Ralph Dibny: You missed.

Green Arrow: He said, "stop, thief." I aimed for the guy charging thirty bucks for disposable diapers in a disaster zone. (#8)

Fans and creators of comix have been debating the nature and limits of the genre for years. Discussion has been most intense in those titles where well-known, mainstream characters pull on tights and throw punches. How dark should Batman be, given that he's recognized outside his home medium as a kid’s character? How serious can Superman’s world be, when he’s so obviously a childhood wish-fulfilment? How much can characters change, given that their most established characteristics are being marketed on television, in movies, and as toys?

What defines a hero, on paper and in reality?

DC Comics' twenty-first century tweaking of their reality, Infinite Crisis addressed these questions with a villain who was trying to alter reality and make his ideal world, free of the darkness that had crept into comics in the last quarter century and has been threatening to devour them. Of course, his plan caused untold death and destruction in the four-color realm, and would have caused more, had not the heroes intervened.

DC’s titles picked up one hypothetical year later, with a slightly tweaked universe. 52 depicts the events between the end of Infinite Crisis and the start of the rebooted titles. Published weekly in 2006 and 2007, each issue depicts the events of one week in several interconnected story arcs. The earth has suffered terrible destruction, and, in the wake of Infinite Crisis its greatest heroes—-Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman—-are nowhere to be seen.1

Overall, DC continues to balance the fun of old comix and the darkness of more recent ones, and the recent changes have been planned better than those made by Crisis on Infinite Earths.2

General Information

Title: 52 #1-26

Writers: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Dan Jurgens.

Artists: Marlo Alquiza, Chris Batista, David Baron, Eddy Barrow, Joe Bennet, Keith Giffen, Shawn Moll, Todd Nauck, Tom Nguyen, Jimmy Palmiotti, Norm Rapmund, Alex Sinclair, Art Thibert, et al

Covers by J.G. Jones and Alex Sinclair.

Supporting features by Dan Jurgens, Andy Lanning, Jerry Ordway, Ivan Reis, Alex Sinclair, Mark Waid, et al.

The DC Geist

This is Metropolis! It’s a city Brainiac tries to shrink to bottle size every Thursday. Don't tell me nothing is on tonight.
--Booster Gold, #15

I really like the way 52 demonstrates the geist of the DC Universe. The writers and artists have processed their history and distilled something which includes the best of all elements. Even more so than the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths work, the "better titles," as I've written elsewhere, strike "a balance between the deliberately juvenile escapist appeal of the characters and their adventures, and the desire to place those characters and adventures in a more mature world." Escapism is a significant part of the appeal. Superhero comic books can address real-world issues, but they should also be set in a world that, gee whiz, looks like it would be a blast to inhabit.

In the wake of its most recent Crisis, DC is more comfortable with the genre’s sillier aspects, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Dr. Sivana’s hideout features the classic, cliched Mad Scientist’s lab of bygone eras. Dr Magnus works out of an implausible and entirely appropriate suburban basement lab—- though, of course, a much nicer one than Sivana’s. Metropolis looks like a cross between New York City and a World’s Fair. Kahndaq recalls a child’s vision of an exotic foreign country, something from a theme park, and the artists clearly know it.

Each individual reader has his or her own limits to this kind of comic-book stylization. I’m perfectly happy to see Detective Chimp play his part in the DCU; I’m less comfortable with deranged gag character Lobo.3 I loved the lightning flash over the gothic cliché that is Sivana Manor and the trip to the Grade B Movie laboratory in its cellar. The dynamics of the Sivana family seem a little too forced and idiotic, however, a little too much in keeping with their kiddie origins in Fawcett's peachy-keen comics of the 1940s.

Despite the comic-book stylizations, darkness and mature themes have not been abandoned. In the first issue, a depressed Ralph Dibny places a gun in his mouth. Renee Montoya, a standout in this series, wrestles with a very serious alcohol problem and a inclination towards casual sex. Two characters end up in a dismal foreign prison, and others experience implied torture. At the same time, the dark Shadowpact have a goofily joyful reunion. DC recognizes (for now) that:

  • Darkness can exist in their comics, but darkness for its own sake isn’t any more mature than wild-eyed escapist fantasy. It’s just a different form of immaturity.
  • Someone like Superman should be an unabashed, clean-cut boy scout of a hero. Other heroes should, in their better moments, aspire to an ideal. It’s okay to believe in truth and justice.

