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.

This is another book that admittedly comes from my personal bias, though maybe not the ones you might think. Though it’s not a property that has had much exposure, if you think that new characters just gain traction based purely on fan love, you’re going to be sadly disappointed in comics. This is a character I’d like to see dusted off and revived for a new continuity and positioned as a bigger part of the world, provided the fan interest can be found.

You may not have heard of her before, but, if that’s the case, allow me to introduce you to…

MAYA BY BRENNAN LEE MULLIGAN

Early into her adolescence, Chandi Gupta’s parents fell in with an extreme Shaivite sect based in Nepal. Soon after Chandi began to display elemental powers through the form of a mystic bow she could summon on command. The leaders of the cult believed that this power marked Chandi as an incarnation of Lord Shiva and encouraged her baffled parents to leave the girl in their care.

The terrified girl was given over to the order but fled when she realized that they meant to sacrifice her. Escaping to London, she sought out the Justice League’s European branch, rescuing them from the villain Sonar in the process. She would join the team and eventually uncover the conspiracy behind her parents’ sect, a puppet of the villain Overmaster.

Maya possesses the ability to summon a mystic bow and arrows of fire or water. She also has the ability to manipulate fire and water limitedly. It’s a standard, if interesting, power set but it’s the cause that really caught my attention. While the cult that took her was obviously founded on lies, there are many hints that Chandi’s bow is, in fact, the Shiva Dhanush, the legendary bow of the god Shiva.

Is it the weird skeleton knight or the oddly colloquial explanation of her powers? Trick question! It’s cleary the MC Hammer t-shirt.

The bow appears in two famous stories in the Hindu tradition. The first is part of the Ramayana, one of the two great Indian epics, which tells the legend of Prince Rama and his wife, Sita. Rama and Sita are believed by many Hindus to be incarnations of Vishnu, one of the most revered Devas, and his wife, Lakshmi. In the Ramayana, when Sita is a child she proves the only one able to lift the bow, an act that reveals her great spiritual power. Wanting to see her married to a man worthy of his beloved daughter, King Janaka demanded that any suitor who wished to wed Sita must lift and string the bow. Many tried and failed, but Rama earned the right to marry Sita when the bow cracked in his hands under his immense power.

The bow is also central to another of Shiva’s most crucial myths, that of the Tripura, or three cities. It’s a complicated story, harder to tell for the context of Hindu tradition that’s likely lacking, but the basic gist is that a trio of cities are created for the Asuras, a complicated race of mythological beings who may share an etymological root with the Aesir (not reverent to the story, just cool). The cities are located on the earth, in the sky, and in the heavens and are enchanted to be impervious unless attacked by a single arrow. The only force great enough to destroy the cities is Shiva, but he has retired to meditation and cannot and will not be roused. Eventually the Devas admit their inability to move Shiva but he rises and agrees to help, channeling his ascetic energies into a single arrow that burns all three cities to the ground as they come into alignment. Ever since Shiva has been worshiped in the form of Tripurantaka, an alternate form depicted with a bow and arrow.

Shiva is one the chief gods of Hinduism. Though many Hindus believe that all Devas are representation of one cosmic power, Shiva is traditionally held to be the most powerful of all Devas, with sects that worship other Devas often attributing his power to their patron deity. He’s basically Doctor Manhattan. To lift Shiva’s bow or to be an incarnation of Shiva is, in short, a big freakin’ deal in India.

While many legends show Shiva as a somewhat rebellious figure, willing to cross cultural and gender norms, many more traditional Hindus see him as the most masculine god and I think that it’s really cool to attribute even a portion of that power to teenaged girl. What’s more I think that the market is really ready for this character. India has a long love affair with comics but, at least as a country, it’s really only starting to appreciate genre fiction the way that America has. There’s a lot of people in India who are very interested in seeing representation within the Big Two.

