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-Six

By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Igle, Champagne, Baron, Brosseau, 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

“How to Win a War in Space”

Week 36, Day 3

Lobo delivers Starfire and Animal Man to Lady Styx and asks for his bounty. Styx tells him, through interpreter Fishy, that there is no bounty and they are all to be broken down into bio-mass “to serve her needs”.

Styx’s minions attack the trio, incapacitating Starfire. Fishy tells Lobo the many insults Lady Styx is hurling his way, causing the Czarnian to abandon his pacifist ways. As Lobo charges Styx, she eviscerates him. Animal Man calls for Adam Strange, who fires from outside, allowing the Head of Ekron to come through. Lobo grabs Styx and throws her at Ekron, who then flies into a sun eater.

During the battle, Animal Man was shot with necro-toxin and is becoming delirious, and then he goes quiet. At the same time on Earth, Ellen Baker seems to sense it and starts to cry.

Week 36, Day 5

Charlie condition worsens, despite Tot’s best efforts to send healing flowers from Nanda Parbat, which gives Renee an idea.

Week 36, Day 6

Renee prepares to take Charlie to Nanda Parbat. Kate tells her that this “looks an awful lot like denial”. Renee tells her it’s “defiance”. Kate implores Renee to stay with her, to fight Mannheim, but Renee tells Kate that Charlie saved her, so she will take him back to Nanda Parbat in the hopes that it will save him or she’ll die trying.

In Kahndaq, Osiris reads a newspaper article that calls him a murderer, and he tells Sobek that if he were to go back to Titans Tower, they would have to arrest him. “No matter what we ever do, the entire world will always hate us.” Sobek offers Osiris an apple, telling him, “I don’t hate you.”

Week 36, Day 7

Despite the many artifacts that Supernova has brought Rip Hunter, the Time Master still can’t power the chronosphere. He also worries that Skeets will find them before they are ready. Supernova tells him, “For now we’re safe.” But then we see Skeets hovering over the Bottle City of Kandor in Superman’s Fortress.

Thoughts

I’ll be honest, I thought given the last issue’s events regarding Lobo and the others, I thought he was betraying them. Instead, we get the classic fake prisoner routine. And who didn’t see Lobo resorting to his old ways?! It was only a matter of time. I thought the “death” of Buddy was poignant only because of the follow-up scene with his wife and kids. The artists did a great job of conveying that loss and pain in just a few panels.

Again, based on last issue, I genuinely thought Charlie had died, so I was surprised to see him still kicking. After having read Batwoman comics that came after this, this Kate Kane seems like another person altogether, but maybe this experience led her to be the character I later read?

So we finally get to see Rip Hunter and he’s not in great shape. He appears to be suffering from some sort of chronal aphasia. I loved the way the scene starts to pull the “camera” back from the room Rip and Supernova are in, to just outside, to the building, even farther out until we see that they are in the Bottle City of Kandor, with Skeets hovering nearby! Such a great bit of storytelling with the reveals and foreboding menace.

Finally, I’m curious if anyone bought the 52 Series 1 action figures advertised in this issue? I think I would have liked to get the Supernova figure.

The Origin of Power Girl

By Waid, Hughes, Fletcher, Richards, Schaefer, and Siglain

Aside from the lovely Adam Hughes artwork, there wasn’t much that was interesting about this entry. But was the two infant Kryptonians rocketed to Earth something that was part of Power Girl’s original origin or is this a retcon? Her arriving later as an older person mirrors that of Supergirl’s retconned origin from a few year’s prior to this issue, so which came first? It seems really odd that DC would borrow from itself for what is essentially the same character.

And why did DC decide to keep Power Girl around AND have Supergirl? I see more opportunities for interesting stories about her, the cousin from another universe, as she interacts with Superman, but without the hang-up of living up to his legacy (she already did that with her cousin).

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.

