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Meanings of The New 52

The New Justice League for the New 52As many of you may know, DC Comics has made a marketing choice to reset all of it’s comics to be number ones, drop a bunch of titles in the process, shockingly including Power Girl, and start up a bunch of new titles in the process, too. They are hoping that this resetting of the numbers to all be #1s will spark a renewed interest in comics generally, but specifically in DC titles. And they are calling this new marketing scheme “The New 52.”

I first heard about this scheme from walking down to my local comics shop and checking out the Previews book. Someone in the shop was already looking through it and they commented that Power Girl, who they knew I was a fan of, was being dropped as a title. I really couldn’t digest that at that moment as being something real, and mentally just put it on the back burner.

Well, it was true. So what are we to make of the New 52 #1s? Below I explore some of what this may mean in so far as what others have told me, and some of my own perspectives on the present situation; generally, nobody is totally sure what DC Comics is doing, but all of this may simply be part of the media landscape lost in the larger social evolution.

What Does This All Mean?

What does this mean? Is it some play on the number of cards in a playing card deck – 52. One of the owners of the local comics shop in my town commented that it’s actually super annoying for them, cause they have to literally pick up and drag out all 52 books for the customers to see and choose from, and two, for at least comic book shop owners, is that it’s a record keeping nightmare to resent all the titles to number ones. He told me that most all of the comics publishers do this from time to time and then just revert back to the old numbering system within the following year. That way they’ll still be able to take advantage to marketing opportunities when titles hit their big milestones such as hitting a solid hundredth number. They’re all just extra gimicks to get people to pick up more comics. Well, more folks getting into comic books, it just means more wonderful comics for us all to enjoy, though.

Another problem he said is that nobody really knows what DC has planned. They are keeping such a tight lip on so much of the new 52 and seemingly throwing out or re-imagining classic old characters in who knows how many ways, that we’re all pretty much in the dark about it all til the new titles come out. At the recent San Diego Comic Con, they leaked some, but a lot of it is just leaving fans clueless. We see glimpses of Superman not being with Lois. The JLA not existing anymore. And more cosmetic changes such as new variations of old costumes, or even completely new costumes such as with Supergirl, with bizarre new boots, a bloody-looking panty (not cool), stylized “S”, armor lines?, and an odd new cape. (Really, maybe DC Comics should invest a bit better in marketing research.) At the end of the day, everything points to it sounds like it’s gonna be “different,” and what does that means in so far as for character personalities or backstories now — “different.” Wow. Okay.

What Memes are Occurring

For me, when I heard and it sunk in that the DC Universe was getting a reboot of sorts, one of the other first things that came to mind about The New 52 was, “With this new beginning, what memes are occuring here? And what are their implications?”

For those of you unfamiliar, a “meme” is essentially a unique, identifiable person, place, thing, or idea that can be replicated by the larger society and have many permutations of existence. According to Merriam-Webster, it is:

an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture provides a slightly different definition:

a cultural item that is transmitted by repetition in a manner analogous to the biological transmission of genes
And in the computer age, memes themselves become a series of reference points, of which one may go back and instantly replay the old, original meme. With computers and the internet, when something can be replayed, altered, and uploaded at a few clicks of a button, it may certainly acquiring biological, “viral,” even “genetic” qualities in the manner it spreads and in it’s popularity. And so the concept of meme has grown increasingly and virtually exponentially popular and we see such memes popping up constantly across the realms of the internet. A very simple yet effective example is the Double Rainbow meme. Below are listed links to the original and several permutations:

And then the meme may even permeate the language of the viewers themselves, as they exclaim at the sight of something profoundly impressive, “Whoa, double rainbow all the way!”

Even with the proliferation of such memes, as mentioned, memes can come in veritably any form, not just in digital forms. The electronic landscape itself is considered by some to be a meme, “the android meme,” as popularized by Bob Dobbs. Hair styles can be memes that people play with, replicate, and develop permutations thereof, with their “genetic” parent being the original meme. Reel to reel audio tape is a meme. The automobile itself is a meme of which many have played. And so are comic books. Before getting to comics though, it is important to consider that with the multitudinous arrays of digital memes out there on the internet itself, those memes have and are developing at such a rate that the former security of memes themselves is literally becoming obliterated.

