In 1986, DC Comics made comic book history by rebooting their entire continuity in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Character histories were changed, merged in from other continuities, or even restarted from scratch. The Post-Crisis DC Universe would never be the same.
In 2011, they did it again.
The "New 52" is DC's second major reboot, following the Flashpoint event. (There were two other Cosmic Retcons- with Zero Hour and Infinite Crisis / 52 - but they were largely cosmetic.) In the wake of The Flash messing with the Timey-Wimey Ball, DC canceled all their ongoings and launched 52 new titles in their place. In this new continuity, superheroes have only emerged publicly in the last five years or so, with many only beginning to show up now. Even so, many major prior storylines are still canon, at least in Broad Strokes. Vertigo Comics and Wildstorm characters have also been incorporated into this new continuity.
Of course, DC wouldn't let things stop there. In January 2012 they overhauled their corporate logo, and a "Second Wave" launched in May, with six underperforming titles ended and replaced with six new ones. They followed that up with "Zero Month" for the reboot's one-year anniversary with #0 Origins Issues and some more new launches.
The New 52 and Their Changes
All three Super-characters have been scaled back to earlier versions and are having their alien-ness highlighted: Clark Kent is not married to Lois Lane and both Ma and Pa Kent have passed away, Superboy is a lab experiment intended to be used as a weapon, and Supergirl has only recently arrived from Krypton. Action Comics is now a Superman version of Batman: Year One. The other main change is that, like in the Bronze Age, the Daily Planet has been bought by Galaxy Broadcasting. This time, however, it's Lois who's moved to TV and Clark who's staying with print journalism.
- Detective Comics
- Batman: The Dark Knight
- Batman and Robin
- Birds of Prey
- Red Hood and the Outlaws
The Bat-books pick up where they left off, with Bruce Wayne appointing Batmen worldwide (including Batwing, who operates in Africa). However Dick Grayson, who had been one of these Batmen, gave up the mantle and returned to being Nightwing. Barbara Gordon has also recovered from her paralysis and become Batgirl again, booting Stephanie Brown from the role. The books also introduced the Court of Owls, an Ancient Conspiracy that has run Gotham for generations and has ties to Grayson's past.
- Green Lantern
- Green Lantern Corps
- Green Lantern: New Guardians
- Red Lanterns
Like Batman, Green Lantern was especially successful prior to the reboot, so it keeps its recent history with corps of multiple colors emerging. Hal Jordan has been dismissed from the Corps due to the "War of the Green Lanterns" and replaced by Sinestro of all people, though he soon takes Hal on as a sidekick. Kyle Rayner, meanwhile, has defied the Guardians and joined an alliance of Lanterns of other colors; and Atrocitus has begun reorganizing his Red Lanterns with a new sense of purpose.
Justice League and other DCU
- Justice League
- Includes Curse of Shazam! backup stories beginning around the same time as the second wave.
- Justice League International
- Wonder Woman
- The Flash - Barry Allen, like Superman, is now younger and unmarried, but the big change is that Wally West is not and has never been the Flash.
- Captain Atom
- The Fury of Firestorm - Firestorm was rebooted and the very nature of his powers changed; rather than requiring a Fusion Dance, each person can become a Firestorm and can then merge into a stronger being if they wish. It's also being reimagined as an arms race metaphor, with multiple countries developing their own Firestorms.
- Green Arrow
- The Savage Hawkman - The details of the rebooted Hawkman are unclear, but needless to say the infamous Hawk-Snarl is wiped away. Hawkgirl is nowhere to be seen, but she was MIA before the reboot as well; we don't know what's going on there.
- Mister Terrific
- DC Universe Presents (anthology series; the first arc featured Deadman, the second is the Challengers of the Unknown, and the third is Vandal Savage.)
Young Justice (teen heroes)
The Edge (Darker and Edgier titles)
- Suicide Squad
- Men of War - Featuring a descendant of Sgt. Rock, it shows a soldier's ground-level view of superhuman conflicts.
