52! Week Forty-One

By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Camuncoli, Ramos, Sinclair, Leigh, Richards, Schaeffer, and Siglain. Cover by Jones and Sinclair.

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 for its 15th anniversary. I plan to post once a week about each issue. To read previous posts, click the link (52!).

Synopsis

“Miracles & Wonders”

Week 41, Day 1

Adam Strange and Starfire are attacked by bounty hunter Meklon, and their ship is severely damaged. However, they are able to defeat Meklon and continue on their journey home.

Week 41, Day 2

Renee Montoya returns from meditating with mountain monks. After sparring briefly in an ice cave, Richard Dragon challenges her to “deal with who you are … so you can see who you can be”. She tells him that she can’t and runs off.

Week 41, Day 3

Ralph Dibny visits Haven Correctional Facility to visit an inmate. He bargains with the director to let him see an inmate by telling him the way that Doctor Morrow escaped was teleportation microcircuitry embedded in the security cameras.

Ralph then talks to Professor Milo, revealing that he knows Milo has smuggled the Silver Wheel of Nyorlath as part of his wheelchair. Ralph rips the wheel off, causing Milo to fall. Haven’s director bursts in, calling for Security. It’s then that Ralph realizes that Milo had not been faking paralysis as he thought, and then the Helmet of Fate transports Ralph, with the Wheel, away from Haven.

Week 41, Day 5

Renee has a conversation with Diana, who is in Nanda Parbat to meet with someone who will help her “start a new life, I suppose…”. Diana tells her,

You are looking for reason, and you are looking for it without. But the only reason you will find will be the reason you bring to the experience … and that can only come from looking within.

Later, Renee sits in an ice cave with a lit candle and a contented look. When the flame goes out, the smoke forms into a question mark.

Week 41, Day 7

Adam is despairing as his and Starfire’s ship is tumbling into a K-type star. Starfire, who was injured by Meklon earlier, threatens Adam, inspiring him to try something. Then  Green Lanterns Opto309V and Mogo arrive, saving them.

Thoughts

Another nice cover tying into Renee’s ice cave and the other events of the issue. Plus, there’s the connection to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave at work here, with Renee no longer trapped in the prison of her own making.

Well, it’s about time Renee accepts who she has been since Charlie got sick. Now what will she do as the Question? Her encounter with Wonder Woman was completely unexpected, and honestly, I didn’t realize it was Diana at first. This marks the first time we see the third part of the Trinity as we head into the last part of the series. Given what transpired with Wonder Woman previous to 52, and why she’s in Nanda Parbat, Diana’s journey during this time is the most relevant and interesting over the men — it makes me want to read Wonder Woman comic books from this time to see how it was dealt with in her title (or was it?).

Ralph just sinks lower and lower. In his drive to bring back his wife, he is losing bits and pieces of his humanity along the way. If Sue could see him now, she’d be ashamed.

The Origin of Starfire

By Waid, Benitez, Sinclair, Leigh, Richards, Schaefer, and Siglain

It’s mentioned that her closest bond is with Dick Grayson, “the only Titan accustomed to having a partner that intimidating”. That’s fascinating if you consider how Starfire has been depicted during the years leading up to and after 52 and is very different from how she was shown originally, but still no less intimidating.

52! Week Forty

By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Batista, Ramos, Green, Hi-Fi, Leigh, Richards, Schaeffer, and Siglain. Cover by Jones and Sinclair.

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 for its 15th anniversary. I plan to post once a week about each issue. To read previous posts, click the link (52!).

Synopsis

“Man Ain’t Nothing But a Man”

Week 40, Day 1

Lex Luthor tells John Henry Irons that he has Irons’ niece. Irons contacts the Teen Titans as he dons his Steel armor, and they later storm the LexCorp building.

Steel rescues Natasha from Mercy Graves, but Natasha turns out to be Everyman. Everyman transforms into a giant crab and attempts to crush Steel in his claw, but Steel breaks Everyman’s claw, his armor crumbling off of him. Everyman stumbles back and falls several stories to his death.