Before the internet, many people upon either creating a meme, replicating it, or creating a permutation of a meme would secure that meme as theirs, such as, through copyright or patents. With the near instantaneousness replication and permutation creation by way of computers and the internet, there is little to stop any meme from proliferating there. There is little to stop almost any potentiality or permutation from coming forth.

Perry White and Superman chatting about the internet and blogging, from Superman #706, p.24From Superman #706, p.24.
Considering this — with all potentialities and even permutations before us — as a comic book company, how ought to DC Comics react to this onslaught of the degradation of their ownership of the meme of their superheros? Digitally, the fan-base creates immense replications and permutations through fan art. Power Girl is a wonderful example of this. There are other blogs than this one that specialize in posting both scanned DC images and images created by fans themselves such as Fk Yeah Power Girl and Fyeah Power Girl, but also post plenty of cosplay images, too, from comic cons and the like. Fans write their own stories about the characters. And even draw their own comics frames of their replications and permutations. Quite literally, they revel in the meme! Such actions are not necessarily to take away from or re-imagine the original meme, but to glorify it.

As a comic book company, with their peradventure of re-imagining the original memes of their characters as with THE NEW 52, is that a good role for them? What is a proper behavior to hype the meme in their favor to popularlize comics so people will subscribe to them and/or pick them up at their local comics shop?!

On one hand, perhaps they ought to play upon and continue to reinforce in their comics the original characters and continue to even develop those characters in their eternal journeys. This has many values. It allows the fan base to continue to draw from the source of the original meme. The fan base may always be creating replications or permutations, but comic book publishers will always likely have and perpetuate the high quality originals that they do create.

I know for myself and many others, we read comics and collect them because it’s very high quality stuff that typical fans are not going to create in their replications and permutations. It’s high quality writing and high quality imagery; in general – high quality story telling.

The original meme itself is relatively unmatched. With a scanner, no doubt some people have scanned comics and posted them in their entirety somewhere on the internet, and that certainly may degrade an interest in picking up physical copies, but is that the cause of people potentially buying less comics and thus DC re-imagining their universe?

Presently, re-imagination instead of re-enforcement appears to be the course they are on. Though certainly, any re-imagining vibrates along the strings of the past.

Other Memes

There are other memes occurring here too. To actually hold in your hands, read, and buy a monthly comic book about superheros — that itself is a meme. Even the whole affair – which I throughly enjoy – of going down to the local comics shop once a week, chatting it up with the ususal crowd hanging out there, and picking up my comics for that week, it’s a meme of social interaction. Instead of the re-imagining meme, if they want more sales, perhaps they ought to strengthen their source meme of original superheros and then hype the physical, tactile, reading and social interaction memes. This may offer several advantages in that publishing their quality and with the existing infrastructure of comics shops and other retailers out there, it is a unique and even nostalgic meme that is relatively difficult to replicate or create permutations of compared to internet-based memes, which may potentially be breaking down their business.

They are striving to increase sales by making their publications available online; this might be great, but you still have the uphill battle of fighting those with digital cameras and scanners and the prolific meme arrays being generated. Online digital distribution does though have the advantage of something never going out of print, or of offering historic editions such as the truly original number ones, instead of the cookie cutter, “Oh lets have a bunch of number ones to increase sales.” Though, even this may be effective at times.

Meme of a Beginning

The concept of beginnings has been with us humans for a long while, many might say since the biblical “Genesis.” When considering the meme of a beginning or even a new beginning, we see that comic book publishers do play on this fairly regularly by having a creative team come in and do a retelling of the original beginning for a character. A very recent example of this is Michael J. Straczynski’s re-telling of Superman’s backstory. In other examples, such as The New 52, it sounds like they are using an amalgam of alternate beginnings, resetting the numbers, and in many cases keeping some continuity with the previous stories.

In so far as meme creation vs. replication and permutation goes, this approach is the original publisher themselves creating a meme permutation of the original, and then those permutations even becoming memes themselves. Another example of this, but in the Marvel universe, is that of The Ultimates, they kept the originals, but created an offshoot. Even the concept of Power Girl herself, she might be considered by some as a meme permutation of Supergirl. Power Girl is unique in and of herself, though, and has her own devoted following, so in that case, the permutation became a new meme from which fans draw from to glorify, accentuate, or exaggerate in replications and permutations.

Returning to the meme of beginnings, with The New 52, this new beginning may also represent the end of one manner of being, and the beginning of a new manner of being. Beginnings and endings in some contexts are also associated with death and rebirth. Death and rebirth are certainly concepts evident in a new beginning. A new genesis. Potentially, The New 52. What will these new beginnings look like, we’ll see as they come out.

Superman first meets the Superman Squad, from Superman #708, p.1From Superman #708, p.1.

Meditations on the End of Time or the Time Meme

All of this may also be meditations on the end of time and the opening of humans to evidentialities of infinite potentialities. Running with infinite potentialities, and then going about describing various ones of the infinite, this is in part an essential nature of story telling.

The Meme of Heroics is Dying

One theme that we are potentially seeing is that the meme of heroics and of even authority may be dying. There are no more heros and every authority means relatively nothing. Straczynski’s Grounded series plays upon this greatly, taking us on a journey of Superman potentially hanging up his suit! The internet may be helping with this as exhibited in phenomenon such as Rebecca Black, in which anyone, even the worst of singers can rise to be a star, or musical artists such as Ke$ha whose music in many cases may sound like lyrics written by a three year old (don’t get me wrong though, I love Ke$ha).

But these phenomenon represent a growing sentiment, or even belief that none can say that any person, thing, or idea is popular or better than any other any longer — there are no more heros or stars now, but that everyone is.

The death of such memes leaves the hero industry at a loss, and they are now having to either create new beginnings for new characters to respond to the current soup of social constructs, or have the characters themselves all go on personal journeys in which they find for themselves new ways being and existing in this world without heros or superstars.

Or, or, or!!!!! If they don’t do that, they might consider the realm of fantasy writing, speaking to potentialities that the audience may not embrace any longer as all that wonderful. That these characters are existing in a world apart from ours, an old world, a world that is now presently more difficult for us to identify with, such an approach itself though, such a context, may be increasingly difficult to present to contemporary audiences, except potentially as fantasy or satire.

Character memes

Individual characters certainly have memes. One of the great problems with a new permutation of the meme of a character or even the meme of an group or even universe of characters (such as potentially The New 52), is that once people identify strongly with a character meme, they use that character’s characteristics as a guide post of orientation but within the character’s universe and even within their own, so when a character’s background, origin, personality, etc. changes, especially if such matters change quiet suddenly and without any really good reason, this lends itself to making fans uncomfortable and disoriented, both within their character’s universe and within their own.

If comics publishers wish to create new permutations of very well established character memes, they really ought to take the characters on similar journeys that the larger society is taking. As well, that none can be truly be the heros that once society valued, trying to put the characters on pedistals as ideals people should strive to be is even a journey that can only lead to failure. The audience needs themselves reflected back to them.

Even the journey of the rebel fails because it too is a pedestal of sorts. To survive, present comics characters may well have extraordinary superpowers and perhaps help people out for fun, but even more so, they must be like us: they goof off, they slip on the banana peel, they order a latté and get a mocha latté and just drink it anyway.

Superman and the Flash in a restaurant having coffee and cherry pie, from Superman #709, p.13From Superman #709, p.13.

Lost in the Social Landscape

Does this move on the part of DC Comics to reset their issue numbers and re-imagine their characters reflect the larger society? And, can we identify with this? In a world of shifting memes and values associated with them, they appear to be trying something different, but it also might be more of the same. For better or for worse, come September and beyond – we’ll see!!!

Written by

Enjoys blogging about comic books, but especially Power Girl. Domiciles on planet Earth. And enjoys vegetable gardening and mixes of Frangelico and Butterscotch Schnapps.

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One Response to "Meanings of The New 52"

  1. Very interesting. I had a go at this myself from a more cultural / political perspective, and you may find it of interest. Here’s the link:

    PS, just to do a spot more self-publicity, you’ll find a number of Power Girl articles there too.