52! Week Thirteen

52 13
By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Nauck, Alquiza, Sinclair, Napolitano, 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 for its 15th anniversary. I plan to post once a week about each issue. To read previous posts, click the link (52!).

Synopsis

“Haystack”

Week 13, Day 2

Ralph calls upon his Justice League friends Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Metamorpho, and Zauriel to infiltrate a Cult of Conner resurrection ceremony, but he needs to decide if he wants to allow the Cult’s attempt to bring back his wife, Sue.

In southwest Asia, Black Adam and Isis free some children from a slavery ring, and Isis convinces Adam not only to not kill the perpetrators, but take in the parentless children as wards of Khandaq.

Ralph does decide to not go through with the ceremony, and he accosts the leader, Devem, causing Wonder Girl to attack Ralph and then Green Lantern. The fight is swiftly over, but a fire breaks out after Devem kicks over a brazier. Ralph continues his angry tirade toward Devem but is interrupted by the dummy stand-in for Sue, who calls out to Ralph. He tells the other heroes to stop, that the ceremony “wasn’t a trick”. Cassie leaves with Devem while the assembled heroes begin evacuating the building. Ralph stays inside, hugging the Sue dummy as the building collapses.

Week 13, Day 3

At the ruins, Green Lantern announces that there is no body, meaning that Ralph got out alive, but worries about his friend’s sanity. We see Ralph under an overpass, repeating “try again” as he cradles the burnt remains of the Sue dummy.

Thoughts

So, I don’t get the issue title. It has to be the “haystack” from the proverbial “needle in a” idiom. But what is the needle? Sue’s soul (the dummy appears to be made out of straw)? Or is it “hope” (to tie both storylines together)?

There are a lot of talking heads this issue with perhaps far too much storyspace taken up by the resurrection ceremony, but I do love seeing the camaraderie between the Justice League members. As Metamorpho says, “Ralph called. I came runnin’.” Green Lantern also tells Ralph that the play is his to call, showing the respect between them.

Isis continues to have a positive affect on Black Adam. He tells her, “You show me hope. And no one has done that in so long…”, as Adam and Isis walk behind the freed children while the sun sets before them.

The panel showing the Sue dummy crawling toward Ralph was very creepy and a great page turn choice. The panel sequence that follows of the dummy speaking to Ralph and his quick realization that the ceremony appears to have worked, with two panels closing in on his face first and then his eye, was superb — Todd Nauck deserves kudos for this.

That final image of Ralph cradling the remains of the Sue dummy is unsettling, especially considering that Sue’s body was burned after she was killed. I do not care for the immediate “he’s lost his mind from grief” trope, especially because Green Lantern just expressed worry for that potential on the previous page.

The Origin of Elongated Man

by Waid, Nowlan, Nap, Richards, Wacker

Now this origin summary makes sense because Elongated Man appears in the issue and is a central character to 52. It’s a good recap of how Ralph became EM and the first superhero to reveal his identity. Speaking of, this is the most interesting aspect of Ralph’s superhero career and something that begs for more. Reading 52 makes me want to read more Elongated Man and Sue Dibny stories.

52! Week Twelve

By Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, Giffen, Barrows, Stull, Lanham, Baron, 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

“Mighty”

Week 12, Day 1

Gotham City: Maggie Sawyer chastises Renee for her involvement in the Ridge-Ferrick Holding building. Later, Renee waits for Charlie to “wake up” from his meditation so that they can follow up on their only lead. Charlie tells Renee that she wins and that they are going to Khandaq.

Khandaq: Black Adam changes the course of a river to help a village, and he and Adrianna discuss Adam’s responsibilities. Later, Adam takes Adrianna to the Rock of Eternity.

Rock of Eternity: Black Adam introduces Adrianna to Captain Marvel, who is having trouble adjusting to his responsibility as the new Shazam. When Marvel asks why they are visiting, Adam announces that he wants to invite Adrianna to the Marvel family.

