52! Week Twenty-Two

By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Barrows, Stull, Sinclair, Lopez, Richards, Schaefer, 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

“Burial Ground”

Week 22, Day 1

Supernova’s taunting of Lex Luthor (as Superman did) drives Lex to test the metagene therapy on himself.

Week 22, Day 2

Jon Standing Bear, a veteran with a spotty service record, arrives in Metropolis after throwing a rapist out the window of a moving bus.

Week 22, Day 3

Luthor receives the news that his genes are not compatible with the metagene therapy, and that does not make him happy.

Week 22, Day 4

Standing Bear attends his father’s funeral, and after, argues with his grandfather, who reluctantly wants to give his grandson the Manitou Stone, which, according to Iraquois legend, grants its bearer great strength, speed, and senses. Those who possess its power are called “Super-Chief”.

Week 22, Night 4

Standing Bear stands over his grandfather, holding in one hand the Manitou Stone and the other a pillow, which he is using to smother his grandfather. He tells him, “There. We’re both of us saved.”

Week 22, Day 5

While Steel watches Lex Luthor declare his School of International Business Studies open, Luthor is challenged by a Mr. Ferry about Luthor’s ability to turn on and off the powers of those who have undergone his metagene therapy. Steel later tells him that he will listen to Mr. Ferry’s story and “I’ll make sure the world listens”.

The government arrives at Dr. Magnus’ house intent on taking the knowledge of how to reproduce the Metal Men. Magnus is able to stave off the assault using science, but then a giant robot arrives that blows up Magnus’ house.

Thoughts

Luthor’s thinking that Supernova is Superman in disguise is another demonstration that while the guy is a genius, his prejudice clouds his judgement. It reminds me of Byrne’s Superman #2 when Luthor was presented with data that proved Superman was really Clark Kent and Luthor could not accept that conclusion. Everyone has their blind spots.

The bus Jon Standing Bear uses as he arrives in Metropolis has the tagline “Go Fastback” with a logo of the Zoo Crew character. Also, the back window advertisement is for a Silverblade movie. Silverblade was a 12-issue series from 1987 (which I have not read) about a man who could become any movie character he played. I love it when the creators play around with details of the DCU like this. What I didn’t like was how the police just shrug off Standing Bear’s assault of the convicted rapist — I know the guy’s a bad dude, but Standing Bear threw him out of a moving bus on the freeway! I guess this is to show how edgy Standing Bear is, but we also get that with him smothering his grandfather.

Super-Chief was a new character to me when I first read this issue, and I did not realize it was a character dating back to 1961 (All-Star Western #117)! However, his design reminds me a bit of Black Bison. This is an entirely new character introduced nearly halfway through this series, so what is Super-Chief’s role in 52 to be? Given that I have no recollection of this character at all, it must not have had a great impact.

I don’t understand the scene with Luthor at his business school. We already know (and have been told twice and having seen it in action) that Luthor can turn off the powers of those who undergo his metagene therapy. If we’re to have a distraught “client”, why not have it be a member of Trajectory’s family so at least we have a throughline? Plus, Steel already has data that claims Luthor can do this, so what is he waiting for? I wish this storyline would end.

I liked the Magnus scene because we see him struggling with his “mad scientist” persona (which is why he’s on medication) but still showing he’s a scientist who can address a crisis when he uses his knowledge of the Metal Men to defeat a few of the “clones” sent after him. What I don’t get is why the government sent the Metal Men “clones” to gather Magnus’ research/data. Human agents have visited him before, and based on every movie or tv series I’ve seen, when the government comes for you, there’s not much you can do about it, unless they knew he had activated Mercury and anticipated a struggle? This scene and the issue ends with a giant robot (whose head reminds me of a Sentinel — or is it something specific to the DCU that I’m not understanding?) arriving, causing the agents to scatter. When Magnus sees it, he says, “I don’t want to be crazy again” and the robot responds, “Mad scientists only, Doctor Magnus”. That is such a great line, and ties into the developing plotline of the disappearing mad scientists. Who is the voice behind the robot, though?

The Origin of Green Lantern

by Waid, Reis, Albert, Sinclair, Lopez, Richards, Wacker

It’s interesting that Hal was chosen for his “fearlessness and honesty” (emphasis mine). The former makes sense given the development of the emotional spectrum (green overcomes yellow, i.e., fear) in the GL mythos, but honesty? I know that is what Abin Sur tells Hal as to why he was chosen, but why that combination? Does willpower in the DCU stem from the combination of fearlessness and honesty? I think you can be fearless and possess great willpower and not be an honest person (just look at Lex Luthor), so this aspect of Hal’s (and by extension all Green Lanterns) origin is curious.