52! Week Thirty-Two

By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Olliffe, Geraci, Baron, Lanham, 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

“Seven Days in Nanda Parbat”

Week 32, Day 1

Ralph Dibny, en route to Nanda Parbat with the Helmet of Fate, encounters a murderous yeti, but is saved by a mysterious whistler.

Week 32, Day 2

Having lost Hawk and Dove as members, the Teen Titans are looking for new members, but Raven is concerned that many of them are from the Everyman Project and have a “lust for fame and power”.

Osiris arrives wanting to be on the team, but Captain Marvel, Jr. tells him no, citing Black Adam’s murder of Terra Man. Osiris protests, saying that he and the Black Adam family are “trying to make this world a better place”. Marvel, Jr. challenges Osiris to “convince the world of that”. Beast Boy asks Raven what emotions she detects from Osiris and she says, “Just one. Hope”.

Week 32, Day 3

Adam Strange tells Animal Man that he can go home to warn the Earth of the forthcoming conflict with Lady Styx, but Buddy says that they have to stop them “right here”, and Starfire agrees.

Week 32, Day 4

Ralph awakens in Nanda Parbat wanting to see Rama Kushna. He is introduced to the man who saved his life, Yao Fei, the Accomplished Perfect Physician, of the Great Ten. Fei tells Ralph about himself and the Yeti, who is also a member of the Great Ten and who is now running wild and killed 30 people. After Ralph is told that Rama Kushna cannot see him, he joins Fei to capture the Yeti.

Week 32, Day 5

The Yeti finds Ralph and Fei and they struggle briefly before Ralph is able to reattach a talisman that inhibits the Yeti’s rage, enabling the man, Hu Wei, to return. It is then that Ralph is told that Rama Kushna will see him.

Week 32, Day 6

Rama Kushna tells Ralph that there is no death, “Death is an illusion of being in time.” He demands to know why it all then hurts so much. He is bathed in light, and is told, “You wished to be with her again. Come closer. I will show you how.”

Week 32, Day 7

Ralph prepares to leave and ponders what Rama Kushna told him: “The end is already written.” As he leaves, he tells Fei, “Be careful what you wish for.”

Thoughts

The Rama Kushna thing is a big red herring (or is it?), serving to push the Great Ten more so than Ralph’s ordeal. But I’m ok with that because the Great Ten (or it’s members) continue to intrigue me. Much panel space is taken up by Yao Fei’s back story, and with what Hu Wei mumbles after he reverts to his man form (“they wanted me to have no conscience…”), I need to find out what was going on with this Chinese superhero group at that time!

The Accomplished Perfect Physician is a Doctor Strange analog, but he uses sounds to do various things, which reminded me a lot of Tyroc from the Legion of Super-Heroes. And the Yeti is like the Hulk, but with the added element of being manipulated by (I’m assuming) his government.

I liked three things about the Teen Titans portion of the issue. One was the membership drive and the few panels that showed those wanting to join. Some of the applicants I recognize (Red Star, Miss Martian, Harlequin), but there’s also a Robin-looking character (who says something about his Earth — which one?) and is that Zachary Zatara wanting to rejoin?! Second is Captain Marvel, Jr. being won over by Osiris’ assertion that the Black Adam family only wanting to make the world a better place. Finally, speaking of Osiris, the fact that Raven only detects hope in the young man (even if I do feel a bit manipulated by the writer — it’s presented so matter of factly that I am immediately suspicious) helps to validate the character.

Finally, what does Buddy and the others expect to accomplish against Lady Styx? The smart play is for one of them to warn Earth, but that’s not heroic I suppose.

The Origin of Blue Beetle

By Waid, Hamner, Sinclair, Lanham, Richards, Schaefer, Wacker, and Siglain

This version of Blue Beetle is probably the best replacement character DC has ever produced, definitely improving upon the original. I love his design and concept, and I am disappointed that he’s not being utilized in the post-Rebirth era.