52! Week Seven

By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Lashley, Draxhall, 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

“Going Down”

On that alien planet, Adam Strange is still repairing the Thanagarian warbird so he, Starfire, and Animal Man can go home. However, his companions are being no help at all because they’re eating fruit that is messing with their minds. Strange squabbles with Starfire, goading her into looking for a mysterious power source they detected.

Week 7, Day 2. It’s been weeks since Renee has seen The Question, but she still ponders the clues she has and discovers one literally under her nose.

Week 7, Day 3. Ralph visits Booster to talk to him about the Cult of Connor, but Booster is distracted by a threat over the phone and an impending future event he is supposed to stop. It’s then that Ralph realizes that Booster could have known about Sue’s murder and this makes Ralph. Very. Upset.

Renee crashes a soiree at the Kane estate to ask Kate about 520 Kane Street. After punching Renee and some discussion, Kate agrees to help her former lover.

In Metropolis, Booster arrives at a LexCorp building and is confronted by the actor he hired to play a villain previously. The actor spills the beans in front of the crowd and press. Ralph piles on, asking Booster, “How many other of these … ‘death-defying rescues’ have you staged to improve your marketability?”

On that alien world, Starfire appears to have found that power source. As she looks up at it, we see a giant behind her reaching for its staff.

Thoughts

First, another noteworthy cover by Jones and Sinclair. I love the contrasting qualities of the red border and the black and white, printed-in-a-tabloid “photo” of Booster attempting to shield himself from the camera with the word EXPOSED! across his image. Just lovely.

Interesting that the first sequence on the alien world has no timestamp (it did in issue 5), but I also like that because time seems to relative when it comes to isolation, not to mention when the day appears to be as long as weeks. I wonder if the creative team had been thinking of that? About this scene in particular, I didn’t care for the exposition from Adam to the two people who already know this information! They may just as well have had Strange say, “As you know…”. But then, we get this exchange between Strange and Starfire about the fruit she and Buddy are eating where she almost laments that Strange doesn’t “know how delicious it is” because he won’t eat any, and a little later, she echoes that thought: “…you won’t eat any…”. It’s not just that the fruit is intoxicating, it’s possibly a way to trap prey? Is it being used by the mysterious predator discussed in issue 5?

In Renee’s scene, we see a shot of her cast upon which she has drawn many question marks. Now, we have already seen her as obsessive, but to mark her arm in that way? Is this merely hinting at the future (she is becoming the question) or just that the artist thought it would be funny to draw all those question marks? I am tired of seeing Renee pose with that alien looking gun. I have a gun and I don’t pick it up as I’m thinking through something. But to each their own, I guess.

I loved the scene between Ralph and Booster. The artists drew Ralph’s face in shadows and almost always looking down, suggesting the grief that consumes him. Besides that, when Ralph realizes that “this whole era is history” to Booster, he shoves Booster into the wall, screaming at him, “why the hell didn’t you warn me my wife was going to die?” Booster tells Ralph that he was just as surprised about Sue’s death, saying, “I didn’t learn every little detail…” (about the past), Ralph responds through gritted teeth, Little. DETAIL?” I love how the creative team took these two sort of joke characters and are giving them some real-life drama to deal with.

In regards to the Kate and Renee scene, it almost feels like I missed something because this doesn’t seem like the Kate Kane I am familiar with, but that’s probably more to do with my lack of familiarity or were there changes in the future continuity of her character? I seem to be bumping against this idea of Kate as a debutante and former military. Not to say that a person can’t be both, but the difference seems too far? I guess I’ll find out as we move along.

I knew that actor would be bad news for Booster, but I expected that plot point to be more drawn out. And what does the actor expect to get out of this exposure? Despite what he says, him coming clean about his involvement in this scam doesn’t exonerate him legally, but I guess if you sway public opinion enough…? And then to have Ralph kick Booster while he’s down is a great counterpoint to the earlier scene between them.

In the final, wordless scene with Starfire, we see what looks like a Kirbyesque (or is it an actual Kirby character?) giant. I have no idea who this is, so I’m looking forward to the next scene and to see if this giant plays a larger role in the story.