Steel finds and confronts Luthor, who now has Superman-like powers, which he uses to shove the handle of Steel’s hammer through Steel’s side. They continue to fight, and Natasha uses the hammer to turn off Luthor’s powers. Steel tells Luthor he should thank them because the “Everyman treatment is toxic. … in six months, you’d be dead”.

On the street below, the Teen Titans wonder what’s happening above. Then, the Luthor insignia falls, and Aquagirl exclaims, “Look! Up in the sky!” and we see Steel and his niece stand over a defeated Luthor.

Week 40, Day 5

Things are not going well in Kahndaq: it’s been raining for a week and the crops continue to die; the people fight among each other, and they are getting sick and dying from long-dead diseases. Osiris believes all of this is his fault for his sin of murder. He tells Sobek that he needs to “purify himself on a pilgrimage. I need to release my powers … and gain new ones to set things right”. He asks Sobek to accompany him to the Rock of Eternity, so that he can “find a new family”.

Thoughts

The issue title comes from the folk song “The Ballad of John Henry” (aka “John Henry, Steel-Driving Man” or just simply “John Henry”) where the eponymous character tells his foreman that

“A man ain’t nothin’ but a man,
Before I let this steam beat me down,
Lawd, I’ll die with this hammer in my hand,
Lawd, Lawd, I’ll die with this hammer in my hand.”

It’s about the spirit of man, struggling against the odds and winning, if only briefly, because John Henry dies in the end, his premonition coming true. There are some similarities in this issue: Steel has been struggling with Luthor, a figure of power and oppression, this entire series. Luthor’s Everyman Project is the technology equivalent to the steam-powered drill that John Henry beats in the ballad, but where is the self-sacrifice here? Sure, Irons is without his armor (he ain’t nothin’ but a man) and he could have died fighting against Super-Lex, but he didn’t. Plus, aren’t they negating the man vs machine aspect of the balled by having Natasha use technology to save her uncle? If you’re going to evoke a powerful American myth like John Henry, you should be drawing more parallels.

And then there’s the legality of what Steel and the Teen Titans did. I suppose Luthor could be charged for what he did to all those people on New Year’s Eve, but Steel and the others assaulted Luthor’s employees and himself, not to mention all of the property damage. Morally, the heroes are supposedly in the right, but I wouldn’t put it past Luthor to file charges and sue, continuing to make the Irons family lives hell. Worse, however, is the callousness displayed by Irons and Beast Boy when Everyman falls to his death. Some “heroes”.

We’re now 3/4 of the way through this adventure, and this is the first resolution we’ve arrived at. Will the other major plots be given an issue (ish) to spotlight their respective denouements? Let’s get on with it already!

Given the focus on nearly the entirety of the issue (no “Origin of …” two-pager this time) to this melodrama, I certainly hope this is the last I see of the Irons family and Luthor in this series. But Osiris’ dark night of the soul journey has taken a new, perhaps interesting twist. Also, it’s been over a week of the suffering in Kahndaq, so where’s Black Adam and Isis? Last issue, we heard the boom telling the arrival of the Horsemen, so what happened then? It’s such an odd break from what logically should come next, but “keep them wanting more” I suppose.

52! Week Thirty-Nine

By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Smith, Snyder, Sinclair, Leigh, Richards, Schaeffer, and Siglain. Cover by Jones and Sinclair.

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 for its 15th anniversary. I plan to post once a week about each issue. To read previous posts, click the link (52!).

Synopsis

“Powers & Abilities”

Week 39, Day 1

Natasha and Jake follow Dr. Laughlin into a lab to confront him when the lab explodes. They attempt to put out the fire when Security and Mercy Graves arrive. While Natasha and Jake hide above them on the ceiling, Graves tells Security to salvage everything they can.

Week 39, Day 3

Ralph Dibny and the Helmet of Fate arrive at the ruins of Atlantis. They ask a distraught magician where they can find the Shackles of Arion. Once at the location, the Helmet tells Ralph that in order to take an enchanted link of the shackles, he must make an exchange. Ralph offers his wedding ring, which the Helmet uses to replace one the links.