The new DC Universe gives more than just a nod to the idea of an international hero community. Granted, their big names continue to reside in the United States, but they’ve created some new characters who will play a part in future comics, and who help explain why the Justice League doesn’t, say, end every inconvenient war. In the tradition of comics, they’re a bit stereotypical, the creations of outsiders looking at foreign countries. The "Rockets Red" defend Russia, while some of China's superheroes look like defectors from a folk-dancing festival. However, they hold beliefs that differ from those of the American heroes without being villains.

The Many Narrative Threads

Warning: Spoilers

  • Black Adam takes the throne of his home country, Kahndaq, and begins implementing his own brand of justice. Along the way, he introduces the hero Isis, not seen since pre-Crisis comics, and a new character, Osiris. This new "Black Marvel Family" join the fight against Intergang. In #26, the Sivana family asks them to seek out their missing patriarch.
  • Renee Montoya comes off a bender when the Question hires her to assist on a case. Their noir adventures eventually involve them with the new Batwoman, Intergang, and the Black Marvel Family. In #26, the Question introduces Montoya to his teacher, suggesting that she will return to play a bigger role in DC comics. I hope that both of these characters do; their plot is perhaps the most interesting in 52.
  • Ralph Dibny meets with various characters as he mourns his wife, and tries to learn more about a Kryptonian cult who believe they can restore the dead to life. He apparently experiences a nervous breakdown, but returns, and begins gathering supernatural artifacts to assist in an Orphean quest.
  • Wonder Girl joins a Kryptonian cult who believe they can bring Connor "Superboy" Kent, killed during Infinite Crisis, back to life.
  • Several heroes, lost in space during Infinite Crisis, find themselves on an edenic planet, complete with its own forbidden fruit and serpent. Their attempts to return home receive help from an unlikely hero: Lobo.
  • Booster Gold’s shady dealings are exposed, but he manages to die a hero. Skeets, his robotic sidekick, turns dangerous, as we learn that someone may have altered time.
  • Someone collects mad scientists and takes them to a mysterious island where they work on deadly projects. Dr. Magnus, off his meds and wanted by the law, ultimately joins them.
  • Lex Luthor uses the existence of a second Luthor to help clear his name, and he sets about creating new superheroes.
  • Steel’s niece joins forces with Lex Luthor, as Steel, strangely transformed, tries to expose the truth behind superheroes created by Luthor.
  • A mysterious new hero, Supernova, appears, and we receive conflicting clues about his identify. One of Luthor's new heroes? An alternate-timeline Booster Gold? A Green Lantern? A plot device connected to the missing mad scientists? A Marvel superhero, disgruntled over Civil War? As of #26, we have many theories, but no definite answer.
  • The familiar heroes become aware of new superheroes in other countries, heroes who have their own concepts of justice.

Plot, Characters, and Art

The series keeps hinting, strongly, that Sue Dibny, brutally killed in Identity Crisis, may be returning. This might be a mistake. I realize that Sue played an important role in Elongated Man's success, and many readers understandably objected to the rape and murder of the character. DC, however, in recent years has been spinning the Revolving Door o' Death like a bored child. It cheapens stories and rarely serves any good purpose. Was anyone clamouring for the return of Jason Todd? Did we really need Hal Jordan resurrected, when the Earth has four other, arguably more interesting Green Lanterns, and the Universe hosts battalions of them?

Overuse of the Reset Button diminishes the potential for any story to engage the reader, and robs fictional death of any meaning it might have.

The existence of a life/death reset becomes particularly annoying in 52 when Ralph Dibny summons other heroes to investigate the possibility that a Kryptonian cult may have the ability to restore Sue to life. The heroes whom Dibny summons quickly conclude-— before they find any evidence-- that the Kryptonian cult has no real power and that Sue cannot be restored to life. Their arguments would be entirely convincing in our world. However (as Dibny notes), all of the assembled characters have returned from the grave. Events much more fantastic than what the cult proposes occur regularly. Why, then, do the Justice Leaguers immediately assume the cult is a fraud?4 Why do the rules of our universe suddenly apply? And wouldn’t this storyline be more dramatically meaningful if DC didn’t kill and revive characters at the drop of a mask?

Conventional comic books require us to accept far-fetched premises, but the stories have to make sense within those premises. I’ll accept the presence of superbeings, but not a sudden suspension of plot logic.

Artistically, 52 features some great moments; I especially like the noir art which dominates the Montoya plot and some of Dibny’s adventures. Scenes with Detective Chimp, Dibny, and others at the House of Mystery in #18 also feature good, atmospheric detail and a sense of the genre’s history. With so many artists, however, styles can clash. This is particularly true when two different approaches appear in the same narrative thread.

