52: Half-Way Through
By Jim Beard
When I originally thought of doing a 52 overview article to commemorate the half-way point, I figured I’d sit down and read through the entire 26 issues-to date and make notes and all that rigamarole. Then I just decided to wing it. I figured if the damn thing hasn’t made any kind of lasting impression on my brain by this point, well, they ought to just call the whole thing off.
So, armed with only my sweet memories, some choice comments by you, the review reader, and a whole lot of gumption (did I also mention “talent on loan from Gawd”?), let’s you and me take a brief walk through the first twenty-six issues of one of the most ambitious comic book projects of our times. I give you: ”52: Half-Way Through.”
Let’s ask the most important question of all: is 52 fulfilling its mission? Well, ostensibly, 52 is meant to show us the “missing year” between the end of Infinite Crisis and the current, ongoing “One Year Later” of all the regular DCU titles. In that I would say its serving its function. More importantly, I believe it's also, for the most part, unfolding in a manner that both pleases and informs. That’s worth its weight in gold in these days of superficial, drawn-out story arcs and misleading premises. 52 is chock-full of characters, situations, surprises, mysteries, humor, drama, beginnings, and yes, endings. Nobody can say that the series hasn’t delivered much to ponder and even more to plunder (for future stories in the DCU).
Is it good? Whoa. Huge question. I will say, again, for the most part, yes. And it appears to this reviewer that the majority of people who have taken the 52 plunge agree. I have, in my reviews, had my share of beefs with the series, but looking back over the past twenty-six weeks, I see more good than bad. In fact, there has been little of what I would actually call “bad,” more like “meh” than anything. I firmly believe that most people, maybe just about all the people who started at Week One, are still here in the whispery silence that hangs between Week Twenty-Six and Twenty-Seven.
What’s been good about it? I think one of the highlights of 52 has been the introduction of new characters and concepts and the metamorphosis of those who already existed. We’ve seen the inaugural panel time of the new Batwoman, Isis, Osiris, and Super Nova, just to name a few. We’ve witnessed the startling change in Steel and the Elongated Man, been reintroduced to Egg Fu and Oolong Island, discovered the strange and mysterious Great Ten, and had a front row seat at the demise of Booster Gold. All this and a certain chalkboard. You know the one. The one that has caused more message board discussion than just about anything else in 52. The one that seems to be a cornerstone for all that 52 will bring...and leave behind for the future. Oh yes, the future. This series seems to also be one of the pieces to an even greater puzzle that awaits the DCU.
What’s been bad about it? I believe one of the greatest faults of 52 has been the pacing of some of the individual stories and their balancing with each other. Take Steel and Natasha’s story for example. After twenty-six issues, their relationship is more or less the same; they disagree on what exactly makes a hero, and their disagreement is sometimes volatile. Week after week they are shown to have the same confrontation, over and over. Put this up against Ralph Dibny’s story. Ralph's 52 arc has actually had a beginning, a climax, and an end...and a new beginning. The Lost in Space Heroes’ status quo is just about the same as its always been: they're lost. Renee Montoya has gone from the bottom of bottle to the heights of Gotham to Khandaq and now to a new beginning at the hands of Richard Dragon. Why are all 52 tales not created equal? Why does Black Adam go from dramatic murderer to dramatic lover and the missing scientists hit an island and grow roots? Again, the scattershot pacing and balancing of the stories may serve a purpose to the writers and editors, but to us the readers it can be very frustrating, especially if we fall in love with a particular character and their goings-on.
There have also been a few concepts introduced that have been tantalizingly titillating, yet have been dropped (or seemingly dropped) like scalding tubers. Remember the super-hero hospital? Remember the powerless Clark Kent? Remember...Batwoman? Granted, these may all show up again in the series, but a note to DC: absence doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder. I said at the outset of the series that I was afraid that they had invested too much into 52: too may plots, too many characters, too many cool things that we want to parade before our eyes every week. We’re hoping the second half of 52 will be tighter, leaner, and maybe even a little bit meaner.
How’s the art? Memorable? Yeah, my worst bugaboo about 52 is the art. Other than a fantastic turn and three-fifths or so by Phil Jimenez and some pretty good visuals by Joe Bennett, the art has been relatively forgettable. The cost of producing a weekly series? Is it a price we can pay, and pay comfortably? I think the jury will be out on that one until we view the whole thing when its collected.
Has 52 been controversial? Yes, it has. Batwoman’s a lesbian, Kory Anders is “easy,” Clark Kent’s a reckless idiot, and Booster Gold is..., well..., dead. Maybe this series hasn’t burnt down the Internet with controversial bullet points, but it has generated a lot of chat. A LOT. And that’s got to be good for DC. Has the series led readers to other series? Sure. The Great Ten have shown up in Checkmate, Green Arrow’s mayoral race has its origins in 52, and Shadowpact made an appearance, too. Has there been mystery? Oh, yeah. In fact, I’ve had readers tell me that the mystery of 52 has been their most favorite aspect to this point. For myself, I haven’t chosen to keep track of “clues” or weigh mentions of this or that, or even calculate how many times the actual number 52 has appeared in the series. I’ve taken a more easy-going track with 52, an almost zen-like attitude that allows the book to flow over me like water, soaking into my psyche and opening doors and...
Ahem. Well, anyways, it's been a ride, hasn’t it? For all that you may have to say about the series, you have to admit there’s been nothing quite like it before. Writing has been (usually) above the norm, the editors have kept us on time for twenty-six weeks, and if the art hasn’t exactly been home runs every time, the book features the bestest, most coolest, most beautiful covers of any series I can think of in recent memory..., maybe of all time.
Where does it go next? There’s always a sense that “big things” are just around the corner in 52. There’s definitely a sense of presence, of mood, of feeling in the book, one that is purely its own. If a week’s issue doesn’t grab you, hold on; next week will probably knock you upside the head. Again, that’s another beautiful aspect of 52, that every time I grow restless, I’m usually amazed the following week. For every dull moment or lame happening, I know I’m going to get a cool concept or a new story plateau in the next issue. 52 is a book to be watched. 52 is a book to be savored. 52 is a book that can make comics history. It has everything going for it.
And I personally wouldn’t miss it for the world.
See you “Next in 52"!
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