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The Reread Reviews — 52 Vol. 4

by  in Comic News Comment
The Reread Reviews — 52 Vol. 4

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

Ah, the final post as I reread volume four of 52, which contains weeks 40 through 52. Here are posts 1, 2 and 3. This is the home stretch, people. Let’s get to it. Again, my previous writings/thoughts on 52 can be found at my blog, GraphiContent.

Week 40: Pencils by Chris Batista; Steel versus a superpowered Lex Luthor; Osiris despairs as Kahndaq continues to grow worse. As we enter into the final quarter of this series, plots begins to converge and/or wrap up. This is the big finale to the Steel/Lex Luthor/Infinity, Inc. plot as Steel and the Teen Titans storm Luthor’s building, take out Infinity, Inc., and Steel and Luthor have a brawl, most of it with Luthor superpowered. There’s not much to say aside from I liked this plot the whole way through. I know Grant Morrison tends to view Steel as a great stand-in for Superman, one with the same sort of position and respect, but a different skill set, and I tend to agree. His role in Morrison’s JLA run was great and he hasn’t always been used effectively since, but here and in the subsequent Infinity, Inc. series, I thought he worked well. I really enjoy how he spends a good chunk of the beginning of this issue beating the crap out of Infinity, Inc. members that he’ll soon mentor. The final two pages are mostly set up. Chris Batista does a competent job here.

Week 41: Pencils by Giuseppe Camuncoli; Starfire and Adam Strange seem doomed; Ralph assaults a disabled man; Renee struggles with herself. Okay, I’ll say right off that I have a particular fondness for Giuseppe Camuncoli’s art that stems from his work with Joe Casey on The Intimates. Since I’m a big Casey fan, any artist that worked with him on a quality book gets a special pass with me. Now, that he’s actually a damn good artist helps, but I’ll admit that I probably enjoy his work more for the Casey connection than others. This issue is a decent one. The Ralph stuff is fantastic as he continues his hard-drinking, not-giving-a-fuck ways, and has no problem tossing a man he assumes is faking a disability from his wheelchair. There’s something so pleasantly sordid about Ralph in 52 that I dig. But, I find it easy to get behind characters that just don’t care what anyone thinks, because they are who they are and that’s all there is to say. The Starfire and Adam Strange scenes are decent enough and the stuff with Renee is okay. I can see it more easily now, but the first time I read this issue, I didn’t know that she meets Diana (Wonder Woman) in Nanda Parbat. That could be because I’m a moron. Camo knocks the scene where she decides to confront herself with the candle in the cave out of the park. Brilliantly executed.

Week 42: Art by Darick Robertson; Ralph pulls the big reveal and deals with the devil; Renee turns on the lights. Dan DiDio says in his commentary for this issue that this is the issue that Keith Giffen did the final rewrite of, something I totally forgot when Mark Waid did that interview a couple of months back. I’m torn over my feelings about this issue since it is a big denouement and it doesn’t feel entirely organic. It makes sense when Ralph outlines how Felix Faust was trying to trick him and how Ralph thought around him, but… it all comes off as so deliberate, so planned… I don’t know. I kind of don’t like learning that the Ralph I had a fondness for was an act. I know, what kind of guy am I that I preferred the doesn’t-give-a-fuck hard-drinking Ralph that abuses men in wheelchairs and kicks demons down stairs, but that actually makes more sense to me. DiDio talks about how Ralph had to die a hero and all I could think is “Why?” The answer is because it’s a superhero comic and that’s how things are in superhero comics, but I prefer a man so horribly affected by his wife’s death that he can’t ever put himself back together again. One of the ideas that 52 danced around, but never truly and honestly confronted is that this life would fuck you up. It would fuck you up so much that 90% of these heroes that never stay dead and never really retire should be sitting in their homes afraid to go to sleep because they always wake up screaming. The returned heroes from space issue pointed to this with Alan Scott as did Ralph’s story, and Batman’s little plot. These people deal with insane events and always return to their same old selves — or they turn evil. Well, there’s that other option, that worse option. That one where a guy has a magical talking helmet, robs people, drinks all day, and carries a gun for the time he finally feels like blowing his head off because the woman he loved was killed for no good reason. I believe in that story more than the one where it was pretty much all an act. But, hey, that’s me. I’m a cynical bastard about these things. Darick Robertson provides the art in this issue and it’s not his best work, a bit more exaggerated than I prefer, but it still shows up 90% of the other artists to work on the series. It stands out from what I like to call the 52 house style, much like Phil Jimenez (though I’d say Jimenez’s work was stronger) and, as a result, detracts from the cohesiveness of the series.

