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-Eight

By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Bennett, Jadson, Hi-Fi, Leigh, 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

“Breathless”

Week 38, Day 1

Renee continues her voyage to Nanda Parbat with Charlie in tow.

Week 38, Day 2

On Oolong Island, Dr. Morrow visits with Dr. Magnus, who has been off his medication for some time now, eating cold beans out of cans and relishing in how alive he feels now. Morrow tries to persuade Magnus to join him in witnessing the release of the Four Horsemen.

Three of them emerge from their chamber as Chang Tzu quotes verses from the Crime Bible. Two of the Horsemen say, in succession, “Blakk. Ah-dumm”. Dr. Cale tells Morrow that the fourth Horseman, Yurdd, rode out before the others. She then says quietly, “Oh God, what have we made?”

Week 38, Day 3

Renee reaches a Himalayan village, but no one will help her find Nanda Parbat.

Week 38, Day 4

John Henry Irons, Dr. Mid-Nite, and Dr. Avasti examine the body of one the Everymen who died saving people during the “Rain of the Supermen”. Natasha Irons then contacts her uncle, telling him that she’s going to use one of her insect drones to spy on Luthor in order to obtain the Everyman research.

Week 38, Day 5-6

Renee keeps searching, pulling Charlie on a sled. To help keep him warm, she puts on the pseudoderm mask, but a slip causes him to fall off the sled and Renee notices blood under the mask. She thinks she’s lost him, when Charlie removes the mask and asks her, “Who are you going to become? Time to change … like a butterfly …”. It is then that Nanda Parbat appears behind them.

Thoughts

Last issue, I was thinking how the two main stories should be more in line with the title in some way (and I’m sure I extrapolated ways in which they did), but in this issue, my wish was fulfilled: you get Charlie’s difficulty breathing along with the awe-inspiring appearance of three of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It’s something.

Speaking of, Dr. Cale’s lamentation is punctuated by the appearance of blood from her nose, elevating a somewhat pretentious scene. I also find it very interesting that these scientists (minus Sivana at least) are so invested in the Crime Bible, an object of perverse faith. Finally, I have to wonder if Magnus is faking his manic condition to obtain information or if he’s fully succumbed, something that seems to bother Morrow.

Despite the protracted scenes with Renee dragging Charlie up a mountain (that was nice landscape artwork, especially the coloring of it), the final bit where she thinks he’s died and just after when he passes the torch were touching, though the inclusion of the question mark in the snow was a bit heavy handed. Perhaps the futility of Renee’s actions is supposed to underline the futility of humanity itself with the arrival of the Horsemen?

The Origin of Red Tornado

By Waid, Jimenez, Lanning, Hi-Fi, Leigh, Richards, Schaefer, and Siglain

I’m supposing that we’ll be getting more of Red Tornado soon because of this entry. Red Tornado is one of two (?) Justice Leaguers who originally came from Earth-2 — it makes me wonder if they ever played with that connection in JLA. Also, was Red Tornado’s desire to be more human what inspired Star Trek: TNG to give Data that same character beat? While I have never particularly cared about this character, I did enjoy his storyline in the 2006 Justice League of America series (noted in the entry here), especially as it pertained to his “soul [having] recently been merged with flesh and blood”, but I’m guessing this change was reversed some time after that.

52! Week Thirty-Five

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

“Rain of the Supermen”

Week 35, Day 1, New Year’s Day, 12:00:01 A.M.

Everyman Project recipients fall from the sky in downtown Metropolis. A gas main erupts, trapping the nearby citizens, but Supernova arrives, transporting them to the city limits. Infinity, Inc. helps out civilians elsewhere, and Natasha realizes her uncle was right.

Week 35, Day 2

Superheroes from various teams help transport the injured to Saint Camillus Hospital. Plastic Man reunites with his son, Offspring, who saved over 20 civilians. John Irons tells Beast Boy to “get the Titans together” so they can find out why Luthor took all those powers away.

Week 35, Day 3

Lex Luthor tells the Infinity, Inc. members, save Everyman, that they are clean of the “errant gene-sequence” that “caused so many participants to spontaneously reject their enhancements”. Later, Natasha confides in Skyman what her uncle told her, and wants his help to find proof against Luthor. Skyman tells her he will help and that he loves her.

Week 35, Day 6

Adam Strange confronts Lobo who tells the others that they don’t need to figure out how to fight Lady Styx and her armada because he’s taking them to her.

Thoughts

I simultaneously love and hate the issue title, but given Jurgens’ involvement with this issue and his work on Reign of the Supermen, I’m leaning towards love.

Those opening pages by Jimenez and gorgeous and grotesque. The tragedy unfolds as if in slow motion in the way the panels and action are shown on page 1, and then the enormity of the moment hits you with the following two-page spread. That’s some great comic book storytelling. It’s a pity Jimenez couldn’t have drawn the whole issue — not that Jurgens is bad, but side-by-side, there’s an obvious difference in skill and presentation.