Finally, the art this issue (specifically the inking), for the first time, is not to my liking, coming across as uneven comparatively in the different scenes. So far, this series has been superbly consistent, but this really highlights how well the team has been doing on this WEEKLY series. If it normally takes weeks to produce a comic book that is printed monthly, I can only imagine the chaos that was this book. It’s really a testament to all the creatives and editors who worked on it.

History of DCU, part 6

by Jurgens, Rapmund, Major, Cox, Leigh, Berganza, Cohen, and Schaefer

The events of Zero Hour get the spotlight here. One item that piqued my interest was the comment by the Orb that Hal Jordan, as Parallax, in his desire to erase the “destruction of Coast City and other events that he didn’t like”,

He would have created multiple universes with multiple Earths, unwittingly restoring much of what existed before the Crisis.

Ok. First, I don’t recall that aspect of Zero Hour (and now I want to go read that series again). Second, the way that sentence is written, it implies that restoring the multiverse was not a good thing. Now, I know DC editorial thought so, but in universe, what is the meaning behind this? Plus, given what is going on in Death Metal and Perpetua and the omniverse, this comment takes on an almost prophetic tone. Could this have inspired Scott Snyder??? ;)

It’s interesting to me now that this History of the DCU is focusing on all the crises because it’s highlighting the transitory nature of the DCU, and perhaps not so positively. I mean, I read all of those crisis books as they were being published, and I was excited about them and what these changes could mean, but looking back on it in this way seems almost to devalue the characters and the “universe” that DC Comics had been building for decades.

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 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 Two

by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Keith Giffen, Joe Bennett, Jack Jadson, Alex Sinclair, Travis Lanham, Joe Prado, 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

“Looking Back at Tomorrow”

Week 2, Day 1. Ralph Dibny investigates the defacement of his wife’s tombstone and encounters a young man from a past case.

Week 2, Day 2. Booster Gold takes Skeets to Dr. Will Magnus, who is able to repair the robot. Later, Dr. Magnus visits Dr. Morrow, who reveals that other “mad” scientists are being taken.

Week 2, Day 3. The Question wakes Renee Montoya, who shoots (at) him. He disappears, leaving behind an invitation.

Week 2, Day 4. Booster Gold barely saves a jet that was supposed to have crashed, no thanks to the still glitchy Skeets. The Question offers Renee a job to discover who is using an apparent abandoned building.

Week 2, Day 6. Ralph visits a grieving Cassie Sandsmark, Wonder Girl, wanting to know why she left a message at his wife’s grave. He shows her a photo that he took of the tombstone with the message: a Kryptonian symbol that means “resurrection”.

Thoughts

The second issue of 52 was a bit different in pacing and content compared to the first. Where I felt delightfully gorged with the content of issue 1, issue 2 was a bit of a lighter affair. There are fewer overall characters being focused on and more page counts for Ralph and Renee/The Question, which also slows down the pacing. Not that this is a bad decision. We can breathe a bit with issue 2 and savor the moments presented.

Ralph continues to be the character I’m drawn to and want to follow more. His conversation with the groundskeeper is delightfully human in a superhero world (and is the young man wearing a Booster Gold jacket?). Ralph can’t help himself in his brief moment of joy when discussing the Dreamland Park case, when the groundskeeper tells Ralph,

“You were amazing. Like, Batman amazing.”
“Batman’s good.”
“Batman doesn’t have a wife who kept me from freaking out while you were tracking down [my brother] Marty.”

This just highlights how much of a team Ralph and Sue were regardless of Ralph’s superhero stature. And with that, the attention turns back to the tragedy of Sue’s death and the injury caused by the defacement of the tombstone, which the storytellers deftly kept hidden from us. The scene ends with Ralph’s famous nose-twitching, but gone is the usual joy associated with it. Truth be told, I was at first put out by the nose twitching, but the tone presented made me recognize the power of that scene.

The first scene with Doctor Magnus, Booster, and Skeets has a few interesting details. Once Magnus has “resurrected” Skeets, the robot seems … different to me. Is it just my unfamiliarity with the character or has it been damaged by whatever that glitch was (is?)? After all, Skeets says, “Y’know” and calls Booster “Boost”. But perhaps I’m just reading into it. (I do vaguely recall something is up with Skeets as the series goes on, but I’ve forgotten the details.) Also, Magnus picks up an American Science magazine with a question mark on the cover, a visual that is repeated a few times throughout this issue.