52! Week Twenty-One

By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Bennett, Jadson, Baron, Lanham, Richards, Schaefer, 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

“Teambuilding Exercises”

Week 21, Day 1

Natasha Irons convinces Lex Luthor to allow speedster Eliza (aka Trajectory) to rejoin the team, making Eliza very happy. She professes her love of the speedster heroes and her desire to prove herself so she can join the Teen Titans.

Week 21, Day 2

Ralph Dibny and the Helmet of Fate convince a demonguard to open a gate to Hell.

Week 21, Day 3

Under the direction of Lex Luthor, his new Infinity, Inc. team debuts by apprehending Blockbuster. While the newly arrived Teen Titans clean up the damage caused by the fight, new team leader Beast Boy warns Natasha about Luthor’s intentions. Luthor helps Blockbuster escape his bonds, and Trajectory races off by herself. Luthor turns off her powers and Blockbuster kills her.

Week 21, Day 6

At Trajectory’s funeral in Alabama, Hot Spot, Little Barda, and Power Boy quit the Teen Titans, while John Henry Irons tries to talk to Natasha about Luthor. Beast Boy offers to help John.

Week 21, Day 7

In Australia, Johnny Warrawa grafts Red Tornado’s head onto a crude, robotic body.

Thoughts

The collaborators do a fine job of endearing us to Eliza in a few pages, especially after her previous appearance as a neophyte drug addict, which makes what happens to her all the more tragic. And we see what Dr. Avasti told John Irons the previous issue come true, meaning that Luthor can indeed turn on and off an Everyman’s program participant’s  metagene. Speaking of John, I’m starting to wonder if what Luthor did to him affected his mind. For a guy who created his own super armor, to confront Natasha at the funeral as he did was just stupid.

We get not one, but two superteam debuts: Infinity, Inc. and the Teen Titans. Luthor buying the Pemberton Estate and the associated Infinity, Inc. trademark is so Luthor. What was new to me was this version of the Teen Titans. Did I forget how these particular members ended up as the Teen Titans or did we ever get the story? I want to read more about the Raven/Zachary Zatara and Little Barda/Power Boy relationships, not to mention Beast Boy taking on a leadership role. Regardless, this team was short-lived with the three desertions.

It’s painful to see how Ralph treated the demon, and now Ralph’s descent into hell is  literal. But will this story be another telling of Orpheus and Eurydice or something far worse?

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 Nine

By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Moll, Nguyen, Baron, Fletcher, Jones, Richards, and 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 15 years later. I plan to post once a week about each issue. To read previous posts, click the link (52!).

Synopsis

“Dream of America”

Week 9, Day 1: In Metropolis, Lex Luthor and guests gather for a 4th of July celebration where he talks again about his dream “where every man becomes a super man”. Steel crashes the party demanding to know where his niece is. Steel threatens Lex, and Natasha arrives, along with some new friends. In short order, Natasha assaults her Uncle, possessing strength and resilience thanks to Lex’s genetic manipulation. The fight between the family members ends with her punching Steel over buildings into the harbor.

Animal Man awakens on that alien world, a captive to Devilance, the Pursuer. The giant explains that he has captured Buddy, Adam Strange, and Starfire because

You saw beyond the veil, beyond the two score and twelve walls of heaven. That knowledge belongs to the gods alone!

Starfire awakens too, and she and Buddy devise a hasty escape plan, helped by a distraction from Adam. They leave with Devilance’s power staff. Unseen by them, Devilance watches them….

Week 9, Night 1: The 4th of July celebration continues that evening in Gotham City. Vic, or Charlie to his friends, visits Renee Montoya, revealing to her that he is the Question. Outside, Vic tells Renee that Gotham is being targeted by Intergang while a red-haired woman in a bat costume listens from a nearby rooftop.

Thoughts

Ugh, the Irons’ family melodrama continues. I know this is comics and soap opera-esque events occur, but Steel threatening to kill Lex so publicly and Natasha hitting her uncle so hard that he spits out blood is just so over the top, even if it does heighten the tension between them. Regardless, because it involves Lex Luthor, you can’t help but think that along with the genetic alterations that perhaps he is also controlling his experiments in some way (both Luthor and Steel implied it in different issues). Besides the same argument John and Natasha continue to have, about the only new plot point here is that Natasha — whom we last saw hooked up to Luthor’s machine looking frightened and vulnerable — is now part of a group of superpowered people wearing purple and green suits. However, I did like the two-page spread of images on pages 6 and 7 showing Natasha punching John out a window and as he fell several floors to the street below. Also, we see fireworks going off in the background, and one of them explode in a shape similar to the light effect around Natasha’s fists — nice touch there.