Week 43: Art by Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund; Osiris tries to divorce his family; Animal Man re-enters the Continuum; Lady Styx is reborn. What an annoying, whiny little shit Osiris is. Was. Whatever. And how come it took him three weeks to get to the Rock of Eternity? I know the real reason, which is that space constraints demanded it, but still. This issue and the next demonstrate one of the biggest flaws in this series, especially as it got closer to the end and events would begin happening more quickly: 20-22 pages each week just aren’t enough to accurately depict these events in real time. They just aren’t. This issue ends on a cliffhanger that should be picked up relatively soon, but isn’t for three days — really? Sobek eats Osiris and neither Isis nor Black Adam notice for three whole days? But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Yeah, Osiris continues to whine that his powers are cursed because he killed someone, failing to realise that Black Adam has killed many people and never has Kahndaq had acid rain, drought, and flowers that just won’t grow. What an idiot. This issue contains a couple of things that amused me for all the wrong reasons. The first is that Captain Marvel, Jr. claims that he told the Teen Titans that it couldn’t have been Osiris ploughing through the Persuader despite everything in the past suggesting that Captain Marvel, Jr. would be the first one to shout, “I told you so!” to the group. The second is that, at one point, Osiris accidentally hits Isis and someone mentions that he made her bleed… except there’s no blood. At all. By the end of the issue, I was looking forward to his death, which I knew was coming. I personally found the rebirth of Lady Styx more disturbing than those final pages, but unholy creature forcing its way out of a woman compared to giant crocodile eating a disabled boy… well, the former disturbs me more.

Week 44: Pencils by Eddy Barrows; Black Adam and Isis fight the Four Horsemen; Renee prepares to leave Nanda Parbat. Someone in the comments for a previous post on 52 mentioned how they disliked the Black Adam plot, because it seemed pointless to introduce Isis and Osiris only to kill them off in order to drive Adam to a violent rage. My problem with the plot was that I thought Adam’s coalition of Eastern nations was a far more interesting one, another type of heroic Justice League group, but one with different morals and political views — one that you could play off the Western heroes, but not easily dismiss as villains. This issue is the turning point with Isis dying and seeing that, perhaps, Adam’s initial approach was the correct one. I’m really tempted to agree with that commenter, because it does seem somewhat futile for Adam to simply return to where he was less than a year ago. Yes, the journey has its own meaning and it is more powerful with him losing what he’s gained, but these stories work best when, at least, the fall is caused by the character, by some flaw. His fall here is completely external, caused by others, which makes it feel more artificial, less organic, and, as a result, it loses some effectiveness. In this issue we get yet another detailed explanation of ‘How It All Went Down’ and, if I remember correctly, there are one or two of those still left to come. Having one of those in a story is one thing, but since this series contains numerous stories, it gets a little tedious for something unexpected to happen and receive yet another exposition of how someone or something fooled one of the characters. And, as I mentioned above, somehow, it takes Black Adam and Isis three days to realise that Osiris is dead — or for Black Adam to have the portion of his power that he granted to the little whiner return to him.

Week 45: Pencils by Chris Batista and Jamal Igle; Black Adam attacks Bialya and the world watches. Some very interesting things happen in this issue. Black Adam’s attack on Bialya, the country that the final living Horseman, Death, fled to, is merely the cause of these more interesting elements as the world reacts to his actions. Now, Adam’s attack is so over-the-top and awful that there’s no way to justify it. It would be one thing if he merely killed the corrupt leaders, but he killed the entire country. The reaction of the world is interesting as the Great Ten prepare to fight him, except some members question if their leaders had anything to do with the attempt on Adam’s life that resulted in the death of his family. August General-in-Iron keeps the team focused on a possible confrontation, but the idea that Adam’s rage and reaction is, in some small way, justified is put out there. How justified is his reaction? I’m reminded of Kill Bill where Bud says that the Bride deserves her revenge and they deserve to die, but, you know, fuck her. That seems to be the reaction here: Black Adam deserves his revenge and those who attacked him, killing his wife and brother-in-law, deserve to die… but, at the same time, they’re not to going to simply let Adam kill them. The other interesting point raised in this issue is one that I’m trying to figure out in relation to the real world. Bialya’s government is housing one of the creatures that attacked the sovereign ruler of a nation and Adam, as the sovereign ruler of said nation, has the right to engage Bialya in combat as a result. What would the rest of the world have Adam do? If he had officially declared war, would his attack be tolerated more? And why is his attack on this one nation a declaration of war against the entire world? I mean, the answer to why the Great Ten are ready for an attack is that Adam hasn’t really declared war on the world (yet), but just on those responsible for the Four Horsemen… which would include the Chinese government. I find this story horribly frustrating, because it favours rather simple, stupid superhero logic over the more complex and intricate political stuff I’d much rather read. I mean, hell, I would love to see a series dedicated to Black Adam coming to grips with what being a modern world leader means and the procedures and all of that stuff. Then again, I would probably be the only one. Still, issues like this just leave me frustrated with mainstream corporate superhero stories since they are required to cater to the fantastic and violent instead of the intelligent… especially when the pieces are all there to really push in that direction but are ignored.

