52! Week Five

by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Keith Giffen, Chris Batista, Jimmy Palmiotti, Alex Sinclair, Phil Balsman, Jann Jones, Harvey Richards, and Stephen Wacker. Cover by J.G. Jones and Alex 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

“Stars in Their Courses”

Week 5, Day 1. Ellen Baker, wife of Buddy Baker (Animal Man), takes down a “Welcome Home” banner from her house, telling her daughter that her neighbors told her that she is in “denial”. Just then, Alan Scott, the original (and best) Green Lantern appears to tell her that Animal Man was missing in action. Ellen replies, “‘Missing’, huh? So there’s still hope”, as she unfurls the banner.

In Metropolis, Lex Luthor has announced that synthesized the metagene, which means that “every man and woman can be a superhero”.

Steel is listening to this news when he receives a call to come to St. Camillus, a hospital that now treats superhuman ailments. He consults with Dr. Pieter Cross, aka Doctor Mid-Nite, and Green Lantern Alan Scott, asking about the 25-foot tall, unconscious Hawkgirl that he saw outside. Green Lantern explains that she was part of the team he led into outer space and that there was an accident involving zeta beam technology. It fused Firestorm and Cyborg into one, deformed body and pieces of Red Tornado into Mal Duncan’s (Herald) body. Alan thinks the fractured zeta beams also tore apart Adam Strange, Animal Man, and Starfire. And we learn that Alan’s daughter, Jade, also died. It’s then that Mal goes into cardiac arrest.

In Gotham City, Captain Maggie Sawyer pays a visit to the recuperating Renee Montoya. Sawyer wants to know what exactly happened to Renee because despite what Renee told her, the warehouse is clean and there is no evidence of what Renee recounted. Sawyer is concerned that Renee is in over her head and wants to help, but Renee rebuffs the Captain, who then leaves.

Back at St. Camillus, Steel shock’s Mal, causing the attached Red Tornado part on his chest–a speaker–to replay Tornado’s last words:

It’s coming! 52! 52!

Week 5, Day 7. On an alien world, Buddy Baker wonders aloud to Starfire if the heroes back on Earth won. Starfire wonders how far away from Earth they are and if Adam Strange will be able to get them back home. Buddy encourages Adam to work faster because something is out there, waiting.

Thoughts

The first thing that struck me about this issue was the title. “Stars in Their Courses” has to be referencing Isaac Asimov’s astronomy essay, “The Stars in Their Courses” (and not the Civil War book by Shelby Foote), but I don’t know what connection that essay has to this story. Anyone read that essay and can shed some light on this?

How odd that we only have two days this week. I reviewed the issue multiple times in case I had missed a time stamp. However, I like that not every issue has to have the same time structure (i.e., every few pages is a new day) within the already established pattern of every issue IS a week in the DCU.

Lex Luthor’s metagene announcement should have had more of an impact on this series and the DCU, based on what I can recall, so I’ll be paying more attention to that this time around. I liked the look that Lois and Clark give each other as they listen to this news.

I love Ellen Baker’s belief that her husband will return and Buddy’s total devotion to his wife despite a wet, naked, alien princess walking around him — he doesn’t even really look at Starfire. I know from reading The Last Days of Animal Man that there is some sort of connection, perhaps even attraction?, between Buddy and Koriand’r, so I’ll be looking for that in this series (but I hope it’s not there — that would be easy, lazy storytelling).

A small thing: when we see Hawkgirl lying unconscious on the bed of a semi, I estimated her height based on the other characters around her and thought she was between 20-25 feet tall. It was gratifying when Steel explicitly states she’s 25-feet tall. I appreciate that attention to detail by the artist.

Alan Scott’s emotional state was the highlight of this issue. He was referred to in The Golden Age as the “big guy”, and while that’s an Elseworld’s story, I’ve thought of Alan as the big guy ever since. However, even big guys break down at times, and seeing Alan’s stoic composure start to crumble as he describes what happened to his team was a small, but powerful moment.  After that, he pauses and then looks at Steel, asking him,

A man shouldn’t have to mourn his own children, should he? We shouldn’t have to bury our children.

Gut wrenching…. We didn’t really need the button a few word balloons later where Alan tells Steel that his daughter, Jade, also died.

Finally, “52” as a concept makes itself known in the series. I remember wondering what this could mean. Sure, the sly references to the series title up to this point were cute and all, but what did Red Tornado see?! I also recall being happy about what it did eventually mean, but we’ll get to that much later.

History of the DCU, part 4

by Dan Jurgens, Norm Rapmund, Guy Major, Jeromy Cox, Rob Leigh, Eddie Berganza, Ivan Cohen, and Jeanine Schaefer

The major losses in Crisis on Infinite Earths — Supergirl and Flash dying — and the finale of the series is summarized. This installment offered me nothing new or interesting. Why are they wasting valuable pages on this stuff?! I know, I know, it’s to inform any new readers pulled into the DCU after Infinite Crisis, but they could at least try to make these few pages interesting to old timers too!

