Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest - 52 #1

Posted: Sunday, May 14, 2006
By: Keith Dallas

ďGolden Lads and Lasses Must.Ē

Writers: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid
Artists: Keith Giffen (breakdowns), Joe Bennett (p), Ruy Jose (i)

Publisher: DC Comics

Average Rating:

Michael Aronson:
Michael Bailey:
John Hays:
Shawn Hill:
Jim Kingman:
Diana Kingston:
Shaun Manning:

Michael Aronson

The concept so nice they named it fifty-twice.

I donít understand this. 52 is perhaps the most ambitious comic project of the last decade, and people complain that DC admits itís geared for comic readers? We are comic readers. Why does everything have to aspire to attract these non-existent new readers? How can we, veteran readers of the characters and industry, judge what is appropriate and appealing for non-comic readers? And more importantly, why canít a comic be proud of being comic for people who love comics? Props to DC for giving no pretenses.

And they print the actual release date on the cover. Wow. Cajones. Big cajones.

I was sold on 52 as soon as I heard the word ďweeklyĒ and the name ďRenee Montoya.Ē A series with weekly installments with a guaranteed long lifespan (relatively speaking) is exactly what I want to invest in, and being a huge Rucka and Gotham Central fan, I couldnít wait to learn the further exploits of GCPDís ex-finest. Couple that with Black Adam, an anti-hero Johns has built from the ground up, and four other intriguing DC mainstays, and itís thrilling that a book about the entire DCU will be told without relying on the company cash cows.

And I think itís off to a running start.

People are saying thereís not enough content in this first issue. Really? If they mean itís not jammed with random cannon fodder the likes of which Infinite Crisis featured, then Amen. While six non-interacting cast members is still a daunting cast to juggle, each gets a great amount development in this one issue. Some only get the beginnings of what will be a long path to redemption, like the Question picking on Montoya or a mystery giving Ralph Dibny motivation to go back out into the world, but others like Booster Gold get a completely redefined purpose. It really feels like the start of an epic.

Itís pretty easy to identify which writer pens which character, but it never feels like the writers fall into their usual routines. Morrison injects Booster with all clever humor of his Doom Patrol run without his typical abstruse weirdness. Johns gets to explore Black Adamís tyranny without the juxtaposition of heroes like the JSA to define his moral standing. And Steel gets to prove his own mettle and heroism without coming off as just another Superman replacement. Yeah, this bookís a lot of fun.

The real-time plotting? Perfect. I was afraid that each issue was going to literally jump a week ahead of the last, but the day-by-day pacing allows for real cliffhangers with the promise of resolution. It also allows for breaks if need be. It feels both liberating and cemented: the story is free to tell a yearís worth of tales at any rate it desires, and yet weíre going to get the entire story of an entire year of the entire DC in these 52 issues.

Why not a perfect score? Itís finding its groove. The formula works, but itís putting the final touch of grease on the gears. The ceremony outcome is rather obvious from the beginning and the fallout from Crisis seems a necessary bridge, but those are petty complaints given that both situations are merely putting the setting in place. I know Bennettís usual layout style, and Iím glad to see that Giffenís layouts have given Bennettís art a greater storytelling focus. Itís about time these artists were drawing something this high-profile.

DC isnít doing reprints for any 52 issue, and trades wonít be out until week 53 (or later). You donít need this as a guide to follow the One Year Later books, but if youíre any kind of DC fan, I guarantee youíll be smacking yourself if you choose to skip out.

Michael Bailey

Plot: Shortly after the events of Infinite Crisis, the people and heroes of the DC Universe begin picking up the pieces and try to get life back to normal. Booster Gold, with help of his robot Skeets, takes the opportunity to renew his corporate minded heroics. Renee Montoya sinks deeper into her depression and drinking. Steel steps up his role as a hero and is forced to deal harshly with his niece. Black Adam learns from his mistakes and while he is still brutal when facing his enemies, he wishes to improve Kahndaqís place in the world. At a memorial where Booster Gold believes that Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are supposed to deliver a history making speech, the heroes fail to show, leaving Booster confused. In Gotham the Question strips the Bat-symbol off of the signal and replaces it with a question mark.

