As the future of the New 52 is in question after the fragmentation of the multiverse in DC’s Convergence event, it brings us back to remember what we have actually seen come through since 2011. This was a huge list of titles coming right from the start, and while many fell by the wayside there were still titles that stood out despite their low numbers. A lot of comics have been underrated in their time, but with the New 52 we see a recent history of comics that were stellar yet failed to really land an audience.
Here is a list of the top five most underrated DC comics from the New 52, some of which really challenged the limits of this imprint. Some of these are also not full series, but just runs on a particular series.
5. Arkham Manor
This series only came on for a quick six issue run, and it was unclear from the start whether or not this was intended to be a miniseries or an ongoing. Either way, the sales numbers were nowhere near most other Bat-titles and was not really reviewed with much luster. The title was birthed out of the events of Batman Eternal where Batman allowed Wayne Manor to be taken by the city and used to house the inhabitants of Arkham Asylum after it was destroyed. Batman then goes undercover to find a murderer within the population of his old home. Arkham Manor took on a stylized visual tone that would almost remind you of the work of Mike Mignola in the Batman universe. It brought back a darker tone on Batman, as well as a great detective feel, and was a really engaging story that was put a little away from the giant, cartoonish characters and events that were making up the regular storylines. It also had a great crossover one-shot with the Endgame storyline, which was a great use of the format.
4. Swamp Thing
Swamp Thing was fated to be admonished by fans right from the start. The character really achieved the status it has today starting with the Alan Moore revisionist run and the horror storylines that made up the beginning of the Vertigo imprint and the career of people like Peter Milligan and Grant Morrison. This new incarnation of Swamp Thing was meant to bring him back into the main DCU, making it a much less adult title that had more ties to superhero storytelling. While this was certainly true, horror writer Scott Snyder kept the elements that made the character such a success and really built on many of the qualities and background elements that was established in the various Vertigo runs. The first three story arcs with Snyder at the helm really do stand out, and are a good example of how to bring these horror elements into a mainstream superhero-type title.
While this may not seem like the conventional underdog, Batman: The Dark Knight brought back the one-off storytelling around Batman that we had really pined for. First conceived in the early nineties as being stories that were disconnected and out of continuity, The Dark Knight certainly evolved in that time and brought us some of the most classic stories of the 1990s. The New 52 incarnation of The Dark Knight decided to focus on the horror elements of Batman, and that is an important part of what keeps the DCU a more edgy alternative to Marvel. The stories are easy to flow in and out of so it is a fun anthology style storytelling that allows us to see various takes on the Batman character. It also really paved the way for what we have with titles like Gotham by Midnight.
2. Wonder Woman
It is really mixed as to whether this is considered a poorly regarded title or not, but the first 35 issues of Wonder Woman were certainly different than what we were expecting. This run from Brian Azzarrello brought us a more Vertigo-inspired storyline that focused on the mythological elements of Wonder Woman, and really drew on her history as an Amazonian and playing with almost spiritual elements. This can be considered one of the finest runs on Wonder Woman in all of the character’s history, but many people were incensed that it did not really follow the superhero tradition that the character was better known for. In reality, this is the run that many people will remember with fondness and really shows us that even mainstream superhero, in-continuity stories, can do something more than just retread old superhero/supervillian battles.
Animal Man stands as the most surprising and incredible comics to come out of the New 52, and through five volumes never received a sizeable enough audience to keep it going. This suffered from much of the same issues as Swamp Thing, as most people know Animal Man from the famed 27-issue metafiction run by Grant Morrison, and then the following horror runs on Vertigo. Animal Man was reimagined by Jeff Lemire in a way that kept every single quality from these original series and dove headfirst into the horror concepts established in later issues of the Vertigo run such as The Red. The art by Travel Foreman is both detailed and almost old fashioned, and it brings a sense of real terror to what is taking place. Jeff Lemire’s sensibilities is perfect here as he balances the more esoteric with a strong story about a father barely able to keep his family together. The strength of these issues would fit perfectly in the Vertigo history of the character, and maybe was why it never got the appreciation it deserved and was eventually canceled. The character was continued in Justice League United, also by Lemire, but it is nowhere near the same feel of the brilliant Animal Man run. These five trades are absolutely worth the read and you will find a horror comics that continues to deconstruct the idea of heroism, the complexities of fatherhood in the modern world, the mystery of spirituality and animal connection, and the horror of the unknown.