But it’s not just the Indian market. I work at a school with middle schoolers and I can attest to just how huge Percy Jackson still is. With Thor and Percy Jackson leading the way, there’s never been a better time to write mythologically based fantasy and being the Avatar of Shiva lends itself to that quite nicely. There’s also a huge demand for well-written young women of color and Maya answers that as well. While there isn’t the same level of demand for representation in America as there is for other groups, such as East Asians or Latinos, DC is sorely lacking South Asian characters.

Obviously one of the biggest problems here would be the potential comparisons to Kamala Khan, Marvel’s young Desi heroine. If fans saw this as an attempt to cash in it could be met with resistance, however, it’s also a great opportunity to address important issues. Pakistani-American Muslim Kamala Khan and Indian Hindu Chandi Gupta would have lived extremely different lives. The Indian subcontinent is incredibly diverse, hosting 122 major languages from all four major language families and over two-thousand ethnic groups. Particularly if we avoided the temptation to look at life in the major cities, Maya has the potential to give voice to an experience that’s very rarely been tapped in American media.

Strong Female Protagonist is one of the few comics willing to look the fear of not knowing what you’re doing in the face, but it’s oddly comforting about it.

While I’d love Maya to gain traction at DC, I think if we want her to feel fresh we can’t turn to the same strategies as we use for every other character. I think since we’re taking a risk on a new character, it would make sense to entrust her to a newer writer with a strong record. To this end I’ve chosen Brennan Lee Mulligan for this title.

Mulligan is the writer of the webcomic Strong Female Protagonist. Described as “the adventures of a young middle-class American with super-strength, invincibility and a crippling sense of social injustice”, SFP is a fantastic comic, another example of good-natured deconstructions often providing the best superhero worlds. While the form is admittedly different from the strict limitations of a monthly comic, Mulligan has proven immensely talented in writing compelling stories that intelligently and naturally address important issues without reading too flippantly. The strip is bold, funny, and honest and represents to me much of what is right with the emerging generation of comic writers, many of whom are starting to see work at the larger companies.

Strong Female Protagonist was recently picked up for print release by Top Shelf. While I was thrilled enough to have the chance to own the first four stories in print, the collection also includes a short story about a pair of biodynamic childhood friends, Sita and Dhruv, in India. Dhruv’s anomaly includes blue skin and the power to levitate and he has been convinced by his Hindu nationalist guru that he is an Avatar of Vishnu.

While there are some questions about Chandi’s choice of alias, I appreciate that they didn’t take the obvious route and just give her a name related to Shiva.

It’s a very short tale, only four pages long, but it displays a remarkable economy of expression, understanding and reverence for Indian belief, and a crucial willingness to use but not abuse those beliefs for the purpose of the story. I likely would have considered Mulligan for this book either way, but having seen this, I feel quite a bit of confidence that he would give the story the care it requires.

I think it also helps that Mulligan comes from an improvisation and role-playing background. He’s very good at getting into the minds of different characters and he’s rather funny. Chandi isn’t just an Indian or just a Hindu, she’s also a girl and a teenager and an immigrant and any number of other things he might decide to define her personality with.

One other thing that I find interesting is that, whether by design or oversight, Chandi’s alias has a certain ominous resonance. In the myth, though the Tripura come about as a result of a boon from Brahma, they are actually constructed by a Shaivite Asura named Maya. It’s unclear if this was an intentional mirroring, a coincidence, or a misunderstanding of some kind, but the writers were aware of the Tripura story and mention it in the issues. The symbolism of the name could become something quite interesting or might be seen as a reason to rebrand the little known superhero with something a little more appropriate and distinct.

Though she hasn’t got a lot of history behind her yet, I think Maya could be a strong addition to the line. I knew I wanted to try to give Brennan Mulligan a place in the New Year’s 52 if the opportunity presented itself and, given his previous work, this seems like a perfect place for him. A character with more potential than history and a talented writer  coming into his own, I think this title presents the chance for fans to get in on the ground floor of an exciting new story. With the breadth of Indian myth spread out before her and a different perspective, I think Maya could be a strong addition to DC’s lineup.

Tomorrow… The King of the Seas.

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