Philadelphia: Ralph confronts Cassie about what the Cult of Conner stole from his storage locker. When she tells Ralph they took Sue’s clothes and his wedding ring in an effort to resurrect Sue, Ralph tells her, “Let me help.”

Rock of Eternity: Adam explains that he wants to give a magical scarab containing the powers of Egypt’s most powerful goddess, Isis, to Adrianna. Marvel, through the wisdom of Solomon, sees that she is worthy, but Adrianna worries about the power corrupting her. In the end, she acquiesces, saying the magical phrase “I am Isis!”. She then tells Adam that she will join his mission … after they find her brother.

Thoughts

I love this cover! The contrasting black and white colors between the costumes and flag with that subdued, sepia-like background really make the characters pop. It also foreshadows the relationship between Black Adam and Adrianna.

Originally a Filmation character in the self-titled Isis show and part of the Shazam/Isis Hour on Saturday mornings from 1975-1977 (and then rerun during the 1977-1978 season), Isis makes her DCU debut, and the powers that be paid homage to the show in the following ways:

  • The title of this issue, “Mighty”, is a play on what the television character, Andrea Thomas, would say to transform into Isis (“Oh, Mighty Isis!”), which sounds so much more like an incantation or conjuration than “I am Isis!”.
  • Adrianna Tomaz (from 52) vs Andrea Thomas (from Isis)
  • Hatshepsut is the Egyption queen in both versions of the character
  • The costumes are similar, though Adrianna’s shows a lot more skin

Black Adam’s (and now Isis’) story continues to be the one that intrigues me the most. Unfortunately, I know how this ends up, thus diluting the character growth potential. Adjacent to this is the situation with Captain Marvel and his position as protector of the Rock of Eternity. I’d forgotten about this turn of events and the impact on the good Captain, but it does make for a somewhat comitragical scene with manic Billy. However, I can’t say that I like this development, though at least now we know why Black Adam didn’t transform when he said “Shazam” in a previous issue.

I love when Ralph tells Cassie that people confuse him for his stretchy counterpart, but “[Plastic Man’s] the clown … Elongated Man is the detective”. Also, who wouldn’t jump at the chance to help bring back a loved one?

The Origin of Wonder Woman

by Waid, Hughes, Martin, Napolitano, Richards, Wacker, with special thanks to Chiarello

Interesting that they start out with Wonder Woman’s origin because 52 was supposed to be about the DCU without the Big 3’s presence. Perhaps it was to coincide with volume 3 of her series that had debuted the previous month.

I like the version of this character as summarized by these two pages, and the Adam Hughes art is nice to look at, mostly.

52! Week Four

by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Keith Giffen, Joe Bennett, Jack Jadson, Alex Sinclair, Rob Leigh, 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

“Dances With Monsters”

Week 4, Day 1. Renee Montoya continues her surveillance job for The Question. In orbit above Earth, a team of astronauts and Halo continue to look for missing superheroes, like Alan Scott and Animal Man. Halo detects a zeta beam trying to come in. In Metropolis, Fire tries to recruit Booster Gold to be part of a rescue team to search for and return those heroes who went into space during the (infinite) crisis, but Booster is more interested in making money off of his exploits.

Week 4, Day 3. The Question checks in on Renee, and John Henry Irons realizes he’s been poisoned, right before he touches an electronic device and appears to absorb it. He screams before there’s an explosion.

Week 4, Day 4. Ralph Dibny confronts Cassie Sandmark and her cult of Kryptonian worshippers. They tell him that they did not mark his wife’s grave, but immersing himself in the striped waters of the river Memon could show him something — or someone. They hold Ralph underneath the water and he blacks out. When he comes to, he is alone and missing his wedding ring.

Week 4, Day 5. For the first time in nearly two weeks, Renee falls asleep during her stake out, but does see someone enter the building. She follows him in and discovers The Question is already there. They discover the large man Renee saw enter is some sort of creature and they fight. Renee ends the altercation by using a high-tech (alien?) gun.

