In the course of talking to comic creators this year, I started to think about their unique talents and what I think they would be best suited to. Inspired by all kinds of wonderful ideas I’ve seen online and heard from creators, I’ve put together my New 52. These are the 52 books I would publish if DC’s offerings were up to me and, as my friends and I have had a good time discussing them, I thought I would share them with you.

I tried to consider the actual feasibility of these titles, not only in the sense of immediate sales but in their ability to expand DC’s brand long-term. I also recognize that this is a dramatically simplified version of what DC actually has to do. As such, I made a couple of rules for myself. First, as I don’t have the same knowledge of the creators’ availability and timeliness as an actual editor, I decided that I would allow myself access to any writer currently working in comics, but that I could only assign a creator to one book. Second, I tried not to put a writer on the same book that they’ve already worked on, though some were moved to similar concepts or allowed to expand short work they’ve already done. Finally, while an actual relaunch might do well to include some new books, I limited myself to preexisting titles and IPs for this project.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, on why I’m right, why I clearly screwed up, who should be illustrating the series, etc. But, regardless, I hope you enjoy.

The concept of heroism plays a big role in modern comics. We ask questions like ‘how far is too far for a noble goal’ or ‘when does the price of doing right become too high’. We pit variations on even the most similar views of nobility against one another, to champion their philosophies. These are our superheroes. But the ancient Greeks had a different understanding of heroes. To the Greeks, a hero was merely one with the power to defend their home. They were frequently larger than life, not only in their exploits but in their size and, more importantly, their flaws. You didn’t have to be noble or even honorable to be a hero then. And perhaps its time we expanded our definition of hero. Perhaps its time we looked at an older model…


 

BEOWULF BY TONY BEDARD

Though it was marketed as little more than a bonus, Beowulf is one of the more intriguing new properties to come out of the New 52. I say new property because, despite sharing a name with six issues of 1975 fantasy comic, Tony Bedard’s Beowulf is really an entirely different animal, a fact that’s actually quite impressive when you consider that both of them are retellings of the same poem and that its predecessor is actually almost twice as long. Rather than the sword and sandals adventure of the original, the new Beowulf retold the ancient poem amidst the post-apocalyptic ashes of the DCnU.

Wiglaf shows off the coolest SWAT vest ever, for what it’s worth…

The four backup stories that formed the core of Beowulf’s story retold the first two sections of the tale, employing clever analogues for characters and concepts of the ancient Scandinavian people without trying to be too cute. After this Beowulf disappeared for a time, before making a final appearance in the last issue of DC Universe Presents. Here, he chased a monster into our time and returned home with a new ally, presenting a different but interesting look at the concept.

You can’t claim that Beowulf stood out based on its plot. It’s, on some level, the least original story you can tell in english and the additions of New 52 continuity did little to take the plot in new or interesting directions on the large scale. Instead, Beowulf’s triumphs were in its characters and its thankful self-awareness of the footsteps it walked in.

Rather than try to convince us to relate to Beowulf directly, Bedard wisely opted to take a different tack. The story is really about Wiglaf, the young boy who convinces Beowulf to journey to Heorot. While there is a degree of growth for Beowulf, Bedard’s choice to portray him as a barely controllable force, kept in check only by his alien standards of honor. While Beowulf, especially as rendered by Jesus Saiz, can easily bring intense action to the page, there’s something of a riddle game in Wiglaf’s attempts to bring the old soldier into the fold.

Though he’s a powerful guardian and perhaps the closest thing he’s had to a friend, Wiglaf quickly finds it difficult to keep Beowulf under control.

For his part, Beowulf’s brusque, distant manner is handled admirably. While many writers would spend their time trying to convey how awesome Beowulf is, Bedard uses an older usage of the word, creating a little bit of the feeling of standing beside this impossibly deadly warrior. In fact, one of the things I loved about the series was the way it demythologized the lone soldier archetype without giving up on creating an enjoyable reading experience. There’s something very Metal Gear Solid about it that way.

In this aspect and in many others, the short series excelled in presenting the feeling of awe that I imagine myths and legends once inspired. For me that’s one of the reasons it’s worth bringing it back. The sense of grandeur and the willingness to be small beside it are concepts we aren’t as comfortable feeling anymore. It’s no grand canyon, but a comic that’s able to inspire those emotions on some level has a natural appeal that shouldn’t be ignored. The focus on the mundane characters gives the series a unique draw and the mixing of post-apocalypse retro-punk, epic fantasy, gritty action, and literary introspection manages to reach out to a lot of different demographics, despite their different tastes.

Bedard makes no secret that the character was heavily inspired by his love of Conan, but fans of Lord of the Rings will find something of Tolkien’s brand of masculinity in place of 1930s pulp’s. Superhero fans will find familiar elements in this strange circular tale of a hero inspired by superhumans inspired by his legends and can enjoy exploring this version of the DC Universe’s future. There’s definitely a Terminator 2 vibe in there as well. That’s a lot of different types of comic readers.

I also have to mention that the DC Universe Presents issue opened up a whole other can of worms, building in more links to the present day DC Universe, implying that there may be some fascinating time-paradox shenanigans going on, and introducing a great new character to the DCU – a great new female character – a great new female character in academia, no less!

Jesus Saiz’s design for Grendel’s Mom, if you’ll pardon a long out of date reference, has got it going on…

Honestly the biggest arguments I could see against the series are the fact that Sword of Sorcery didn’t sell well enough with Beowulf as a backup and that it’s not that closely connected to the DCU. While I think that Beowulf may, unfortunately, have a broader appeal than Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld, possibly enough to make a go of it with the legitimacy of an ongoing behind it, the first point is difficult to get around. However I’d argue that the second does something to answer it.

In the present day DC isn’t just competing with Marvel anymore. Even ignoring the countless screens vying for their audience’s attention, DC has companies like Image to contend with. Image’s strength actually comes from the exact opposite place of DC’s. While DC provides readers with a shared universe where their favorite characters can fight and interact and develop relationships,  Image is free to focus completely on one artist’s vision, unhindered by line-wide tone or crossovers. While crossovers would obviously remain on the table, especially if we were keeping Gwendolyn involved, the distance from the regular DCU allows Beowulf to be a little more discerning with its ties to continuity and therefore could be a solid entry point for new readers, intimidated by continuity or not necessarily invested in superheroes. In this way the lack of connection can be leveraged into an asset for the title. Besides, it’s pretty much got the same relationship with the main DC continuity as Kamandi. Actually, that could be a pretty cool crossover…

In its simplest form, Beowulf sounds like highly marketable schlock (Cyborg-Beowulf vs. Batman Robots in the FUCHAR!), but the deeper you delve into it, the more impressive it becomes. I hold a generally high opinion of Tony Bedard’s writing, but somehow in a scant 60 pages he’s delivered one of his most naturally engrossing reads I’ve had the pleasure to sit down with. Imagine what he could do with twenty a month…

DCUP19e

Tomorrow… Take a tour of your universe

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