52! Week Twenty

By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Batista, Jose, Sinclair, Lanham, 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

“God Is Fragged”

Week 20, Day 1

Supernova appears in the Batcave, looking for something. He uncovers a few cases, including the one containing Jason Todd’s Robin costume. Then he uncovers a case holding a purple and green gauntlet.

Week 20, Day 3

Steel helps some Metropolis fireman as they evacuate a burning building. Doctor Avasti arrives to show John an analysis of Luthor’s metagene therapy with the revelation that Luthor can remove the superpowers his technology has given. To Steel, that spells trouble.

Week 20, Day 6

The planetoid where Lobo, Starfire, Animal Man, and Adam Strange have stopped at is attacked by, as Lobo describes them, “interstellar carrion that feed off dead an’ dyin’ planets”. The heroes do what they can to protect the assembled aliens, but it is only by using the Emerald Eye of Ekron that the carrion are destroyed. Lobo announces it is time to leave because by using the Eye, the Head of Ekron will soon be coming for it, placing everyone on the planetoid in grave danger.

Thoughts

Weird that Supernova invades Batman’s personal space like that, and what is that gauntlet and why does he want it?! Plus, the way that he pauses when he uncovers the case with the Robin costume, is that out of respect? Did Supernova know Jason Todd as Robin? Or is it more generally about the death of a superhero?

Steel seems to be enjoying his time as Power Man, I mean, the protector of Metropolis, but what does Doctor Avasti’s analysis mean for him and his niece?

I like the sci-fi elements in the Lobo/Trio of Heroes storyline:

  • The interstellar carrion that feed on dead and dying planets (that seems like a throw-away idea that could have been developed into something larger, maybe in the Green Lantern book?).
  • The Head of Ekron, flying through space searching for its right Eye — it’s reminiscent of Brainiac’s ship, though with apparent organic material and mechanical parts. I also love the design: the brain dome, the double tusks, and those huge teeth! It’s a mish-mash of elements that just looks cool.
  • The spontaneous regeneration of Lobo’s body from his pool of blood. It’s disturbing and awesome.

So here, I believe, is where DC retcons the origin of the Emerald Eye. Once relegated to the 30th century, the Eye did make an appearance in the 20th century DCU in the 90s series L.E.G.I.O.N., but in this 52 issue it is revealed that the Eye is part of a living (?) head. The nice thing about this change to the Eye’s history (and future history), is that it all still works.

The Origin of Adam Strange

by Waid, Nowlan, Lanham, Richards, Schaefer, Wacker

Adam Strange, as a Silver Age concept, seems like fun — blonde-haired man from Earth who travels to another planet and serves as its (white) savior? But looking at it now, from the lens of recent politics (and a bit of the take presented in the King/Gerads/Shaner Strange Adventures series), this origin does not sit well with me. Plus, if a civilization as advanced as Rann could develop an interstellar teleportation beam, why couldn’t the beam have been more precise? The way this origin tells it, it’s by chance that Strange was zapped by the Zeta beam. I guess Sardath was more of an idea man than scientist?

52! Week Nineteen

By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Olliffe, Geraci, Sinclair, Brosseau, 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

“History Repeats”

Week 19, Day 1

Skeets investigates Daniel Carter’s apartment, but is discovered by Daniel. Daniel then proceeds to tell Skeets how he was a star football player who was injured and later became an insurance salesman. Skeets tell Daniel that it needs to get back into Rip Hunter’s lab and Daniel can help it. In return, Skeets can make Daniel a superhero.

Week 19, Day 2

Starfire, Animal Man, and Adam Strange enjoy a “pitstop on the pilgrim trail” while Lobo performs his duties as Archbishop of the First Celestial Church of the Triple Fish-God. Lobo tells them they are in space sector 3500, where a “hundred complex, thrivin’ systems” are “now a big sky fulla screamin’ headstones”. It turns out the same being who laid waste to sector 3500’s systems is the same being who pit a bounty on Earthbound trio’s heads. And then Lobo reveals he’s in possession of the Emerald Eye of Ekron.

