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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
"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'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.
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".
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".