52! Week Forty-Five

By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Batista, Igle, Ramos, Sinclair, Lopez, 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

“Every Hour Wounds, the Last Kills”

Week 45, Day 3

Shiruta, Kahndaq. The Marvel family help Black Adam with the burial of Isis and Osiris and later try to comfort him, but Black Adam rebuffs their compassion and they leave.

Renee Montoya speaks with Adam, letting him know that Charlie has died and to offer he aid. Black Adam does not take kindly to her “pity” and bids her to go home as he leaves for Bialya.

Week 45, Day 4

Bialya. The Horseman who is Death has taken refuge in Bialya, and the country’s president pleads with Bruno Mannheim for help against Black Adam. Mannheim informs the President that he needs to deal with the situation on Oolong Island and it was “Nice knowin’ ya”.

It is then that Black Adam arrives and kills the President. He begins his assault on the country. Across the world, Black Adam’s actions and potential responses are discussed. Amanda Waller ponders needing 100 members of the Suicide Squad to go up against Black Adam, but Atom Smasher refuses to participate further.

Week 45, Day 5

Bialya. Black Adam continues his swath of destruction. He sees a flower in a pool of blood and cries. Then he is attacked by Bialyans and demands to know where Death is.

Week 45, Day 6

The Great Wall of China. The Great Ten discuss needing to deal with Black Adam should the security of China be threatened.

Death finally confronts Black Adam, telling him that his murdering of Bialya’s people have made it stronger. But Black Adam uses the magic lightning to weaken Death. He tells it, “You are going to answer every question I ask. Then … I am going to spend the rest of the night slowly ending your life”.

Week 45, Day 7

Oolong Island. Veronica Cale asks Sivana, “What happens when he finds out who sent the Four Horsemen into Kahndaq…?” Sivana tells her, as the alarm klaxon sounds, “I’ve been waiting for this for a long, long time. The Black Marvel himself, at my mercy! Bring him on!!”

Thoughts

The inevitable happens: Black Adam on a rampage, and apparently it was all part of Sivana’s plan? At least I got a bit of Dr. Cale’s reaction to this — a pity she wasn’t smart enough to foresee this outcome?

Renee has come a long way over the course of this series. She knows the pain Adam is in and offers her help, which, of course, he does not take kindly to. But even threatened with death, Renee is sympathetic, telling him, “Isis was my friend”. This was the best scene in the issue.

There’s a lot of talk about what to do about Black Adam, but not a whole lot of doing by governments or superheroes. If this was America being attacked, I doubt there would be this delay. And Adam’s slaughter of Bialya’s people is just so inhumane. At one point, he sees a vision of Isis telling him to avenge her and Osiris and he continues his destruction (one of the Oolong scientists states, “He sterilized the Earth!”), but given all of the manipulation thus far, I have to wonder if that was really just grief or an outside force spurring him on? I clearly want to be on his side, that his vengeance is righteous, but given the scale of murder and destruction, the architects of this story clearly do not want us feeling sympathy for him. It does make me want to know the outcome to this — obviously, Black Adam continues long after this series, so is he captured, does he retreat, or …? And what is the impact in regards to superhumans and their involvement in humanity’s affairs after this? I guess I’ll have to reread World War III….

52! Week Forty-Three

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

“Family Matters”

Week 43, Day 1

Osiris and Sobek travel to the Rock of Eternity so that Osiris can ask Captain Marvel to make him part of the Marvel family, ridding him and Kahndaq of the curse, but Black Adam and Isis arrive to convince him otherwise. There is a brief struggle between Osiris and Black Adam, with the former accidentally hitting Isis. Osiris stops and apologizes, and she convinces him to stay with her and Adam.

Week 43, Day 4

The aliens who first granted Animal Man his powers reset the morphogenetic graft and return him to the asteroid where he was left for dead. He begs them to not leave him here and that he will die there without any animal ability to keep him alive. With seconds before he suffocates, and looking at a picture of his family, Animal Man reaches out with his powers and comes into contact with sun-eaters. Now smiling, Animal says, “Migration maps. Homing abilities. Oh, yes.”