Throughout, the artists have included elements that reflect the presence of superheroes. These include the omnipresent Booster Gold endorsements, a Kryptonian-inspired cult, the kids’ shirts in #2, the woman’s bathing suit in #8, the Halloween costumes in #25, and the action figures we see nearly every time a small child appears.

Characterization, like the quality of the artwork, varies. Steel and Montoya have been handled fairly well. Booster Gold gets pushed a little too far over the top, especially when Skeets’ information becomes inaccurate. Other characters remain comic-book wooden, and they sometimes speak dialogue for the sake of informing the reader, rather than for any reason intrinsic to the story.

The series introduces several new characters, including some super-doers who once inhabited DC’s Silver Age comics, but have not appeared since the company rebooted their history in the mid-1980s. Isis, originally created for the Shazam tv show appears, with a fresh origin and a skimpier outfit. Kate Kane makes her first appearance since the 1970s as Batwoman. Created in the 50s, to stave off accusations that Batman was a gay role model, she reappears in the 2000s as a lesbian and, predictably, a former partner of Renee Montoya.

Fifty-two also salvages DC's most infamous villain.

Lex Luthor uses the existence of the other Luthor to clear some of his legal troubles, and then in a surprise development hatches an evil plot. This allows DC, thankfully, to restore "Business Class Luthor," by far the best incarnation in the character's long history. He had, in recent years, returned to his Silver Age self, complete with purple-and-green body armor. His use of the other Luthor plays a bit loosely with established DC history, however. Alexander Luthor was never the genetic duplicate of Luthor shown here; he was the son of an alternate-universe Lex Luthor and his reality's Lois Lane. However, they've made it clear that the events of Infinite Crisis tweaked certain aspects of their history, and so minor discontinuities can easily be discounted.

The writers see the value of this Luthor; the contrast between his polished public appearance and egoistic, evil soul becomes clear in 52. This guy doesn’t need a purple-and-green exoskeleton or special powers to rate as Superman’s #1 foe, and that makes him more frightening.

While I like this conception of Luthor, his characterization and dialogue in #8 are awful, like a villain from a really bad melodrama. Again, the number of people working on 52 and the rushed schedule do not consistently result in high quality.

This story will appeal to a broad range of comic-book fans. It requires knowledge of DC comics but, unlike certain other comic mini-series (not to be uncivil), it does not require reading twenty crossovers issues each month to follow the plot. The writers manage to keep a fairly good flow, despite the many narrative threads.

Special Features

Issues #1-11 feature a history, inevitably somewhat confusing, of the DC Universe. Issues #12-26 feature origins of: Wonder Woman, Elongated Man, Metamorpho, Steel, Black Adam, Lobo, the Question, Animal Man, Adam Strange, Green Lantern, Wildcat, Booster Gold, Nightwing5, and Hawkman.

The second half of the 52 series will be reviewed by Chainstore.

Notes for Nerds

1. Superman lost his powers during Infinite Crisis and requires the year to recharge. Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter, makes a few appearances in 52. Batman is touring the world, accompanied by Tim Drake (the current Robin) and Dick Grayson (the original), and working on becoming more of a team player. Wonder Woman is also doing some soul searching.

2. In places, DC’s balancing act has some odd results. Consider what occurs when Montoya picks up another woman. The Question stalks into the room at night, following the trail of discarded clothing, which includes underwear. However, both Montoya and her companion are sleeping in their underwear. This raises some questions:

  • Do women in the DCU typically wear two sets of underwear?
  • How many women sleep in bra and underpants, especially when they’re entertaining company?
  • Is the Question a Peeping Tom, or just a masked vigilante doing a thankless job?

3. I really didn’t want to see Lobo in this story. He works as the gag character he originally was, and I suppose he can work on his own. When he appears center stage in the DC Universe, he doesn’t work.

I can buy, say, a Detective Chimp because he doesn't clash with my ability to involve myself, at some level, with the story. Comix are all about elastic realities and oddball characters. But it's difficult to pretend I care about the fate of characters when, a panel later, I'm supposed to guffaw over a hyperbolic space biker who has committed genocide.

4. The heroes' attitude recalls the pre-1985 episodes of famed children's show Sesame Street, wherein no one would believe that Big Bird had a friend named Mr. Snuffle-Upagus. On a street inhabited by blue monsters, a numerically-obsessed vampire, and a garbage-can dwelling Grouch, why did anyone consider the sentient avian's furry proboscidean friend to be far-fetched?

