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. 3 by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Keith Giffen, and a whole bunch of artists.
For this week's post, I'm going to do it week by week as I read this volume. I will read an issue and then write my thoughts on it. We'll see how that works. As always, my past writings on 52 are found here. I'll avoid quoting my thoughts on volume three so as to appear more original in this post.
Week 27: Pencils by Shawn Moll; Ralph Dibny goes to the Spectre to see if 'he' can bring Sue back from the dead; Skeets attacks Waverider; Renee finds out Charlie is dying of lung cancer. The Ralph plot continues its dark path, again showing that Mark Waid is a cruel, evil man, putting this man through some horrible paces. The time-travel bit back to the events during Identity Crisis is a nice thought on Waid's part -- and a clever one, giving the scene an actual in-continuity importance. But, it still doesn't make Identity Crisis a better mystery story or that sound that makes Sue ask who's there any less of a bullshit red herring that's never actually explained in story. The Waverider scene with Skeets is well done and advances that plot a bit, while the Renee/Charlie stuff does the same. That plot still doesn't really capture me. The narrative captions Rucka uses for Renee feel unnecessary a lot of the time... despite providing useful/necessary information. I can't pinpoint why they feel that way, but all I keep thinking is "It's 'voice-over' like this that makes people call it lazy writing." A harsh judgement to be sure and I wish I could back it up beyond my 'feeling.' What's even weirder (to me, at least) is how little I care about the Religion of Crime stuff. That seems like the sort of idea I would love love love, but it falls flat for me. Before I move on, another thing jumped out at me in this issue: Skeets calls Waverider 'the Seer of Hypertime,' a reference that has to show up in a book that Morrison and Waid have their hand in. I'm one of those people who love the concept of Hypertime (especially because nothing that happens in 52 ever precludes that idea) and nice to see it get a mention. Shawn Moll's art fits the general tone of 52 in that it doesn't really stand out, but isn't too bad either.
Week 28: Pencils by Drew Johnson; the Questions and Batwoman versus the Religion of Crime; Aboriginal Australians and their Tornado Man versus a corporation; Lobo and the trio of lost heroes in space versus... a Green Lantern? I'll try not to harp on the Renee story every time it comes up. Some nice action in this issue. The Aboriginal Australians bit was kind of off-beat and entertaining. Not sure what it accomplishes, but I dug it. The stuff in space continues to be gold as far as I'm concerned. The manner in which this issue handles the plot is fantastic: splash page of Lobo on his bike, the ship in tow... cut ahead two days and we get a scene that features two panels of Animal Man ranting... these two pages take advantage of the 'real time' element of this format to just cut in and out of events, giving us an idea of what these characters are doing to set up later actions, but not going out of their way to spell it out. You get everything you need to know here: they're on the run from a giant glowing green one-eyed head. That's so insanely awesome. This is followed up with their stand-off against the head and the revelation that it's actually a Green Lantern's ship and Lobo left it weakened by stealing the eye... and the heroes finally grasp the danger Lady Styx presents. An issue centred around religion. Fun. Drew Johnson is another 'fits in with the tone of 52' artist. Oh, and I love that the Red Tornado's head just keeps saying "52" over and over again.
Week 29: Pencils by Chris Batista; the JSA doesn’t like the new Infinity, Inc.; Thanksgiving with the mad scientists; Steel loses his solid steel exterior. I really enjoyed this issue. The JSA/Infinity, Inc. plot was kind of weak in that it really went through the obvious motions of this story. Old men complaining about these new kids that don’t know what they’re doing while forgetting that they were once young kids who didn’t know what they were doing. Young kids who assume that the old men are just jealous never stopping to think “Hey, every single superhero we encounter seems to think Lex Luthor is a horrible man... I wonder why that is...” Very little originality in that plot, but it’s still well executed and engaging. The Thanksgiving dinner with the mad scientists is just so fucking gloriously insane (no pun intended). The ptero-turkey! The Apokolips reference! The miniature train tracks! Egg Fu! The ‘nine thousand and nine disgraceful names!’ The teaser with Steel losing his metallic skin at the end is also nice. I really dug Chris Batista’s art in this issue. A very clean style that I would say is towards the upper end of the 52 house style whereas Moll is towards the lower end with his work in week 27.