I have discovered that Devilance, the Pursuer, is indeed a Jack Kirby character first (and last?) seen in Forever People #11 and is one of Darkseid’s minions. Given the connection to Darkseid and his to Intergang, that overall plot is becoming more interesting. I have to wonder if there is any significance to the “walls of heaven” Devilance mentions — is it a reference to Revelation 21:12, or is it just one of those phrases that give Devilance’s words more importance than is actually there, beyond 52 (2 score and 12 = 52)? One quibble with this scene: Animal Man mentions that Devilance had them captured for days and he is shown bound and dangling upside down. How did they relieve themselves in that position? Or did Devilance allow them potty breaks and them truss them back up? And why dangle Animal Man and Starfire in this manner and not Adam Strange? Ahh, but who am I to question the whims of (demi)gods? I like the half-page panel setting this scene: Devilance is squatting over a device that appears to be a cage he will presumably place his captives, along with some other machinery, but it’s his size that is of note (apparently he grew since his appearance in Forever People) and the Kirby costume with all the glory that is short sleeves and shorts! But why change the white part of his costume to purple in an issue where there’s already a lot of “bad guy” purple?

The number 52 makes another appearance in the ballgame score (5 and 2), but I think the collaborators missed an opportunity to place the game in the ninth inning (this being the ninth issue) instead of the seventh (unless there’s a significance to the number 7 that I’m not seeing…). Also making its first(?) appearance is Molly’s Bar, which will be featured in Detective Comics #859 a few years later and plays a role in Kate Kane’s story — I like to think the writer or artist remembered this scene and included the bar in the Detective Comics issue. Speaking of Kate Kane, here we see Batwoman in her , even though some sources indicate that issue 11 is her first. I imagine that #11 features Batwoman in a speaking/action role and this “cameo” is not significant enough to be considered her first appearance. This is where I shrug and say, “Ehh. Comics.”

History of the DCU, part 8

by Jurgens, Lanning, Napolitano, Cox, Major, Berganza, Cohen, and Schaefer

This part covers what I consider one of, if not THE, lowest points in DC Comics history: Identity Crisis. While the story was not wholly a bad one, the “event”, much like is stated in this History, crossed a line that was perhaps unnecessary and tarnished more than a few characters if you also include what happened in Infinite Crisis (which is mentioned at the end). It seems my assessment of Identity Crisis was shared by others, something I was not aware of at the time of publication. Fortunately, things would improve, as they always do.

52! Week Eight

By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Barrows, Stull, Sinclair, Lanham, Jones, Richards, and 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 15 years later. I plan to post once a week about each issue. To read previous posts, click the link (52!).

Synopsis

“Thief”

Week 8, Night 1: At Steelworks, Natasha Irons is busy building her armor, eliciting a proud smile from her uncle John. Later, just as John is listening to a news report about Luthor’s metagene program, his chest transforms into metal.

In Star City, Green Arrow stops a store owner from chasing down a thief (and giving us the elicit use of the issue’s title and on the same page as the title!). Nearby, Green Arrow explains to Ralph Dibny that he thought the thief was the “guy charging thirty bucks for disposable diapers in a disaster zone” — typical Ollie! Ollie is guilt-ridden for not being able to keep his chosen city safe during the metahuman war. Ralph also tells Ollie that he lost his taste for gingold last year.

But Ralph is there to ask for Green Arrow’s help to investigate the Cult of Connor location in Star City. Ralph tells GA that the Cult believes that the dead can be resurrected.

Week 8, Day 3: John Irons visits STAR Labs seeking help with his condition. Based on the analysis, the metal in his body is stainless steel, “Lex Luthor’s idea of a joke”. John theorizes that when Luthor visited STAR Labs (in issue three), he must have “injected me with something … that either triggered my metagene … or infected me with one…”.

Week 8, Day 3 – 5: A new superhero is in town saving people and Booster is not happy about it. He asks reporter Clark Kent is he knows who the “new mystery hero” is. Clark tells him no, but that he will find out.

At Steelworks, Natasha is asked to relay a message to John about the “Luthor metagene strain” that is rewriting her uncle’s DNA. She then sees a LexCorp Everyman Project flyer poking out of John’s briefcase.