5. What would a comic-book review be without a really geeky continuity footnote? Nightwing makes a brief appearance in the series. This creates a continuity problem, since he is supposed to be touring the world with Batman and Robin. UPDATE: A later development offers a possible explanation for Nightwing's appearance.

Portions of this review have appeared previously at Bureau42

    Booster Gold: Dude, we watched all of reality get splintered. Aren't you worried that so much is broken?

    Rip Hunter: Look around you, Booster. There's so much more happening out there than we could ever have imagined. That's not 'broken', that's the way things should be. Welcome to a universe of possiblity. (#52)

General Information

Title: 52 #27-52

Writers: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid.

Artists: Keith Giffen, Phil Jiminez, Darick Robertson, Rodney Ramos, Giuseppe Camuncoli et al.

Covers by J.G. Jones and Alex Sinclair.

Supporting features by Mark Waid, Ivan Reis, Phil Jiminez, Scott McDaniel et al.

Review Warning: Spoilers

When 52 was announced I had some serious doubts. Doubts about the ability of four writers to put out a comic a week for a whole year; about maintaining a consistently decent quality of art with such tight deadlines; about dragging out plots to what would amount to just under five years of issues on an ordinary comic schedule; and about the ability of editorial to maintain a single consistent authorial voice without crushing what makes each of the series's individual writers so special. In the end some of these fears were quashed while others were vindicated, leaving us with something of a curate's egg.

The Authors First off, there's the issue of having four writers working simultaneously on the same book. In practice it's the only way this thing could function; nobody could put out 21 pages of comics a week for an extended period of time, certanily not one as complex as this one. On the other hand, it does mean that there are occasional, sharp shifts in tone between pages, most noticeably when Grant Morrison steps behind the keyboard and the characters suddenly start to speak in the self-consciously crazy, Silver Age-esque style that he's been developing for a few years now.

It's also pretty obvious who brought forward which storylines: the Silver Age scientists on an island full of robot monsters are Morrison all over, while JSA fan Johns was almost certanily behind Black Adam's rise and fall. I'd be very surprised if Greg Rucka wasn't responsible for upgrading Montoya, his pet character since his Batman days, into a fully-fledged superhero, and Waid's modern-day superhero work fingers him as the man responsible for the Lex Luthor/Steel storyline.

On the other hand, this mix 'n' match affair does make the comic feel extremely varied and really shows off the full scope of the DC Universe, from Rucka's superpowered noir to Morrison's dayglo madness. It does for the larger DC Universe what The Books of Magic did for DC's supernatural characters in the 90s - gives a whistle-stop tour of all the best hangouts and reintroduces a lot of potentially forgotten characters while throwing in a few new ones. While most of the changes made in 52 are undone or neutralised by the end of the series, it is to be hoped that other writers do explore some of the concepts and ideas brought up in the various issues. Intergang as a criminal cult and perhaps the return to the super-science partnership would be greatly appreciated... by me, at any rate, if nobody else.

The Stories Of course, that's one of the things about 52 - everyone is going to walk away with their own favourite stories and slightly resent the ones they don't like for taking up precious pages. Personally, I found the blatantly Morrison-influcenced Mad Science Island and Skeets storylines to be the most satisfying, although the latter only really kicked into gear in the last issue, when everything came together brilliantly.

Egg-Fu's Science Squad, on the other hand, was consistently entertaining; seeing a hundred mad science geeks fighting over the one woman genius on the island was a hoot, as were their outlandish creations. And the relationship between Will Magnus and T.O. Morrow was genuinely touching, particularly at the end when Morrow shows some remorse for treating Will so badly and Will helps him anyway. They're a pair of extremely interesting characters and would, I'm sure, be able to hold up at least a miniseries.

The Question/Montoya plot was also surprisingly interesting and probably the one that held up the best over the course of the whole run, being composed of three or four smaller, continually advancing plots rather than long-form soap operatics or throwaway adventures. While it's a shame to see Charlie dead, I'll be interested to see where they take Montoya from here and how she plays into the wider Gotham City mythos now that she's a 'proper' superhero rather than another police officer. Actually, I rather hope that they move her out of Gotham and into Hub City since, with Batman, Batwoman, Nightwing and Robin all active, the city really doesn't need any more capes flapping about.

Probably the only complaint I have with Montoya's story is the way Batwoman was turned into a damsel in distress and - very nearly - yet another superheroine whose story ends with her being horribly killed, particularly since the comic got a lot of media attention for introducing an openly lesbian Bat-character.

