52! Week Eighteen

By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Barrows, Stull, Sinclair, Lanham, Jones, Richards, Wacker. 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

“Dismantled”

Week 18, Day 1

Detective Chimp, Terri Thirteen, and Edogawa Sangaku arrive at the House of Mystery to find their colleague, Tim Trench, wearing the Helmet of Fate. When Terri touches Tim, his body turns to water, leaving the Helmet in a puddle.

Week 18, Day 2

Charlie is awarded the Order of the Crescent for helping to stop the suicide bomber by Black Adam and Isis. Renee was supposed to have been present as well, and her absence offends Adam. Adam finds a drunk Renee with a Kahndaqian woman. When Adam tries to give Renee the medal, she swats it away, angering him. He picks her up by her throat, and Renee tells him, quietly, “… just do it…”, but Isis intervenes. Charlie tells them they are focusing on the suicide bomber instead of why she was at the wedding in the first place: they should be going after Intergang.

Week 18, Day 3

Detective Chimp has tracked Ralph Dibny to Marseilles, France, and has brought the sealed Helmet of Fate with him to enlist Ralph’s help to unravel the mystery. Ralph tells him it’s time to call in the Shadowpact.

Week 18, Day 4

Clark Kent is in Cincinnati, OH, to cover Booster Gold’s funeral. While there, Skeets encounters a young man who seems “vaguely … familiar” to it. He is Daniel Carter, who, according to Skeet’s scans, is a direct ancestor of Booster’s. Skeets tells Daniel to contact it to talk about his future.

Week 18, Day 7

The Shadowpact and Ralph have assembled in Giza, Egypt, the “shadow of the helm’s birthsite”, to scry what has happened recently to the helmet. The Helmet begins talking to Ralph, telling him that it can give him the “answers you seek” if he is prepared to “make every sacrifice I ask of you”. Ralph announces he is ready, and walks off with the Helmet. The Shadowpact look on puzzled, and Enchantress says, “Is it just me, or does he think that the Helmet was talking to him?”

Thoughts

This might be my favorite issue yet. In fact, I want to do a spotlight episode on the podcast on this issue! So many things to cover and explore….

First, here’s another cover I love. It has a very pulpy paperback cover feel to it, especially with the large Helmet of Fate looming over everyone and the scratchy letters, “Calling Dr. Fate”, in the bottom corner. Plus, Sinclair’s coloring of the Helmet here is gorgeous with the way light bounces off the metal — it’s not a spit-polished helmet by any means; that helmet has some history to it!

I also love the way they roll out the credits in the first few pages. Usually, they presented in a banner-like way across the pages, but this issue, they’ve placed the credits on pages framed to the walls or on mirrors in the House of Mystery. It helps direct our eyes to the other items on the walls, giving us a brief look into this group of occult investigators, the Croatoan Society: Detective Chimp, Terri Thirteen, Edogawa Sangaku, Tim Trench, and formerly Ralph Dibny. Ok, this was a new group created in this very issue (as far as I can tell), but the way they are written, it seems like they’ve been working in the DCU for a while. And their base of operations is the House of Mystery! How did this not turn into a series (or at least a mini)?! Given that this is the Sangaku character’s first appearance, I found this bit of trivia, so you know the collaborators on this issue are having some fun, especially because nothing came out after this issue regarding the character. Oh well.

Renee is reverting to type, unable to cope with killing the young girl from the previous issue (and I don’t blame her!), but it’s the way she taunts Black Adam, knowing what he could do to her — that she wants him to do it — that is heartbreaking. I’m glad that they’re showing the consequences of Renee’s actions, i.e., she isn’t instantly over it. But how long will this continue to haunt her?

I love that Ralph is the detective that Detective Chimp seeks out regarding the Helmet of Fate, a “locked-room mystery with a severe touch of the weird”. It adds a dimension to Ralph that I don’t know has ever been explored, but I’m also not well read on the Elongated Man’s adventures. Unfortunately, we do find out that Detective Chimp is a member of the Republican National Party.

Booster’s funeral provides us with some characters rarely, or only just, seen, as far as I know. In fact, while I recognized two, I had to look them up. Of note are Beefeater, with his punctuated “oi”s, and Odd Man, who first appeared in Detective Comics #487 in a story I read for the first time only a few month’s ago (at the time of this writing).

Finally, we get to see Shadowpact, which is a group that I love, even if the series wasn’t all that great. But we do get a great moment at the end of this issue when Ralph walks off with the Helmet of Fate after its conversation with him, and Enchantress reveals to us that the Helmet hadn’t said anything! So, is Ralph hallucinating or is something sinister at work here (I’m guessing the latter).

So many good elements here, rife with old and now new DC history, with some plot-forwarding as well. I really enjoyed this issue.

The Origin of The Question

by Waid, Bennett, Sinclair, Napolitano, Richards, Wacker

I’ve never been a big fan of The Question. He’s a detective-like character with a pretty basic gimmick, his pseudoderm mask. Oh, and it just so happens he was trained in martial arts by Richard Dragon. Yawn. However, when they changed the Question in the Justice League Unlimited animated series into a conspiracy theorist oddball, that’s when he became interesting. Given what happens to Charlie in 52,  I think the passing of the torch to Renee was a good evolution of the concept.

52! Week Seventeen

By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Batista, Jose, Jadson, Baron, Balsman, Jones, Richards, Wacker. 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

“Last of the Czarnians”

Week 17, Day 1

Luthor and his home-grown “Justice League” watch footage of the group foiling a terrorist attack by Kobra. Luthor is pleased at the coverage but Eliza, the speedster, complains about always being in super-speed mode and needing a drug, the Sharp, to slow herself down.

Week 17, Day 2

Adam Strange is piloting his ship, the Warbird, through a dense asteroid field while Animal Man is helping copilot (“Left!”) and Starfire is outside, blasting the larger rocks into smaller pieces. Strange admits to Buddy that he’s spent a week with Starfire and “there’s just … something I can’t stand about that whole stuck-up alien princess act”.

Week 17, Night 4

Strange delivers a dire message to his crew: they are running out of breathable air and the ship’s sub-light engine won’t get them home for a few decades. He tells them, “This was only ever a lifeboat …”. Later, while Strange sleeps, Starfire and Animal Man talk about family and overcoming the existential dread they’re in. It is then that Devilance, the Pursuer, arrives, ripping the blade from the being’s power staff off of the Warbird. Animal Man notices something outside with Devilance, and Starfire whispers trepidatiously, “X’Hal. Lobo”.

Starfire goes out to negotiate with Lobo, and Strange explains to Buddy that Lobo is a “superhuman bounty hunter” and the last of his race because he “killed every single living thing on his home planet, for fun”. But Starfire hires Lobo to lead them through the asteroid field with promise of payment, but Starfire also thinks Lobo needs their help.

Week 17, Day 7

Red Tornado’s torso is discovered in Australia and he keeps repeating “52”.

Thoughts

Given this issue’s cover, has Lobo always been one of those characters who broke the fourth wall, like Giffen’s Ambush Bug? Here, Lobo sits atop the Trinity’s accoutrement from issue one, telling us, “Only 35 more to go”, so this suggests yes? I think I need to go flip through my L.E.G.I.O.N. books for a comparison….

All is not well within Luthor’s altered humans, but he seems unperturbed by Eliza’s reaction, with his focus only on Natasha really. Is this all to get under (literally and figuratively) John Henry Irons’ skin? When will Natasha see the light (ironic considering her powerset) regarding her “benefactor”? I do find Eliza’s revelation about how her superspeed is affecting her. Is that something that was ever touched on in Flash comic books?

I loved the scenes between Starfire and Animal Man as they pondered their situation, but it seems like the collaborators are slyly pushing these two together in a romantic way, but so far, Buddy is completely focused on his wife and family (and I hope it stays that way). I thought there was a missed opportunity when Strange is telling them how dire their situation really is — perhaps that scene should have come before Buddy and Starfire’s conversation (with the appropriate tension ratcheted up) or allowing the gravity of the announcement to sink in without being cut short by Devilance’s arrival, but this is just Monday morning comic book plotting on my part.

Speaking of Starfire, I don’t recall how her character was portrayed elsewhere in the DCU at this time, but it seems like the series collaborators have fundamentally shifted her personality to fit Strange’s description of her, though her empathetic nature from her early New Teen Titans days is displayed in the scene with Buddy. It’s like, generally, they have taken her emotionality and turned it more towards anger or frustration over any other emotion.

The Origin of Lobo

by Waid, Giffen, Jadson, Hories, Napolitano, Richards, Wacker

It’s always nice to see Keith Giffen pencils, and that Lobo is one of his co-creations makes this origin even more delightful. Lobo has never been on the DC characters that I enjoyed. I don’t care for crass for crass’ sake, and this period when he “found religion” was probably the only time I found the character interesting. That and his adoration of those space dolphins.

Perhaps this has played up somewhere that I haven’t read, but reading this origin it occurs to me that Lobo is the anti-Superman: last of his race and super-powerful but without the morality that Clark Kent grew up with.

52! Week Sixteen

By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Bennett, Jose, Baron, Brosseau, Jones, Richards, Wacker. 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

“Uhebbuki”

Week 16, Day 1

Some Kahndaq children make a garden as a present to Isis, and Black Adam takes the opportunity to ask Isis to be his wife.

Week 16, Day 6

Renee and Charlie are hiding out in a shipping container, and Renee realizes that Intergang are going to “hit the wedding”.

Meanwhile, while Isis is getting dressed for her wedding, Mary Marvel expresses her concern over Black Adam. Mary tells Isis that while Captain Marvel thinks that Black Adam has changed and Isis helping with that transformation, “He seems like the same old Black Adam to me.”

While Black Adam fusses over his hairline and the bloodstain on his cape, Captain Marvel tells Adam, “I’ve never seen you nervous.” He also expresses surprise that Adam wanted the Marvel Family at Adam’s wedding. Adam tells Marvel, “My family … are long dead. I thought … you have made your family Marvel family … perhaps it’s not too late to make mine.”

Renee and the Question look into the gathered wedding throng for a suicide bomber while Captain Marvel Jr. works at crowd control. The ceremony begins and Renee finally spots the bomber, a young girl. The Question tells Renee to “take the shot!”, but Renee hesitates because she can’t “shoot a kid”. However, she does before the girl can set off the bomb. That evening, Isis and Adam start their lives together as husband and wife while a couple Kahndaqians clean up the dead girl’s blood.

Week 16, Day 7

Adam Strange, Starfire, and Animal Man finally escape the alien planet, heading home.

Thoughts

The title, I believe, is Arabic for “I love you” (though spelled differently than I found). The art in this issue is particularly good, starting with the cover. There is a poster of Black Adam and Isis behind Renee and the Question. The colors are deftly displayed, with bright sunlight bathing the poster but darker shades over the foreground characters. This is a perfect encapsulation of the issue: the beauty of the wedding and the tragedy of the bomber.

The collaborators working on this issue did a fantastic job depicting the dichotomy of the fantastic vs the tragedy. At the wedding, one page shows the sun peaking just above the palace with the crowd below — among the many celebrants is the lone bomber. After the ceremony is over, there is a panel of the dead girl’s blood reflecting the happy couple floating above. Later still, when Isis and Adam head into their nuptial chamber, two men clean the blood from the street. Perhaps worst of all is that the superpowered beings are completely oblivious to the calamity that literally happened under their noses, not unlike gods unconcerned with the mere mortals that celebrate them (a portent perhaps?).

Of particular note regarding the artistry is the near-splash page showing Isis in her wedding garb standing next to Mary Marvel. She is beautiful and the angle showing this scene only accentuates Isis’ majesty (and height!). I already mentioned the other near-splash page outside the palace, and later, there’s a two-page spread showing the ceremony from above the participants, high above the crowd, that is lovely as well, though undercut by the panels atop the spread involving the bomber and Renee — this sequence and placement only heightens the tension of the scene. This is probably my favorite issue so far from a comic book storytelling/construction standpoint.

From a character perspective, the focus on Black Adam’s emerging happiness in his relationship and his comments to Captain Marvel and later Isis about his previous family and the tragedy he’s endured for centuries will only make his inevitable descent all the more regrettable. I have a softspot for redemption stories and having first read Black Adam’s involvement in JSA, followed by this, I was really into his journey. But corporate comic books being what they are, the demands of the status quo must be adhered to, and Adam’s story can only end badly — more’s the pity.

The Origin of Black Adam

by Waid, Jones, Sinclair, Napolitano, Wacker, Richards

It occurs to me reading this synopsis that Black Adam and Sinestro both started as “heroes” but took their respective missions to extremes. However, possessing such power and not dealing with injustices head on as they do runs contrary to our very human (and flawed) desire to make things “right”. (And is probably the main reason I like characters like Black Adam, at least this incarnation of him.) I would like to read more stories with characters like this and how they deal with the awesome responsibility that comes with such power.

52! Week Fifteen

52 15
By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Moll, Nguyen, Sinclair, Fletcher, Jones, Richards, Wacker. 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

“Outshined”

Week 15, Day 1, 3, 4

Booster Gold is forced to remove his Ferris Aircraft sponsorship from his uniform. He continues to receive Past Due notices in the mail and starts drawing on the NewsTime cover photo of Supernova, complete with comical mustache and knife stabbed into the new hero’s head. Finally, in frustration with the online coverage Supernova is getting, Booster appears to pour water on his laptop.

Week 15, Day 5

A desperate Booster is looking for anything to get him into the good graces of the people of Metropolis. Skeets obliges when it announces that a nuclear submarine will crash in midtown.

In Kahndaq, Renee Montoya is removed from her jail cell to be interrogated (but she states it’s torture). When they pass by what looks like an empty cell where Charlie was, Renee becomes very concerned for her partner. But Charlie uses his binary gas to create a diversion, allowing Renee to take out her guards and free Charlie.

Clark Kent discovers that the nuclear sub is being carried by a mythical beast called a Ballostro, and he races off to get the story. Booster arrives, trying to defeat the beast, but only succeeds in causing a blackout. Supernova arrives, providing light for the nearby citizens and teleporting the Ballostro away. He stops to check on Booster while the crowd heckles Booster. Booster attacks Supernova and they fight. Skeets informs Booster that the nuclear sub is leaking radiation, and Booster uses his supersuit to raise the sub high  into the Metropolis sky, where it explodes. Supernova catches Booster and reveals that Booster is dead.

Thoughts

Another great cover image with the blood spatter and Supernova reflected in Booster’s goggles. Some of the cover text is done as if the comic book was the news document, a diagetic element I really like. The cover suggests, possibly, that Supernova is responsible for Booster’s defeat (demise?), but in a way, he really is.

Booster’s growing hatred of Supernova is comically rendered at first, then takes a darker turn when Booster assaults the new hero, and then the story as a whole takes an even darker turn when Booster apparently dies. I have to say, when I first read this issue 15 years ago, I was genuinely surprised but still skeptical because why infuse this series with so much of the character and then kill him off not yet a third of the way through? Did Supernova have something to do with this situation leading to Booster’s death? After all, his comment to Booster about not letting what the crowd was saying about him get to him, and then jabbing at him with, “Of course you aren’t. I mean … why start now, right?” This is the first time Supernova is shown to be something other than a stereotypical, altruistic superhero. His comments perhaps suggest that he has some sort of connection to Booster, or it could just be that he, like the Metropolitans, doesn’t hold Booster in high regard. I think I remember where this ends up, and while I don’t recall the details completely, it is a fun twist that possibly (I assume?) sets up Booster’s 2007 solo series (?) — I have that run of comic books but have not read them yet.