Elsewhere, a pregnant alien’s baby violently extracts itself, and it is Lady Styx reborn.

Week 43, Day 5

Back in Kahndaq, Osiris reveals that he only told his sister that he’d stay with them because that’s what they wanted to hear, and he plans instead to leave Kahndaq: “As long as I have these powers I need to be far away from anyone–“. Sobek then tells him that he can rid himself of the curse by renouncing his powers, returning to his broken human body as Amon. Orisis agrees, “That must be my penance!”

After Osiris changes, he tells Sobek, “Perhaps I will be happy again and all of Kahdaq will be as well.” Then Sobek chomps down on Amon’s torso. Amon tries to speak Black Adam’s name, but Sobek bites his head off, announcing, “I’m not so hungry anymore.”

Thoughts

I like the double play of the title, “Family Matters”: it can be things a family deals with together and that family is important, both of which are at play here for the Black Adam family and for Animal Man. And like all families, they now have a death to deal with…

When I would think of this series over the years, I would remember very distinctly a few scenes, and Osiris’ grisly death at the mouth of Sobek was one of them. So was this justice for Osiris the murderer? At the very least, it was the end of the Black Adam family, a concept from this series that I liked.

Speaking of Sobek, I was hoping to see his physical transformation over the course of this issue and not just at the big reveal/chomp. On the final page, his mouth is more extended and his teeth look longer and with sharper points. Given that Sobek urged Osiris to change to his human form in that last scene, I wonder if he would have taken a bite out of his “friend” when they were about to enter the Rock of Eternity earlier?

That scene is where I also had trouble with the presentation of the book. What we were seeing didn’t match the dialog. When Osiris and Sobek reach the inner chamber, he says, “Who is down there?” Yet, there is no “down” and the Marvel family are clearly lit and only a few feet away. Later, after Osiris has struck his sister, he says she was bleeding, but we don’t see that.

As for Animal Man, I’m curious how far away were those sun-eaters? Can he reach out for light-years? For example, could he take on aspects of animal life on Rann when he’s on Earth? My recollection of Animal Man after this series was that the writers focused instead on the relationship between him and Starfire, creating a “romantic” triangle with them and Animal Man’s wife. Ugh.

Finally, Dan DiDio announced in the DC Nation entry in this issue that the follow-up to 52 would be another weekly series, Countdown, with Paul Dini as head writer and Keith Giffen again breaking down the art. DiDio said, “Countdown … will act as the spine of the DCU for the next year”. While I read Countdown, I don’t recall it having any real impact on the DCU until the end, which was merely a lead-in to the next event. In fact, I had a feeling before the first issue had shipped that it would not be as good as its predecessor, and I was right. Don’t expect weekly posts about Countdown, dear reader….

The Origin of Plastic Man

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

Plastic Man has never interested me. I think it was the cartoon series in the 80s that prejudiced me against the character (not to mention the following season where they gave him a son — wait! Was that the first appearance of Offspring?!). However, I like the promise of his origin told here, specifically, how he uses his real identity to infiltrate criminal organizations and takes them down as Plas.

52! Week Twenty-Five

By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Bennet, Eaglesham, Jimenez, Olliffe, Jose, Thibert, Lanning, Geraci, Sinclair, 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

“Liminal Times”

Week 25, Day 1

Bruno Mannheim explains his vision of Crime to Mirage, with bloody results. Later, he addresses other Gotham crime bosses, telling them that they work for him and Intergang or “we make you extinct”.

Week 25, Day 3

On Halloween, Captain Marvel, Jr. and Mary Marvel battle a giant-sized, Satanesque Sabbac when the Black Marvel Family arrive to defeat the villain, winning over the hearts of the assembled trick-or-treaters.

Ralph Dibny continues his tour of Hell with the Helmet of Fate. The Hemet shows Ralph the trapped and ravaged soul of Felix Faust as a lesson and a warning: “Our next stop … you will make your first bargain. Be prepared to honor it.”