Also good, though suffering rather too much from being rather dragged out, was the story of Ralph Dibney, AKA the Elongated Man. After his (very quickly resolved) mental breakdown in issue 13, the remaining three quarters of the comic consisted of him traipsing about the DCU searching for a way to bring his wife, Sue, back to life. Predictably, none of them worked, leading to far too many stories in which Ralph turns up, interacts with a DCU character and then wanders off again having achieved nothing.

This holding pattern, frankly, came across as terrible padding. Montoya solved two major mysteries, went on a quest for spiritual understanding, tried to save Charlie from cancer and saved her ex-girlfriend from being sacrificed. Meanwhlie, Ralph just tries and fails and tries and fails over and over. Still, some of his stories are fun enough and his final confrontation with the 'helmet' was excellent; his righteous anger and keen intelligence shine through, and his final victory (and being reunited with Sue in the afterlife) are some of my favourity comics moments from 2007 so far.

Floating around the middle in terms of quality are the lost in space and time travel plots. The latter, again, suffers from the holding pattern problen, with far too many scenes basically just showing Skeets murdering someone or Supernova being evasive about his identity, but that final issue, with the apparent creation of the Wildstorm universe on Earth 50 and the excellent callbacks to the first couple of issues, almost redeems it completely.

The space plot, meanwhile, is entertaining enough but rarely excels - and the anticlimactic defeat of Lady Styx coupled with the decision not to definitively wrap up the Styx rebirth/Lobo killing the dolphin god plots is a big disappointment. Especially since Styx just comes across as a watered-down version of the Queen of the Sheeda from Morrisons' Seven Soldiers anyway.

Still, at least it wasn't the Lex Luthor arc, which was tedious from the off, mostly because it was so obviously throwaway. DC were never going to allow him to keep up his Everyman project, simply because giving superpowers to millions of people would totally screw up their universe. And since the mastermind was Lex Luthor, it was never going to end any other way than him being clapped in irons and sent to jail. At least the other stories gave the impression that things would change permanently, either for individuals or the DCU. And they didn't have to rely on the tired old story of a youngster going to get easy powers from a baddie then realising that she'd made a mistake. Yawn.

Undoubtedly my least favourite plot, however, was the one given the most pages: the creation and destruction of the Black Marvel family. I've always found Black Adam's position in the DCU as a brutish, much less intelligent Doctor Doom to be a source of eternal boredom, but the possibility that he might mellow out under Isis's influence and become a morally ambiguous dictator rather than a cartoonish supervillain acutally seemed to hold some promise. However, that's the sort of thing that works better as a background story rather than a main plot thread, so endless bloody issues of Isis talking Black Adam out of pulling off people's arms and Osiris angsting about nobody trusting him really began to grate.

Then we got Isis's death (yes, another dead woman to motivate the protagonist) and an admittedly cool fight between Adam and the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse that was followed by an absolutely baffling plot in which Adam decides to attack the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Sydney Opera House (and presumably, other world landmarks) for absolutely no reason. Okay, so maybe he's gone a little crazy and decided to kill everyone in the world. Right? But he just turns up somewhere, causes some property damage, kills and injures a few hundred people and then moves on. And when superheroes get in his way he swats them aside and only kills one or two of them. Why? Do colourful capes tame the anger within or something? This was made even worse by the woeful World War III miniseries, which couldn't decide whether Adam was supposed to be psychotically insane or somewhat in control of his actions. Dire. And yet it was still the biggest event of 52 and the dramatic climax of the series. Tch.

The Structure One of the things that kind of bothered me about 52 when it started was that it tried to juggle too many plots in a single issue, leading to a weirdly un-comicy structure that meant just as it felt like the issue was getting into full swing, everything ended. Later issues combatted this by focusing largely on a single storyline and progressing others with one or two pages, but this did have some odd side effects, like storylines seemingly being put off for a couple of issues until there's enough pagetime to deal with them. Hence, presumably, the reason why Luthor is defeated in issue 40 after kidnapping Steel's niece, but not arrested until issue 46, which - following the one issue/one week chronology - means that the police have taken a month and a half to get their arses in gear.

