52 at 26: SBC’s Reviewers Evaluate DC’s 52 At Its Midway Point

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Now that DC’s ambitious weekly 52 series has reached “halftime,” I encouraged SBC’s reviewers to document their impressions of the book at this juncture. What character has most (or least) intrigued them? How encouraging or disappointing is the story so far? What future does 52 have in store for us?

Below are their responses.

Michael Aronson: The small things or the big picture? It’s hard to choose one approach to praising 52, the most ballsalicious series currently being released by any publisher. That’s not to say it’s without faults, but it attempts to do and say so much about superheroes that I’m surprised to not find Alan Moore’s name somewhere in the credits.

Clark Kent jumps out a window and gets saved. Wonder Girl follows a cult that revives the dead. Lobo is Pope of an interstellar religion. Atom Smasher puts together a new Suicide Squad. And these guys aren’t even the main characters.

52 does so much to gently shift the status quo of the DCU that by week 26 its legion of characters find themselves in a truly brave new world. It combines the best aspects of event series and team-up stories while never resembling either of the two. Aside from knowing which characters will make it out alive, the series’ highly unpredictable nature and meticulous attention to detail make it the one and only reason to visit the comic store every week. And in 26 issues, it’s not once missed a ship date. Not once.

If only the interiors matched the consistency and sheer beauty of the covers, most innovative and beautiful images since Kaare Andrews gave us Hulk Cereal. And if the dates made a bit more sense in the context of the series. And if Steel wasn’t the dullest character of the bunch. And if Super Chief came back.

And yes, there are 260 words in this piece. I couldn’t resist.

Michael Bailey: So here we are, twenty-six weeks in and this title has managed to remain on schedule, and considering both DC and Marvel are trying to outdo Image circa 1993 in terms of lateness, that is saying something. Since this is the series’ halfway point, it is time to reflect and take stock in what has been presented to us for our reading pleasure.

Of course, that would take too long considering the sheer size of this cast, so I will focus on the one aspect of 52 that keeps me coming back week after week: Black Adam.

Yup, it’s not Ralph and Nabu’s excellent adventure, it’s not the Time Travel conspiracy, and it’s not Survivor: Mad Scientists Edition nor is it the Steel/Natasha plot or the Renee Montoya/Question plotline, though the last one does come in a close second. It is the resident hometown boy made good Black Adam that has broken away and stolen my loyalty for the series.

Actually this isn’t such a surprise…, at least to me. Black Adam was the best thing that Geoff Johns and David Goyer brought into JSA, and his role in the Society and then Infinite Crisis make him a personal favorite. He’s a complex character and has managed to go beyond being a Namor clone or the cliché of the former villain becoming an anti-hero. Black Adam’s story has become a journey of a man trying to do what he feels is right despite the fact that the rest of the world (or his fellow heroes) feel differently about the matter. Starting from his relaunch in the pages of Power of Shazam! and continuing into JSA, Adam has definitely gone through changes in terms of his personality and reason for being.

In the pages of 52 Adam made the biggest transformation of all. He was still gladly tearing villains in half (literally) and protecting his country’s interests at the beginning. The coalition he formed was an interesting way to kick things off, but as it usually happens, all it takes is the love of a good woman to set him on another path. Isis has changed Adam. She has changed his outlook on the world, and he is definitely acting in a manner that is quite different from the angry and vengeful protector he once was. This makes sense considering the reason why Adam went “bad” back in the day was the fact that his family had been killed and he had failed to protect them. Adam seemed to be searching for something and apparently that was a new family, one that can take care of itself but can also depend on and need him.

The writers have done a fantastic job of establishing a Black Adam family, the Marvel Family with the Captain, Mary and Junior. Isis was just the start. Osiris was one of those obvious ideas that had just never been done before, and he has it over Freddy Freeman not only in the violent nature of his origin but also the fact that he can actually say his own name without reverting to his crippled, human form. Watching them work together and seeing the different personalities, I would say that the Black Adam family has been the highlight of every issue since the concept was introduced.

