‘The Batman’: A Short History of The New 52

Though you don’t need to know about The New 52 to enjoy DC comics anymore, the comic book era will still have a major influence on upcoming movies

batman justice league suit
Zach Snyder/Twitter

If you’re planning on following the DC Cinematic Universe in 2017 but haven’t kept up on recent DC Comics history, you should probably get yourself acquainted with The New 52.

While only lasting a half-decade, The New 52 has proven to be a major era in comic book history. Although it came to an end earlier this year, The New 52 will continue to live on through DC movie-makers like Ben Affleck — who revealed this year that he picked Deathstroke to be the villain in “The Batman” after reading The New 52’s redesign of the infamous mercenary.

Let’s start by explaining what The New 52 was. Back in 2011, DC was starting to suffer a serious lag in comic book sales, and it was believed that this was due in part to potential new readers being scared away by DC’s mammoth continuity. Stories like “Crisis On Infinite Earths” and “The Killing Joke”  may be essential reading to hardcore comic book fans, but newcomers might not want to have to go through a required reading list before they can pick up the latest issues.

That’s why DC decided that it would combine the timelines for its DC, Vertigo and WildStorm universes into a single new timeline and give completely new backstories to many of its heroes and villains. What’s more, every series in its lineup was discontinued, including Action Comics, which had been running continuously since the 1930s. In its place was a line of 52 new series that would reintroduce the DC heroes in a timeline where superheroes had only arrived on Earth five years ago.

The new storylines did have some winners in the bunch, most notably for The Dark Knight. Batman’s entries in The New 52 were were widely praised and have had an impact on Batman tales in other media. For example, one of the most critically acclaimed New 52 tales was the “Court of Owls” arc, in which Batman underwent a grueling psychologist test as he sought to uncover the secret organization that had been controlling Gotham for centuries. That arc is now being adapted on the Fox TV show, “Gotham.”

But The New 52 came under heavy criticism for a number of editorial decisions. Many long-standing romantic relationships between heroes were retconned out of existence, and no new ones were allowed to replace them. With a few exceptions like Batgirl, many series featuring female heroes were panned for replacing the character development of the past with flash and sex appeal. Wonder Woman, for example, was given a new backstory to make her a violent warrior influenced by male Greek gods like Zeus and Ares instead of the gentle influence of her mother. Starfire, meanwhile, was redesigned to look like this.

The biggest complaint was that the New 52 stories had borrowed too much of the worst qualities of the grim and dark comics of the 90s. The legacy that gave the DC heroes their identities was replaced with morose storylines and confusing attempts to compress, modify and replace decades of continuity and make it fit with their new direction. It also didn’t help that The New 52 was so rushed out that it put a strain on writers and artists, resulting in the company’s talent pool being shuffled on a constant basis. Finally, the plug was pulled on The New 52 in late 2015; and earlier this year, DC introduced “Rebirth,” an initiative that promised a return to more hopeful tales of heroism and the revival of the continuity that the previous reboot had thrown away.

So what does this have to do with the DC Cinematic Universe? Well, The New 52 was still alive and well when this current slate of DC movies was being planned out, and you can see its influence. Cyborg’s presence in the Justice League and the backstory the DCCU has in store for him were both created by The New 52. “Suicide Squad” tends to follow The New 52’s interpretation of the team, particularly how Amanda Waller keeps them on a short leash. It is also expected that “Justice League” will use elements of the new origin story The New 52 gave for the League, particularly after it was announced that Steppenwolf would be the villain for the film.

But the portrayal of Deathstroke in “The Batman” may be the biggest example of The New 52’s influence so far.

Ben Affleck has said that he has enjoyed The New 52’s reimagining of Deathstroke, and it would seem that Slade Wilson’s new identity would be a fitting foil for Affleck’s take on Bruce Wayne. Like Affleck’s Batman, The New 52’s Deathstroke is older and more experienced than his previous counterpart. Also like Batman, this Deathstroke has become very jaded by his profession. Deathstroke could serve as a warning for Batman, showing how a life of solitude and violence will end in him living isolated from the rest of the world … even if his intentions are noble.