Week 19, Day 3

The Weather Wizard is flooding a Metropolis bank in an effort to kill the manager, when Supernova arrives to help those trapped inside. Wonder Girl captures Weather Wizard. The two heroes talk, and Wonder Girl is surprised that Supernova doesn’t recognize her. As he leaves, she calls him Kon-El.

Week 19, Day 4

Daniel, wearing Booster’s goggles, gains access to Hunter’s lab. Skeets has Daniel examine some writing on a wall, and when Daniel asks Skeets about the message, “It’s all his fault”, Skeets announces, “He knows”, and allows the doors to shut and then initiates the defense systems. Skeets sets the lab to reopen in 1 million A.D., and Daniel is sucked into a timeloop vortex.

Thoughts

Wow. Appearances of the number 52 return. Daniel’s jersey is numbered 52. The cover has a few. It also sports some significant years, such as 1938 (Superman’s debut), 1939 (Batman’s debut), 1941 (Wonder Woman’s debut), 1956 (the Silver Age), and 1985 (Crisis on Infinite Earths). Is 3006 a reference to the 31st century Legion? 4006 and 5252 have some significance relating to angels, according to my Google search, but as far as DC Comics, I don’t know. There are some other numbers as well, but I can’t make them out (is one them 1935, the beginning of what would become DC Comics?). Finally, cover-wise,  I like how Booster Gold is positioned, holding Skeets like a football, as if he’s running for a touchdown. Like ancestor, like descendant, right?

Other bits of trivia: in Daniel’s apartment, we see that he played for the Manchester High Spartans, and there is a magazine with Booster on the cover called Worlds Finest. Later, we see an ad for Skeetles Candy, proving Booster had no shame. Finally, Lobo can speak “17,897 galactic languages” — who knew?

Animal Man’s reaction to being among all the aliens was interesting. After spouting some word gibberish (“sweat that smells of … roses underwater, kettles in blue grass…”), he tells Adam Strange, “I can’t describe this using English…” I appreciate the writer trying to show us the wonder and awe a simple Earth man (albeit a superhuman) might experience in outer space. Later, there’s a nice splash page of the “bad guy” (Lady Styx) responsible for the bounty on the heroes’ heads and for the destruction of sector 3500’s worlds. On the same page we get to see Lobo in possession of the Emerald Eye of Ekron! The Emerald Eye has long been one of my favorite items in DC lore, first in Legion of Super-Heroes and then L.E.G.I.O.N.

I’m not as interested in Wonder Girl’s supposition that Supernova is her dead boyfriend (where did that come from?!) than I am in his reaction to her near caress: “Respect my personal space, please”. It’s rare we see a rejection of the soap-opera trope for such a blunt response between superhero characters.

Finally, there’s definitely something up with Skeets. I mentioned this before, but it’s quite obvious that Skeets isn’t … Skeets. But who is it?!

The Origin of Animal Man

by Waid, Bolland, Hollingsworth, Brosseau, Richards, Wacker

It’s lovely to see Brian Bolland art, even if for just two pages. The way the aliens are discussed makes them seem more sinister than what I recall from reading this brilliant series. In fact, they seemed a bit more bumbling than malevolent, but I could be forgetting something. Regardless, what were the aliens’ intentions for grafting humans to the morphogenetic field?

52! Week Seventeen

By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Batista, Jose, Jadson, Baron, Balsman, 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

“Last of the Czarnians”

Week 17, Day 1

Luthor and his home-grown “Justice League” watch footage of the group foiling a terrorist attack by Kobra. Luthor is pleased at the coverage but Eliza, the speedster, complains about always being in super-speed mode and needing a drug, the Sharp, to slow herself down.

Week 17, Day 2

Adam Strange is piloting his ship, the Warbird, through a dense asteroid field while Animal Man is helping copilot (“Left!”) and Starfire is outside, blasting the larger rocks into smaller pieces. Strange admits to Buddy that he’s spent a week with Starfire and “there’s just … something I can’t stand about that whole stuck-up alien princess act”.