Commentary: It occurs to me that this is one of those rare situations where a publisher is allowing the readers to have their cake and eat it too. I know that it is a trite metaphor, but I also think it really fits here. It would be disingenuous after a series like Infinite Crisis to not explore the ramifications of the series. At the same time spending six months to a year doing so might slow the momentum DC developed during that series, so something radical had to be done. So the regular titles have jumped One Year Later, and theyíve gotten something of a clean slate to start from while in the pages of 52 the stories of how the DCU recovered can be told.

What this also does is allow DC to have a major event to follow Infinite Crisis without it being a big event that requires four mini-series to set up. This is a big project, make no mistake. These are four of the best writers working in comics today with one of the most talented writer/artists coming in with the breakdowns. This may be a character driven action drama, but it is a marketing bonanza designed to entice readers to come to the comic shop once a week, which to me is pretty damn cool. When the story is good, the marketing doesnít bother me in the slightest.

And this story was good.

Frankly Iím impressed that the publisher went ahead with this experiment. Considering the scheduling problems theyíve had in the past, committing to a weekly series is rather brave. Also, to have a story that features what many consider a cast of B-list characters is taking a big chance in and of itself, but the fact of the matter is that more can be done on a dramatic level with characters that donít have their own series or as large a following as the Superman or Batman or any of the other so-called ďBig GunsĒ have. By using Steel and Booster Gold and Ralph and Renee and the Question, the writers have a lot more room to play with emotionally because a lot of the baggage that comes with being a character that appears on animated series and action figures just isnít there.

(Yes, I am fully aware that both Steel and Booster Gold have had their own action figures outside of DC Direct. It was a generalization. Go with it.)

The breakdown of this issue was fantastic. By jumping from day to day the issue provides a sense of what is going on with the characters and how their lives have been affected by the events of the past year. There isnít a need to go into long, drawn out conversations between characters to get the point across, and it gives the scenes where they focus on one particular character for more than a few panels have that much more impact.

I really liked the writersí take on Booster Gold. Heís gone backwards somewhat in terms of characterization, but at the same time if itís not broke, donít revamp it. Iíve enjoyed what past writers have done with Booster, but after all that has happened to him, especially losing his best friend, it makes sense that he would go back to a place that is comfortable for him. The crass commercialism and the Captain Amazing type outfit makes the guy dislikeable especially when he sheds a crocodile tear and cracks open a Soder Cola after taking down Mammoth.

Skeets is back too, which is great. I always liked Skeets. You canít go wrong with robot sidekicks.

Black Adam was another highlight. His new mission has a lot of potential as does the fact that Kahndaq is coming up in the world. The bit where the two men replaced the sign for the Themyscira House with one for the Embassy of Kahndaq was telling. Adam also showed that he hasnít mellowed in the slightest and as brutal as the scene played out there was something amusing about Black Adam telling the would-be suicide bomber that he had three more chances to tell Adam who sent him after Adam ripped the manís arm off. Nothing proves a point like forcibly removing an appendage. The artwork in this scene was amazing as well. The landscape, especially on that first page, was absolutely fantastic.

Then there was Steel. I cannot express how great it is that someone is finally doing something good with the character again. He has been the red headed step-child of the Superman family for a little too long, so to see him in armor and in action is very satisfying. The confrontation between him and his niece came out of nowhere, but Iím sure it will become clear in the issues to come. Not that I really minded. As much as I liked Natasha as a supporting character, I never really dug the circumstances that led her to becoming Steel 2.0. She has the mark of Cir-El on her I tell ya. There wasnít a whole lot of good around that era of Superman so to see her out of the armor didnít really bother me too much.

Still, that was kind of cold on John Henryís part.

On an emotional level I really felt for both Ralph Dibny and Renee Montoya. I may not exactly agree with what happened to Renee as far as her sinking into an alcoholic stupor, but as far as the story goes, it works and that is what is important. As long as it serves the narrative, I can deal with it. Besides, nothing is more dramatic than a character hitting bottom and coming back. Ralphís plight is a little different. The fact that he was carrying the gun around for the entire week was unsettling. Without a single word you could see the state of mind he was in. Joe Bennett was on top of his game in those sequences, especially when Ralph didnít pull the trigger.