Week 46: Pencils by Patrick Olliffe; Black Adam versus the scientists on Oolong Island; Lex tries to escape justice; the Justice Society reforms? I really enjoyed the absurd fight between Black Adam and the scientists. It was probably helped by “Carolina Drama” by the Raconteurs, which I had on when I read this issue. The music and the mood of Adam’s attack matched well, punctuated by the sheer insanity of the scientists. Keith Giffen mentions in his commentary that, originally, Adam killed Veronica Cale, but Greg Rucka suggested the change and, like Giffen, I think it works better. That Adam doesn’t even really listen or care about her is a nice touch. Also, her little piece of dialogue where she says that they deserve to die nicely works with what I said about last issue. The reformation of the Justice Society at the end of the issue is… well, the dissolution and reformation of that group during 52 was obviously meant to be bigger and more meaningful, but since it only comes up really in a couple of issues, it has a “Who cares?” feel about it. Onto week 47!

Week 47: Pencils by Giuseppe Camuncoli; a little bit of everything with Wonder Woman, Robin, and Batman in Nanda Parbat, Steel and Natasha set the stage for Infinity, Inc., Animal Man heads for home, the Religion of Crime furthers its cause, and Will Magnus feels guilty. While the issues in this final trade are mostly one-story issues, this one is a little bit of everything as the writers wrap up a couple of stories and set up the end for another one or two. I don’t have a lot to say about this issue since it’s all over the place. Nothing jumps out as particularly good or bad. I like the Animal Man scene and… yeah, that’s about it. Some good art by Camo again.

Week 48: Art by Darick Robertson; Renee becomes the new Question and takes on the Religion of Crime; the Science Squad try to sell Black Adam. Throughout 52, I’ve been unable to really get into the Renee Montoya/Question story despite admiring the writing itself. I’m not sure what my problem with the story is, but Rucka does almost everything right and it isn’t enough. I think it just goes back to the idea that not every story is going to please every reader. One thing that bothered me in this issue was that Renee narrates that she didn’t figure out the ‘twice-named daughter of Cain’ bit in the Bible of Crime quickly enough — that it pointed to Kathy Kane/Batwoman, except she did figure that out back in week 27 when she realised that it was Kane, not Cain. Maybe it’s just unclear here — did she not know that Kane was Batwoman? Or was she slow in figuring out that Mannheim would figure it out, too? Otherwise, this issue is done with a lot of skill and ends with the logical progression of Renee assuming the mantle of the Question. Sadly, just not my thing. Darick Robertson’s art, again, feels out of place here. Visually, it just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the series.

Week 49: Pencils by Eddy Barrows; the Justice Society wants Black Adam, but the Great Ten interfere; Will Magnus unleashes the Mini Metal Men. Some nice bits in this issue like Thundermind seemingly providing Alan Scott with the truth about Chin Tzu and his ties to the Great Ten. I’ve never been a big Metal Man fan, but they’re used effectively here, and I love Will Magnus yelling about how this is what happens when you take him off his medication. The emphasis placed on the JSA’s name when they claim to be ‘free agents’ is another nice touch. I don’t think either the JLA or JSA will ever move beyond those names, but they do present problems when the groups want to act internationally. All in all, though, a slight issue with a few nice moments.

