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The Reread Reviews -- 52 Vol. 2

Since June is the off month between DC's weekly series, Trinity and Wednesday Comics, I figured it's the right time to do my first multi-part series reading 52. Each week, a different trade collecting 13 issues. Expect spoilers.

52 Vol. 2 by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Keith Giffen, and a whole bunch of artists.

For this volume, I'm going to go back to my first discussion of these comics and address each story one at a time, prefaced with some of my thoughts from the fall of 2007 in blockquotes (the title I give each plot is taken from my 2007 thoughts, so bear that in mind -- and that the quoted thoughts cover the first two volumes, but I'll try to work around that as best I can).

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Booster Gold Sucks Ass

Basic synopsis: Booster Gold tries to be a hero, his sidekick Skeets fucks up, he's shown to be a selfish fraud, is shown up by a new hero called Supernova, falls hard and then dies. Skeets it turns out is evil and he kills Booster's ancestor because he's evil.

If there is a "main story" for 52, this would be the strongest contender, I think, but that's also based on the fact that I know how the series ends. But, beyond purely plot reasons, is it worthy of being called the "main story" of 52?

No. Booster's story in these two volumes doesn't actually progress much. That's definitely purposeful in the sense that Booster isn't supposed to learn from his mistakes or become a better person (especially since this is only half of the story), but it's also strangely stagnant.

[...]

The Supernova subplot is interesting, but not really, because you never get the sense that the character actally matters. He's a plot device--which is the risk with a mysterious character like this. We know nothing about him, he only shows up to advance other characters' stories and that's it. It's hard not to perceive him as a plot device. The sad thing is that the design of the character is fantastic and I would have preferred he turn out to be entirely new and become part of the DCU in his own right.

And Skeets being evil is kind of cool, I'll admit.

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I still stand by the idea that Booster Gold's story is the main story, albeit it's a close race with the Black Adam plot, I think, with the Montoya/Question one coming in third. Not that that matters, but very little of this plot is advanced in this volume aside from Booster's death and the revelation that Skeets is evil. The commentary to the week where Skeets's true nature is revealed is nice as Mark Waid discusses how, originally, it was going to be a pretty standard "something is wrong with the timestream and the hero has to fix it" story, which I think we can all agree would have been boring. I do find it funny, then, that Booster Gold's solo book has been centred around that very premise.

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The Supernova subplot really, really does nothing here. His fight with Booster Gold is about the most interesting thing that happens involving the character in this entire volume. He shows up at various points throughout so we can be reminded that he's there and that people really want to know who he is. There's even a scene where he goes to the Batcave and looks around, stopping on a gauntlet full of various types of Kryptonite... and I'll get to this next week, but I know who Supernova is... and nothing here really points in that direction. His tirade against Booster Gold almost does, but not quite.

Not much emphasis is placed on either element of this plot in this volume, but this is a volume where none of the plots are given a lot of space as the creators try to continue to build these stories.

Irons V. Luthor

Steel once claimed to be Superman; therefore, he and Lex Luthor are enemies. I love that logic. And this storyline is one of the ones that interests me the most, because it's a great idea: Lex Luthor finds a way to turn people into superheroes and looks like a great guy to the public, while the heroes all know he's a douchebag doing it for his own gain.

Playing Irons against his niece is great, because it's another example of the brilliance of Lex Luthor as a character: he is a supervillain who doesn't act like a supervillain. He fights the heroes on completely different terms and he wins more often than not. Anytime I see him in that awful green and purple suit or actually fighting, I cringe, because it's so fucking typical. This is the guy who became president just to fuck with Superman, he does not resort to brawling like a common thug.

[...]

The idea of anyone getting superpowers and using them is really well done -- and Luthor creating his own superteam is a classic way for him to give Superman and the rest the finger.

One of my favourite plots. I think that's partly because this is the first time I'm reading 52 after having read Peter Milligan's Infinity, Inc. series, which I rather enjoyed. Seeing where those characters came from with the mindset of where they're going is an odd experience. Erik, for example, undergoes a radical change from 52 where he's the Fury and can slice through anything, acting as the agile, mysterious character of the group... to the gender-bending, self-conscious, mentally unstable character in Infinity, Inc.

In many ways, this story strikes me as the most metafictional of the bunch. In week 21, Luthor and his team monitor Infinity, Inc.'s fight against Blockbuster and it's obvious that the whole thing is very scripted... particularly when Luthor and Mercy comment on some of the lame lines that come out of Nuklon's mouth, Luthor even mentioning that they had four writers and it still sucks. Beyond that obvious point, the Teen Titans in this issue represent the more dedicated fanbase who would look at this new Infinity, Inc. and call it a fraud. All new characters stepping into established identities because a corporation decides that's the way to go? Hello, editorial mandate! The Titans also have more credibility because they feature both longtime members and 'legacy' members with Little Barda, Power Boy, and Zachary Zatara. That legacy element is especially relevent since Infinity, Inc. was originally a legacy team for the Justice Society of America. This new version is like a relaunch with a new first issue and a fresh creative team replacing the longstanding, veteran team with the original numbering. On their first outing, a member is even killed to show how unpredictable and edgy this version is. Anything can happen! We're so modern! Of course, it doesn't all line up perfectly in any direct way, but it's more about the feeling of this story. No character represents a specific person or anything like that.

