With DC starting another weekly series and Figs anxious to continue his Morrrison-athon, this seems like a good time to take a look back at 52.

 

<SPOILER ALERT> .... Due to the amount of plot building and foreshadowing in this series, spoilers aplenty will be tossed about. You have been warned. ... <SPOILER ALERT>

 

DC has tried the weekly comic format a number of times. 

 

The granddaddy of DC's weeklies would be the Millennium crossover series.  I suspect this was issued weekly because DC wanted to confine its annual crossover to the summer.  Millennium started off with a bang but ran out of steam quickly after the initial Manhunter reveals.  One could argue that the story was forced to move too slowly to wait for each monthly to have a crossover.  In any case, DC’s takeaway was that another format would work better for their crossovers.

 

DC’s next weekly project was Action Comics Weekly.  This was run as an oversized anthology title with six different features; a Superman 2 pager, a Green Lantern 8 page lead, and four rotating 8 page features.  After 42 issues ACW was reformatted back to a regular length title, once again spotlighting Superman.  A number of the features received new titles and minis but DC did not try an anthology title again until the Showcase series in the 90s.

 

The triangle Superman titles were DC’s next go at weekly storytelling.  DC had four titles that were telling Superman stories, Superman, Action, Adventures of Superman, and Superman: Man of Steel, and they decided that rather than having each creative team look for a different perspective to differentiate their title, they’d have each storyline continue from one title to the next.  To make sure there were no gap weeks, Superman: The Man of Tomorrow was added to cover 5th weeks.  This system required lots of coordination and editorial control but lasted for a number of years, until the titles had a reason to separate after the death of Superman.

 

It was many years before DC tried another weekly, finally giving it a go with 52.  52 was a comic that DC put a lot of resources towards, essentially putting five of their top writers on one comic.  Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, and Keith Giffen crafted an anthology comic of interweaving stories set during a time the rest of DC’s line was restricted from using, except through flashbacks.  The comic was supposed to chronicle what went on during a missing year, and did to some degree, but ultimately wound up focussing more on the stories of its lead characters.  DC intended to have a puzzle that would be filled in, showing how the one year later status quos came about, causing fans to become more invested in their characters.  Fans became invested in 52 and its focus characters, making 52 DC’s most successful weekly to date, allowing most of the key characters to spin off into either minis or ongoings, and showing that people will read both weeklies and anthologies if the circumstances are right.

 

After the success of 52, DC almost immediately started another weekly, Countdown (To Final Crisis).  Once again, Countdown was set up as an interweaving anthology.  This time, the series was set up with one main writer and in the same time frame as the rest of the DCU.  Whereas 52 was off on its own, Countdown made a concerted effort to act as a “spine” for DCU current events.  This proved to be unwieldy for continuity and unsatisfying as a story.  Countdown proved to be a critical failure, mostly ignored going forward.  However, sales were high enough that DC decided to try another weekly the next year, Kurt Busiek’s Trinity.

 

Trinity was a more focussed story, with bigger name characters to increase its draw.  It initially focussed on the relationship between Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman but quickly veered into an alternate reality story about how the DCU would differ if Supes, Bats, and WW were removed.  By going with an alternate reality story, Trinity removed the need to coordinate with the rest of the DCU, however, it also became less “important” in the context of the DCU.  Ultimately, Trinity didn’t do as well as its predecessors, whether this was due to problems with the story or because Countdown poisoned the well is debatable.

 

The next weekly from DC was a departure in format, the broadsheet comic, Wednesday Comics.  This was an anthology set up like newspaper comic strips of old rather than comic books.  This had big names, working on varied characters, over a shorter time frame.  Each strip had its own flavour as the creative teams were varied and were not bound by comic book continuity.  Although, widely considered a creative success, more volumes have not been forthcoming.

 

This leads us to DC’s latest attempt at a weekly comic, Before Watchmen.  Before Watchmen is different from its predecessors as it’s more accurately 7 minis with a common backup and trade dress.  It remains to be seen if the backup will in some way relate to the other stories or if the minis will have any themes in common beyond working towards Watchmen.  Regardless though, with its scheduling and a backup that requires all the minis for the full story, this has to be seen as a type of weekly comic.

 

So, as DC turns away from the interweaving anthology weekly in favour of linked mini series, the time has come to take a look back at 52 to determine what made it so uniquely successful.

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Issue 24

Your usual shrewd reading!  Good stuff.  I didn't pick up that Waller was waiting on her chance to go for Adam.

It's a bit of a DCU housekeeping issue really, isn't it?  It's kind of fun for longtime readers to see what was going on in the rest of the DCU during this unusual year of the absence of the 'Trinity', but hard to see what much of this has to do with the spine of the story we are being told.  Two masters again.  In some ways 52 is almost freestanding enough to give to a comicbook 'virgin' with some confidence that they'd enjoy it, but issues like this, and issue #21 depend on an interest in old storylines and continuity, even if they do supply a lot of the information that a 'newbie' would need to know.  I'd imagine a 'newbie' would be wondering why (s)he was reading about these characters in this story.

