Monday, June 21, 2010

DC Comics 52 Vol. 1-4 Review

DC Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback Volumes 1-4
304 pages ea. 1,216 pages total
$19.99 ea. $79.96 total
ISBN 9781401213534/ 9781401213640/ 9781401214432/ 9781401214869

Contributors: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Keith Giffen, J. G. Jones, Eddy Barrows, Chris Batista, Joe Bennett, Ken Lashley, Shawn Moll, Todd Nauck, David Baron, Alex Sinclair, Dale Eaglesham, Phil Jimenez, Drew Johnson, Pat Olliffe, Tom Derenick, Jamal Igle, Dan Jurgens, Joe Prado, Andy Smith, Guiseppe Camuncoli, Justiniano, Mike McKone, Darick Robertson, and about 52 other people.

Reprints: 52 #1-52 (of 52)

Synopsis: Following the events of Infinite Crisis the world is without Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.  The trinity of heroes have disappeared and for an entire year other lesser-known heroes must fill their shoes.  Each issue of 52 represents one week of the year and were released in real-time - no mean feat for an American comic book series.  The series was made possible by four writers, one breakdown artist, and a veritable legion of pencil/ink/color/lettering artists. 

Over the course of the year several major storylines play out including:
  • In Metropolis Lex Luthor begins his Everyman Project where he grants superpowers to anyone he wishes.  Steel (John Henry Irons) has a falling out with his niece Natasha who wants to be a hero without paying her dues.  She joins up with Luthor's new superteam Infinity Inc. (he legally purchased the rights for the team's name).  Adding insult to injury Irons is slipped the Everyman treatment on the sly and *shock* grows a living steel skin.  He now looks like a complete hypocrite in his niece's eyes and she won't believe his warnings about Lex Luthor.  What terrible tragedy will Luthor mastermind and can Irons save his niece from becoming another victim of Luthor's treachery?
  • Ralph Dibny (the Elongated Man) is still reeling from the events of Identity Crisis when his wife was murdered by a long-time friend Jean Loring (wife of the original Atom).  He visits her grave and finds it has been vandalized by a new cult worshipping the Kryptonian theory of resurrection.  Wonder Girl is a member of the cult and desperately hopes Superboy (Kon-El) will return to her (he died in Infinite Crisis).  Ralph investigates and participates in a resurrection ceremony where he begins believing it may be possible to bring Sue back.  He soon embarks on a mystical journey with an unlikely traveling companion -- the Helmet of Fate!  Will Ralph discover a way to bring Sue back with the help of Fate or is she lost forever?
  • In Gotham Renee Montoya is drinking herself into oblivion after the death of her partner Crispus Allen (who later becomes a host for The Spectre) and the break-up with her lover Daria.  She encounters a strange face-less man who hires her to stake out a building for a week.  She follows a shadowy figure into the building and discovers a huge beast-man hauling boxes filled with sci-fi weaponry.  The face-less man is The Question and he joins Montoya in confronting the beast-man.  Intergang has started moving on Gotham with Batman out of the picture.  They have adopted a new religion based on the "Crime Bible" where crime is law.  A new hero rises up to face Intergang -- the Batwoman!  Who is she and what is her link with Intergang and Renee Montoya?
  • Black Adam is the ruler and protector of the nation Kahndaq.  He metes out a merciless form of justice based on capital punishment and an-eye-for-an-eye.  No one opposes him as he begins building a superhuman alliance to rival the oppressive West.  Adam meets a fiery young woman who strikes a cord in his heart.  He shares his power with her and soon the heroine Isis is born.  Her brother was sold into slavery and Adam helps rescue him.  Granting the brother powers the hero Osiris is born.  Soon the Black Marvel Family is together (with their own talking alligator mascot) and Adam's rage is finally tempered.  The treachery of Intergang has infiltrated Kahndaq and what fate awaits the newest superpowered family?
  • Dr. Will Magnus' work is foundering after a mental breakdown caused him to create the deadly Plutonium Man.  Now medicated to prevent any further relapses he visits old foe Dr. T. O. Morrow on a weekly basis.  Morrow was Magnus' former teacher and the creator of the Red Tornado.  On one of these visits he hears of the abduction of many "mad" scientists including Dr. Sivana (foil to Captain Marvel).  Soon Morrow is abducted and the head of the Red Tornado is sighted in Australia.  Magnus intends to discover where the scientists have been taken and wishes deeply to re-create his Metal Men.  Whatever happened to the little worm named Mister Mind kept in a jar in Sivana's lab?
  • Three heroes are lost in space after the events of Infinite Crisis - Animal Man, Starfire, and Adam Strange.  They wind up stranded on a beautiful, but uninhabited planet and must find their way home.  The planet is not what it seems and soon they encounter the deadliest bounty hunter in the galaxy - Lobo!  He has found religion and become a pacifist with a space dolphin buddy.  When a universe-level threat appears how will the three castaways manage to fight it without the Main Man?
  • Booster Gold in Metropolis has become a walking billboard covered in corporate sponsorship logos.  He uses the stored historical knowledge of his robot companion Skeets to avert disasters and gain fame/fortune.  Brand new hero Supernova bursts on the scene and begins stealing Booster's thunder.  When Skeets information turns out to be faulty a major threat to the time-stream emerges.  Can glory hound Booster step up when it really counts and what is the strange secret of Supernova?
Pros: Covers by J. G. Jones are great, story is compelling and changes many older characters' status quos (sometimes permanently), some thrilling surprises, commentary at the end of each issue giving unique insight into the creative process and afterthoughts by the creators

Cons: Biggest drawback to a weekly book is the constant artist shifting - some plotline resolutions are done by completely different artists than the regular weekly buildup, J. G. Jones covers are all sandwiched in the back of the trade paperbacks instead of prefacing each new week, the commentary sometimes had spoilers (one major one at least), Batwoman fights in high heels (it looks sexy, but it's absolutely impossible)

Mike Tells It Straight: I've got to hand it to DC and the creators of 52, they did it.  Published a weekly comic in today's market where squeezing out even a monthly book is often impossible for some creative teams.  They put together four top-notch writers and let them loose on the rest of the DCU.  Considering there were four writers some of the plotlines were a bit confusing at times, many didn't get enough spotlight time and/or had rushed endings.  Quick commentary on the resolutions for the main storylines:
  • Steel/Luthor ending was too predictable and very unsatisfying (possibly due to the art)
  • Ralph Dibny ending was well-handled and a good surprise
  • Question/Renee Montoya/Batwoman ending was decent, but I never really liked any of the characters (sorry Vic Sage)
  • Black Marvel Family storyline was pure genius and ending was perfectly executed
  • Magnus/Metal Men/Morrow ending was somewhat unremarkable, but filled holes in the plot
  • Animal Man/Starfire/Adam Strange/Lobo story sounded good on paper, but ending felt rushed
  • Booster Gold/Skeets/Rip Hunter/Supernova story was a breath of fresh air for the character and also really well done
52 is essential reading for the modern DC fan and a good follow-up to Infinite Crisis.  They managed to resurrect many B and C grade characters (and kill off a few D grade ones).  52 is a unique ride.