- All-Star Western - Jonah Hex heads east to get to the bottom of a city that's as corrupt and lawless as any in the West - Gotham.
The Dark (supernatural/Vertigo titles)
Replacing Blackhawks, Hawk and Dove, Men of War, Mister Terrific, O.M.A.C., and Static Shock are:
- Batman Incorporated
- Earth 2 - A reinvention of The Golden Age of Comic Books parallel universe (once again separate from the main continuity), featuring their all-star team, the Justice Society of America. As part of this, everyone is Younger and Hipper instead of elder veteran heroes, including things like making Green Lantern Alan Scott a gay man.
- Huntress/Power Girl: Worlds' Finest - Both characters have been returned to to their original Earth-2 origins, though they're now stranded on Earth-Prime.
- Dial H
- GI Combat
- The Ravagers (a Teen Titans spinoff)
Unlike in the Second Wave, Justice League International is the only cancellation.
- Talon - A new Bat-book, featuring a former Court of Owls assassin suffering a Contract on the Hitman.
- Sword of Sorcery - A fantasy book starring Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld.
- The Phantom Stranger
- Team Seven - Based on a Wildstorm title and set five years ago, with the team being a countermeasure to emerging superhumans.
- The introduction of the Trinity of Sin, three people punished for horrendous crimes centuries ago at the Rock of Eternity by the first magic users:
- The Phantom Stranger: Traditionally a mysterious character with a Multiple Choice Past, now heavily implied to be Judas Iscariot himself.
- The Question: Previously an investigator in a mask, he is now punished for unknown crimes by having his face and name removed.
- Pandora: A new character and the one who prompted the reboot by making the Flash aware of multiple timelines to merge together. She's the actual mythological Pandora, punished for opening the box and releasing evils unto the world. Feeling her sentence was unjust, being branded as evil when she didn't intend any harm, she's now working to end her curse - even if the Justice League pays the price.
- Adaptational Villainy: Inverted! Silver Banshee, who admittedly has only just been reintroduced in Supergirl gets a very likable introduction suggesting her depiction might be written as either a Tragic Villain, an Anti-Villain or even outright heroic character.
- Played straight with Mr. Freeze, who has been revised to be less of an Anti-Villain. He's still out to cure his frozen wife Nora - but this is a lie. Nora was preserved long before Freeze was even born, he's just deluded himself into believing they're married as part of his obsession with cold.
- Alternate Universe: The second wave is re-establishing Earth-2. (Not only with the Earth 2 comic itself, but the stars of Worlds' Finest are refugees from that reality.)
- Grant Morrison has introduced Earth-23, a universe where all super heroes are black and Superman is President (and drawn to resemble Obama) first seen in Final Crisis, a universe where a robotic Superman conquered Earth, and a universe of super deformed super heroes(first seen in Superman/Batman #51).
- Not to mention Earth 1, Earth 12, and Earth 16 being the Earth One graphic novels, The DCAU, and Young Justice cartoon respectively.
- Ancient Tradition: The Stormwatch organization, which seems to have its origins in Demon Knights.
- Ancient Conspiracy: The Court of Owls in Batman and other Bat-books, who've been secretly controlling Gotham City for at least a hundred years.
- Ascended Meme:
- In his new series, most people react to Aquaman as if they only knew him from the Superfriends, What Kind Of Lame Power Is Talking To Fish, Anyway? version. This leads to him working so hard to prove that he is Badass that it doesn't actually make any sense for him to have that reputation he's trying so hard to shed in the first place.
- The hero formerly known as Captain Marvel will simply be "Shazam"; partially because (thanks to Writing Around Trademarks) "everybody thinks he's called Shazam already, outside of comics." I Am Not Shazam no more!
- Bat Family Crossover: "Night of Owls", hitting the Bat-books around the Second Wave after being built up in Batman since the relaunch.