Week 4, Day 7. The zeta beam detected earlier in the week arrives on Earth, revealing several of the missing heroes who are injured and in some cases transformed.

Thoughts

I love that people are trying to locate the missing heroes who went into space and didn’t come home. It’s a nice turn from the superheroes helping the “normals”. Of course, not everyone on the space station is a normal human being — it’s Halo! Because she can (as we’re told in some clunk exposition) “detect and manipulate subtle radiation. She’s been scanning for incoming teleportation waves.” So zeta beams are subtle radiation? What does that even mean?

Finally someone confronts Booster about his preoccupation with making money, but his response potentially reveals some inner turmoil:

I helped save a future that spit in my face! So you know what? It is about me!

I certainly hope this isn’t the last we see of Fire. Her Jiminy Cricket role could prove useful.

When exactly was John Irons poisoned and by whom? Does this have to do with Lex Luthor’s reveal from last issue? Is Steel now going to be a new Amazing Man? The poison opens a window into his psyche: he’s worried about pushing Natasha away and not being able to rid himself of Steel. But when did he arrive at this decision? Was it while he helped clear debris in the previous issue, contemplating the futility of what his life had become? Or did I just forget a pivotal moment in Infinite Crisis involving Steel?

The scene with Ralph and Cassie confounds me. In issue 3, Ralph deduces that Cassie left him a message, but when he confronts her, she seems surprised, and now a member of this group says they are not vandals. They do offer him a vision (note that they do not offer any answers) if he immerses himself in the waters of Memon (“Do you want to see?”). They hold him under until he passes out, and when he comes to, he is alone and missing his wedding ring, the symbol of his wife. Did Ralph “see” something that has not yet been revealed to us, or is the vision what he sees before him — his isolation? Regardless of the answers, the question remains, in more ways than one: air bubbles form the rough shape of a question mark as Ralph loses consciousness, the only interesting appearance of this symbol.

I’ll reserve any thoughts about the creature that Renee and The Question fight in their scene (though I will note that the cover depicts the confrontation between Renee and John Irons???) and instead focus of the final page: the return of Alan Scott (Green Lantern), Hawkgirl, Herald, Bumblebee, and, unknown to me until I looked it up, a fused Cyborg/Firestorm. Besides that oddity, Herald has metal poking through him, Bumblebee is unconscious, Green Lantern is bleeding from one eye (is it gone?), and Hawkgirl is really tall (25 feet according to the DC wiki). What a great cliffhanger.

History of the DCU, part 3

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

Crisis on Infinite Earths is summarized in four pages. The only interesting thing about this part is the headshots of different versions of the Flash. Seeing the different designs and people just makes me want to know their story.

52! Week Three

by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Keith Giffen, Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, Alex Sinclair, Pat Brosseau, 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

“New World Order”

Week 3, Day 1. Captain Maggie Sawyer (at this time part of Gotham City’s Major Crimes Unit) has been called in because of body has been found, and it’s the former President of the USA, Lex Luthor! Power Girl pursues Terra-Man in the skies and when she is about to capture him, she is stopped by Black Adam for she has over Kahndaq airspace. He warns her to not trespass again and to tell her friends.

Week 3, Day 2. John Henry Irons (Steel) continues to school niece Natasha regarding her immaturity and entitlement when he receives a phone call from STAR Labs asking for his help in identifying a body.

Week 3, Day 3. In Kahndaq, representatives from Intergang visit Black Adam and present him with gifts of gold and an Egyptian virgin. Black Adam does not take kindly to this and refuses, just as Terra-Man enters the scene.

Week 3, Day 4. Booster Gold continues his pursuit of fame and fortune, this time by defeating Shockwave, but his planned lucrative endorsement deal with Akteon-Holt turns sour, prompting Skeets to acknowledge that perhaps it is malfunctioning. Instead of going back to Dr. Magnus, Booster goes searching for Rip Hunter.

