among Us is a bestselling series serving as a prequel to the video game of the same name. Injustice was the top circulating title in one of my adult comic collections last year.
Occasionally, DC will host a major event taking place over several titles or spawning a miniseries. These will often have their most important issues collected in a single graphic novel. Recent examples are 2013’s Trinity War and 2013-2014’s Forever Evil. Both these arcs are tied most closely to Justice League, but also have implications in other titles.
The next major event on the schedule is Convergence, coming in April and May of 2015. This 9-week event is expected to be a mini re-launch of the DC universe which will allow some pre-New-52 stories to be resurrected.
Resources for Keeping Up
You can find info on all the current DC comics and graphic novels at the publisher’s webpage. Wikipedia keeps fairly updated lists of New 52 Publications and DC Comics Publications. For sales info, check out Diamond Comic Distributors’ Industry Statistics Page, Amazon’s Best Sellers in Comics and Graphic Novels, and the New York Times Bestseller lists for Paperback Graphic Books and Hardcover Graphic Books. To catch up on what you missed in 2014, take a look at Diamond Comics’ Top 500 Graphic Novels: 2014.
Stay tuned for further articles about collecting different types of comics for your library!