52! Week Four

by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Keith Giffen, Joe Bennett, Jack Jadson, Alex Sinclair, Rob Leigh, Jann Jones, Harvey Richards, and Stephen Wacker. Cover by J.G. Jones and Alex 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

“Dances With Monsters”

Week 4, Day 1. Renee Montoya continues her surveillance job for The Question. In orbit above Earth, a team of astronauts and Halo continue to look for missing superheroes, like Alan Scott and Animal Man. Halo detects a zeta beam trying to come in. In Metropolis, Fire tries to recruit Booster Gold to be part of a rescue team to search for and return those heroes who went into space during the (infinite) crisis, but Booster is more interested in making money off of his exploits.

Week 4, Day 3. The Question checks in on Renee, and John Henry Irons realizes he’s been poisoned, right before he touches an electronic device and appears to absorb it. He screams before there’s an explosion.

Week 4, Day 4. Ralph Dibny confronts Cassie Sandmark and her cult of Kryptonian worshippers. They tell him that they did not mark his wife’s grave, but immersing himself in the striped waters of the river Memon could show him something — or someone. They hold Ralph underneath the water and he blacks out. When he comes to, he is alone and missing his wedding ring.

Week 4, Day 5. For the first time in nearly two weeks, Renee falls asleep during her stake out, but does see someone enter the building. She follows him in and discovers The Question is already there. They discover the large man Renee saw enter is some sort of creature and they fight. Renee ends the altercation by using a high-tech (alien?) gun.

Week 4, Day 7. The zeta beam detected earlier in the week arrives on Earth, revealing several of the missing heroes who are injured and in some cases transformed.

Thoughts

I love that people are trying to locate the missing heroes who went into space and didn’t come home. It’s a nice turn from the superheroes helping the “normals”. Of course, not everyone on the space station is a normal human being — it’s Halo! Because she can (as we’re told in some clunk exposition) “detect and manipulate subtle radiation. She’s been scanning for incoming teleportation waves.” So zeta beams are subtle radiation? What does that even mean?

Finally someone confronts Booster about his preoccupation with making money, but his response potentially reveals some inner turmoil:

I helped save a future that spit in my face! So you know what? It is about me!

I certainly hope this isn’t the last we see of Fire. Her Jiminy Cricket role could prove useful.

When exactly was John Irons poisoned and by whom? Does this have to do with Lex Luthor’s reveal from last issue? Is Steel now going to be a new Amazing Man? The poison opens a window into his psyche: he’s worried about pushing Natasha away and not being able to rid himself of Steel. But when did he arrive at this decision? Was it while he helped clear debris in the previous issue, contemplating the futility of what his life had become? Or did I just forget a pivotal moment in Infinite Crisis involving Steel?

The scene with Ralph and Cassie confounds me. In issue 3, Ralph deduces that Cassie left him a message, but when he confronts her, she seems surprised, and now a member of this group says they are not vandals. They do offer him a vision (note that they do not offer any answers) if he immerses himself in the waters of Memon (“Do you want to see?”). They hold him under until he passes out, and when he comes to, he is alone and missing his wedding ring, the symbol of his wife. Did Ralph “see” something that has not yet been revealed to us, or is the vision what he sees before him — his isolation? Regardless of the answers, the question remains, in more ways than one: air bubbles form the rough shape of a question mark as Ralph loses consciousness, the only interesting appearance of this symbol.

I’ll reserve any thoughts about the creature that Renee and The Question fight in their scene (though I will note that the cover depicts the confrontation between Renee and John Irons???) and instead focus of the final page: the return of Alan Scott (Green Lantern), Hawkgirl, Herald, Bumblebee, and, unknown to me until I looked it up, a fused Cyborg/Firestorm. Besides that oddity, Herald has metal poking through him, Bumblebee is unconscious, Green Lantern is bleeding from one eye (is it gone?), and Hawkgirl is really tall (25 feet according to the DC wiki). What a great cliffhanger.

History of the DCU, part 3

by Dan Jurgens, Art Thibert, Guy Major, Jeromy Cox, Nick J. Napolitano, Eddie Berganza, Ivan Cohen, and Jeanine Schaefer

Crisis on Infinite Earths is summarized in four pages. The only interesting thing about this part is the headshots of different versions of the Flash. Seeing the different designs and people just makes me want to know their story.

52! Week Three

by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Keith Giffen, Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, Alex Sinclair, Pat Brosseau, Jann Jones, Harvey Richards, and Stephen Wacker. Cover by J.G. Jones and Alex 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

“New World Order”

Week 3, Day 1. Captain Maggie Sawyer (at this time part of Gotham City’s Major Crimes Unit) has been called in because of body has been found, and it’s the former President of the USA, Lex Luthor! Power Girl pursues Terra-Man in the skies and when she is about to capture him, she is stopped by Black Adam for she has over Kahndaq airspace. He warns her to not trespass again and to tell her friends.