- At the same time, "The Culling", which involves Superboy, Teen Titans, and Legion Lost; The Ravagers will spin out of this event.
- Broad Strokes: Some of the pre-New 52 stories are considered to have still happened. The specific list includes The Killing Joke, the Green Lantern family during Geoff Johns' run (including Blackest Night), Grant Morrisons Batman, and some but not all of Brightest Day.
- Civvie Spandex: The new version of Superman started his career wearing a T-shirt and jeans as his costume.
- Continuity Reboot
- Darker and Edgier: Some aspects are this compared to when we last saw them; including Earth-2 and Blue Beetle.
- Easter Egg: Each Issue #1 (in the first wave at least) included a one-panel background appearance by Pandora.
- Fan Nickname: "The DCnU"
- Flashback Arc: Both Action Comics and Justice League begin with arcs showing how Superman and the League, respectively, got their start. Earth-2 and Worlds' Finest begin with flashbacks showing how that universe's Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman died and how Huntress and Power Girl arrived on Earth-Prime.
- Hotter and Sexier: Catwoman and especially Starfire (in Red Hood) initially took some heat for being oversexualized at the cost of characterization. Power Girl, on the other hand, was criticized for her costume removing being notably less sexy.
- In Name Only: DC Comics Presents: Challengers Of The Unknown stars nine characters who have the same names and roughly the same appearances as the five original Challengers and the four 90s Challengers. And they survive a plane crash. That is the sum total of similarities between the characters.
- Legacy Implosion: The titles of both Batman and Batgirl have reverted to their original owners. The Flash continues the focus on the original, Barry Allen, that had started a few years prior, but the reboot wipes out most of the rest of the Flash-family. The Justice Society has suffered a major legacy implosion, with the all of the children and grandchildren wiped from existence and the original JSA members becoming young again.
- Mythology Gag: Batwing's costume looks a lot like the imaginary African-American Batman (aka "Bat-Wings") in the seventies comic "The Batman Nobody Knows". Only less seventies.
- Never Trust a Trailer: Most of the hype for Earth-2 focused on that world's versions of the Big Three: Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. They're killed off in the first issue.
- Nineties Anti-Hero: There have been some comparisons of the New 52 with the early days of Image Comics, which may be something to be expected when you've got Image co-founders Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld working for you.
- Non-Indicative Name: As of "Zero Month", the New 52 features 55 books.
- Origins Issue: The focus of "Zero Month".
- Race Lift: Morgan Edge is now a Bald Black Leader Guy. As is General Eiling.
- As of the 7th issue of Justice League, Etta Candy.
- More of an 'Ethnicity Lift' but Siver Banshee is now explicitly Irish rather than being from a fictional half-Irish, half-Scottish island (though her accent is still a little... out there.) Oddly her surname was changed to the rather un-Irish 'Smythe'.
- Ret Canon: Amanda Waller's weight loss, Commissioner Gordon retaining red hair in the present, Bane's new costume, and Etta Candy's aforementioned Race Lift
- Rob Liefeld: He's worked on "Hawk and Dove," "Hawkman," "Grifter," and "Deathstroke."
- Suddenly Sexuality: Alan Scott is now homosexual, despite being married several times in the old DC universe and being a man with an eye for the ladies when he was younger. Word of God states that the writer wanted to make Alan gay to make up for his gay son, Obsidian, being retconned out of existence.
- Superheroes Stay Single: Superman and the Flash are back to being bachelors again.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: In the second wave, GI Combat replaced Men of War as the military book.
- Throwing Off the Disability: Barbara Gordon, who had her paralysis healed. It should be noted that the writers are aware of the trope's Unfortunate Implications and are having Barbara continue to struggle with the psychological scars.
- Wolverine Publicity: Batman and the other Gotham heroes appear in more books than any other, even the Lantern series.
- Younger and Hipper: Just about all the heroes, but especially the Earth-2 characters; who are now the same ages as their more mainstream counterparts when they were traditionally Older and Wiser.