Week 30: Pencils by Joe Bennett; the ‘Batman issue’ guest-starring Dick, Tim, Kathy, Renee, and Charlie. Time for me to plug my two very long posts on Morrison’s first and second years on Batman, because this issue does a bit to set up one of Morrison’s major ideas: that Bruce Wayne’s ‘superpower’ is the ability to live with more trauma and pain than anyone else. In his ten years (around that in-continuity) as Batman, he has dealt with more horror than anyone could ever hope to cope with and, yet, he thrives. Here, the suggestion is that it’s too much and he wants it cut out of him, but Morrison builds on that later to show that all of the pain and trauma he’s endured has only made him stronger and more able to fight crime. One of the reasons why he defeats Dr. Hurt in “Batman R.I.P.” is this ability, this level of self-awareness he develops in this issue and one in volume four. There’s also some foreshadowing of Dick becoming Batman as Tim suggests that Bruce wants the two of them to be the new Batman and Robin, and, then, Dick returns to Gotham to act as its protector. Joe Bennett’s art is probably the most seen in 52 and it is the epitome of the book’s house style, very solid, always making everything as clear as possible, serving the writing.
Week 31: Pencils by Chris Batista; Lady Styx lays waste to a planet, two Green Lanterns, and Captain Comet; Everyman is a creepy pervert; Ralph talks to Wonder Girl and Supernova. Lady Styx’s forces remind me Darkseid’s in “Final Crisis,” which is unsurprising since Keith Giffen attributes those scenes to Morrison in his commentary after this issue (though Giffen admits that he could be wrong). Comet’s message is very well done, culminating in that final image of him before he jettisons his consciousness... that sounds like Morrison. The scene with the Infinity, Inc. members is also well done, adding some element of humanity to them that’s been missing with the new Jade showing some regret/second thoughts over her use of that name, while Everyman using his shapeshifting powers for creepy purposes is a nice touch. The Ralph scenes are also good; I like that he’s still a carefree guy, but in a different way. Where Elongated Man was carefree in a fun way, Ralph is now carefree in the literal sense that he just doesn’t give a fuck anymore. Since I know who Supernova is and am still unconvinced that the proper clues are there, I can’t agree with Ralph’s assessment that it was easy to figure out, but, hey, whatever. I was struck by the thought that the DCU has a lot of insanely brilliant detectives — so many that you’d think that their existence alone would alter the nature of crime worldwide since these guys seem to be able to figure the most obtuse mysteries out with little effort. Ah well. I don’t enjoy Batista’s pencils as much here as in week 29, but he still has a few very good moments like the Captain Comet splash page.
Week 32: Pencils by Patrick Olliffe; Ralph in Nanda Parbat; Osiris tries to join the Teen Titans; the space heroes decide to fight. According to Mark Waid’s commentary for this issue, Morrison handled the Ralph in Nanda Parbat stuff, so it’s not surprising to have a little attention paid to Accomplished Perfect Physician since the Great Ten were his creations. Ralph going there for more answers about bringing Sue back makes sense and I like how Morrison writes Ralph like a bit more of a selfish bastard than Waid does. That’s not meant to criticise Waid, but he’s a little too close to the character, a little too fond of him. Oh, he’ll send Ralph to hell and back, but he can’t quite bring himself to push the character to being unlikable, which Morrison does here. He shows Ralph to be a selfish prick who just can’t let go of his dead wife. It’s an odd mix of making him unlikable and making you pity the guy. The space heroes scene doesn’t add much. Osiris trying to join the Teen Titans is a great scene if you like your superheroes looking like assholes like Captain Marvel, Jr. does here. I love the little comments from the other potential recruits when Osiris and Sobek arrive — they want to be superheroes, but are freaked out by a talking crocodile? Losers. What I love most about this scene is how it points out that superhero/supervillain dynamics are mind-numbingly simplistic, unable to cope with moral grey areas and nuanced thinking, particularly when applied to a global level. Since Osiris is Black Adam’s brother-in-law, he’s not allowed to join the Teen Titans despite proving himself an agent of good. Assholes. Pat Olliffe is one of my personal favourites and has been since I first saw his work in Untold Tales of Spider-Man #1. His style fits in with the 52 house style, but is also a bit more detailed with softer edges than that style. Note that when I say ‘detailed,’ I don’t mean a ton of lines thrown in for no reason. I mean that his pages just look more packed with content, that he spends time making sure there’s always something visually interesting no matter where you look, that backgrounds are complete. Plus, dude threw in a Neal Adams reference on a page. Nice.