Week 39, Day 6

On Oolong Island, a space warp is opened for the Horsemen to enter. Doctors Tyme and Sivana discuss the latter’s discovery of Suspendium, which is artificial time in particle form. Sivana tells Dr. Morrow that he had bombarded Mister Mind with Suspendium radiation to see what would happen, but he was brought to the Island before he could see the result.

The Horsemen leave the Island in the portal, and Morrow warns Dr. Magnus that he’ll make people suspicious if he continues to take things made of tin, mercury, gold, and lead. Magnus distracts Morrow with an article that revealed that Red Tornado has appeared on Earth. Morrow is very intrigued and leaves. Magnus then tells a miniature Mercury to stay out of sight.

Black Adam, Isis, and Sobek discuss Osiris and the guilt he feels for killing Persuader. Then a loud boom is heard and Sobek notices that Isis’ garden is dying.

Week 39, Day 5

Natasha uses one of her robot insects to spy on Lex Luthor in the Alpha Lab, and Jake arrives to warn her that Security is coming. He also tells her that he has something to show her and takes her to a room where the real Jake, what’s left of him, is lying on a table, a plate with a knife and fork nearby. The Jake that brought Natasha there transforms into Everyman and reveals that while he only needs to ingest a little bit of organic material, he’s discovered that he likes how it tastes. He then transforms into Natasha. Natasha attacks Everyman, declaring that “You’re going to get what you deserve”. Luthor arrives, blocking a flame blast intended for Everyman. He attacks Natasha and Graves removes her powers. Luthor tells Natasha that Dr. Laughlin had lied about Lex not being compatible with the Everyman Project. After Luthor punches and slaps her, she tells him he is “as much an animal as Everyman”. “Wrong,” says Luthor, “I’m Superman.”

Thoughts

What happened to this issue? First, the ticker on the cover states that Montoya fights a dragon (she’s not in the issue), and then there’s a Day 5 sequence that followed a Day 6 sequence. Were the editors asleep that month? OR, is something going on with time itself???

I love the composition of this cover: Lex flying, in a very Superman-like pose, above the Earth with the sun behind him, illuminating him — I love what Sinclair is able to do with “light” in his coloring work. Also, I really like how they thematically tie the cover to the final page of the issue, with the reveal that Luthor presumably has Superman’s powers. Even better is that the way Luthor’s shirt has been burned away in the shape of Superman’s chest shield.

I think that Ralph sacrificing his wedding ring will turn out to be a moment of irony, and it’s sad but poignant — what wouldn’t we give up to reobtain something so important and precious to us?

We’re certainly starting to get tidbits of information connecting events, such as Sivana’s revelation about his experiment with Mister Mind and that he’s observed that the Suspendium is acting strangely. Also, Morrow’s throw-away line about Magnus talking to himself is because he’s actually been talking to a recreated mini Mercury. So the manic Magnus we’ve seen over the last few issues is a ruse or has Magnus figured out how to work through his state without medication?

The sense of dread that has been building up on Oolong Island with Magnus in particular and overall with the mad scientists’ projects has now turned to serve a comic book trope. Yes, the Four Horsemen (well, the three we’ve seen on Oolong Island) look menacing and will no doubt be a problem, but they’re really just a bunch of villains the heroes will defeat eventually. I guess I was hoping for something more.

The splash page reveal of the real Jake’s body was really gross. Most of his left arm and leg and his right foot have been cut off (and hanging above) and it was only upon rereading the issue that I noticed Jake’s body is on top of a checkerboard tablecloth with a plate nearby. *gag* Well done art team, well done! Speaking of the art, I noticed that Andy Smith was new to this series, and I thought he did a fine job as penciller. I wonder why he didn’t do more than just this issue?

The beating Luthor gives Natasha is brutal, especially after her powers have been removed, but given the massacre he created on New Year’s Eve, this is just par for the course, I suppose. I guess I’m not used to seeing Luthor behave so aggressively. It’s almost like the Everyman Project procedure alters (certain?) people, or maybe it just accentuates the worst aspects of them (like Everyman himself)? In preparing for this post, I discovered that there is an after-effect of the Everyman Project in its participants that plays out with Natasha and others — I should find and read those issues as well.