Magnus gives this magazine to Professor Morrow, the “mad” scientist who is imprisoned in Haven for, as he says, his “own good and the good of others”. This was maybe the first time that I could recall seeing a relationship between all of these scientist/inventors in the DCU. Magnus is a former student of Morrow’s in this continuity at least, and harbors respect for the man. That relationship extends perhaps to community, for Morrow reveals to Magnus that many of their colleagues (“mad” scientists) have gone missing recently: “I think someone’s rounding us up.”  It’s also during this scene that the “52” motif shows up again in one of the newspaper clippings Morrow has concerning Dr. Tyme, which references “last year’s missing 52 seconds…”.

The number turns up again in the next scene with Renee and the Question, when he leaves an address for her–520 Kane St.–complete with another, admittedly overt, question mark). A wisp of smoke is also in the shape of a question mark when the Question appears behind Renee at the address in question (and again when he leaves).

Finally, in the first issue’s opening pages with the swirling shards of reality(?), there was an image that was featured a few times, but I didn’t have a reference for it until this issue. Namely, we are shown a gold statue with a Superman S shield, a monument to the dead Superboy. Here, Cassie is leading a world-wide webcast for Superboy acolytes, so I’ll be interested to see how this plays out over the series. Ralph makes a deductive leap when he confronts Cassie about the message on his wife’s tombstone because that message was an upside down S shield. Whereas the right-side up S means “hope”, the inverted version means “resurrection”. But why does Ralph think Cassie left that message for him? And what exactly is the message? That she is going to resurrect Superboy and/or Sue? Or Sue is somehow key to resurrect Superboy? It’s all just a bit heavy handed, and just seems a means to give the reveal of the message more weight.

History of DCU, part 1

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

This issue also has a backup tale, featuring Donna Troy as a sort of chronicler of the universe. She possesses Harbinger’s orb, “which recorded everything that came to pass in all its realities”. She watches the orb summarize the origin of the DCU (at least at that time), covering millennia in a few short panels, until she asks to be told about Superman. We are shown the Superman of Earth-One and Earth-Two, with a mention of only one who would survive.

Besides this brief history lesson, what’s interesting about this passage is what the orb says about Earth-One and Earth-Two:

Of all the Earths, it was those two that would shine the brightest. It is the opinion of many that the presence of a Superman on those worlds pushed them to heights other Earths could not reach.

Of course, Earth-One and -Two are prominent because they simply are in comic book publishing history, but what is the orb saying that, contextually, those Earth’s mean something greater to the larger DCU, or is it merely metafictional eye-winking at the readers? I hope it’s the former.

52! Week One

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

Overview

52 was a weekly series published by DC Comics starting in May, 2006. It was the follow-up to Infinite Crisis and was to explore things resulting from that event book. Meanwhile, the DC titles at the time all jumped one year later and, from what I recall, 52 was supposed to chronicle that “missing” year, especially regarding the absence of the Trinity (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman), and was the major reason I wanted to read the series. What we ended up getting was different and so much more.

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.  (Considering that I’m already 3 weeks behind, we’ll see how that goes. Maybe I’ll end up doing it once a month, who knows?!) Let’s begin!

Synopsis

“Golden Lads & Lasses Must…”

The first two pages show a swirling mass of recent past events, shown like pieces of broken glass that coalesce in a blinding flash, revealing the Earth. One of these images is of the Elongated Man, Ralph Dibny, cradling the burnt body of his wife Sue (her murder opened Infinite Crisis and is one of the things about IC that I do not like to this day). The last panel of these shards shows the Trinity, but also Black Adam and Booster Gold prominently.

Following this is the caption Week 1, Day 1, and we see Ralph Dibny holding a pistol with a tag identifying it as a trophy of sorts for a past case he and presumably his wife worked on. We also see that he is standing in the middle of his destroyed house. In the next series of panels, Renee Montoya is at a bar, getting drunk. Finally on this page, Steel is helping a clean-up crew in Paris.

Page 4 of the comic book cover two more days of that first week. Ralph is continuing to talk to someone on the phone and we see him holding that gun again. Montoya continues to drink, and the final panel on the page shows a building sign that reads “52 Pickup”.