The other main issue is how Luthor's metagene therapy provides superpowers to all of these untrained civilians, which results in chaos in the Justice League issue (and some damn funny characters -- Poledancer!). DC has always had an approach where new heroes are, usually, either self-starters who spent years training themselves, or legacy characters trained from a young age to be heroes. There are some obvious exceptions, but DC's heroes have always seemed more professional than Marvel's, which features a lot of accidents resulting in powers or mutations. In many ways, Marvel's approach is more relatable in that it has a "anyone can be a superhero!" vibe.

Why Should I Care about Renee Montoya????

As I said yesterday, the Montoya/Question storyline does nothing for me. I don't care. They're fighting Intergang, yay. They stop a suicide bombing, yay. They introduce a new Batwoman who Montoya used to sleep with, yay. None of it grabs me.

Not much has changed, but I do think this volume is kinder to this plot by having it cross over with the Black Adam plot for much of it.

Lost in Space

This storyline sucked me in more than I expected. Actually, I expected to hate this story as it's three characters I'm not that interested in (okay, I do love Animal Man like everyone else who's read Morrison's run) in space where they encounter Lobo who I really don't care about. Not much there initially, but, somehow, it turned out to be really engaging.

And yet there's very little character development here. We have Animal Man, Starfire and Adam Strange on a planet, trapped. They have to get off. They find out there's a bounty on their heads when Devilance the Pursuer, a New God, captures them. They escape, use his weapon to power their ship and are then rescused by Lobo, who has found religion. That's actually pretty cool.

This storyline is actual the most minor one, I'd say, as it gets ignored a lot. Like I said earlier, there's a seven week gap where these characters don't show up at all. Most of the time, this plot gets skimmed over until Lobo shows up and then more emphasis is given--although, still, little development. But, it works.

I disagree with myself with regards to this story. It's still just an engaging as I said then, but I think there's more character development than I gave it credit for. The use of Lobo again surprised me since I've had very little affinity for that character, but he's great here. That right mix of bad guy trying to be good that's always entertaining. I'm not sure I have much to say about this plot beyond that it's really entertaining and I enjoyed it whenever it showed up.

Ralph Dibny, PI

This story is interesting in that the first half interested me, but the second half didn't. The first half, as Ralph uncovers what the cult of Kon-El or whatever wants with him and his dead wife, culminating in his attempt to bring her back to life is excellent. We see a desperate, depressed man gain a new purpose, given hope and then left a wreck.

Only to have him become the new Dr. Fate maybe? Yawn.

The jump from where we last saw Ralph (cradling Wicker Sue and a little bit... off) to where he first shows up in this volume left me wondering what happened between. But, it's also refreshing that the writers didn't go for some cliche insane-hero-turns-villain-to-bring-back-dead-wife plot. They kind of just stated that Ralph lost it, but got better since we last saw him and is now trying to recover completely. He's brought into the Dr. Fate story and it doesn't go too far here. We see a trip to hell where the helmet discusses Felix Faust, which is interesting but also seems like filler somehow.

The scene where the helmet talks to him and he just walks away, while the Shadowpact just stand there is odd, because they don't hear the helmet and... just stand there and let him walk away. That made me pause and wonder what's wrong with those guys.

Evil Genius, Inc.

Another plot that didn't do much for me until it got going was the whole Will Magnus visiting Professor Morrow in prison, which lead into mad scientists all being kidnapped. My lack of interest could be that I've never given a second thought to the Metal Men. Wow, robots made out of a specific metal, colour me don't-give-a-fuck. I did like that Magnus visited Morrow, though--and that the fact he did it once a month allowed for this story to only show up every four issues without people wondering where it went. A smart little technique that worked with the format of the series.

When Magnus is finally kidnapped, I wish they had had the room to push his mental breakdown further and have it more drawn out. I love the part where he accuses his kidnappers of trying to unhinge him and they respond that they only want MAD scientists. Given more room to breathe, this plot could have been far more interesting.

Where volume two ends, we're not entirely sure what's going on, just that the scientists are on an island and given the freedom to do as they will--well, and the funny as hell scene where a woman scientist arrives. That scene is made by the exchange between Magnus and Morrow where Morrow says he knew a woman once, Magnus responds "...and?" and Morrow goes "...I just knew one, once..." I love it.

Really, this is a story that could have carried a series. The first four issues detailing the kidnappings and Magnus' breakdown and then just a monthly book of mad scientists doing fucked up shit on an island. I would buy that.