The Origin of Mr. Terrific

By Waid, Van Sciver, Sinclair, Leigh, Richards, Schaefer, and Siglain

I did not know (nor remember in this entry at all) Mr. Terrific’s brother nor his almost suicide. Most of the other personal information about this character — that he was extremely smart, athletic, and the impact his wife’s death had on him — I had learned from other stories over the years.

If Mr. Terrific is the third smartest man in the world, who is #1 and 2? Lex Luthor springs to mind, as does Bruce Wayne. While I found a reference online where Geoff Johns stated that Lex and Bruce are #1 and 2 (though not specifically which is which), I prefer to think of Bruce as the fourth smartest (#1 strategist though). Another contender is Ray Palmer, but comparatively, so is Dr. Magnus, i.e., they are experts in their particular field, but overall smartest? Nah (though I guess there is textual evidence that Palmer is considered one of the smartest overall). Head canon!

One of these days, I need to read the Checkmate stories featuring Mr. Terrific and Green Lantern.

52! Week Thirty-Eight

By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Bennett, Jadson, Hi-Fi, Leigh, Richards, Schaefer, and Siglain. Cover by Jones and Sinclair.

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 for its 15th anniversary. I plan to post once a week about each issue. To read previous posts, click the link (52!).

Synopsis

“Breathless”

Week 38, Day 1

Renee continues her voyage to Nanda Parbat with Charlie in tow.

Week 38, Day 2

On Oolong Island, Dr. Morrow visits with Dr. Magnus, who has been off his medication for some time now, eating cold beans out of cans and relishing in how alive he feels now. Morrow tries to persuade Magnus to join him in witnessing the release of the Four Horsemen.

Three of them emerge from their chamber as Chang Tzu quotes verses from the Crime Bible. Two of the Horsemen say, in succession, “Blakk. Ah-dumm”. Dr. Cale tells Morrow that the fourth Horseman, Yurdd, rode out before the others. She then says quietly, “Oh God, what have we made?”

Week 38, Day 3

Renee reaches a Himalayan village, but no one will help her find Nanda Parbat.

Week 38, Day 4

John Henry Irons, Dr. Mid-Nite, and Dr. Avasti examine the body of one the Everymen who died saving people during the “Rain of the Supermen”. Natasha Irons then contacts her uncle, telling him that she’s going to use one of her insect drones to spy on Luthor in order to obtain the Everyman research.

Week 38, Day 5-6

Renee keeps searching, pulling Charlie on a sled. To help keep him warm, she puts on the pseudoderm mask, but a slip causes him to fall off the sled and Renee notices blood under the mask. She thinks she’s lost him, when Charlie removes the mask and asks her, “Who are you going to become? Time to change … like a butterfly …”. It is then that Nanda Parbat appears behind them.

Thoughts

Last issue, I was thinking how the two main stories should be more in line with the title in some way (and I’m sure I extrapolated ways in which they did), but in this issue, my wish was fulfilled: you get Charlie’s difficulty breathing along with the awe-inspiring appearance of three of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It’s something.

Speaking of, Dr. Cale’s lamentation is punctuated by the appearance of blood from her nose, elevating a somewhat pretentious scene. I also find it very interesting that these scientists (minus Sivana at least) are so invested in the Crime Bible, an object of perverse faith. Finally, I have to wonder if Magnus is faking his manic condition to obtain information or if he’s fully succumbed, something that seems to bother Morrow.

Despite the protracted scenes with Renee dragging Charlie up a mountain (that was nice landscape artwork, especially the coloring of it), the final bit where she thinks he’s died and just after when he passes the torch were touching, though the inclusion of the question mark in the snow was a bit heavy handed. Perhaps the futility of Renee’s actions is supposed to underline the futility of humanity itself with the arrival of the Horsemen?