This issue is in the same vein as #21, where we saw both the new Infinity Inc and the new Teen Titans floundering and not measuring up.  Although the year without the Trinity/Big Brands is great, it's not hard to imagine that DC would want us to understand that their 3 big stars were fundamentally important to keeping the superheroic community on an even keel.  Perhaps issues 21 and 24 work by showing us that things are off-kilter and unstable without Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman around, so that we understand that the heroes presented here have a harder job to do without them.

Poor Super-chief.  What a hard-luck tale from beginning to end! 

They are labouring the point that 'magic must have a price' now, aren't they?  To that extent, being aware that they are telling us about the new editorial rules in the DCU pulls me out of the story a bit.

(Image courtesy of comicbookdb.com)

52 #25 - Liminal Times

 

Day 1: Bruno Mannheim gets serious about bringing Gotham crime bosses under Intergang control.

 

Day 3: Sabbac attacks Boston on Halloween night, in the process, tossing Captain Marvel Jr. around like a rag doll.  Before Jr. can catch his breath, the Black Marvel Family arrives, pummels, and drags Sabbac away.  Meanwhile, in New York City, Infinity Inc. unveil their new member while taking down the Icicle and Tigress.  Onlookers Alan Scott and Michael Holt ignore the young kid’s hubbub and talk chess, er.. Checkmate.  Meanwhile, in Hell, Ralph Dibney and Fate visit an old acquaintance, the husk of Felix Faust, object lesson extraordinaire.

 

Day 4: Doc Magnus lets slip to Morrow that his medication is keeping him sane and uncreative.  Elsewhere on Oolong Island, Chang Tzu makes a sales pitch to Mannheim, bragging up his Four Horsemen.

 

Mannheim hosts a murder dinner party as he attempts to put Intergang in charge of all the gangs in Gotham and make it his “capital”.  While half the bosses dead at the table makes for an interesting visual, I’m not sure how effective it would be at actually bringing the gangs under control.  Throw in the fact that the biggest name at the table is the Ventriliquist, and I don’t think it’s going to go very well.  (Mirage, Kiteman, Magpie... couldn’t he get a better class of guest?)  Perhaps he should have left more of them alive and told them the story of the “dark angel of living granite”, brew up some fervour from the bottom, ‘cause lets face it, he’s never going to take Gotham with this class of criminal, especially if he keeps obsessing over prophesies and the middle east.

 

The Black Marvel Family continues to usurp the Marvel Family’s place.  This time they take out Sabbac, one of the Marvel Family’s villains, without even sparing a glance for Jr. or Mary.  (This after Jr. just got his clock cleaned.)  To add insult to injury, the kid dressed as Captain Marvel now wants to be Black Adam.  In this new world, are Adam’s family more effective than the Marvel Family?

 

We also see Infinity Inc. stepping into the shoes of the Justice Society, as they take down a couple of their villains.  Just as with the Marvels, a couple of the Society are in the vicinity but just stand nearby and watch; Mr. Terrific just continues playing with the kids.  In this case, its like the next generation is stepping forward while the parents, (and grandparents), have completely different concerns.  Almost like they’ve started a generational handoff, (which they’ll be forced to pull back from by the end of the series).

 

Other items of note:

- Our first hint that Montoya will be taking up the mantle of the Question is front and centre on the cover where a little girl is dressed up as the Question for Halloween.

 

- Whereas Darkseid is clearly behind Mannheim’s conversion, he seems to have cast him more in a messenger role than that of the boss.

- In another perversion of Christianity, Mannheim is sharing a meal to eat the flesh, (in this case literally), of his sacrifice... his enemies.

 

- While not making a physical appearance, Neron’s brought into the book as both Sabbac’s master and the author of Felix Faust’s woe.

 

- Felix Faust’s “soul” disappears as soon as Ralph turns his back.

 

- The Checkmate series is further setup this issue.

 

- On Oolong Island, another bug machine goes haywire.  This time a scorpion.

 

Best Lines:

“Happy Halloween Judeo-Christians!”

 

Questions:

With all the veneration of Cain in the Crime Bible, was Cain’s not being around to pick up his mail earlier in the series a statement of some kind?  Did the writers intend to do something and forget?  Is there something I’m missing here?

They are labouring the point that 'magic must have a price' now, aren't they?  To that extent, being aware that they are telling us about the new editorial rules in the DCU pulls me out of the story a bit.

