This year marks the 10th annniversary of the current universe. And I think many people will consider Flashpoint and New 52 failed in the long term. Nowadays, continuity is a mess and sales are disappointing.
So, how and why did it fail? Some people will unfailingly reply "DiDio. Just DiDio" and will blame EVERYTHING on Dan DiDio, but that is a reductionist -and, honestly, unfair- approach which we can learn nothing from. Obviously, DiDio, DC and WB made mistakes. But what were those mistakes?
Before getting started, I am talking about REAL, New 52-RELATED mistakes. So, no nonsensical answers like "He got rid of the 90's Supergirl because he thought an Earthangel born from the merge of an artificial lifeform and a dying Satanist was too convoluted! What an idiot!" or "He allowed Geoff Johns to undo Hal Jordan's character assassination. Damned Silver Age nostalgia!".
- Inability to learn from past mistakes: In 1985, DC destroyed their multiverse -instead of merely introducing a new Earth and announce they would focus solely on that continuity henceforth-, did a half-reboot where some stories counted and others counted not, banned several characters and concepts "forever", and then spent the 90's crapping on the former continuity and telling their readership that older comics did not count and were not worth of their money anyways because they were crap. The result? A broken continuity, an endless string of retcons and reboots to try -and fail- to fix it, writers writing around editorial mandates awkwardly (See: Superman writers introducing Kandor and rehashing 60's story Superman Red/Blue only ten years after the reboot), a fanbase split and pissed, and fifty years worth of comics devaluated.
In 2011, DC doubled on their mistakes. They destroyed their former universe instead of introducing a new main Earth. They rebooted some characters and left others alone (Hence, Emerald Twilight being canon despite The Death of Superman not happening... or wait, it happened... but "in a different way"). They banned some characters and crapped on them (once again, DC derided the older Superman in order to make the new look "cool". And... look, I LIKE Helena Wayne, but turning Helena Bertinelli into one of her false identities was needless and stupid). And when sales dropped, they started retconning continuity, reintroducing banned characters and bring older stuff back. Right like during the Post-Crisis era.
- Poor planning: DC spent one year building up to the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Flashpoint's build-up? In 2011, WB told DC they had to do SOMETHING, so it was decided to take advantage of Geoff Johns' planned Flashpoint, which was NOT supposed to be an universal reset.
- Poor editorial coordination: Inevitable consequence of the former points. Writers were announced and promptly fired. Books were handed over to writers way past their prime (read:Paul Levitz on Legion). Writers were forced to constantly rewrite stuff and change their plans. George Perez constantly had to rewrite his Superman's run because nobody told him about Grant Morrison's plans, not even Morrison himself.
- Edginess: Some people claimed New 52 was Silver Age nostalgia. DiDio trying to replicate his alleged childhood (nonsense claim: Silver Age DC is not his childhood. Bronze Age Marvel IS his childhood). Kara Zor-El and Barbara Gordon being the original Supergirl and Batgirl again does not mean the New 52 was steeped in Silver Age nostalgia. People mistrusting, fearing and disrespecting Superman, the Amazons being man-hating rapists and murderers, God of War Diana, Batman being a jerkass and having four Robins, Kara having no secret identity, fighting everyone and getting angst over Krypton every issue, Barbara getting angst over the Joker every issue, Cyborg being a JL's founding member with no relation to the Titans, Barry mourning his mother, Wally West being non-existent, Donna Troy being clay reanimated by the Amazons with the purpose of killing Diana, the JSA Earth being destroyed... That was NOT the Silver Age, let me tell you. And stories like Future's End would have never been greenlighted back then.
The New 52 was not like the Silver Age. It was like if the worst bits of 90's Image, Marvel and Dc had merged and mated with 00's Ultimate Marvel to spawn an unholy eldritch abomination of "Super-heroes need to be angsty jerks with tragic backstories to be cool" edginess.
Ironically, actual Pre Crisis-influenced stuff like Grant Morrison's Superman and Geoff Johns' Aquaman is well regarded.
- Overreaction: When DC got cold feet, they blew everything up. Several times. Exhibit A: Post-Flashpoint Superman. Hence, current continuity is a n ightmare.
I am trying to come up with more failings, but everything I can come up with is a direct consequence of the above points. I'd be repeating myself.
So, how would I do it? Well...
- No event. No universal/multiversal destruction.
- Reassuring your audience that their beloved continuity will not be retconned out, and the older universe will not be lambasted to make the newer look cool.
- Giving your current cadre of writers enough time to finish their plotlines before the reboot. Arranging editors/writers meetings where the new direction will be explained, and feedback will be received. Telling your writers they will be expected to know and respect the history of DC since its beginnings, and any pitch involving characters being erased from existence, crippled or turned evil because they are boring, flat, uncool, pointless, redundant or whatever WILL be rejected.
- A FULL reboot. My own preferences lead me to using a modernized Pre-Crisis universe like a foundation. For example: The JLA would be the Original Seven plus characters like Vixen or Dr. Light. Barbara Gordon would be Batgirl, but there is no reason that Cassandra or Stephanie cannot exist. Also, Supergirl will be a Titan member, and the Titans will NOT be treated as the rookie team you have to graduate from
- It can sound contradictory given the above, but I'd ask people to try to not rehash old (in)famous storylines. Otherwise, Superman getting killed by Doomsday, Batman getting his back broken, Batgirl getting crippled, Supergirl getting angsty because she does not understand Earth, Flash mourning his dead mother... become crutches. It is a new continuity, you do not need to rehash -or reference- Doomsday punching Superman to death OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN.
That was one of the mistakes of Ultimate Marvel. Either they changed too much stuff, or they rehashed old stories. And the rehashes were usually inferior. See: Ultimate's Dark Phoenix Saga, which is definitely NOT regarded as a seminal work.
I would go on, but this is getting a bit long. Does some want to add their two cents?