Week 3, Day 2. John Henry Irons (Steel) continues to school niece Natasha regarding her immaturity and entitlement when he receives a phone call from STAR Labs asking for his help in identifying a body.

Week 3, Day 3. In Kahndaq, representatives from Intergang visit Black Adam and present him with gifts of gold and an Egyptian virgin. Black Adam does not take kindly to this and refuses, just as Terra-Man enters the scene.

Week 3, Day 4. Booster Gold continues his pursuit of fame and fortune, this time by defeating Shockwave, but his planned lucrative endorsement deal with Akteon-Holt turns sour, prompting Skeets to acknowledge that perhaps it is malfunctioning. Instead of going back to Dr. Magnus, Booster goes searching for Rip Hunter.

Week 3, Day 5. While examining the corpse of Lex Luthor, John Henry Irons discovers that the eye colors do not match, right before Lex Luthor shows up, alive and well, claiming that the dead man on the table was an other-dimensional doppelgänger who imprisoned Lex and did evil things in his name.

Week 3, Day 6. Lois Lane is among the reports at the Kahndaq embassy, awaiting an announcement from Black Adam. He tells the assembled that while the world celebrates the aversion of disaster, the superheroes who saved it are nowhere to be found. Therefore, he wants to gather allies to deliver a message to those who would take advantage of the heroes’ absence. His first message? People like Terra-Man, who been standing nearby, “don’t deserve to live.” Black Adam then tears Terra-Man in half and announces, “It’s time for heroes who don’t just patrol the world … they change it.” The final panel shows a Mr. Mind, now wrapped in a cocoon.

Thoughts

First off, I really like this Jones/Sinclair cover, mostly for the colors. But it pertains to the plot directly, at least thematically. Well done.

If there’s a theme in this issue, it is one of villainy on a spectrum. At one end is Lex Luthor, who is so clearly manipulating and orchestrating the situation to come out on top and plan his next act. At the other is someone who is trying to do the right thing (protect innocents), but his methods are at least questionable, if not plain unjustifiable. While we may applaud him for the murder of Noose (“he got what was coming to him!”), how can we reconcile his public, brutal murder of Terra-Man? But while Black Adam commits this act, he is a head of state and within his “rights” to do so, while Lex murders himself in secret (from the public at least) — who exactly is more evil? I love that the creators are wrestling with these moral quandaries, even though I don’t care for superhero comics being so bloody (and I know it just gets worse — this is not a time in DC’s publication history I look fondly back on because of this shift).

I also didn’t care for the way that Power Girl was depicted in her encounter with Black Adam. When he asks her how many people died in the (infinite) crisis, she seems to cower. Part (all?) of this is to show the enormity of the five plus million who did die (Black Adam yells the exact number at her), but one panel has her looking up at Adam in fearful submission. Does she have some complicity in those deaths, or is she just taken aback at Adam’s ferocity and determination? Either way, it didn’t track for me, at least not yet.

It’s only three issues in, and already I’m finding Natasha Irons’ whining annoying, but at the same time, lighten up Uncle John. Regardless, I do find the family dynamic intriguing and different — not at “superheroes” are or necessarily should be noble, self-sacrificing individuals. But we do already have Booster Gold in this series, so do we need to examine this perspective more? Though Natasha isn’t exactly like Booster and he doesn’t have an Uncle John to provide guidance. More points on a different spectrum….

This series is the proverbial onion, peeling back (revealing) layer after layer, both in terms of plot and character. Speaking of, what will be revealed from within that cocoon layer?

Finally, I didn’t notice any obvious reference to the number “52” this issue, even though there were a number of chances to do so: the flight number Power Girl references, the number of dead that Black Adam screams at PG (though I’m glad they didn’t in that case), and the score of the game that made some money for Booster Gold. Same for any question marks (but maybe they only appear in issues in which The Question appears…). Maybe I missed something?

History of the DCU, part 2

by Dan Jurgens, Art Thibert, Guy Major, Jeromy Cox, Nick J. Napolitano, Eddie Berganza, Ivan Cohen, and Jeanine Schaefer

We get more Earth-One and -Two history and differences, as well as a focus on the Teen Titans and Legion of Super-Heroes. This backup ends with the threat of the Crisis on Infinite Earths.

I guess I need to read Infinite Crisis again (or is it Countdown I should read?), because I’m finding Donna’s ignorance annoying. Did something happen to her that she cannot remember, thus requiring the Orb to educate her? She does say, “I know so many of these people. Yet… I can barely remember them.” So perhaps I’m being too harsh with Donna. Maybe she’s like an amnesiac trying to relearn everything she’s “forgotten”. About the first Crisis, she does say, “Even now I find it hard to believe that it actually happened. And I was there!” So does she know or doesn’t she? Maybe Jurgens is being intentionally ambiguous to make us feel like Donna?