The Origin of Red Tornado

By Waid, Jimenez, Lanning, Hi-Fi, Leigh, Richards, Schaefer, and Siglain

I’m supposing that we’ll be getting more of Red Tornado soon because of this entry. Red Tornado is one of two (?) Justice Leaguers who originally came from Earth-2 — it makes me wonder if they ever played with that connection in JLA. Also, was Red Tornado’s desire to be more human what inspired Star Trek: TNG to give Data that same character beat? While I have never particularly cared about this character, I did enjoy his storyline in the 2006 Justice League of America series (noted in the entry here), especially as it pertained to his “soul [having] recently been merged with flesh and blood”, but I’m guessing this change was reversed some time after that.

52! Week Thirty-Seven

By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Olliffe, Geraci, SInclair, Lanham, Richards, Schaefer, and Siglain. Cover by Jones and Sinclair.

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 for its 15th anniversary. I plan to post once a week about each issue. To read previous posts, click the link (52!).

Synopsis

“Secret Identities”

Week 37, Day 1

Skeets threatens the bottled city of Kandor demanding that Rip Hunter and Supernova surrender themselves to it. Rip tells Supernova to stall Skeets while he reassembles the circuitry of Supernova’s costume. Supernova exits Kandor and he is revealed to be Booster Gold. Rip tells Booster to tell Skeets everything to buy them more time.

Booster tells Skeets, “I’ve known what’s up with you for weeks now”. When Booster visited Rip’s lab, Hunter appeared and told Booster the truth about Skeets and they formulated a plan: Booster would gather weapons after faking his death and assuming the role of Supernova, whose abilities were the result of the Atom’s size-changing belt and the circuitry of the Phantom Zone projector in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.

Rip joins Booster in the Fortress and activates the projector on Skeets. However, as Booster observes, Skeets has “eaten the Phantom Zone…!” Rip makes a hasty retreat with Booster, but Skeets follows.

Week 37, Day 4

While Green Lantern helps repair Star City’s electrical grid, Oliver Queen talks with Black Canary about Ralph Dibny, telling her that he’s unstable in trying to bring back his dead wife.

Week 37, Day 5

Lobo presides over Animal Man’s funeral, and then Adam Strange and Starfire head back to Earth. However, Animal Man wakes up, calling out to his comrades, “Don’t leave me!!!” Then the aliens that gave Buddy his powers appear saying, “And so it begins.”

Thoughts

What were they thinking, spoiling the reveal on page 4 on the cover?! That was quite the reveal, though, which can only be overshadowed by the upcoming one regarding Skeets. I like the whole bit about Booster’s dead body being from his future — I wonder if that was ever dealt with in any way in his solo series that followed this?

This issue, with the exception of the Star City interlude, was chock full of revelations: 1) Animal Man didn’t actually die and 2) his alien benefactors appear with an ominous sounding proclamation. Could you imagine the dread Buddy is feeling in that moment when he awakens, thinking he was abandoned light years from home and no way to get there? Alas, he has no time to ponder his predicament. Is there a connection to these aliens and what Rip Hunter is dealing with regarding the timeline and what Skeets has become?

But wait! They’re not done with us yet! This issue also features Dan DiDio’s DC Nation column that proclaims “This column is a clue!” under the 52 banner. I remember the message boards being abuzz about the secret code that, as I recall, I found out some months after this. I’ve never been one to try and figure out stuff like this*, content to let others with more time and inclination to do the legwork. What I don’t recall is if I found out the reveal at the end of the series first or this secret message — I think it was the former. I even went on one of those boards and proclaimed my appreciation for the new paradigm, something I don’t think I repeated.

In case you’re curious, the message was “The secret of fifty-two is that the multiverse still exists.”

The Origin of Firestorm

By Waid, Igle, Champagne, Sinclair, Lanham, Richards, Schaefer, and Siglain

Was fusing with multiple people a new thing with Jason as Firestorm? I only read a few appearances of this version of the character, and I know his series was a favorite of one of my friends, but I’ve yet to read it. I liked this time at DC Comics when the successors to these characters were younger and not another white dude (like Blue Beetle and not like Kyle Green Lantern).