52 Volumes 1-4

 52 Volumes 1-4
Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucks, Mark Waid, Keith Giffen, et. al., 2007
Collects 52: Issues 1-52

Premise: After the Infinite Crisis, the world is saved, but not without cost. A year passes in the DCU, a year that sees new and old heroes rise to the challenges of a more complex world.

52 was a bit of a grand experiment for DC. It was a weekly book that came out consistently for an entire year, written by a team of their top writers. At the same time that this was coming out, most other books were labeled “One Year Later”, and took place a year after the Infinite Crisis crossover event. 52 aspired to tell the story of the “missing year”, a year in which the big three (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman) went a bit walkabout to find themselves, and meanwhile other heroes rose to prominence.

52 is a complicated book. Main plotlines include Steel struggling with Luthor’s project to turn teenagers into controllable superheroes, the JSA dealing with same, Elongated Man dealing with the death of his wife, Booster Gold trying to be the kind of big shot he’s never been, Black Adam ruling a country and maybe finding a soul, Renee Montoya coming out of depression to join forces with the Question, investigating Intergang’s incursion into Gotham, the introduction of Batwoman, Professor Magnus (of the Metal Men) checking into a mass disappearance of mad scientists, and I think I’m forgetting something. Oh, Adam Strange, Starfire and Animal Man trapped in deep space. It’s not for the faint-of-heart or anyone new to comics. There are minor characters even I’ve barely heard of coming out of the woodwork.

The 52 issues are collected in four volumes, and they include commentary and sketches in between the issues. Overall I really liked it... for about three of the volumes.

Maybe I heard too much about the plotlines. I knew most of the twists before they happened, just because I heard about them when the book was first coming out. I didn’t know exactly how they happened, but reading them wasn’t very satisfying. The twists I didn’t know, I didn’t enjoy either. Some of the plot resolutions felt rushed, some forced, some just like a cop-out. I don’t know. I wanted to like it, and I did like some of the plots throughout (heroes in deep space and Montoya mainly), although even there, the endings were kinda shoved in to make space for the next story beat.

Ugh. I’m still ambivalent on Kate Kane. This ends my completely backwards reading of her history. She starts here, then got her own backup (collected in trade), then her own series. I read them in reverse order, and I’ve never quite understood the appeal of the character. Her interactions with Nightwing were fun, but overall I’m just meh on her plotlines.

The early stuff is pretty interesting, but while you don’t have to know all the characters going in, if you didn’t at least recognize most of the names in my sum-up above I would steer clear of this one. I’d never read anything with Black Adam or Elongated Man or the Metal Men, but I had a vague idea of who they were, and most of the other characters I knew better.

Some more specifics: I really liked the way Starfire and Animal Man were written through most of this, and Booster Gold’s scenes were generally fun. I had wanted to read more with Natasha Irons, and her stuff, though full of teen angst, is decent. On the other hand, Elongated Man’s plot bored me more and more as it went along, and I thought the ending was dull as dirt. The very, very end to Black Adam’s plot was great, but the climatic issues before that I just found busy, upsetting and needlessly confusing.  Montoya’s plot was sort of working until, again, the climax. I just think the ‘Religion of Crime’ is a stupid idea for a villain, their plot is dumb and I don’t like reading about them.

The final ending has some neat ideas, but I didn’t really understand the heroes’ solution to the problem, and there seemed to be a bit too much hand-waving going on in the brief explanations. It was meant to bring it all together, but to me it just felt like they’d turned the entire year of issues into an excuse for a setting element that should have only taken up a few pages at most. Between that and the commentary at the end, which made a good try at making the whole thing feel inspirational, but just made me angry at the current state of the DCU, it risked souring me on the whole year-long arc. I have to keep reminding myself that I liked a lot of it, even a lot of the last Volume. There’s good stuff in the ending(s) that take up most of Volume Four, but overall I just found it fine, not great.  I know a lot of people loved the ending, but it really doesn’t work for me, and so it brings the whole enterprise down a notch.

The Trinity appear around the edges of the other plots. Wonder Woman’s late scene with Montoya is pretty great, although the rest of the stuff with her feels tacked on. Bruce... it’s kinda neat, but I do not know what was going on there. Clark, meanwhile, positively sparkles in the first few volumes. Temporarily powerless, he hangs in the background being awesome.

I enjoyed the read (until the endings started hitting), but I can only recommend 52 to the hard-core DC fans... who, honestly, have probably already read it.

52 Volumes 1-3: 4 Stars 
52 Volume 4: 3 Stars


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