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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Agreed completely. I really hope that, in the New52, Elongated Man--along with Sue and Ted "Blue Beetle" Kord for that matter--is alive and well. I was glancing through the latest issue of Blue Beetle in the store and noticed that at the end of it, Booster Gold is there as the set-up for the next issue. I am praying that Booster won't be mentioning "my buddy who you replaced--you've got big shoes to fill, kiddo!" Just hoping beyond hope that he won't mention a thing about it, thus keeping the door open for Ted's big comeback.

With the reboot, this would seem like the perfect opportunity to bring Ted back without invalidating Jaime as the Blue Beetle. Currently, Jaime is actively looking for a mentor, could they have set it up any better for Ted Kord, eccentric scientist, to make the scene?  Here's hoping.

As far as Ralph and Sue, I wouldn't even mind if they were still dead as long as we get to see them.  (I don't know why DC would want to keep Identity Crisis in continuity though... it doesn't seem like the kind of story you want in a relatively new universe.)  

 

As to "Who did what?", there are exit interviews and follow up interviews about 52 that go into that in some detail.  I read a lot of them since the last issue of the series, but I haven't had time to seek them out this go around.  I was happy just to guess the writers to begin with, as we are still discussing the different writers approaches and strengths etc. 

 

Having looked at the commentary in the first 52 collection, however, its probably safe to guess that the writers who chose to go into detail about specific threads, probably were most involved with those threads. 

 

Rucka gives a lot of detail about Montoya and the Question, but also Steel's story.  Waid discusses both Ralph's and Booster's arc as if he wrote both. 

 

Rucka may have run with the Crime Bible plot-device, but the idea was Morrison's.  Apparently Morrison threw a lot of ideas into their conferences that they had to get a handle on while he moved on to his next innovation.  Rucka is a fantastic superhero writer, but his stories benefit from using ideas more 'out there' than he would normally use.  Likewise, Morrison sometimes doesn't flesh out his great ideas with good solid storytelling.  The final 'out there' arc of New X-Men is one example of this, and another is the two-issue Legion of Superheroes mini-strand in DC One Million, where Morrison gets his only plot credit of all the issues he wrote the outlines for other writers for.

 

It's this balancing of different strengths that makes 52 so good.

 

I'd forgotten that Johns wrote the Booster series that sprang out of 52.  Again with the colour-theme!  Booster failed spectacularly in keeping the timeline straight, didn't he?  All he had to do was keep things like Flashpoint from occurring!  I wonder what he'll have to say for himself in the pages of Blue Beetle?

 

I can see that the Silver Age Ralph and Sue tales have their charm, but I don't see any point in trying to bring that back today.  For one thing, it'd be completely different stories about completely different characters.  You can't go back.

 

For another, the DCU is good for middle-class white guys.  Why bring more back in?  We need a bit more texture with ethnicities and backgrounds.

 

The solution at the end of 52 for Ralph was a good one.  The same characters, but drastically different.  Their new life would have been informed by the old adventures, but not some vain attempt to 'make it like it was before' when the times and the market have moved on.  So what, dare I ask, did DiDIo do with Ralph and Sue?

 

As to Geffin, the commentary implies that he was there when the broad strokes of the plots were being devised, but he deliberately excluded himself from more detailed breakdown meetings and any of the script-doctoring before the final script for the issue was ready.  He wanted to experience the script very fresh before doing his breakdowns. 

 

I don't know much about Geffin as a writer, but 52 fills me with respect for him as a comics professional.  The storytelling is very precise and focussed.  Perhaps it was just the process of using breakdowns that less big names worked into pages, but there are no empty splash pages (which are more about the artist getting a good price on the secondary art market than about telling the story). It may also be that the creators worked out early on that they had so much story to get through that they couldn't waste any space.  There's incredible value in these opening issues, with so much story and details crammed into every page.  Each issue takes considerably longer to read than a typical modern Marvel/DC comic.

 

Geffin's contribution to 52 is probably crucial, but more from the angle of storytelling form rather than content.

 

Geffin was also their last resort concerning the arduous weekly schedule.  He was set to provide pages even if there was no script ready yet, but it didn't come to that, apparently.

Week 3

Finally, we see Adam’s love interest introduced, blindfolded in front of him as he kills the Intergang thugs; in a sense, she’s both blind to what he’s doing and yet fully aware at the same time.

Excellent point.  Much of her arc in minature here.

What role does the ticker on the front cover serve?  Is it simply an extra highlight of what’s in the issue to get people to open the front cover?  Does it serve to drive home this comic’s place in time?  Is it supposed to give the impression of immediacy?  Just an affectation?