Week 17, Night 4

Strange delivers a dire message to his crew: they are running out of breathable air and the ship’s sub-light engine won’t get them home for a few decades. He tells them, “This was only ever a lifeboat …”. Later, while Strange sleeps, Starfire and Animal Man talk about family and overcoming the existential dread they’re in. It is then that Devilance, the Pursuer, arrives, ripping the blade from the being’s power staff off of the Warbird. Animal Man notices something outside with Devilance, and Starfire whispers trepidatiously, “X’Hal. Lobo”.

Starfire goes out to negotiate with Lobo, and Strange explains to Buddy that Lobo is a “superhuman bounty hunter” and the last of his race because he “killed every single living thing on his home planet, for fun”. But Starfire hires Lobo to lead them through the asteroid field with promise of payment, but Starfire also thinks Lobo needs their help.

Week 17, Day 7

Red Tornado’s torso is discovered in Australia and he keeps repeating “52”.

Thoughts

Given this issue’s cover, has Lobo always been one of those characters who broke the fourth wall, like Giffen’s Ambush Bug? Here, Lobo sits atop the Trinity’s accoutrement from issue one, telling us, “Only 35 more to go”, so this suggests yes? I think I need to go flip through my L.E.G.I.O.N. books for a comparison….

All is not well within Luthor’s altered humans, but he seems unperturbed by Eliza’s reaction, with his focus only on Natasha really. Is this all to get under (literally and figuratively) John Henry Irons’ skin? When will Natasha see the light (ironic considering her powerset) regarding her “benefactor”? I do find Eliza’s revelation about how her superspeed is affecting her. Is that something that was ever touched on in Flash comic books?

I loved the scenes between Starfire and Animal Man as they pondered their situation, but it seems like the collaborators are slyly pushing these two together in a romantic way, but so far, Buddy is completely focused on his wife and family (and I hope it stays that way). I thought there was a missed opportunity when Strange is telling them how dire their situation really is — perhaps that scene should have come before Buddy and Starfire’s conversation (with the appropriate tension ratcheted up) or allowing the gravity of the announcement to sink in without being cut short by Devilance’s arrival, but this is just Monday morning comic book plotting on my part.

Speaking of Starfire, I don’t recall how her character was portrayed elsewhere in the DCU at this time, but it seems like the series collaborators have fundamentally shifted her personality to fit Strange’s description of her, though her empathetic nature from her early New Teen Titans days is displayed in the scene with Buddy. It’s like, generally, they have taken her emotionality and turned it more towards anger or frustration over any other emotion.

The Origin of Lobo

by Waid, Giffen, Jadson, Hories, Napolitano, Richards, Wacker

It’s always nice to see Keith Giffen pencils, and that Lobo is one of his co-creations makes this origin even more delightful. Lobo has never been on the DC characters that I enjoyed. I don’t care for crass for crass’ sake, and this period when he “found religion” was probably the only time I found the character interesting. That and his adoration of those space dolphins.

Perhaps this has played up somewhere that I haven’t read, but reading this origin it occurs to me that Lobo is the anti-Superman: last of his race and super-powerful but without the morality that Clark Kent grew up with.

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.

52! Week Nine

By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Moll, Nguyen, Baron, Fletcher, 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

“Dream of America”

Week 9, Day 1: In Metropolis, Lex Luthor and guests gather for a 4th of July celebration where he talks again about his dream “where every man becomes a super man”. Steel crashes the party demanding to know where his niece is. Steel threatens Lex, and Natasha arrives, along with some new friends. In short order, Natasha assaults her Uncle, possessing strength and resilience thanks to Lex’s genetic manipulation. The fight between the family members ends with her punching Steel over buildings into the harbor.