Week 50: Pencils by Justiniano; Black Adam takes on the world; Professor Morrow discovers the secret of ‘52.’ Ah, the infamous “World War III” issue that spawned four tie-in issues universally panned as steaming piles of shit. I’ve never read them myself and never plan to for obvious reasons. This issue works well on its own, an entire event in a single issue. Well, not really since the build-up has happened in a lot of other issues, but the big action stuff mostly goes down here. They cram a lot into this issue as Black Adam rages across the world with the action finally settling in Beijing as he targets the Chinese government that plotted against him. The tension felt by August General-in-Iron is great as he struggles to keep it an internal matter until Adam’s rampage and murder of members of the Great Ten forces him to allowing non-Chinese heroes to enter the country and help. Or, Atom Smasher’s continual denial that Adam could kill so many innocents. Throughout, though, my mind kept coming back to the idea of Black Adam being justified in his rage and his actions. Again, not the slaughter of innocent people, but what of those that plotted against him? I also hate, hate, hate that the only time superheroes get involved in global affairs is when other superpowered people are involved. As I mentioned before, Black Adam is the sovereign leader of a nation, so why do the JSA feel the need to stop him from his military actions and not other countries that use regular soldiers? I don’t mean to dump on the people behind 52 for all of this stuff, but this plot continually raises these questions for me and I can’t find any suitable answers that don’t just go back to “Forget it, Chad, it’s superhero comics…” One question that did pop up: the Egyptian gods support Black Adam’s actions, so, after Captain Marvel transforms Black Adam back to human, why don’t the Egyptian gods simply send another lightning bolt to hit the human Adam? If they can send one to stop him without him calling for it, they must be able to send one at any time. Just curious. And we speed towards the end with only two issues left and one big plot to complete.

Week 51: Pencils by Joe Bennett; a little bit of everything with a superhero gathering, Animal Man’s return to Earth, Adam Strange’s return to Rann, Lobo’s return to his old self, and the truth behind Skeets’s betrayal. The penultimate issue is more of tying off loose ends with Animal Man and Adam Strange both finally back home. The return of Buddy to earth always makes me smile. The memorial service for the fallen heroes from ‘World War III’ (a name that still bothers me since that title has been used before as the final arc in Morrison’s JLA run) is really just a collection of a lot of small interactions and setting up events for ‘One Year Later,’ which began… well, a year earlier really. Donna as the new Wonder Woman, the Red Devil wanting to join the Teen Titans… Clark’s remark that he likes Diana’s glasses as part of her new identity is a great line… I find it fitting that Joe Bennett provides the art for this issue since the next is a larger issue with numerous pencillers and he should have one final issue just to himself right near the end. The revelation of the new, fully grown Mr. Mind is rather shocking since the regular old caterpillar is so common and… goofy. This version is quite the opposite. Well, onwards and upwards.

Week 52: Pencils by Mike McKone, Justiniano, Eddy Barrows, Chris Batista, Patrick Olliffe, and Darick Robertson; Rip Hunter, Booster Gold, and Supernova versus Mr. Mind; epilogue pages. And so it all ends. Finally. 52 weeks. One year. Or, as far as we’re concerned, four weeks. When this issue first came out, I bought it and didn’t really care for it. That’s partly because I hadn’t really read 52 with any real depth to that point, but it’s also because… I still don’t really care for it. I think it’s a horribly convoluted way to restore the multiverse, but, I have to admit, there really isn’t a way to restore it without lots of convolution. The choice of characters to solve the problem do seem somewhat random, which is a problem that Booster Gold actually brings up, wondering why Rip Hunter chose him out of everyone since, surely, there must be more qualified people to handle the situation than him. That’s a nice trick: raise a problem that readers may have in the story and then answer it… except it’s never really answered. Everyone just tells Booster to man up and, somehow, it all works out. I will say that I hate the Earth-3 Crime Syndicate of Amerika redesigns here, mostly because I think Frank Quitely’s designs from JLA: Earth 2 are, by far, superior. The epilogues are all very nice in this issue, though the finale with the Question strikes me as odd for some reason. Ralph and Sue Dibny, Ghost Detectives is a great idea — has anything been done with it since 52? I don’t recall hearing or seeing the concept used again.

And that brings us to the end of this four-week speedy look at 52. It’s been an enjoyable experience all in all, even if I did raise a lot of criticisms. 52 was a good series. It was ambitious, it was fearless, and it came out on time. What more can you ask? It does fail in some places, most notably how it could never really get the whole ‘telling a story in real time’ to come off perfectly because of the limitations of the form, but that doesn’t really bother me much. These people tried something difficult and new, and, in my book, that’s always worthwhile. I love ambitious failures and 52 only fits that bill part of the time. If I were to give it a rating, I think three stars out of five would be the average, which is pretty good for a book that easily could have devolved into utter chaos and nonsense… like Countdown. I’m not sure I can say anything else that hasn’t already been said at some point during these four weeks. Thanks for reading. Next week, something different.

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 4 is week 43’s cover:

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