Week 3, Day 5. While examining the corpse of Lex Luthor, John Henry Irons discovers that the eye colors do not match, right before Lex Luthor shows up, alive and well, claiming that the dead man on the table was an other-dimensional doppelgänger who imprisoned Lex and did evil things in his name.

Week 3, Day 6. Lois Lane is among the reports at the Kahndaq embassy, awaiting an announcement from Black Adam. He tells the assembled that while the world celebrates the aversion of disaster, the superheroes who saved it are nowhere to be found. Therefore, he wants to gather allies to deliver a message to those who would take advantage of the heroes’ absence. His first message? People like Terra-Man, who been standing nearby, “don’t deserve to live.” Black Adam then tears Terra-Man in half and announces, “It’s time for heroes who don’t just patrol the world … they change it.” The final panel shows a Mr. Mind, now wrapped in a cocoon.

Thoughts

First off, I really like this Jones/Sinclair cover, mostly for the colors. But it pertains to the plot directly, at least thematically. Well done.

If there’s a theme in this issue, it is one of villainy on a spectrum. At one end is Lex Luthor, who is so clearly manipulating and orchestrating the situation to come out on top and plan his next act. At the other is someone who is trying to do the right thing (protect innocents), but his methods are at least questionable, if not plain unjustifiable. While we may applaud him for the murder of Noose (“he got what was coming to him!”), how can we reconcile his public, brutal murder of Terra-Man? But while Black Adam commits this act, he is a head of state and within his “rights” to do so, while Lex murders himself in secret (from the public at least) — who exactly is more evil? I love that the creators are wrestling with these moral quandaries, even though I don’t care for superhero comics being so bloody (and I know it just gets worse — this is not a time in DC’s publication history I look fondly back on because of this shift).

I also didn’t care for the way that Power Girl was depicted in her encounter with Black Adam. When he asks her how many people died in the (infinite) crisis, she seems to cower. Part (all?) of this is to show the enormity of the five plus million who did die (Black Adam yells the exact number at her), but one panel has her looking up at Adam in fearful submission. Does she have some complicity in those deaths, or is she just taken aback at Adam’s ferocity and determination? Either way, it didn’t track for me, at least not yet.

It’s only three issues in, and already I’m finding Natasha Irons’ whining annoying, but at the same time, lighten up Uncle John. Regardless, I do find the family dynamic intriguing and different — not at “superheroes” are or necessarily should be noble, self-sacrificing individuals. But we do already have Booster Gold in this series, so do we need to examine this perspective more? Though Natasha isn’t exactly like Booster and he doesn’t have an Uncle John to provide guidance. More points on a different spectrum….

This series is the proverbial onion, peeling back (revealing) layer after layer, both in terms of plot and character. Speaking of, what will be revealed from within that cocoon layer?

Finally, I didn’t notice any obvious reference to the number “52” this issue, even though there were a number of chances to do so: the flight number Power Girl references, the number of dead that Black Adam screams at PG (though I’m glad they didn’t in that case), and the score of the game that made some money for Booster Gold. Same for any question marks (but maybe they only appear in issues in which The Question appears…). Maybe I missed something?

History of the DCU, part 2

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

We get more Earth-One and -Two history and differences, as well as a focus on the Teen Titans and Legion of Super-Heroes. This backup ends with the threat of the Crisis on Infinite Earths.

I guess I need to read Infinite Crisis again (or is it Countdown I should read?), because I’m finding Donna’s ignorance annoying. Did something happen to her that she cannot remember, thus requiring the Orb to educate her? She does say, “I know so many of these people. Yet… I can barely remember them.” So perhaps I’m being too harsh with Donna. Maybe she’s like an amnesiac trying to relearn everything she’s “forgotten”. About the first Crisis, she does say, “Even now I find it hard to believe that it actually happened. And I was there!” So does she know or doesn’t she? Maybe Jurgens is being intentionally ambiguous to make us feel like Donna?

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 the 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.