The semi-real time conceit also meant that, for example, Animal Man and the other spacefarers followed Lady Styx for a month before they bothered to attack, even though they knew she was headed to Earth and that time was of the essence. And some of the big climactic confrontations - Lobo v Styx, Everyone v Adam - have to be artificially compressed to stop the story bleeding through into another week. On the other hand, it did allow for some really clever writing in places. For example, New Year's Eve 2006 occurred on a Sunday, allowing for a genuine cliffhanger that could be picked up immediately in the next issue without worrying about the passage of time. Also, the dating system (Week X, Day Y) lead to some great gags during the time travel, including "Week 0, Day 0" when Booster Gold and Rip travel back to see the birth of the multiverse.

The Art Inevitably, the art on 52 was massively variable and largely mediocre. The series had its moments - most notably the Darick Robertson-inked conclusion to the Elongated Man arc and Giuseppe Camuncoli's rendition of Batman in Nanda Parbat - but for the most part the art was workmanlike at best. Where guest artists were included, they generally only did a few pages (Phil Jiminez, for example, did the first few pages of issue 35), leading to issues that were extremely inconsistent. But this is the problem of doing a weekly comic, I suppose, and it's hard to know if there's a way around it, other than by getting the art for the first X issues done several months in advance and getting someone with amazing planning skills to put together an artists' rota. Even then, I suspect that the gruelling deadlines would affect the quality. Even Robertson, who's reknowned for being damned nippy when drawing, ended up turning in scruffy, ugly pages for his second 52 issue (#48) and for the Elongated Man coda in #52.

The Summary As I said before, 52 is very much a curate's egg: parts of it are excellent and parts of it are dire. However, if you'll excuse the art and the weird characterisation of Black Adam during his World Tour, then exactly which parts are and aren't any good are likely to change massively from person to person. With that in mind, it's awfully difficult to unequivocally condemn or praise it. Ultimately, I think, it should be seen as a worthy experiement and an entertaining comic book, though one that suffered a little from being the first of its kind. DC are already planning Countdown, a new year-long weekly comic, and I'm sufficiently impressed by 52 to give it a shot. 52 is being collected in four trades of 13 issues each and I have to say that if you're a fan of any of the characters featured in it then you'd be well advised to at least give the first trade a shot. If you're not a massive fan of the DC Universe, however, then I'd suggest treading carefully as I suspect that much of the book will go straight over your head. Oh - and avoid the abysmal "World War III" spin-off like it's covered in ricin.

Hmm, I came all that way to say "well, it's all right... Sorry everyone!

The Many Narrative Threads Are Tied Up:

Warning: Spoilers

The Church of Kon-El This Superboy-worshipping cult featured earlier in the series, but by the end it has been destroyed. In its place is an informal gathering of people who celebrate Superboy's life and look to him as an inspiration.

Intergang Intergang has evolved from a crime syndicate into a twisted church of crime and their plans - including creating half-human, half-animal shapeshifters - are part of a plot to make their own Book of Revelations come to pass, climaxing with the sacrifice of Kathy Kane, AKA Batwoman.

Renee Montoya Montoya continues to travel with Charlie (AKA The Question), who takes her on a voyage of physical and emotional improvement. She is taught to fight by master martial artist Richard Dragon and finally finds herself at peace after a spiritual revelation in the mysterious mountain city of Nanda Parbat. However, it emerges that Charlie is dying of cancer and all this is just to prepare her so that she can take The Question's mantle. Despite the best efforts of both Renee and ex-girlfriend Kathy Kane, Charlie dies. Renee then becomes The Question and investigates Intergang's scheme, saving Kathy's life in the process. The series ends with Renee shining the Batsignal onto Kathy's bedroom, suggesting that a partnership or renewed relationship may be on the cards.

Mad Science Island The mad scientists kidnapped earlier in the series turn out to be working for Intergang, who have them build a team of robotic and bio-organic Horsemen of the Apocalypse as part of their twisted Bible of Crime. However, only Death, War and Pestilence are seen. Scientists on the island include Black Adam's foe, Dr Sivana, criminal genius T.O. Morrow and the creator of the Metal Men, Will Magnus. Morrow, knowing that Will's genius is being stifled by his medication, has it removed from him by their captor, Egg-Fu. Unbeknownst to them, however, Magnus has sneaked miniature versions of the Metal Men in with him to help effect an escape...