Week 33: Pencils by Joe Prado and Tom Derenick; it’s Christmas time; Ralph gets a gun; Nightwing gives Batwoman a gift; Lex Luthor wants superpowers; Charlie hallucinates; scenes from across the DCU; Black Adam and family introduce themselves to the world. Strangely, the scene that works best, for me, in this issue is the Charlie/Renee one. Rucka really nails it and broke through to touch me deep down inside where I’m soft like a woman. The Lex Luthor stuff is nice. Beyond that, not much really appealed to me. The art is rough in spots, which I’ll attribute to Prado because Derenick’s stuff is better. The opening page with Ralph is just confusing in spots. All in all, a weaker issue, but that’s not surprising considering that it’s a holiday-themed issue... those are always weak for some reason.
Week 34: Pencils by Joe Bennett; the Suicide Squad attack Black Adam and family; Steel enlists the help of the Birds of Prey; Charlie continues to die; Lex Luthor celebrates the new year. The opening fight is harsh and what you’d come to expect from Geoff Johns. When Osiris bursts through the Persuader, I love the self-reflective line by Amanda Waller about all teenage superheroes being the same, alluding back to Superboy-Prime’s freak-out in Infinite Crisis. And just after Osiris got into the Teen Titans. Cruel writing. It’s appropriate that Steel finally gets through to his niece as Luthor prepares to shut down all of the Everyman superpowers. The actual scene in which Steel talks to Natasha is horribly involved to get to four panels of point. Meanwhile, Lex... well, more about him next issue. Bennett’s art is odd here in that he uses a couple of different styles. I noticed this before in smaller ways, but towards the end of this issue, he switches from a clean, rather typical superhero style of art to one that’s very heavy in black and contrast. It reminds me of Scott McDaniel’s work in the ‘90s. I wonder why he made that choice.
Week 35: Pencils by Phil Jimenez and Dan Jurgens; “The Rain of the Supermen;” the space heroes decide to take the fight to Lady Styx. The majority of this issue is devoted to Lex Luthor deactivating the powers of everyone in the Everyman project aside from the members of Infinity, Inc. And, yes, the only one to question any of that is Natasha, who only does so because her uncle has spent the previous seven months telling her over and over again that Lex Luthor is an evil man. The other members are clearly morons. Phil Jimenez does some very, very good work. His stuff involving Luthor is often funny, including one panel where Luthor is feigning horror and surprise while giving a smirk to the reader. Seeing Dan Jurgens’s art here has me wondering if he would have been able to do the entire run of 52. Is he a fast enough artist? I know he was also doing that “history of the DC universe” back-up feature early on, but he has a nice clean, efficient style. Then again, doing 20 pages a week is a bit much. Maybe he could have done a weekly series ala Mark Bagley and Trinity.
Week 36: Pencils by Jamal Igle; the space heroes fight Lady Styx; Renee decides to take Charlie back to Nanda Parbat; Osiris has been kicked out of the Teen Titans; Supernova and Rip Hunter hang out in the bottle city of Kandor. The fight against Lady Styx in space has a few great moments like Styx goading Lobo into violence (though I still think that it was the dolphin lying about what she was saying) with some commentary about turning his back on the brand, which you just know is an allusion to hardcore Lobo fans not liking the Main Man as a pacifist (was there any backlash against that idea?). Animal Man’s death has a fantastic call back to Morrison’s run on the book and the best final words ever: “Promise you won’t let me come back as a zombie...” The fight scene itself is well done, but would have worked better with more pages (something Giffen points out in his commentary). Renee’s decision to take Charlie to Nanda Parbat is one of those ‘pushing the plot forward’ bits. Why it took this long for there to be some reaction to Osiris killing the Persuader is beyond me. At first I wondered under what authority the Teen Titans could arrest Osiris until I went back and saw that the fight with the Suicide Squad took place in California. More and more, I’m beginning to notice that this ‘real time’ experiment doesn’t work. There’s not enough space to allow scenes to play out as they would or to have events occur when they would. The end of this issue and beginning of the next is a perfect example: this issue ends on day seven of week 36, while next issue begins on day one of week 37... despite this issue ending on a cliffhanger that is immediately picked up next issue. It worked in the New Year’s issues, because there’s a natural midnight turning point there, but here... ugh. And, um, I just realised that the time line doesn’t work! In week 33, Christmas is on day six, but, in week 35, New Year’s Day is on day one despite it being exactly seven days after Christmas. How does that work? I have to assume that the Christmas day of the week is correct, because Thanksgiving happens on day 2 and, since Christmas was on a Monday in 2006, Thursday would be day 2 of the week if Monday was day 6. Oh, I’m reading too much into this, aren’t I?
