This is a story about symbols. It is a story about duty. It is a story about hope. It is a story about redemption even when we don’t need to be redeemed. It is a story about law. It is a story about justice. It is a story about the need for order and systems, and the need to work within the system to build faith in it. This is a story about youth. This is a story about age. This is a story about sickness. This is a story about health. This is a story about love.
All of that is a lie.
Very well, that is too dramatic. All of that is a mishmash of secondary truths. They are the kind of statements we make to ourselves all the time, not really to fool ourselves by bathing in untruth so much as to distract ourselves from one very powerful fact by swimming in a sea of weaker ones.
This is a story about DC comics, and what it did one day when it realised that the New 52, launched four years ago to great promise and fanfare, had failed. Oh, the New 52 was a financial success, surely enough, and DC being a business that is the first criterion of victory. It was also an artistic success, if rather a spotty one. But the New 52 was always envisaged as having a purpose beyond an immediate financial boost or improved quality of some titles. The New 52 was, trite and obvious as it sounds, meant to be new. It would provide a different tone, a feel and approach more in keeping with the desires and opinions of a diverse readership.
It was in that where the weakness of the New 52 became apparent. It’s five-year timeline straitjacketed creators. Meanwhile, its tone and stories seemed dark, grim, hopeless, and filled with suppressed violence. The new universe served only to spotlight some very old human failings.
The answer to that is the next initiative, called DC You. This will supposedly, or at least we have been repeatedly told, focus on stories rather than a dictated continuity or rigorous enforcement of tone. It will be aware and responsive and, most of all, nimble and flexible. We are told that there are elements in the ground under Gotham, elements that combine and react in powerful and unexpected ways. This is the true metaphor in Batman #41, the true explanation of the DC You.
It helps a lot that the story is amusing and knows it is amusing. Unlike most of Scott Snyder’s efforts, this book does not take itself or its world very seriously. And it is a book that knows it’s temporary. The last panel of the comic confirms that for anyone who had doubts.
DC is signaling a willingness to put its panels where it's mouth is in terms of the DC You. With such stories as this and the TRUTH storyline in the Superman books DC shows it is willing to seriously upset the status quo of its major characters. True, there are enormous questions this issue raises. Why is Julia Pennyworth helping with this effort? How does the rest of the Bat Family react to all of this? What has actually happened to Bruce Wayne? But, once again, the story isn't really about any of that. Just as SINGING IN THE RAIN was Hollywood telling a legend about itself, this is DC making its own identity anew while we watch. And this time, they didn't even need a Crisis.