It is also heartwarming in an odd way to see how close they have become to Renee and the Question. The mingling of these storylines played like a song (a good one, not something that you hear on the radio these days) and brought yet another depth to Adam’s storyline. I realize that since this is the halfway point, everything could change, and I look forward to that, but for right now Black Adam is in a good place, and the dinner he and his family shared with the Sivanas was a great example of this.

Plus, they added the cape, which is awesome.

So yeah, I may not like every single aspect of this series, but Black Adam’s story has been consistently good, and I have a good feeling that no matter the outcome, it will still hold my interest and satisfy me as a fan and reader.

Kevin T. Brown: I must say I am very impressed with how DC is pulling off this series. As highly ambitious as this series is, it would be very easy for there to be a misstep along the way. The biggest misstep, of course, would be it missing a week. Thankfully, despite losing its editor along the way, 52 has not missed a week and is chugging along quite nicely.

With that said, this series is not without some problems. Problems mainly having to do with the story. Halfway through series I would have expected at least ONE sub-plot to have been resolved by now. The biggest one for me so far is what happened to the heroes who were involved in the Zeta-beam accident during Weeks Four and Five? Only Alan Scott has been seen and nothing else has been mentioned of it. It’s been four and half months. It feels as if it’s been forgotten in order to focus on things that weren’t initially a part of the story (i.e. Ambush Bug and Pope Lobo). That’s just one thing though, but things like that tend to distract me from enjoying the story fully.

The unfortunate thing though is that there are many things going on in this story that appear to be made up along the way and is detracting from what DC initially wanted to do. I’m beginning to get that “let’s drag this story out as long as we can until we have no choice but to provide an answer” feeling. This is starting to get an Infinite Crisis feel to it. In other words, cram as much as you can in the beginning, leaving very little space to fully wrap it all up. Not a good feeling to have.

One thing I must say is good is the consistency of the art. With the exception of just one issue, it’s neither great nor bad, it’s just average throughout. The only great part about this series artistically are the covers by J.G. Jones.

Overall, a highly ambitious yet very average series. Perhaps when it’s all done, it’ll come together beautifully. For now, it’s merely okay.

Michael Deeley: I’m impressed that DC has been able to keep 52 on its weekly schedule. With four contributing writers, six plus artists, and two editors, it’s amazing the book hasn’t shipped late. That is a real testament to the professionalism of everyone involved.

52 combines the formats of anthology and monthly series comics. The characters featured aren’t popular enough to support their own series or even mini-series, and an anthology series that focuses on a single character for several issues would also suffer from a fickle audience. By bringing together several characters with middling popularity, 52 attracts several different fan bases to a single series. It also shows us the breadth and depth of the DC universe. The series regularly shows us Kandaq and the Black Marvel family, China’s superheroes, Lex Luthor’s metagene project, Ralph Dibney’s journey into the world of magic, changes to superhuman culture, and a terrible threat in outer space. I haven’t seen a series cover so much territory since Starman.

If I could change one thing about the series, it would be to assign each character/storyline to a single artist or art team. Attempts to give each issue a unified look often come across as sloppy. Granted, seeing the art style change every few pages would make us feel like we’re reading different comics thrown together. But we knew that anyway.

Shawn Hill: I resisted buying this series, and I initially dropped it after the first 6 issues. But I picked it up again with the debut of the new Batwoman, and I’ve been reading it off and on ever since.

More on than off. There are several stories I’ve gotten interested in: Magnus on Mad Scientist Island, Black Adam marries Isis, Booster’s death, the Supernova mystery, Montoya’s quest, and especially the Buddy/Adam/Kory in Space adventure, even if Lobo’s stuck in it for comic relief (and because Keith Giffen is doing the breakdowns, I warrant).

I’m less involved in Steel and his daughter, in the crass manipulations of the Luthor Super-Friends, in the Lamest Justice League since Detroit, or in the Skeets mystery.

The rotating artists and ambiguous authorship are also frustrating, as issues do leap around in quality from week to week.