Black Adam Black Adam continues on his path towards redepmtion thanks to his love Isis, a goddess of life. They, along with Isis's young brother, Osiris, and a talking crocodile named Sobek, form the Black Marvel family. Osiris finds that his links with Black Adam have prejudiced him in the eyes of the superhero community and tries to redeem their name. However, his plans are ruined when the Suicide Squad stage an attack at the behest of intelligence boss Amanda Waller, and he accidentally kills one of their number. Footage of this is broadcast to the world. Sobek convinces Osiris that he must give up his powers and make it as a man, but this is a ruse for Sobek is truly Famine of the four horsemen and he devours Osiris. The other three horsemen attack and Black Adam kills them all except Death, but in the process Isis is killed. Black Adam doesn't take this particularly well: he follows Death to the country of Bialya, which he completely scourges of all life, killing Death in the process. He then travels to the Mad Science Island to wreak havoc on the creators of the Horsemen, but falls afoul of their combined scientific prowess. While Dr Sivana tortures Black Adam, Egg-Fu offers to auction the defeated super-human for cash. The Justice Society of America turns up to free Adam, but China's own superteam, The Great Ten, tells them that if they launch an attack, they will precipitate...

World War III It turns out that Egg Fu himself is one of the Great Ten and they want to keep it a secret, hence their refusal to let the JSA in. While the two sides stand off against each other, Dr Will Magnus and his Metal Men kill Egg-Fu. In the confusion, T.O. Morrow and Dr Sivana escape. The JSA invades the compound, threatening to tell the world about Egg Fu's links to the Great Ten if they are stopped. Atom Smasher frees Black Adam, who escapes and scorches a trail of destruction around the Earth, soundly beating every hero who gets in his way. Eventually he returns to China, where the Great Ten take him on, with the rest of the world's superheroes standing on the Chinese border, knowing that the Government will launch nukes if they 'invade'. Accepting defeat, the Great Ten allow entry and every active superhero in the world pounds the Hell out of Adam. Captain Marvel forces a weakened Adam to transform back into his mortal form, then changes his transformation word, theoretically locking him out of his Black Adam body forever. Adam escapes and is seen walking the world mumbling every word he can think of to change back.

Batman Recognising that he has become too damned grim, Batman travels into the desert with Robin and Nightwing to have his 'ghosts' cut away by a tribe of mystical warriors. He then meditates for several days in Nanda Parbat in the same crystal cave that Renee entered. He emerges smiling, suggesting a return to the happier Batman of the 1960s. Meanwhile, in Gotham City, Jim Gordon once again becomes Commissioner of the GCPD.

Wonder Woman Diana Prince is also seen a couple of times at Nanda Parbat and it is suggested that she also comes to terms with killing superfiend Max Lord during the Infinite Crisis 1. Later, we see that a different person has taken up the Wonder Woman mantle and Diana is now an operative for the Department of Metahuman Affairs.

Elongated Man and Dr Fate's Helmet Ralph Dibny travels the world with the helmet of Dr Fate, meeting various people who might be able to resurrect Sue, but none of these meetings pay off. He also turns down the chance to become the new host for The Spectre when he feels too much compassion for Jean Loring, his first potential victim. Eventually, it emerges that the Helmet is actually the magician Faust in disguise, working as an agent for the demon Neron. Neron wants to ensnare Ralph's pure soul in a magical ritual held in a hidden magical tower. However, Ralph already worked this out long ago. He puts up a binding spell around the tower and provokes Neron into killing him. With Ralph dead, the binding spells cannot be removed and both Neron and Faust are trapped forever. Weeks later, something mysterious happens at a high school and both Ralph and Sue's ghosts - reunited for eternity - are on hand to investigate.

Animal Man, Adam Strange, Starfire and Lobo The team - such as it is - finds itself pursued by The Emerald Head of Ekron, which wants Lobo to give its Emerald Eye - a powerful weapon - back. However, it turns out that the head is actually a construct made by a Green Lantern member driven insane by "The Stygian Passover". This is a bio-organic race from beyond space-time that devastate planets and convert their inhabitants into cyberised slaves. It kills golden-age hero Captain Comet and the world he swore to protect. After a month trailing the Stygian fleet, the group infiltrate the ship by getting Lobo to 'hand them over' to Lady Styx. There follows a brief fight in which Lady Styx provokes Lobo into giving up his vows of nonviolence - he slaughters her men while the Green Lantern sacrifices itself to kill Lady Styx. Animal Man is killed in the fight and left behind on a meteor as the group splits up:

Starfire and Adam Strange Starfire returns to Earth while Adam Strange is dropped off on Rann. There, he has new eyes grafted into his head and meets his family for the first time in over a year.

Lobo "The main man", as he likes to call himself, brings the Eye of Ekron - which is apparently a prototype Green Lantern device - to the Triple Fish God that he worships. He then apparently uses it to kill the God. The reasons behind this are unknown, although it is possible that the god had a bounty on his head and Lobo's devotion was just a ruse.