On day 5, Booster Gold appears, having captured Mammoth. It’s the Booster Gold of old, working an angle to make some dough. His robot companion, Skeets, is feeding him historical data so he can be where he needs to be to save someone or stop a villain.

At the Ambassador Hotel, Ralph is listening to voicemails. One is from the mortuary who handled Sue’s funeral, telling Ralph, as he is sticking that gun we saw earlier into his mouth, that they had found a message on Sue’s tombstone.

Now back in Metropolis, Steel argues with his niece, who is heading to a Teen Titans meeting. Steel is upset that she isn’t helping clean up the debris and is instead chasing glory with other heroes, telling her, “You want something you don’t deserve yet”. She brushes him off, and Steel removes her armor, stranding her on a rooftop. He tells her, “You want armor? Build it yourself.”

In Kahndaq, Black Adam is letting his people know that he and they will show the world how to deal with true evil. A dissenter with a bomb is interrupted in his suicide attempt by Black Adam removing the bomb and the bomber’s arm before demanding to know who sent him.

On day 6, Dr. Sivana is kidnapped, with a caged Mr. Mind looking on. The heroes gather in Metropolis for a memorial for everyone who died during the events of IC. Booster, because of the historical data Skeets has provided, is expecting the Trinity to show up to form the new Justice League and invite him to join. When they do not show at the appointed time, Booster argues with Skeets, and then Skeets appears to short circuit and becomes non-responsive. An agitated Booster begins yelling at other heroes and demanding Jimmy Olsen take the picture for which he will win a “Howitzer” (Pulitzer). As he is yelling “Where are –?” (the Trinity), his elbow smacks someone off panel who is telling him that they ‘re not coming. The voice belongs to Clark Kent, whose nose is bleeding from the impact.

Finally, on day 7, the Question removes the bat from the bat-signal and spray paints a question mark on it. He turns it on, staring ahead, saying, “I can see you.” Montoya is at home, starting to drink there too, when a bright light shines through her window. It’s the bat-signal, pointed right at her window. The Question asks, “Are you ready?”

Thoughts

Holy cats! This issue is jam-packed with characters and story and back-story! And questions! Don’t forget the questions….

I vaguely recall that this series was supposed to tell us what the Trinity was up to previous to the One Year Later initiative (which I hated, by the way — a lot of good stories, as I recall, were upended because of that editorial mandate), yet in this first issue we do not see any of them, except for the Clark Kent appearance, which is still a major reveal because he appears to be depowered. Instead, we get the focus on Elongated Man (of all people, but it does make sense considering what they did to his wife in IC), Rene Montoya, Steel, Booster Gold, Black Adam, and at the end, the Question. Why these characters?

Speaking of Booster, this seemed to me like a return to the early Booster Gold from his first series, and not the character that had developed since then. This is not new in superhero comics, of course, but it seemed odd, and maybe that’s the point. All of this issue is supposed to unnerve us, to push us off balance. Ralph about to commit suicide, the bloody violence Black Adam perpetrates on the bomber, the time stream possibly being out of whack (or at least Skeets), a “human” Superman, and the Question, talking to us (“I can see you. Are you ready?”). There’s no way you can read this issue and not be intrigued by the mysteries and statuses of these characters. It portends something grand and special. In the back of the book, for the DC Nation column, Dan DiDio says of the main characters of the issue (and the series), “If they are not household names at the start … they certainly will be by the end.” Let’s see if this story delivers.

From a production standpoint, this issue is a marvel. So many writers and yet the artists help keep all of this cohesive and consistent (it probably doesn’t hurt that Keith Giffen is doing the breakdowns, not to mention the editing staff’s invaluable involvement). Those panels of Ralph about to blow his brains out (could he though?) were disturbing and heartbreaking. I loved the group shot at the memorial (I always love these) and there were a few panels where the characters shown from different angles match up! Finally, the two panels on the last page with Montoya and the Question show the spotlight washing out Montoya’s features, making her look like she’s wearing the Question’s mask was wonderful foreshadowing.

While I know the story generally and there are certain things I remember specifically, there’s so much I don’t recall about this and am looking forward to what comes next. Are you ready?