But, that “week to week” is important. Who thought that would really happen? The series has been compared to a soap opera, and even moreso than other comics, it possesses that quality. Soaps need story every day. This comic needs story and art every week. And like a soap, the various threads overlap, rise and fall in their own mini-arcs, absent themselves for long periods and then suddenly recur. That’s a rhythm that only happens when there’s a surfeit of words/dialogue/characters/stories, and this one is packed and has been from the start.

I haven’t liked the way everything has been going, however. Batwoman’s hyped debut has led nowhere. Booster’s death seemed like a sad retread of the Beetle’s in Countdown, another blow to DC’s B-level acquisitions. Isis has yet to develop a distinct personality, and is already being viewed as cannon fodder. Or maybe it’ll be Osiris, who’s far too cocky in a blandly predictable way.

But I must admit to being involved in Ralph’s foolish, gruesome quest. And I’m intrigued by Cassie’s loss as she mourns Kon-El in a variety of ways. I also liked the facets of the DC-Universe that are being recombined and remembered here: Ambush Bug (more Giffen, I guess)? An ersatz Outsiders? The eye of Ekron? Other heroes in China and the Middle East? This is a broadening and deepening of the DC canvas that takes the time to go places that Jiminez and Perez could only provide glimpses of in Infinite Crisis, and works with character wounds Meltzer left open and bleeding in Identity Crisis.

The DC-Universe deserves this sort of rich exploration. My main fear now is that I won’t like the endings of any of these stories, that the year will wind up with everyone we’ve been following being swept off stage or forgotten all over again.

Bruce Logan: In India, there is a city by the name of Chandigarh. Designed by French architect Le Corbusier, it is the capital city of not one but two states, Punjab and Haryana. One of the cleanest cities, it is also one of the most well planned cities of India, and if you are wondering as to why I am going with this historical, geographical and architectural lesson about a city that you might have never even heard of, well, there is a reason for that. The city of Chandigarh by design is divided into blocks called “Sectors” with thick lines, a.k.a. main roads providing the separation. Moreover, any two opposing sectors line up against each other in a way that makes for the sum of any two such sectors’ total up to a multiple of three. For example, sector-34 has sector-44 opposite to it, their sum totaling to 78, which is 6 times 13. (Oddly enough, there is no Sector-13 in the city.)

This is also where DC’s 52 comes in, for 52 too is a multiple of thirteen, and with last week’s release of issue #26, not only has it hit its half-point, it also has reached the second of the four “thirteens” it will have.

Apart from just ranting off, I would like to take this opportunity to discuss not the whole 52 concept (i.e. all of the various characters and plotlines running through it), but just one. This character and his “Adventure-52” captured my attention right from the get go and unlike a few of his 52-counterparts, continues to do so even at week 26 and that too without any ebbing. My favorite 52 character is Ralph Dibny. More than the Black Marvel family or Luthor’s Everyman program or even the media-darling “New” Batwoman, it is Ralph and his journey to gain his life back that gets me the most.

I say “life” because for the man known as Ralph Dibny that is exactly what his wife Sue was. Not only was she spouse by law, she was also his equal half in every way possible. For anyone who had read Ralph’s, or rather, the Elongated Man’s stories both during his time in the Justice League and his own independent stories, Sue was just as big a part of them as Ralph himself. As the phrase goes, “she was his rock.” With Sue, Ralph found a rest, a sense of being, not only as a civilian but also in his costumed garb, one that has crashed and burned into nothingness since her death in Identity Crisis. Heck, what else does one say about a woman who beat the greatest DC detective, the Batman, not by yelling or by physical prowess but by beating him at his own game, by Out-Detecting him, and all with a smile on her face, as in her heart.

With 26 more weeks to go, and with still no mention of Ralph or Sue in any of the OYL stories (in other titles), the final fate of either of them is still a mystery, one that has taken a turn for the surreal these last thirteen issues. After the mind-numbing ending of Week-13, I had almost given up seeing Ralph again and certainly did not expect his story to take off at such a tangent. Although a bit wary, not to mention confused, about the team-up of Ralph and the Helmet of Fate, I am once again looking forward to where these two are going to go, both in the coming weeks of 52 and beyond.

