June 28, 2009

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52 Volume 4

Written by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid
Helped by Breakdowns by Keith Giffen
Illustrated by a lot of people, including Dan Jurgens and Patrick Olliffe
DC

The year without the Trinity concludes in this volume, as the four great writers start to close off their plotlines and we get to see just what was the point of featuring these particular characters and how their new status quo will fit into the greater DC Universe.

There's a bit of a change this time around, as the writers tend to spend a longer time with each plot point in a given issue to help close things down. At times it feels a bit like a movie that has to resolve itself before the closing credits, and who gets resolved when is one of those things we could probably spend a lot of time arguing over.

First out the door are Lex Luthor and Steel, with a story title I particularly liked, "Man Ain't Nothing But a Man." It shows that despite so much of the whiny angsting, John Henry Irons is a hero and when the time comes, he acts like one. I only wish he'd done it sooner. I also like how Lex, despite all his claims to the contrary, really does have Superman envy.

Next up is Ralph's finale, which from Dan Dido's notes may have been originally planned quite differently. While I was certainly happy to see that Ralph was not all we saw him to be in the rest of the series, it does feel like scen whiplash, as all of a sudden he's, well, Ralph again is the best way to put it. Giffen apparently did this, so maybe he wasn't quite so happy to ruin *everything* he set up in the JLI years, after all. It's a nice ending for Ralph, and one I am ultimately happy with, if the road they set him on really had to go this way.

At this point 52 kinda becomes the Black Adam show, for better or for worse. Just as we thought maybe things could work out for this dark mirror of the Marvel Family, Geoff Johns takes it all out from under him in the bloodiest manner possible, as we see that the Oolong Island folks aren't nearly so mad after all. What will Will Magnus do when the time comes? Can all the World's Heroes stop a man with nothing left to lose? It's a nice way to get just about everyone mixed in by the end, with the only real big superhero fight in the whole series. I don't know who came up with the final end for Black Adam, but it's brilliant.

And since we're mixing plots, we also wind Montoya back in for good measure, though that seems mostly just a way to get her back to Gotham to finish up her story. It's a bit weird to not really see crowd reaction to Gotham's fate--again, the lack of Bat Family in here is glaring--but I mean, first a plague, then a quake, then fire...guess Gotham's just used to it by now. Montoya may have been changed a lot over time by Rucka, but I do think 52 gave her a nice spotlight and a reason for her new role in the Universe.

Oh, and of course, there's this whole little plot set up from the beginning about the mysterious number 52, a villain who wants to eat universes, and a man whose career could use a little boost. I don't even pretend to understand time travel stories, but I think this one works well enough, even if it feels like something that should have started a little sooner for the impact it has on the DC Universe.

I've left one story out, and that's the one I didn't like the whole time and still don't like--the lost in space plot. Not only does it not tie in with the rest of the plots in any way I can see (wheras all the others are linked and linked well--from Red Tornado's head to Intergang to the Metal Men to Clark Kent's ability to know Lex's secrets), it also ends with a whole host of Deus ex Machinas. Animal Man's status quo is basically reset, Adam Strange's pain is cloned away, Lobo is back to being Lobo, and Kory just never seemed to be anything but a cheesecake prop. It's a drag on the series, time and time again (no pun intended). I hope that they went somewhere with it, but it obviously wasn't in 52.

At the end, we get a little coda for each plot, which was pretty cool and starts us on the way to the stories DC was already working with. I appreciate that our writing group made sure we know things ended up for everything we saw in 52 (apparently Mark Waid's idea--thanks Mark!), and it made for nice closure.

If there's only one problem I'd like to address here, it's that Bruce, Diana, and Clark seem to just reset without really seeing how or why. Was this in their own books and I missed it? Hell, the art was so bad on Diana's cameo, I didn't even know it was her. When they do show, it feels rushed. The editing was pretty good overall, but I think they missed a step here.

I also kinda feel like the large scale battle with Black Adam was condensed too tightly into these pages, like a Company Event within a Company Event. Was that addressed elsewhere, too?

Overall, I think 52 worked given the grand concepts that they tried to play out. Not everything worked for me, but that's a reasonable thing to expect in such a large story. As an event, I think it was better than a lot of crossovers I've read. With a little less gore and a few less characters, I would have felt it was nearly perfect. It's an interesting idea I'd love to see Marvel try, maybe with Bendis, David, Millar, Brubaker, and Quesada.

If you haven't read 52 but you like DC's characters, give it a try. I think you'll be glad you did.