Day 5: John Henry examines Luthor’s body, determining it’s a perfect genetic match but due to a different eye colour must be from a different dimension.  Almost immediately, Lex Luthor walks in with a press entourage and blames all his evil acts on his doppelganger.

And there's the frame where Luthor puts his arm around John Henry Irons.  Looks innocuous enough...

 

They originally thought of having covers like Time magazine etc (issue 3 really shows this), but thought that would constrict JG Jones too much.  The ticker tape probably is for the immediacy, and continues the 'newsy' theme.  All the very latest happenings.

 

Perhaps the ticker tape is also to remind readers of all the different stories contained therein, so that the jumping aorund between unrelated strands isn't such a shock.

Week 4

 

The space plot starts up with some awkward dialogue and a large infodump.


Is the girl some kind of weird telepath who speaks in riddles or something?  There would seem to be a lot of Morrison in this scene, but it jarred with me too.  Partly it is the editorially-mandated stuff intruding into the story that the creators want to tell.

 

Are they some iteration of the Challengers up in the satellite?  It looks like we should know them...

 

There was some fan excitement about the idea of Morrison writing Buddy Baker again, but the team seemed to have decided to tease this plot thread for a while, only starting it after the first month almost.  The space team's adventures are so removed from the other stories that its probably just as well to let the others get established before starting it.

 

The Montoya/Question scenes are really strong.  These two have a great dynamic, made all the more interesting by how it is without the sexual tension which these kinds of scenes usually have.  They are interested in each other as people first and foremost. The commentators are very proud of this thread, and are fulsome in praise of Rucka.

 

I don't have a great eye for art, so long as it is doing its job telling the story, but Joe Bennett seems to be the strongest artist of the early issues.  The notes show how he made good decisions developing Geffins breakdowns, and there's good body language and reactions from him.

 

Surprising that none of these artists have really stepped into the spotlight since this series AFAIK.

I don't know why DC would want to keep Identity Crisis in continuity though... it doesn't seem like the kind of story you want in a relatively new universe.

 

Considering DiDio counts it as one of his big successes at DC and it set the tone for much that his reign consisted of, and Dan is now one of the triumverate, I'd be surprised if it isn't still in continuity.  But yeah, there's a lot of historical/continuity baggage in it.

I can see that the Silver Age Ralph and Sue tales have their charm, but I don't see any point in trying to bring that back today.  For one thing, it'd be completely different stories about completely different characters.  You can't go back.

For another, the DCU is good for middle-class white guys.  Why bring more back in?  We need a bit more texture with ethnicities and backgrounds.

The solution at the end of 52 for Ralph was a good one.  The same characters, but drastically different.  Their new life would have been informed by the old adventures, but not some vain attempt to 'make it like it was before' when the times and the market have moved on.  So what, dare I ask, did DiDIo do with Ralph and Sue?

While I think the DCU benefits from more diverse characters, I personally don't think that means there should be a moratorium on "middle-class white guys".  Having more "ethnicities" is one way to add texture but not the only one.  Besides, it's not just Ralph that I'd want back, it's Ralph and Sue, a couple that was really fleshed out in the JLE/I years.  In my mind, they had a pretty unique relationship and the DCU is poorer for not having them in it.

I agree that the new status quo after 52 offered more possibilities than Ralph just having stretching powers, (and Undead Americans are a slight minority in the DCU :)).  As far as I know though, the only one who even attempted any stories was Didio in a couple of 8 pagers in the 80 page giants.  IMO, he completely missed their voices and substituted ghost powers for detecting, instead of making it just another tool in their arsenal.  He might as well have been writing any old past-their-life-date white guy.

Are they some iteration of the Challengers up in the satellite?  It looks like we should know them...

As far as I know, Halo from the Outsiders is the only one we're supposed to know.

Is the girl some kind of weird telepath who speaks in riddles or something?

She never was before.  She had 5 or 6 specific powers which when used, caused her to glow, (a different colour for each power).  Sounds sort of like Johns' thing except the powers were mostly well defined; heat, stasis fields, illusions, blinding light, flight.  I hadn't read any of her more recent appearances, so she might have been vagued up in the interim.