I know that a “Happy Ending” is something of a miracle in the comic universe, but if there was a character or rather characters who deserve such a miracle (for 52), they are Ralph and Sue Dibny.

Paul T. Semones: I have been enjoying 52, with the Teth-Adam stories being my favorites, and remain impressed that DC has kept all their schedule promises. And while I expect to continue enjoying the book for the next six months, the fact is this title has dropped out of my weekly must-read stack, and I usually find myself playing catch-up by reading three or four issues at a time. A few items have sapped me of my early enthusiasm for the project.

First, there have simply been too many questions raised, and then not answered. What happened to the 25-foot-tall Hawkgirl, and all of her companions returning from space? Their stories, for the most part, are still unexplained in the post-OYL titles, even eight or nine months in, and I despair they may never be fully explained. What’s with the “52” clues? A few showed up early, then the teases were dropped. When will we see Batwoman again? Or were two weeks’ worth of stories all that stunt was good for? I feel like I’m having to wait too long to see these threads revisited.

Second, the title seems to be ignoring some things that should be within its purview, such as showing Harvey Dent on patrol in Gotham city, or explaining just when exactly Star City was destroyed in those final pre-OYL issues of Green Arrow. (It had to happen after Infinite Crisis.)

Which brings up my third worry, which is that 52 seems to be creating continuity difficulties. Shadowpact had no business showing up for one issue, given the setup for their own title which had them absent under a demonic blood-dome during the OYL gap. Green Arrow should have been off recovering on a desert island, not helping Ralph Dibney raid a Superboy cult meeting.

And fourthly, the book has mostly given up on its unique format, which was to chronicle 365 days in the life of the DCU. Most of the recent issues have only shown events on two or three days of any given week, and with the number of dangling story elements out there, small updates on those threads could have easily been given to fill in the ignored days. Not a big problem, but it’s like ignoring the rules of a limerick or haiku: part of the brilliance of the poem is its ability to fit meaning to a prescribed meter.

One plus of recent issues is that we’re finally seeing the setup for the Checkmate series, which I’m a big fan of.

And for those keeping score, Week Twenty-Four seems to be the last week of Wednesday as Day 1 (see the newspaper headline near the end of the issue) and Week Twenty-Five establishes Sunday as the new Day 1, with Halloween, a Tuesday this year, occurring on Day 3. I wonder what happened on those four skipped days?

Caryn A. Tate: Originally, when I first heard about the 52 project, I was conflicted; on one hand, it involves four of my all-time favorite writers (not just in the comic industry, but period), but on the other hand, one comic per week for a year? Without my favorites and DC’s bread and butter (Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman)?

Now that it’s half way through I still feel similarly. I’m disappointed with how few fantastic issues there have been, in the amount of story in each issue (on average), and in the fact that we seem to lose track of some characters for weeks (for instance, Hawkgirl and Alan Scott returned from space in issue #5, and we’ve scarcely seen hide nor hair of them since). I’ve also been totally baffled by the characterization of Natasha Irons. She grew up around Superman and Steel, constantly exposed to Lex Luthor and his villainy. Why is she suddenly so ready to believe what he says, and to basically believe that he’s a better man than her uncle? It makes no sense to me at all. And finally, I’ve been disappointed in the amount of lackluster art. For all of these reasons, I haven’t picked up every single issue.

But on the other hand, I’m thrilled with the characterization of Black Adam, the Question, and Renee Montoya. It’s exciting to see these solid characters finally get to have their moment, to see their personalities expanded upon. Plus, now and then there have been moments of greatness in the writing, and once or twice in the art.

So, bottom line: the series has been worth it so far, and I hope to see more of those moments of brilliance over the next six months. I’d also love to see more Alan Scott (an awesome character that deserves more exposure) and some of the other well-loved characters of the DCU, the kind of art I’d expect from a top level DC series, and storytelling that’s more at the level of quality that I expect of these four amazing creators.

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