Week 25, Day 3

Infinity, Inc. stop Icicle and Tigress from robbing a bank and debut their newest member, Matrix. Alan Scott watches this and then speaks to Michael Holt, telling him that the UN Security Council asked Alan to be the White King. He then asks Michael to join him as his Bishop.

Week 25, Day 4

Dr. Magnus tells Dr. Morrow that he refuses to build a plutonium robot for Intergang. Meanwhile, Bruno Mannheim arrives on Oolong Island to discuss with Chang Tzu a solution to the Kahndaq problem. Tzu tells Mannheim they have weapons “so terrible … we call them the Four Horsemen”.

Thoughts

“Liminal” means transitional, so having a bunch of storylines present in this issue seems to fit the title. It’s also curious how many artists we get, which is a first for the series. Was there some kind of transition or shift going on behind the scenes? Or was it that the weekly grind has finally caught up with the creative team? Perhaps the theme of “transition” would have been better for the 26th issue? Regardless, this issue does give me the sense that things are starting to move forward (or at least moving) for some of these plots.

This issue has another wonderful cover for the series showing three trick-or-treaters representing four of the thus far prominent storylines with Steel, Booster Gold, and Renee Montoya dressed as the Question (a melding of her and Charlie or foreshadowing?). The fourth representative is the Helmet of Fate being used as candy receptacle. Does this represent some as yet unknown connection between Booster Gold and the Helmet?!

I had forgotten that Bruno Mannheim was positioned as an apostle of crime — I tend to think of him as the Intergang representative only — but here DC is clearly giving him a bigger role (more a Kingpin-like character with supernatural connections).

The transitional theme continues with the adoration of the Black Marvel Family by the kids — Captain Marvel, Jr and Mary Marvel are almost an afterthought in this scene. Not having read the Power of Shazam, this was probably the first time I saw Mary Marvel in her white costume, which I love. You get the whole red, white, and blue motif with the three Marvels, and white is such an underused color in superhero comics that it makes her stand out (as she should).

While I loved the Jimenez art in the Felix Faust pages, I thought that sequence went on too long, but we do get that amazing sequence of panels showing Faust’s soul crumbling and blowing away in the breeze as Fate’s Helmet warns Ralph about the bargain he will soon strike. This is the amazing storytelling aspect of comic books that I love.

I recall when Alan Scott took over Checkmate and had wanted to read that series, but never bought the issues. Reading this introduction makes me want to read them again to understand why he would want to take on this role (his explanation to Michael notwithstanding) and how things developed.

Finally, we get to see the “master” of Oolong Island and it is the wonderfully redesigned Chang Tzu (formerly the offensive Egg-Fu), but even this cybernetically supported, nightmare inducing “egg” is subservient to Intergang. I’m looking forward to where this leads (besides the 52 Aftermath mini-series tie-in).

The Origin of Nightwing

by Waid, Perez, Sinclair, Balsman, Richards, Wacker

I’m sure I did then and I certainly do now love to see George Perez drawing my favorite (former) Robin again, complete with his trademark detailed backgounds.

It also just now occurs to me reading this origin that given Dick’s circus upbringing, he must hate that the Joker is a perverted clown (the “clown prince of crime”) compared to the people — his companions and friends — who performed as clowns in his youth. I wonder if anyone ever played with that idea over the years?

I love how Waid referred to Robin as the “laughing young daredevil”. Aside from the bad puns and a propensity to get himself captured and subsequently rescued by Batman all the time, I don’t know that this aspect of Dick’s personality was ever fully explored either.

This origin also mentions the post-Infinite Crisis revelation that Dick wasn’t supposed to have survived it. I read Nightwing during this time and don’t recall that DC ever adequately addressed this plot point.

Finally, I love this bit:

[Nightwing’s] ability to read people makes him not only an amazing detective but a team leader without equal, a trait not even his former mentor shares.

Nightwing rules!

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.