I agree, they've beaten that horse into the ground.  On the other hand, for me, I don't really see it as an agenda, (although obviously that's why it was included in the first place), as much as a plot that got knocked into a holding pattern.  Same thing with the space section.  But I figure there's so much breadth and depth in the series, I can put up with a couple of stretched out parts.

...Thank you to both , am hurried , more .

I did like that cover.

(Image courtesy of comicbookdb.com)

52 #26 - Halfway House

 

Day 1: The Black Marvel Family drop Montoya and the Question near Nada Parbat.  Just before departing, Isis gives Renee a special flower to remember her by.  Soon as the Black Marvels are gone, the Question’s friends emerge and Richard Dragon immediately advises Renee he’ll be training her.

 

Day 2: Jack Ryder gets Steel and his niece on the same talk show to talk about the Everyman Program... and she takes off again.

 

Day 4: Dr. Cale joins the madmen on Oolong Island.  Back in civilization, the Sivana family invite the Black Marvels to dinner, unfortunately a crocodile man breaks up the meal, but at least Osiris makes a new friend.

 

Once again, the Black Marvel Family hob nob with Marvel Family characters, as the Sivana family invite Adam and the gang to dinner, (not for dinner... that’ll come later).  The Sivana’s are represented by Thadeus’ wife and four kids, an obviously blended family with Venus’ natural children doted upon and Thadeus’ children tolerated; it’s the Brady Bunch... super villain style.  Supposedly, the point of the meal is to convince the Black Marvel’s to look for Dr. Sivana, the meal gets off course, however, when a crocodile man crashes the party.  The crocodile man is befriended by Osiris and yet another parallel with the Marvel Family is established.  Meanwhile, we never do find out if Venus’ request was a ruse, as in story, the Black Marvels, (or at least Osiris), take exception to the experimentation that was done on the crocodile, and for the wider story, the crocodile’s introduction was the important point.

 

I have to say, this was a pitch perfect introduction of Sobek, (the crocodile man).  He’s introduced in a story just swimming with Marvel Family elements.  He represents a clear parallel to Tawky Tawny, the Tiger “man”, yet he represents a creature more in keeping with the Black Marvel Family’s background.  (Assuming of course that Khandaq is located on the Nile River Delta or has some other major river with similar conditions in the vicinity.  Ok, so it probably doesn’t come from their backgrounds because the Middle East and Africa are not one homogenous zone but it was a good attempt by a North American writer, and lets face it, the animals that tend to be more ubiquitous to the whole area wouldn’t work.  A camel wouldn’t be dangerous enough, a scorpion or a snake would be too small, and come on, a tiger doesn’t really have much to do with America either unless you go to the zoo a lot, and... I think I’ll shut up now. :))  In any case, I still think it’s a good introduction that follows the themes as they’ve been setup, and perhaps the best example in the series of an important element being introduced for immediately apparent plot reasons that will be important in a completely different way down the line.

 

In addition to the Black Marvel Family time, Jack Ryder’s tv spot with Steel and Starlight was very interesting.  In his introductory comments, Ryder states that, “Everyone knows you can’t have a Justice League without a Manhunter from Mars.”  This wasn’t originally the case, but from the DCU post-Crisis perspective, virtually every successful incarnation of the League does have MM in it.  (Aside 1: In Final Crisis, MM is killed early and they basically lose.)  (Aside 2: The DC nU doesn’t have the Manhunter in the League... take from that what you will. ;))  Ryder also mentions that a “third-string JLA” might be responsible for the Metropolis debacle.  (This is interesting phrasing... in real life you’d be more likely to denigrate someone by calling them second-string, third-string seems to step right out of fan arguments.)  When Ryder does get around to interviewing his guests, the arguments about the Everyman Program could almost be superimposed over a gun control debate.  Even Natasha’s jibe about old heroes that would rather sit around complaining, although it touches on the generational divide themes in the series, could also be taken as a commentary on older fans.  This interview served up a heaping helping of meta moments.

 

Other items of note:

- Montoya was a reader of Congo Bill World Travel magazines.

 

- Richard Dragon announces he’s going to train Montoya by making allusions to her drinking problem.  A bit of a different take to a 12 step program.

 

- Waverider pops up and tells us he knows why.  Sadly, he doesn’t share.

 

- The mad scientists aren’t quite sure how to react to a woman who’s also a scientist.  Is this another commentary on fan culture?

 

- While trying to be polite and charming with the Black Marvel’s, Venus Sivana ultimately shows her disdain for them with the “camel jockey” line.  Does she feel above them because of their culture or because they’re Marvels?

 

- On Oolong Island, another bug machine goes haywire.  This time a mantis.

 

Best Lines:

“To travel into the deepest past!  To the first grade where I can stop myself from wetting my pants in front of the whole class!  It will change my life!  My life!”

