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!).
“A Year in the Life”
Week 0, Day 0
Rip Hunter, Booster Gold, and Red Tornado travel back in time one year to the dawn of the new multiverse. Rip tells Booster that 52 identical universes were created after the Infinite Crisis. Mr. Mind confronts them, regurgitating the Phantom Zone in order to trap them within it, but Supernova appears, deflecting the Phantom Zone energy and restoring it, as Rip explains to Booster, “to its proper dimensional plane”.
Mr. Mind retreats and Rip follows it to Earth-17, where Mind is “eating years and events from this universe’s history,” eventually transforming it into the Earth of the Atomic Knights.
Rip chases Mind from one Earth to another as the creature “eats” and alters more Earths:
- Earth-3 now has the Crime Society
- Earth-10 is now a world where the Freedom Fighters are still fighting against the Axis powers
- Earth-50 is now the Wildstorm universe
- Earth-5 now has the Marvel Family
- Earth-22 is now the Kingdom Come universe
- Earth-2 now has the Justice Society of America
- Earth-4 is now the Charlton universe
Rip tells Booster that they need to trap Mind before he spawns hyperflies and devours every living creature in the multiverse. Booster tells him, “There has to be someone better qualified to fight” Mind. Skeets, barely “alive”, tells Booster that it has faith in him. Booster then time travels to obtain an energy source that will help trap Mr. Mind. Booster appears the day after the first Crisis and encounters Blue Beetle. After a brief discussion, Booster leaves, with the scarab that Beetle was looking for.
Sivana calls for his children to follow him into his suspendium globe where they’ll be safe, but Rip Hunter appears, shoots Sivana in the knee, and takes the suspendium.
Back in the time sphere, Booster places the scarab into Supernova’s suit, and Rip takes them to his time lab. Mind has followed them and attacks. However, Rip has reinforced Skeets’ shell with the suspendium, and Booster traps Mind within Skeets. Rip then explains that they need to make Skeets into a “‘time bomb’ that will end the threat of Mr. Mind”. Booster hurls Skeets into a time vortex, followed by Supernova, and they travel back one year, where, on Week 1, Day 6, Supernova catches Skeets/Mind, and on Week 1, Day 1, he spikes Skeets into the ground.
Sivana finds a devolved Mr. Mind and puts it into a tube, telling it, “Don’t bother to struggle. You’re trapped. Forever.”
Supernova returns to the time sphere. Booster declares that the world should know it was Skeets who saved everyone. Rip informs Booster that he had copied Skeets’ “mem-self into a leftover responsometer”. They travel through the multiverse to New Earth, their home.
Week 52, Day 6
Checkmate prepares to form a task force to locate the depowered Black Adam. Natasha wonders what happened to the members of Infinity, Inc. In Kahndaq, someone reaches for the amulet of Isis. In Alabama, the ghosts of Ralph and Sue Dibny begin their investigation of a pit that opened in a school classroom.
Booster asks Dr. Magnus for help in restoring Skeets. Magnus tells Booster that he had made a backup of Skeets when Booster brought it to Magnus nearly a year before. Magnus is able to restore Skeets, but without the knowledge of the last year. Skeets asks Booster if it has missed anything, and Booster tells him, “It all started 52 weeks ago…”.
Week 52, Day 7
The Question restores the bat overlay to the bat-signal and shines the light at Kate Kane’s apartment, where she is recovering from her stab wound. Question then asks, “Are you ready?”
I remember when I first read this issue 15 years ago and I was SO excited for the return of the multiverse. I even went on an online forum (maybe DC Comics’ website or perhaps the CGS forum?) to express my excitement, while others — inexplicably — were denouncing it. Alas, as I recall, the promise of the new 52 remained only that — there didn’t seem to be much, if any, playing around with the concept with an exception being the “Thy Kingdom Come” story in Justice Society of America.
While re-reading this issue brought back that feeling of renewal for the DC universe, I found myself feeling a bit … cheated. Perhaps 52 was always building towards this big reveal (we saw Mr. Mind in Sivana’s lab in issue 1) or maybe it evolved into it (which, metatextually, is appropriate), but I feel cheated because this ending doesn’t feel as earned as may of the other stories. Plus, this issue ties up some loose ends but are really just teases, such as the Dibny’s as ghost detectives (I know, retaining the status quo is the most important aspect of corporate-driven comic books…).
However, if there was a theme for this series, it is transformation. The DC world is transformed by the absence of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman (the ticker on the cover even announces “The year without [them] is over…”). Many characters have changed as well:
- The Irons’ relationship that was split and then mended
- Animal Man and Adam Strange have returned to their families and have been physically transformed as well (powers and sight)
- Renee became the new Question
- Ralph died and is reunited with his wife
- Booster Gold matures, becomes more than the glory hound he had been
But probably the most transformative storyline was Black Adam’s. He started out as the ruthless ruler of Kahndaq; met Adrianna Tomaz and fell in love with her, causing him to ask that the powers of Isis be given to her and they later wed; gave some of his power to Adrianna’s brother, making his own Marvel family; became a political force for change in the world; but then, after the deaths in his new family, remade himself into the evil Black Adam once more (see my earlier note about the status quo…). His story was the most successful for me.
The series itself evolved over time. My recollection of the series when it was announced was that we were going to get stories about the Trinity during that one year later gap, but instead we got the stories about the characters that we did. However, according to the DC Nation article by Dan DiDio in issue 1, “Our original plan was to create a series of specials designed to answer all the questions posed by the ‘One Year Later’ changes”. Paul Levitz challenged them instead to “tell the story of the missing year in a real-time weekly comic”. Then, according to an interview with Mark Waid at Ain’t It Cool News in 2009 (quoted here because that original article has disappeared),
Dan Didio, who first championed the concept, hated what we were doing. H-A-T-E-D 52. Would storm up and down the halls telling everyone how much he hated it. … and there’s one issue of 52 near the end that was written almost totally by Dan and Keith Giffen because none of the writers could plot it to Dan’s satisfaction.
DiDio also reportedly called the follow-on weekly series, Countdown, as “‘52 done right'”, but I think the fans and critics generally disagreed. After 15 years, I think 52 is looked upon as a successful property and a blueprint for weekly comic book series at DC Comics for some time after that. It was an ambitious project, and the co-creators should be applauded for their efforts.
This final issue, while overly concerned with the reemergence of the multiverse, also gives us pointers to follow in other comic books and resolves the final fate of Ralph Dibny, but these feel tacked on and overshadowed by the big reveal. Finally, I find it curious that everything ends with the Question/Batwoman scene. It seems that the coda of “Are you ready?” is for the fans, but it suggests to me something more for those characters specifically, but I don’t know if that panned out.
If you’ve been reading these (mostly) weekly posts, you know I didn’t care for some of the these storylines or how they were executed and some of the art was not to my liking, so I would rate the series as a whole with a B+. However, it was fun to examine a comic book series in this way, though, I don’t think I’ll do something like this again. That is, unless you think I should… (and what should I do?). What was your overall impression of 52, either when it was first published or re-reading now with me? Leave comments below!