Monday, August 21, 2006

52.1 - 52.13

I started posting about DC's ongoing weekly series, 52, back in May, promising to look at each issue as it came out. Oops. Well, the series hit its quarter mark a couple weeks ago so I thought I'd jump back into some commentary...

For those of you who don't want to find the old posts, here's a quick recap of what brought the comic about: At the end of the big crossover series Infinite Crisis, the "big 3" of the DC Universe (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) leave the scene for various reasons. All DC titles start with storylines beginning "One Year Later" immediately following the end of IC; 52 tells the story of what happened during that missing year. Each issue covers a week of that year. It is written by Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Geoff Johns, and Mark Waid and drawn by a revolving cast of artist, though always with layouts by Keith Giffen and covers by J.G. Jones. Got it? Good.

There are many storylines weaving throughout this series, some of which I have found more interesting than others. At the top of the list for me is The Question and Renee Montoya investigating Intergang, a nefarious group that is up to...something. While the investigation aspect is appealing (they've tangled with several unique bad guys and have discovered the existence of a Batwoman), I enjoy their story as much for their interaction. The Question is an all-time favorite character (ever since his ongoing series by Denny O'Neil and Denys Cowan back in the 80s) and the tone here is just right. Montoya is equally intrigued by him, when he doesn't want to punch him in the face. I would love to read a buddy comic with these two. Anyway, by the time #13 rolls around they decide they need to head to Khandaq for more answers.

That decision will put them in the same area as another featured player, Black Adam. He's been portrayed as both villain and hero over the years and sometimes he's both rolled into one. In early issues of 52, he was maniacal in his wanting to "protect" his people from other super-powered idiots even going so far as to rip a villain in half. Recently, though, he has come under the influence of a woman who had been presented to him by Intergang emmisaries; she is getting him to see that he can use his power to actually change the world for the better. In #12, he takes her to the Rock of Eternity (where Captain Marvel appears to be losing his mind a bit) and offers her the powers of a goddess. She accepts and becomes Isis. This turn has me much more interested in this storyline.

Another pair of characters being dealt with are John Henry Irons (Steel) and his niece Natasha. He takes away her armor in the first issue and they squabble over the course of the next few issues, while he is also dealing with Lex Luthor in a variety of ways. Luthor has found a way to trigger the metagene in people (a concept first introduced waaaay back in a DC crossover event that I've forgotten the name of, alas) and has somehow done it to Irons as well; his skin is turning to steel, eliminating the need for his armor. Natasha is given that metagene, which leads to a huge confrontation between the two that she wins.

Booster Gold, meanwhile, is having some confrontations of his own. At first he is using his knowledge of the past (in the form of his robot companion Skeets; both are from the 25th century) to thwart villains and make a name for himself, which in turn garners him endorsments deals and riches (resetting the character to his original form). Problems arise when Skeets's knowledge turns out to be wrong and he eventually resorts to paying an actor to play a villain he defeats. Eventually he is found out and his fortunes take a quick downturn.

Finally, we see the ongoing travails of Ralph Dibny, who used to be known as Elongated Man. His wife was murdered during the series Identity Crisis (precursor to Infinite Crisis) and he is to the point of suicide. He learns of a cult devoted to the belief that they can resurrect the dead and his search to learn more about them forms the backdrop for much of this first quarter. Along the way he runs into Booster Gold and Green Arrow, among others. Things reach a head in #13, where he has his friends (Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Metamorpho, and Zauriel) covertly attend a ceremony to try and raise his wife from the dead; he wants their opinion on whether it can be done. They reach the conclusion the whole thing is a fake and process to break up the proceedings, though along the way Ralph becomes a believer and disappears completely in the aftermath.

That's not all either. There are the visits between mad scientists Will Magnus (creator of The Metal Men) and T.O. Morrow (creator of Red Tornado and more of a villain) which are smart and funny and filled with intriguing hints of what may be going on. There are the trio of heroes (Animal Man, Adam Strange, and Starfire) stranded on a faraway planet with an unusual presence. There are the cryptic messages at Rip Hunter's secret lair that seem to deal directly with the title of the series. There's the glimpse of new Chinese heroes, The Great Ten. There's the recovery of a another group of heroes who were lost in space. And there's the mystery of the newest hero in Metropolis, Supernova.

Issues #2 through #11 also featured a backup story titled "The History of the DC Universe." That history is a muddled mess with all the various crossovers and retcons over the last two decades and this story does nothing to make it clear. Starting with #12, two page origin stories have begun appearing. They are all written by Mark Waid and drawn by a variety of artists (one per hero). They are not essential but at least a decent diversion.

Obviously, I've been reading these issues as they've come out week by week. Reading them that way my enjoyment of the series would rise and fall depending on which storylines were being covered. But as I skimmed over the first 13 issues in preparation for this post, I found a whole that was even strong than the individual parts. Sure, the time frame seems a bit wonky as weeks go by without updates on certain storylines but it's an ambitious storyline. I like the idea of this series and the execution has been very good. You can guess at which writer has written which part but it is fairly seemless. The art has been solid too, thanks to Giffen giving consistent layouts. Joe Bennett took pencilling duties on 5 of the first 6 issues and several other artist have done mutiple turns (Chris Batista, Eddy Barrows, Todd Nauck). And the covers have been outstanding, with Jones outdoing himself almost every issue - my favorite so far has been #9, with Devilance the Pursuer menacing our three stranded heroes. Each issue has some taglines at the bottom as well - my favorite is #10's "You'll believe a man can fall" on a cover featuring Clark Kent plummeting towards the streets (yes, Superman may not be around but Clark definitely is a part of this series). So far, 52 has been worth the time and the $2.50 spent each week. Of course, I've been following DC Comics since I was 10. Your mileage may vary.

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