Animal Man Animal Man's body, having been left behind, is revived and awoken by aliens he'd made contact with many years before. He then taps into the abilities of sun eaters - space-faring animals - to travel back home at top speed and reunite his family. However, Lady Styx has somehow rejuvinated herself and sends a couple of bounty hunters after him. Happily, they are quickly dispatched by Starfire. The Styx plotline is the only one to not be concluded in 52.

Lex Luthor and Steel Lex Luthor steps up his metahuman-creating programme and recruits Steel's niece, Natalie, into a new version of the superhero team Infinity Inc. Steel, however, discovers that Luthor's process not only has an expiration date, but that it can be switched off at will by Luthor. On New Year's Eve, Luthor organises a superhero parade in the skies above Metropolis, but turns off the heroes' powers on the stroke of midnight, causing them to fall onto the crowds below. He hopes to bring Superman out of hiding, but Supernova steps in and saves the day by teleporting the crowds to the outskirts of Metropolis. Infinity Inc's powers remain, causing Natalie to smell a rat. She works as Steel's 'inside man' and together with the Teen Titans they raid Lexcorp and take down Infinity Inc and Luthor. Lex is later arrested by the police. Steel sets up "Steelworks", a non-profit laboratory that anyone can join.

Red Tornado After he was ripped to pieces (for the Nth time, where N is the biggest number you can think of plus one) in Infinite Crisis, Red Tornado's head lands in the Australian outback, where it is found by an Aborigine who builds him a robot body, but all Red can says is "52" 2. He is soon dismantled again and taken away for scrap, then built into a controversial art piece. Dr T.O. Morrow buys up the piece and, after escaping the Mad Science Island, plans to fix him, but the robot is stolen away by Rip Hunter, Time Master.

Skeets, Supernova and Booster Gold Booster Gold's robot pal, Skeets, continues his rampage while searching for Rip Hunter, Time Master. In doing so, he kills off the Linear Men, the team tasked with keeping divergent timelines stable. The mysterious superhero Supernova turns out to actually be Booster Gold himself, saved at the moment of his apparent death by and taken back in time by Rip Hunter, who asked him to use teleport technology to steal various superhero items so that they could build up an arsenal to take on Skeets. All this time they have been operating from inside the Bottled City of Kandor in Superman's Fortess of Solitude. Skeets confronts them and Rip, Booster and one of Booster's ancestors manage to drag him into a space between universes. Here, Rip reveals that in the wake of the Infinite Crisis, 52 identical universed were created. Skeets turns out to have been under the control of Mister Mind, a Golden Age mind-controlling caterpillar seen in Dr Sivana's lab in one of the earliest issues of 52. Mister Mind then hatches into his true form: a universe-consuming insect. He rampages across numerous universes, twisting them into strange versions of their usual selves. The team, aided by Red Tornado's head, use synthetic time stolen from Dr Sivana to shrink Mister Mind, then trap him inside Skeets' shell, where he reverts to his caterpillar form. They throw him through the time stream and into day one of week one of 52, where Dr Sivana finds him and imprisons him, trapping Mister Mind in an eternal time loop. Booster takes Skeets' shell to Dr Magnus, who installs a saved version of the robot's personality, bringing him "back to life".

Special Features

Issues #26-28, 30-34, 36-39, 41-43 and 46 continued the practice of telling the origins of various heroes and villains. In order, they were: Black Canary, Catman, The Metal Men, Robin, Blue Beetle, Martian Manhunter, Zatanna, Power Girl, Firestorm, Red Tornado, Mister Terrific, Starfire, Green Arrow, Plastic Man and Batman

Issues 47-49 and 51 told the origins of superhero organisations: Teen Titans, Birds of Prey, the JSA and the JLA.

(29, 35, 40, 44, 45, 50 and 52 didn't contain backups at all)

Notes for Nerds

1: Max had used his mental powers to drive Superman insane and the it turned out that only way that his sanity could be restored was by killing Max. Wonder Woman snapped his neck, but footage of the killing was broadcast by a big bad and Wonder Woman's reputation was destroyed. She was also rejected by Superman and Batman in what has to be one of the biggest moments of out-of-character bullshit in recent comics. Well, provided you ignore the entirety of Marvel's Civil War

2: This is actually an error, since it was established early in the series that events in space had bonded Red Tornado's voice box to the body of Teen Titan member Mal Duncan. It, too kept saying "52".

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