52 was a weekly series published by DC Comics starting in May, 2006. Because I had my 52nd birthday in late 2020, I thought it might be interesting (fun?) to examine this series 15 years later. I plan to post once a week about each issue. To read previous posts, click the link (52!).
“Looking Back at Tomorrow”
Week 2, Day 1. Ralph Dibny investigates the defacement of his wife’s tombstone and encounters a young man from a past case.
Week 2, Day 2. Booster Gold takes Skeets to Dr. Will Magnus, who is able to repair the robot. Later, Dr. Magnus visits Dr. Morrow, who reveals that other “mad” scientists are being taken.
Week 2, Day 3. The Question wakes Renee Montoya, who shoots (at) him. He disappears, leaving behind an invitation.
Week 2, Day 4. Booster Gold barely saves a jet that was supposed to have crashed, no thanks to the still glitchy Skeets. The Question offers Renee a job to discover who is using an apparent abandoned building.
Week 2, Day 6. Ralph visits a grieving Cassie Sandsmark, Wonder Girl, wanting to know why she left a message at his wife’s grave. He shows her a photo that he took of the tombstone with the message: a Kryptonian symbol that means “resurrection”.
The second issue of 52 was a bit different in pacing and content compared to the first. Where I felt delightfully gorged with the content of issue 1, issue 2 was a bit of a lighter affair. There are fewer overall characters being focused on and more page counts for Ralph and Renee/The Question, which also slows down the pacing. Not that this is a bad decision. We can breathe a bit with issue 2 and savor the moments presented.
Ralph continues to be the character I’m drawn to and want to follow more. His conversation with the groundskeeper is delightfully human in a superhero world (and is the young man wearing a Booster Gold jacket?). Ralph can’t help himself in his brief moment of joy when discussing the Dreamland Park case, when the groundskeeper tells Ralph,
“You were amazing. Like, Batman amazing.”
“Batman doesn’t have a wife who kept me from freaking out while you were tracking down [my brother] Marty.”
This just highlights how much of a team Ralph and Sue were regardless of Ralph’s superhero stature. And with that, the attention turns back to the tragedy of Sue’s death and the injury caused by the defacement of the tombstone, which the storytellers deftly kept hidden from us. The scene ends with Ralph’s famous nose-twitching, but gone is the usual joy associated with it. Truth be told, I was at first put out by the nose twitching, but the tone presented made me recognize the power of that scene.
The first scene with Doctor Magnus, Booster, and Skeets has a few interesting details. Once Magnus has “resurrected” Skeets, the robot seems … different to me. Is it just my unfamiliarity with the character or has it been damaged by whatever that glitch was (is?)? After all, Skeets says, “Y’know” and calls Booster “Boost”. But perhaps I’m just reading into it. (I do vaguely recall something is up with Skeets as the series goes on, but I’ve forgotten the details.) Also, Magnus picks up an American Science magazine with a question mark on the cover, a visual that is repeated a few times throughout this issue.
Magnus gives this magazine to Professor Morrow, the “mad” scientist who is imprisoned in Haven for, as he says, his “own good and the good of others”. This was maybe the first time that I could recall seeing a relationship between all of these scientist/inventors in the DCU. Magnus is a former student of Morrow’s in this continuity at least, and harbors respect for the man. That relationship extends perhaps to community, for Morrow reveals to Magnus that many of their colleagues (“mad” scientists) have gone missing recently: “I think someone’s rounding us up.” It’s also during this scene that the “52” motif shows up again in one of the newspaper clippings Morrow has concerning Dr. Tyme, which references “last year’s missing 52 seconds…”.
The number turns up again in the next scene with Renee and the Question, when he leaves an address for her–520 Kane St.–complete with another, admittedly overt, question mark). A wisp of smoke is also in the shape of a question mark when the Question appears behind Renee at the address in question (and again when he leaves).
Finally, in the first issue’s opening pages with the swirling shards of reality(?), there was an image that was featured a few times, but I didn’t have a reference for it until this issue. Namely, we are shown a gold statue with a Superman S shield, a monument to the dead Superboy. Here, Cassie is leading a world-wide webcast for Superboy acolytes, so I’ll be interested to see how this plays out over the series. Ralph makes a deductive leap when he confronts Cassie about the message on his wife’s tombstone because that message was an upside down S shield. Whereas the right-side up S means “hope”, the inverted version means “resurrection”. But why does Ralph think Cassie left that message for him? And what exactly is the message? That she is going to resurrect Superboy and/or Sue? Or Sue is somehow key to resurrect Superboy? It’s all just a bit heavy handed, and just seems a means to give the reveal of the message more weight.
History of the DCU, part 1
by Dan Jurgens, Art Thibert, Guy Major, Jerome Cox, Nick J. Napolitano, Eddie Berganza, Ivan Cohen, and Jeanine Schaefer
This issue also has a backup tale, featuring Donna Troy as a sort of chronicler of the universe. She possesses Harbinger’s orb, “which recorded everything that came to pass in all its realities”. She watches the orb summarize the origin of the DCU (at least at that time), covering millennia in a few short panels, until she asks to be told about Superman. We are shown the Superman of Earth-One and Earth-Two, with a mention of only one who would survive.
Besides this brief history lesson, what’s interesting about this passage is what the orb says about Earth-One and Earth-Two:
Of all the Earths, it was those two that would shine the brightest. It is the opinion of many that the presence of a Superman on those worlds pushed them to heights other Earths could not reach.
Of course, Earth-One and -Two are prominent because they simply are in comic book publishing history, but what is the orb saying that, contextually, those Earth’s mean something greater to the larger DCU, or is it merely metafictional eye-winking at the readers? I hope it’s the former.