Week 37: Pencils by Patrick Olliffe; Booster Gold is Supernova; Green Arrow and Black Canary discuss things including Ralph; Animal Man laid to rest. Booster turning out to be Supernova thanks to the wonders of time travel is just a horrible denouement to this mystery. Raymond Chandler once wrote that a good solution to a mystery will seem inevitable once revealed. The reader will feel honourably fooled and happy. That’s not the case here. Yes, when it’s spelled out, it does make logical sense, but the clues weren’t there. The clues that were there were so obtuse and distorted that they only make sense when spelled out. Waid and company threw in a lot of red herrings, so many that any of the solutions those red herrings pointed to would have felt more inevitable. The mystery suffered because they spent far too much time trying to stay one step ahead of the fans on message boards, something that comic book mysteries has a horrible habit of falling prey to. In his commentary, Waid discusses the original dialogue in Booster’s death scene way back in week 15, which Waid wrote to reflect the Frank Grimes episode of The Simpsons with Booster being horribly sarcastic and insulting, culminating with his death interrupting the line “Look at me, I’m Supernov¬—” Waid was overruled on this little ‘stealth reveal,’ but I’ve got to side with him. The script segment provided here is ten times better than the actual comic. The Ollie/Dinah scene is an odd one that seems to serve no purpose other than remind us of Ralph’s quest to bring Sue back. And, the issue ends with a great Animal Man funeral scene with him waking up to find the yellow aliens from Morrison’s run on the book there. Oh yeah!
Week 38: Pencils by Joe Bennett; Renee struggles to get Charlie to Nanda Parbat before he dies; the Four Horsemen arrive on the island of Oolong; Natasha works against Luthor from the inside. I really do wish that these scenes with Renee and Charlie did something for me, but they don’t. Greg Rucka writes them quite well and Joe Bennett knocks them out of the park, but I’ve never cared about this story or these characters. I don’t know why, but I haven’t, and this issue doesn’t change that. The stuff on Oolong Island is great with Will Magnus eating cold beans out of the can — I’m surprised they didn’t quote the sounds Rorschach made in Watchmen when he was eating cold beans out of the can. The Four Horsemen are created/arrive and we get a hint of where the fourth one, already gone ahead is. The scene that has Natasha revealing that she’s working from the inside is a serviceable one, nothing more.
Week 39: Pencils by Andy Smith; Natasha versus Lex Luthor’s Everyman project; more mad scientists; a curse on the house of Black Adam? The final issue of this volume ends on a cliffhanger with a superpowered Lex Luthor, which was done with a great twist of that doctor having lied about Luthor not being eligible for the Everyman treatment. Also, the revelation that Everyman (the shapeshifter) has been posing as (and eating!) Jake is nice. Although, was there an oral sex joke made there or do I just have a dirty mind? That final page with the ripped shirt is well done, too. The stuff on Oolong Island and with the Black Adam family isn’t spectacular, but, again, advances the plot for future issues. Andy Smith’s art is some of the weaker work in this volume.
And I’m finally through this volume. Actually, I enjoyed this volume the most out of the three so far since the pattern of reading an issue and then writing about it before proceeding to the next is the closest I’ve come to capturing the feel of the original weekly release. That sort of release pattern does make it read better, I must admit.
Next week, the grand finale where I may try doing it this way again. Or I’ll do something completely different. Who knows?
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 3 is week thirty-four's cover: