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-Five

By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Jimenez, Jurgens, Lanning, Rapmund, Hi-Fi, 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

“Rain of the Supermen”

Week 35, Day 1, New Year’s Day, 12:00:01 A.M.

Everyman Project recipients fall from the sky in downtown Metropolis. A gas main erupts, trapping the nearby citizens, but Supernova arrives, transporting them to the city limits. Infinity, Inc. helps out civilians elsewhere, and Natasha realizes her uncle was right.

Week 35, Day 2

Superheroes from various teams help transport the injured to Saint Camillus Hospital. Plastic Man reunites with his son, Offspring, who saved over 20 civilians. John Irons tells Beast Boy to “get the Titans together” so they can find out why Luthor took all those powers away.

Week 35, Day 3

Lex Luthor tells the Infinity, Inc. members, save Everyman, that they are clean of the “errant gene-sequence” that “caused so many participants to spontaneously reject their enhancements”. Later, Natasha confides in Skyman what her uncle told her, and wants his help to find proof against Luthor. Skyman tells her he will help and that he loves her.

Week 35, Day 6

Adam Strange confronts Lobo who tells the others that they don’t need to figure out how to fight Lady Styx and her armada because he’s taking them to her.

Thoughts

I simultaneously love and hate the issue title, but given Jurgens’ involvement with this issue and his work on Reign of the Supermen, I’m leaning towards love.

Those opening pages by Jimenez and gorgeous and grotesque. The tragedy unfolds as if in slow motion in the way the panels and action are shown on page 1, and then the enormity of the moment hits you with the following two-page spread. That’s some great comic book storytelling. It’s a pity Jimenez couldn’t have drawn the whole issue — not that Jurgens is bad, but side-by-side, there’s an obvious difference in skill and presentation.

I love how Supernova responds to a reporter’s accusation that he vaporized the crowd: “Don’t be absurd.” If you weren’t sure if this Superman or not, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that he’s not.

Has anyone ever touched on one of these Everymen and how this experience affected them? What was the fallout for Luthor?

In the scene between Natasha and Skyman, right after he tells her he loves her and they hug, we see a picture of the team behind them with Natasha next to Everyman — what a great mirroring of the fore-image (and is it foreshadowing???).

In the scene with the space travelers, it’s implied pretty heavily that Lobo isn’t helping the trio against Lady Styx, but is delivering them to her for the bounty, but I wonder if this is just a ruse that we’ll see play out next issue?

52! Week Thirty-Four

By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Bennett, Jose, Baron, 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

“Suicidal Tendencies”

Week 34, Day 1

The Suicide Squad watches for and then engages the Black Adam family.

Week 34, Day 3

The two groups fight, and Osiris pleads for Black Adam not to kill them, but when Persuader chops Isis’ face, Osiris is the one who murders the villain. The family leaves, and Amanda Waller tells her team that she got what she wanted.

Week 34, Day 4

The Infinity, Inc. women shop for clothes for an upcoming New Year’s Eve party and Barbara Gordon (Oracle) makes it so that chaperone Mercy Graves’ card is declined, separating her from the girls, specifically Natasha Irons. Disguised as security, John Henry Irons provides some facts about Luthor’s Everyman Project, challenging his niece to “draw your own conclusions”.

Week 34, Day 5

Clark Kent is injected with a truth serum and asked why Superman is masquerading as Supernova. Kent laughs and tells them truthfully, “he’s not Superman”.

Week 34, Day 7

Charlie is at St. Luke’s in Gotham City and Renee Montoya receives word from the doctor that the end is near. She sits with Charlie, who sings “Danny Boy” quietly, as she watches the New Year’s Eve countdown. Elsewhere, a Luthor employee tells Luthor that they have verified that Kent is telling the truth. An irritated Luthor goes up the roof, seeing his Everymen flying through the sky and glances down at the paper that confirms again that he is not compatible with the Everyman Treatment. He decides to make it so Supernova, who is “winning too many [Metropolitans] hearts”, fails “in the face of a real challenge”. As the city counts down to the new year, and Charlie dies, Luthor ominously presses a remote button.

Thoughts

I like this simple cover with the question mark on the toe-tag — it’s quite effective.

So we have another timing error (something that didn’t happen that often in this series, at least so far). For some reason, they tagged Day 1 and Day 3 in the same scene. I sincerely doubt the fight between the Black Adam family (I know they refer to them as the Black Marvel family, but I prefer my name) and the Suicide Squad lasted three days. I suspect that Day 1 was just supposed to be the Squad surveilling and then engaging on Day 3. Also, I found the “tickling” between Electrocutioner and Plastique gross. I’m sure that when I first read this issue that I minorly freaked out at the first (and final) appearance of the Persuader in the 21st century. I know the L.E.G.I.O.N. book was fond of directly connecting events and characters (if only as ancestors) to their 31st century counterparts, but did they really need to in this case?

I wonder if Geoff Johns was aping himself (I assume Johns is responsible for this part of 52) when he had Osiris body slam Persuader into bloody bits? Orisis’ anguish at being the one who murders as his step-father has done before, while he implored Adam not to earlier, was affecting, as was the the panels showing Isis comforting him in shadow and rain. Finally, has anyone noticed that Sobek is getting bigger and more menacing looking? Or is it just how the individual artists are portraying the character? He’s also speaking much more confidently — I wonder what this means…?

I have long complained about the Irons family drama in these issues, but what is it about what John says to Natasha that elicits her worried reaction? Is it just the way he delivers his message (which should have happened a long time ago)? Ugh!

I love that part of Metropolis’ New Year’s Eve celebration is dropping a Superman shield instead of a traditional Times Square-like ball (or an “L”, if Luthor got his way). I also liked the overlapping images of all the flying characters (Superman analogs), the countdown, Charlie dying, and Luthor’s pressing the button, presumably (and if memory serves) to negate the powers of everyone outside. Though, just on the surface, the villain pressing a button is hardly a dramatic close to an issue. This part of the ending really overshadowed the death of the Question, though I enjoyed the way they portray the passing of the mantle with Charlie singing “Danny Boy”: “It’s you, It’s you must go and I must bide”.

The Origin of Zatanna

By Waid, Bolland, Lanham, Richards, Schaefer, and Siglain

My first exposure to Zatanna was from a JLA cover (#161) where she wore the more traditional superhero costume — skintight outfit with a cape — and that very tight and long ponytail. I would only see her in what is considered her traditional outfit later, as shown in this issue. And then I found out that she wore what her father wore and I thought that was kind of dumb. Well, now I’m the dummy because I love this look now, especially how Brian Bolland draws the character.

Here it is mentioned that Zatanna’s magic is genetically inherited — I wonder if this aspect was ever explored because the idea of magic and science melded in this way is fascinating to me.

This origin references her (retconned) involvement in Identity Crisis where she mind-wipes the League’s enemies (one of the lowest points in their history), which tarnishes her for a while.

52! Week Thirty-Three

By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Prado, Derenick, Leisten, Ramos, Baron, Brosseau, Richards, Schaefer, Wacker, 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

“The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

Week 33, Day 4

Central City: A drinking Ralph Dibny and the Helmet of Fate have come to the Flash museum, specifically the Elongated Man room (“If [Barry] were still alive, this would be a wing, not a closet.”), so Ralph can retrieve the same gun he nearly killed himself with earlier in the year.

Week 33, Day 5

Gotham City: While Alfred Pennyworth leads a children’s choir singing Christmas songs, Nightwing brings Batwoman a present: a real batarang.

Metropolis: Dr Laughlin tells Lex Luthor that one of the Everyman Project’s subjects is dying. Luthor then delivers the gift of cars (a Tanahashi 500) to his Infinity, Inc. members. After they leave to drive their vehicles on a private dragstrip (5th Avenue), Mercy delivers some bad news to her boss: Luthor’s genetics is not compatible with the Everyman Project process. As Luthor contemplates this news, wanting a sign “that the time and effort I pour into improving [‘this inequitable little universe’] might actually, for once, be rewarded”, Dr. Laughlin returns to tell him that the subject will “pull through” and that “some … x-factor in his body is … adapting to the Everyman process”. Luthor tells Laughlin to “draft a glowing obituary” because “something inside the boy opened the door to the possibility of genetic adaptation”. As the doctor leaves, Luthor and Mercy toast the Christmas miracle.

Gotham City: Renee Montoya attends to a dilerious Charlie, who sees and talks to his sister, Myra, as well as his father. After Renee gets Charlie back to bed, Kate Kane comforts Renee, and they kiss.

Many people commemorate Christmas Eve in various ways, including Ellen Baker, who looks up at the stars and wishes her husband a happy Christmas; Clark Kent and Lois Lane dance beneath mistletoe; the Gotham City Police department welcomes Commissioner Gordan back; Hal Jordan spends time with family; and Buddy Baker is told the nearby star that Ellen gazed upon is Vega.

Week 33, Day 6, Christmas

The Black Adam family discuss what Captain Marvel Jr. told Osiris, and Isis convinces Black Adam that the “world will see us as monsters unless we show them otherwise”. In front of the Justice Society, Teen Titans, and others, they all change back to their human forms.

At Belle Reve Federal Prison, Amanda Waller does not buy Black Adam’s change of heart and has assembled a new Suicide Squad to deal with him and his family.

Thoughts

Much of this issue is just padding for several ongoing plots, with some nice details along the way. For example, the Flash Museum has an Elongated Man Room — so is there also a Green Lantern Room (or wing)? Alfred saying, “A-one and a-two and a-three,” as he directs a children’s choir. Kate kisses Renee.

I love the mirroring of the star on the two-page spread featuring the DC characters, bookending the spread with the Ellen and Buddy Baker panels. Also, you get the gamet of Christmas time emotions/experiences, from loving couple (Clark and Lois), to friends and family (Firestorm and Cyborg and Hal Jordan with his family), and being alone on the holiday (Fire, Catwoman).

Did you notice the look on Sobek’s face when the Adam Family reverted? The artists did a great job of foreshadowing the menace.

The Origin of Martian Manhunter

By Waid, Mandrake, Sinclair, Brosseau, Richards, Schaefer, and Siglain

Martian Manhunter has long been one of my favorite DC characters, especially when they expanded his origin to include the reason behind his “vulnerability” to fire (the telepathic plague). What I didn’t know (or forgot?) was that Dr. Erdol’s teleportation beam is associated with the Zeta beam — there’s a reference to Erdol’s beam being “powered by unstable radiation on the volatile Zeta scale”. I don’t know that they need to tie everything together like this, or perhaps J’onn himself did so?

I also find it ironic that his Martian vision generates heat when fire is a concern.