I love how Supernova responds to a reporter’s accusation that he vaporized the crowd: “Don’t be absurd.” If you weren’t sure if this Superman or not, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that he’s not.

Has anyone ever touched on one of these Everymen and how this experience affected them? What was the fallout for Luthor?

In the scene between Natasha and Skyman, right after he tells her he loves her and they hug, we see a picture of the team behind them with Natasha next to Everyman — what a great mirroring of the fore-image (and is it foreshadowing???).

In the scene with the space travelers, it’s implied pretty heavily that Lobo isn’t helping the trio against Lady Styx, but is delivering them to her for the bounty, but I wonder if this is just a ruse that we’ll see play out next issue?

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 Twenty-Nine

By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Batista, Jadson, Sinclair, Fletcher, Richards, Schaefer, Wacker, 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

“Name Calling”

Week 29, Day 2

Wildcat and the original Green Lantern and Flash are the only ones who gather at the JSA headquarters, lamenting the possible end of their team. Outside, the members of Infinity, Inc. pass by as part of a Thanksgiving parade. Inside, Wildcat grumbles that these new kids “fight with no heart”. It is then that Infinity, Inc. introduces its newest member, Jade.

Obsidian appears, telling his father, “This isn’t right.” Jade tells the onlookers that she and the rest of Infinity, Inc. are here to do the superheroes’ job better. Obsidian then breaks through the window, demanding that Jade take off her uniform. Green Lantern steps in, stopping his son from doing any more harm. Nuklon tells Green Lantern that “the world doesn’t need antiques watching out for it when it’s got hundreds kids like us.”

On Oolong Island, the mad scientists have gathered for dinner while Sivana carves a ptero-turkey breast with a chainsaw. Dr. Magnus leaves the table after being drenched in ptero-turkey, and Dr. Cale follows him, revealing that she knows he stole Komrade Krabb’s gold watch. She also tells him that her specialty on the island is alien technology: “A higher, brighter, more terrible world has fallen to earth …. Oh, to live in such times. To see the world changed, forever.”

Chung Tzu arrives, seemingly irritated that he was not invited to dinner. He then demands an update from Dr. Magnus on the slow-moving Plutonium Man project. Dr. Cale then suggest that Chung Tzu remove Dr. Magnus’ medication to allow his “wild, dangerous, creative streak he’s been suppressing” to return. As guards take Magnus’ meds, he begs Professor Morrow for help.

At JSA headquarters, the Flash and Wildcat have finished boarding up the windows and Flash leaves to join his family, leaving Wildcat alone.

Week 29, Day 3

Dr. Avasti visits the Steelworks and finds John Henry Irons’ silver skin falling off. He tells her that Luthor’s Everyman program has “an expiration date.”

Thoughts

In the spirit of the issue’s title, there’s nothing sadder than a bunch of has-beens complaining about the new generation, right? And how appropriate that my least favorite DC Comics character is the whiny baby doing the complaining? Put a sock in it, Wildcat! I did like the panel where Green Lantern says, “Extant is dead,” with a picture of his dead daughter behind him. Though, maybe that was a little too on the nose?

When Obsidian assaults the new Jade, demanding she take off her uniform, now!, what did he expect her to do, unclothe in public? There was talk in this issue about how Obsidian has been crazy before but that he’s now better, but is he? Given how the “old” guard acted in this scene, perhaps Nuklon has a point?

The table setting on the splash page was kind of fun, especially with the ptero-turkey tray on a set of tracks (though, given how long the tray is, there’s no way it could turn the small corners) and the sheer glee on Sivana’s face as he slashed that bird.

In her last appearance, Dr. Cale seemed to be sane amongst the insane, but her discussion with Dr. Magnus and later her pricking her finger and sucking her blood proves otherwise. Plus, she is a cold one revealing Magnus’ Achilles heal as she did (but how did she know about his medication?).

It’s unfortunate that the creators decided to lean into the absurdity of Chung Tzu in this issue. He’s already absurd looking, but why also make him insecure and homicidal? It just served to diminish his authority to me. However, Professor Morrow’s silent indifference as Magnus was hauled away, pleading with Morrow to help him, only made Morrow more interesting to me. As Sivana told him, “Thank God there’s still some real evil in you, Tom. Thought you were turning pansy.” While this a great bit of characterization, I still have hope that Morrow will end up helping his former protégé.

By god, I am starting to loath Steel and his constant whining about Luthor’s experiment. Put up or shut up already, Irons! If something doesn’t change soon regarding this lot, Steel may join Wildcat on my most-despised list. They should have just given us another two-page Origin instead of this broken record.