Death seems to be a theme in this issue because things do not look good for the Question. After Renee frees him from his cell, Charlie weakly tells her, “I’m … ngk … with you to the end, Renee …” — notice the emphasis. If this is indeed the beginning of the end of Charlie, I’d forgotten this start of it.

The Origin of Steel

by Waid, Bogdanove, Sinclair, Napolitano, Richards, Wacker

I still don’t know Steel’s backstory that well. I knew about his work with Amertek and the guilt he felt, but I didn’t know that he tried to commit suicide.

The bit about Luthor’s scheme to end Steel by transforming John’s skin to liquid metal makes no sense. Besides having steel for skin (paging Power Man …), what’s the downside? I sure hope there’s more to this story in 52 as we go forward. Also, in the Powers and Weapons section, apparently Steel’s hammer “whose kinetic energy increases with distance thrown”. Was that part of Steel’s transformation or always a part of his hammer? I find that an interesting part of this hero, but why move him away from his armor to this steel-skin thing? It’s not like DC didn’t already have metal men roaming about.

52! Week Fourteen

52 14
By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Eaglesham, Thibert, Sinclair, Lanham, Jones, Richards, Wacker. 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

“Sand and Rust”

Week 14, Day 6

Renee Montoya and Charlie fly 31 hours to Kahndaq to discover a massive celebration decreed by Black Adam in honor of Isis.

In Metropolis, Dr. Avasti visits John Henry Irons and discovers him nearly completely covered in the steel skin forced on him by Luthor. After he shows her the armor he made for his niece, he breaks down, afraid that he has lost Natasha to Luthor. Dr. Avasti tries to comfort him.

Dr. Magnus tries to revive Mercury but fails. Two government agents hint that if Dr. Magnus won’t hand over the Metal Men, the authorities will take it. Later, Magnus arrives at the Haven to visit Dr. Morrow to find that Morrow is missing. However, he left Magnus a message in machine code.

Week 14, Day 7

Renee and Charlie track down a lead and discover several dead bodies. As the leave the building, they are arrested by Kahndaq authorities.

Back home, Dr. Magnus finally manages to revive Mercury.

Thoughts

If there’s any theme to this issue, it’s perhaps friendship, or at least companionship: Renee’s and Charlie’s association, John and Dr. Avasti’s budding relationship, and the Doctors Magnus’ and Morrow’s mutual respect. Beyond that, there’s not much going on this issue. I did like the short scene between John and Avasti — it’s quite apparent the good doctor has feelings for John, so where will this end up?

I love the scenes with Magnus. When one of the government agents remarks about the fortune in platinum, Magnus looks at her body and says, “I don’t really think of her in those terms.” Later, after Mercury is revived, Magnus’ look of joy was obvious. Speaking of, Eaglesham does a fine job at all these characters and with their physicality — the scene with the agent tossing Magnus’ meds demonstrates that well.

The Origin of Metamorpho

by Waid, Powell, Mulvihill, Napolitano, Richards, Wacker (With special thanks to Chiarello)

Considering that Metamorpho appeared in the previous issue, wouldn’t it have made more sense to include this origin there? Regardless, I found the bit about Rex being “a soldier of fortune extraordinaire. Adaptable to all cultures and circumstances” to be interesting because in all the stories I’ve read with Metamorpho, I would not describe him in that way. He’s less Indiana Jones and more Mutt Williams. The Powell art here is amazing and makes me want to read a Metamorpho comic book by Mr. Powell.