Some quick comments on #1-4 (and they're certainly not as deep as you guys'):

  • The cover of #1 could be the Body of the DCU with Batman as its head/mind, Wonder Woman as its heart/soul and Superman as its foundation/strength.
  • Ralph's home being a tourist attraction would have pleased the old Elongated Man.
  • My take is both Ralph and Booster have had their realities shattered and are looking to fix them.
  • Booster yearns to be a public hero, feeding on publicity (much as Ralph used to) but it's a false reality. He falls back to self-centerness because he feels that he should know what's happening. Nothing should surprise him but he constantly taken off guard!
  • Ralph's attempted suicide is heart-wrenching but he gets a mystery to motivate him and he searches for the slightest of hopes to get his Sue back!
  • Steel reflects Morrison's theme of legacy as he once tried to replace Superman when he "died", he now tries to discourage his niece from emulating him!
  • Nice to see the cameos of Mister Miracle, Frankenstein, Bulleteer and Manhatten Guardian at the ceremony.
  • Amazed how easily the Press bought the idea of an "alternative" Lex. Maybe we should all use THAT excuse!
  • With Superman gone, it seems that Lex has targetted Steel as a substitute adversary! "I'll get you, Man-Who-Patterned-Himself-After-My-Missing-Arch-Nemesis! I sorta hate you so much!"
  • The Superboy Cult is led by a man named Devem after Dev-Em, the Knave of Krypton, one of the few super-enemies the original Boy of Steel had!

Good to see you here, Philip.

 

The cover of #1 is a take on one of the Death of Superman covers.  It is also a more direct take on the second Final Night cover.  I was a little bit disappointed when I realised this.  Everything is a rehash of what came before...

 

On one hand Booster's story is one of superhero time-travel shenanigans, but on a more meaty metaphorical level, his is the story of when we want life to go according to a particular script but it keeps going off in crazy unexpected directions that are tough and hard to deal with.  That's a very human story.  Booster has to learn to cope with that, and we'll talk about that some more as it develops.  I think it is a rather wonderful use of a superhero plot, especially considering where it goes and how frustrated Booster gets in the early stages.

 

The commentary notes that both Ralph and Montoya are given a mystery to lift them out of the hole they are in.  Plot and character converge wonderfully as this goes to the core of both their personalities.  They are both detectives dyed in the wool.

 

Nice ironies with the Steel story, Philip.  Luthor's hatred of Superman is a fundamental part of his personality, so for all his brains, he can't see that he is falling into an old self-defeating pattern with Irons.

 

I got a kick out of the Seven Soldiers appearances too.  Fascinating to study the picture and try to glean how they might relate to the other heroes.  Frank and Klarion are standing quite close to each other, even though they didn't end on the best of terms in SSoV.  (Frank had become Klarion's bi slave.)  Bulleteer is typically hovering around the margins, not sure if she should be there or not.

 

The name Devem rang a bell with me, alright.  Perhaps he is some sort of Kryptonian, but the story just doesn't explore that? How else would they know so much about Kryptonian religion and mysticism?

Just had another look at the Booster/Jade scene in issue 4.

 

It seems to state specifically that Booster returned from the future after Ted's death and played his part in dealing with the threats Ted had uncovered.  I don't remember much about it.  Although I admire the many lead-ins to it, and how they were structured, there aren't many reasons to read Infinite Crisis itself.  Perhaps Booster's back-story for 52 is a reason? 

 

He does talk about events outside the scope of the story at hand, but it does add something other than self-interest to his motivation.  Grief and denial, for instance.

How else would they know so much about Kryptonian religion and mysticism?

This is purely an Earth-One, growing up on Weisinger comics response but.....Superman told them! It was established that Lois wrote a book, Life on Krypton, which Superman gave details of Kryptonian daily life and lore. Apparently Metropolis was devouring every fact that the Man of Steel provided, considering how often people, creatures and objects from Krypton crashed through their lives. Plus there was a big Krypton section at the Superman Museum!

Both Jimmy and Lois learned to speak Kryptonese, for Rao's sake! I wonder how often that would come up on one's resume!!

In the first Superman movie, he would have had a lot easier time of it, if he hadn't told Lois all his secrets for mainstream publication.

 

As you admit in your answer, the post-COIE Superman shared a lot less of his heritage with the general public.  For most of his existence he didn't know too much to share.

That was Fire, not Jade, Figs. Booster felt guilty for not taking Ted Kord's warning seriously, though to be fair, no one did!
 
Figserello said:

Just had another look at the Booster/Jade scene in issue 4.

 

It seems to state specifically that Booster returned from the future after Ted's death and played his part in dealing with the threats Ted had uncovered.  I don't remember much about it.  Although I admire the many lead-ins to it, and how they were structured, there aren't many reasons to read Infinite Crisis itself.  Perhaps Booster's back-story for 52 is a reason? 

 

He does talk about events outside the scope of the story at hand, but it does add something other than self-interest to his motivation.  Grief and denial, for instance.

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