(Image courtesy of comicbookdb.com)

52 #27 - The Past Best Hope

 

Day 1: Ralph Dibney stops by for a chat with the Spectre who offers him the chance to get Sue back if he’ll operate as a temporary host and use the power to enact a “fitting punishment” for Eclipso, (who’s current host is Jean Loring, Sue’s murderer).

 

Day 2: Skeets locates Waverider, between the seconds, and they have a little heart to heart before Skeets kills him for parts.

 

Day 5: In Nanda Parbat, Renee does a little training while the Question coughs.  It’s revealed that the Question has end stage lung cancer.  On another cheery note, they discover that Batwoman is destined to be sacrificed by the true believers in Intergang... and the phone service in Nanda Parbat stinks.

 

Week -84, Day -2: Ralph’s solution to a “fitting punishment” is to restore Jean’s sanity, take her back in time to when she killed Sue, and make her watch it over and over again.  Unfortunately, it also means he must watch the murder and he’s not up to the task.  The Spectre doesn’t feel he’s made enough of a sacrifice, so he yanks them back.  Sue won’t be returning that way.

                                                                                                           

This was a pretty dark issue, and I believe, the point where the editor changed.  It should be interesting going forward to see if there appears to be a tonal difference.  I don’t recall much of one from my initial read through but it really was striking how downbeat this issue came across.

 

The Spectre is pretty clearly portrayed here as a dark entity, (if he’s still straddling the fence, it’s only because the fence has moved, or being the Spectre, he’s contorted his body shape and has a toe dangling over ;)).  (It’s an interesting idea really, that someone’s only classed as a hero because of other people’s memories of them from the past... but I digress.)  The Spectre has to subscribe to the “new rules of magic”, so he can’t punish people without a host and someone can’t become his host or use his power without making a sacrifice.  Essentially, the Spectre’s meaner than ever and the steps someone has to go through to become his host practically ensure they won’t balance him very well.  Not only that, but he seems to delight in their misery... a true hero of our times. ;)

 

Ralph meets up with the big guy and is told that the Spectre can bring Sue back if Ralph is willing to wield his power to punish Eclipso.  Ralph agrees and the Spectre crushes him in his hand, (actually, transports him by closing his hand around him, but the image is a good visual representation of what Ralph will have to go through emotionally to get what he wants).  This is when Ralph learns that Eclipso’s host is now Jean Loring.  Since obviously, if she made bad decisions and did something that caused harm, she must be nuts, Ralph makes her sane and trundles her off to Identity Crisis to watch her handiwork in an infinity loop.  (This does beg the question of whether an insane person is responsible for their actions... I guess Ralph and the Spectre say yes.)  Not having thought the punishment through, Ralph can’t bring himself to watch the goings on with Jean, so the Spectre pulls them back and revokes the deal... there are the “new laws of magic” to consider after all.

 

(Personally, I think making Jean Loring into Eclipso was a major misstep.  She doesn’t really bring much to the character and she takes away the visual distinctiveness which is the only thing Eclipso ever had going for him.  What she adds are two story connections, one to the Elongated Man and one to the Atom.  It’s nice to see one of them addressed, however, it’s still not a very strong Eclipso story.)

 

After reading this issue, I’m beginning to have questions about the “new rules of magic”.  Figs mentioned upthread that he was starting to find their whole inclusion intrusive to the story.  Until this issue, I’d been thinking the writers were just spinning their wheels a little.  Now, I’m wondering if one of the objectives of the 52 series wasn’t to define the “new rules of magic”.  This is just speculation, but if it was the case, it might be classed as a major misstep of the series.

 

Other items of note:

- This issue has a partial recap of Identity Crisis and references Infinite Crisis and (through Hypertime) the Kingdom.  It’s mentioned that Infinite Crisis disrupted Hypertime and made the year of 52 changeable.  (From a broader storytelling perspective, it shifted the DCU from a main universe with divergent timelines back to parallel worlds.)

 

- We finally find out the Question is dying of lung cancer, (after all the hints that had been dropped along the way).  Renee immediately throws away her pack of cigarettes.

 

- Tot discovers a prophesy in the crime bible about taking over Gotham while the “knight’s away” and sacrificing the daughter of Cain.  When the knight’s away, the crimelords play.

 

- The negative dates for Identity Crisis were a nice touch.

 

Best Lines:

“Filled with cautionary tales and grim prophecies... stories and parables that exhort the virtue of rape and murder and extortion and blackmail.  Light reading, obviously.”

 

Question:

Renee makes a comment to Richard Dragon that if she cherishes pain, she won’t want to leave it.  He mentions that someone else once said the same thing.  This seems to reference something specific, is it referencing the Question’s origin or something else?

Damn, there is so much I have forgotten about this series since it came out. I really need to head back and look at this one again!

Border Mutt said:

- Waverider pops up and tells us he knows why.  Sadly, he doesn’t share.

 

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