Week 8, Night 5: That night, Natasha is working on her armor when she knocks part of the suit to the floor, breaking it. John arrives to see if his niece is ok and she confronts him about what she discovered earlier, calling him a liar.

Adam Strange and Animal Man find Starfire in a net and realize too late that she was bait and they also become trapped and then held in a giant’s hand.

Week 8, Day 7: In Metropolis, Lex Luthor arrives at one of his properties with hundreds of people waiting to be chosen for his Everyone Project. He spots Natasha Irons in the crowd and grants her an opportunity.

Week 8, Night 7: That night, Natasha is hooked up to the DNA resequencing equipment. A technician asks Luthor which resequencing string to use and Luthor says, “The whole package…”.

Thoughts

First, yet another noteworthy cover by Jones and Sinclair. I love the inspirational tone of the flyer-like cover with the “Be Your Own HERO” tag-line and the generic superheroes flying under a blue sky, all undermined by Lex Luthor’s face in the red zone, almost like Hades in the underworld. I’m surprised they didn’t use something like this for the flyer that appears in the issue, but obviously Luthor wouldn’t use John Henry Irons’ likeness, but I could totally see him using his own.

Given the title of the issue, “Thief”, what is stolen? The obvious first choice is the person stealing the groceries or, flipped, the store owner trying to make a huge profit during a crisis. Also stolen is John Iron’s choice about being a metahuman. The glory and fame could be considered by Booster Gold to be stolen by this newcomer hero. Luthor is perhaps stealing the hopes and dreams of those he is transforming. Too on the nose or just enough to be interesting? I think I prefer story titles that keep me intrigued as to the meaning (and forcing me to look up the reference).

Speaking of Luthor, his direct admission to his assistant Mercy that the candidates for the Everyman Project are his slaves is just too movie serial villainesque. Where’s the subtlety of character? I don’t find this overt Luthor to be interesting at all. I did, however, like the sneer on Mercy’s face when Luthor called the nearby throng his slaves — such contempt for the common man!

The scene where Ralph is explaining what the Cult of Connor is about to Green Arrow was good. The way the artists drew that final panel on the page has Ralph looking at Ollie wide eyed in the realization that Ollie was recently brought back from the dead — the investigation into why the cultists defaced Sue’s grave has now just turned for Ralph, I think.

We have continuity glitch regarding the timeline. When John Irons visits STAR Labs, the caption reads “Day 3”, but the establishing panel clearly shows this taking place at night, so it should be Night 2 because the next scene is Day 3. A minor quibble.

Supernova! While not identified as such in this issue, I remember being very excited that this character had returned, but then I realized that I was thinking of Superman’s alternate identity of Nova from World’s Finest #178 that I probably read in the DC Special Series #23 digest. Regardless, I was convinced that DC was playing with that concept again and this Supernova was Superman, albeit a changed one. After all, if Superman could rebrand himself as a superpowerless hero all those years ago, why not again?

I’m finding the petulant teenager bit of Natasha to more and more grating. I don’t think John’s lesson in hard work and humility is working on his niece. I do like that in the LexCorp flyer she finds in John’s briefcase the superheroes are colored in green and purple — just like Luthor’s old battle armor. Nice touch there, Mr. Sinclair!

Another nice artistic touch is the final page showing Natasha connected to the metagene equipment because the arm and leg wires (for lack of a better word) are shaped similar to a DNA helix.

Two months in and I find myself more interested in the Ralph, Booster (as it pertains to Rip Hunter), and Black Adam stories more so than the Steel, lost in space trio, and Renee stories. It’ll be interesting to see how that evolves over time. Given the length of the series and how many plots and characters need to be juggled every few issues, I’m not surprised at my reaction, however.

History of the DCU, part 7

by Jurgens, Lanning, Napolitano, Cox, Major, Berganza, Cohen, and Schaefer

It is noted that post-Zero Hour, the timeline was reconstructed and that “previous inconsistencies and anomalies were corrected”, but how accurate is that statement at that time in DC’s publication history? The rest is a recap of late 90s and early 2000s DC Comics history, focusing a lot on the teams of that era (it pleases me that Titans characters are spotlighted multiple times in various teams).

One thing of note that is not familiar to me is the reference to Hourman being rescued by the JSA right before he died. I am not at all familiar with this event, and considering that Hourman is one of my favorite JSAers, I need to know more! So, good job (finally) History of the DCU for introducing me to something I didn’t know already.

This segment ends with a reference to Sue’s death, so I guess the next issue’s installment will be the last or nearly so? Will this backup series be replaced with something else, or will the main story in 52 take up more pages? Tune in next week, dear reader, as I find out!