Animal Man awakens on that alien world, a captive to Devilance, the Pursuer. The giant explains that he has captured Buddy, Adam Strange, and Starfire because

You saw beyond the veil, beyond the two score and twelve walls of heaven. That knowledge belongs to the gods alone!

Starfire awakens too, and she and Buddy devise a hasty escape plan, helped by a distraction from Adam. They leave with Devilance’s power staff. Unseen by them, Devilance watches them….

Week 9, Night 1: The 4th of July celebration continues that evening in Gotham City. Vic, or Charlie to his friends, visits Renee Montoya, revealing to her that he is the Question. Outside, Vic tells Renee that Gotham is being targeted by Intergang while a red-haired woman in a bat costume listens from a nearby rooftop.

Thoughts

Ugh, the Irons’ family melodrama continues. I know this is comics and soap opera-esque events occur, but Steel threatening to kill Lex so publicly and Natasha hitting her uncle so hard that he spits out blood is just so over the top, even if it does heighten the tension between them. Regardless, because it involves Lex Luthor, you can’t help but think that along with the genetic alterations that perhaps he is also controlling his experiments in some way (both Luthor and Steel implied it in different issues). Besides the same argument John and Natasha continue to have, about the only new plot point here is that Natasha — whom we last saw hooked up to Luthor’s machine looking frightened and vulnerable — is now part of a group of superpowered people wearing purple and green suits. However, I did like the two-page spread of images on pages 6 and 7 showing Natasha punching John out a window and as he fell several floors to the street below. Also, we see fireworks going off in the background, and one of them explode in a shape similar to the light effect around Natasha’s fists — nice touch there.

I have discovered that Devilance, the Pursuer, is indeed a Jack Kirby character first (and last?) seen in Forever People #11 and is one of Darkseid’s minions. Given the connection to Darkseid and his to Intergang, that overall plot is becoming more interesting. I have to wonder if there is any significance to the “walls of heaven” Devilance mentions — is it a reference to Revelation 21:12, or is it just one of those phrases that give Devilance’s words more importance than is actually there, beyond 52 (2 score and 12 = 52)? One quibble with this scene: Animal Man mentions that Devilance had them captured for days and he is shown bound and dangling upside down. How did they relieve themselves in that position? Or did Devilance allow them potty breaks and them truss them back up? And why dangle Animal Man and Starfire in this manner and not Adam Strange? Ahh, but who am I to question the whims of (demi)gods? I like the half-page panel setting this scene: Devilance is squatting over a device that appears to be a cage he will presumably place his captives, along with some other machinery, but it’s his size that is of note (apparently he grew since his appearance in Forever People) and the Kirby costume with all the glory that is short sleeves and shorts! But why change the white part of his costume to purple in an issue where there’s already a lot of “bad guy” purple?

The number 52 makes another appearance in the ballgame score (5 and 2), but I think the collaborators missed an opportunity to place the game in the ninth inning (this being the ninth issue) instead of the seventh (unless there’s a significance to the number 7 that I’m not seeing…). Also making its first(?) appearance is Molly’s Bar, which will be featured in Detective Comics #859 a few years later and plays a role in Kate Kane’s story — I like to think the writer or artist remembered this scene and included the bar in the Detective Comics issue. Speaking of Kate Kane, here we see Batwoman in her , even though some sources indicate that issue 11 is her first. I imagine that #11 features Batwoman in a speaking/action role and this “cameo” is not significant enough to be considered her first appearance. This is where I shrug and say, “Ehh. Comics.”

History of the DCU, part 8

by Jurgens, Lanning, Napolitano, Cox, Major, Berganza, Cohen, and Schaefer

This part covers what I consider one of, if not THE, lowest points in DC Comics history: Identity Crisis. While the story was not wholly a bad one, the “event”, much like is stated in this History, crossed a line that was perhaps unnecessary and tarnished more than a few characters if you also include what happened in Infinite Crisis (which is mentioned at the end). It seems my assessment of Identity Crisis was shared by others, something I was not aware of at the time of publication. Fortunately, things would improve, as they always do.