I agree with everything I said regarding this plot. I really do wish they'd pushed Magnus as 'mad scientist' further. He's obviously not in complete control/level-headed, but he's not exactly mad either, you know? He's off-kilter. He's eccentric. He's not mad.

August General in Iron on Black Adam: "Wwwhhhhhhhhhhhh-PSSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHH!"

Black Adam's arc over just these two volumes is interesting as he goes from extreme, Authority-esque ruler of a nation to an attempt to be Captain Marvel basically--which works now that Captain Marvel is the new Shazam wizard. Again, only half of the larger arc, but an interesting one.

However, one question does come up: is this story a subtle commentary one how women--and, more specifically, marriage--change men?

We have Black Adam, fucking asshole who shows little mercy for evil scum, bent on creating a world that works who then meets a girl, gives her magical powers and is talked into being nicer and friendlier and giving up his coalition of Asian superheroes. What's even more surprising is how quickly it all happens. In, what, three or four months, his entire attitude and outlook changes. All of which is purposeful because they need to set up Black Adam as the patriarch of his own little family so it can be taken away and he can go even further than before.

But.

Is it also a commentary on women?

It sure seems like it, because it does read like one of those overnight transformations we've all seen where a buddy meets a girl and, suddenly, he's an entirely different guy. August General in Iron says that when Black Adam quits the coalition (well, he says something more like "What the hell? YOU started this whole thing and now that you're married, you're quitting? PUSSY!").

I'm not sure how I read this, though. Is it sexist or simply reporting something that DOES happen? Or is it more a romantic take where it's about how family and love can change a person for the better? While Black Adam's buddies are all "You changed! You used to be cool!" he's in a loving relationship, which could very well be an improvement from who he was before.

My only complaint is that, come on, did they have to make Isis' little brother paralysed to DIRECTLY copy Captain Marvel, Jr.? They couldn't have had him seriously wounded in ANY OTHER WAY? It's just a little bit too cutesy for me. Another injury would have had the same parallelism, but not been so fucking obvious.

Sorry for quoting such a large chunk here, but this commentary hasn't changed much and I find the idea of Black Adam changing as the result of marriage an interesting idea -- and very quite obvious here. I won't discuss that too much more since I outlined it above nicely.

What also struck me is that, knowing exactly where this story is going, I kind of wish they didn't discard the multi-national coalition that Black Adam put together. That was a really great idea and one that they could have pushed as a way to really give the DCU a different global dynamic than Marvel's Earth. Imagine a superhero-centric Cold War feeling as an ongoing subplot. With Marvel often being very America-centric in their larger subplots (Civil War, "Dark Reign"), an internationally-based one would be nice. As well, the concept wasn't really explored after that encounter with the Green Lanterns. You could really play up that it's not a case of good guys versus bad guys, but good guys with different political allegiances and ideals... That strikes me as a far more interesting story than what they went with.

But, at the same time, the Black Adam plot is one of the best in 52. My complaint regarding Osiris's human body not having the use of his legs being too much like Captain Marvel, Jr. still stands. It's a direct correlation that almost seems forced just so that "Black Adam, Jr." is the exact same. There are other disabilities they could have used instead -- or, why use any? Actually, Geoff Johns goes such a long way to making Black Adam's family be a direct mirror of Captain Marvel's that I'm surprised there wasn't an Uncle Dudley analogue.

Please God Tell Me That's NOT the Justice League!

A few thoughts on other bits:

* one of my favourite parts of the second volume is Mark Waid's inclusion of the script for the Justice League issue where he makes a note that asks Grant about Bulleteer.

* that, and just how shitty that League is.

* The part where Alan Scott gets Mr. Terrific to join the new Checkmate confused the fuck out of me. It wasn't until halfway through when I realised who these guys were. And, even then, why I should care.

* The Martian Manhunter as a presidential aide is an awesome idea. THAT should have been the new series. Leave it to DC to ignore the awesome, mature, complex idea in favour of something typical and lame. (*cough*lexaspresident*cough*)

* Hey, the heroes who came back from space kind of disappeared, didn't they?

Okay, it's obvious that I have a fondness for politically-based stories, but they really do strike me as more interesting than the typical superhero bullshit. Too often the political implications of superheroes are ignored and only invoked for the convenience of the story. I love that there isn't a moral issue about J'onn creating a new identity to become a total aide to the president. Or some dumb discovery that a Martian disguised himself and has been advising the president.

The disappearance of the heroes who returned from space still bothers me since that was, again, a compelling plot that takes a look at how traumatic being a superhero would be, and we only got a week of that. It's another idea that could have carried its own book.

It really is true that the more you read of 52, the more it grows on you. So much of what works here is the constant building of these stories and the constant shifting between them.

Next week, I'm going to change things up by going through volume three week by week as I read it. We'll see how that works out.

In each of these posts, I also want to spotlight what I think is the best cover of each volume. JG Jones's covers for 52 were consistently spectacular and picking one from each group of 13 is very difficult. My choice for volume 2 is week fifteen's cover:

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