I donít know what was better, the Memorial where Superboyís statue was unveiled or the fact that the Question is in the house. Seeing the heroes gather was great, and the bit with Clark Kent really sold the scene. It was also a great moment for Booster, and seeing his house of cards come down made up for how he acted at the beginning of the issue. Then there was the Question. Any time the Question shows up when Greg Rucka is even remotely involved, Iím there. This looks to be the real Question too, not the one that showed up in that mini-series a few years back. Nothing against Rick Veitch and Tommy Lee Edwards, but that series wasÖ wellÖ that series was awful, so if the character is played more in the Denny O'Neil style than some guy who can see the heart of a city or whatever, that was all about then the potential the character has returns.

In The End: This was an excellent way to start the series. There were enough teases to build interest and enough interesting characters to get emotionally involved. A weekly comic is a dodgy proposition. There is the chance of failure but with the creators involved, I highly doubt that will happen. The great thing about this series is the excitement. There was a time in the early days of my reading and collecting comics where summer was an almost magical time when the publishers pulled out all of the stops to sell their comics and put out the big crossovers, sometimes even taking their books bi-weekly. As great as last summer was and as much as it brought that feeling back, I have a feeling that this summer is going to be even better.

John Hays

Itís finally here. The big event. A first in comics. Four writers. Six characters. One title. Fifty two issues in fifty two weeks. Get ready for a ride.

The Plot: Itís a time of discovery. At the end of his tether, Ralph Dibny discovers the one thing he can never turn away fromÖa mystery. John Henry Irons discovers that, before he can fix the problems of the world, he has to fix the ones much closer to home. Theo Adam discovers that with extreme decisions come determined new enemies. Michael Carter discovers that when you venture into the past, the future is anything but certain. Victor Sage and Renee Montoya discover each otherÖ.and who knows where that will lead?

The Heroes: A consistent art style throughout the book! Yay! The changes in art styles from page to page in Infinite Crisis really took me out of the story at times, so itís refreshing to move back to something more uniform. Of course, future weeks will have a veritable legion of artists, but hopefully they wonít all be working on the same issue!

The cliffhangers! What does the message say? Whatís in store for Sivana? What will Booster do now? What does the Question want with Montoya? Mark my words, waiting for each next issue of 52 will make a week seem like a month!

The Villain: The formatting of the first few pages, moving from one story to another on the same page. While I understand the need to mix up the format to suit the ďreal timeĒ philosophy and keep all the stories moving along day by day, this was rather jarring and made it a bit difficult to become really immersed in any of the stories until they each started getting multiple pages later in the book. Hopefully this style will become easier to absorb as the series continues.

The Resolution: Did you ever get annoyed when you were young and people told you that you had great potential? It essentially means that, while you COULD do great things some day, you havenít actually done anything just yet to truly prove yourself one way or the other. Nevertheless, thatís exactly what I have to say about this first issue. 52 Week One shows definite potential, both with the creative team gathered as well as the initial plot hooks, but at this point, itís still too early to really love or despise it. To do either just yet wouldnít really be fair to the series. I read great things from DC about what will happen, and I expect great stories based on the past works of the creators involved. I just hope that the novelty of the uniqueness of this project doesnít ever get in the way of solid storytelling, and that, a few years down the road, each of the creators involved can look to 52 as their defining piece of work.

Shawn Hill

Plot: Infinite Crisis was finite after all. But things are different now. For some people, anyway.

Comments: Hmm, these are our main characters? Booster Gold, Steel and his
niece, Black Adam, Dr. Sivana, the Question and Renee Montoya and Ralph Dibny? Not a very hopeful or even charismatic crew. Well, Renee has a certain sodden charm, sheís the film noir anti-hero who may or may not find something to distract her from the bottle before itís too late.

But Booster seems to have learnt nothing from Beetleís death, only that doesnít quite make sense. He was a much stronger presence in the Countdown issue where Max Lordís plan was revealed, and the idea of this post-second Crisis is supposed to be that everybody remembers everything, isnít it, at least if theyíre reminded? This shallow, shiny Booster is a letdown. A reset button to square one was not what this character needed. What made sense in the excessive 1980s doesnít have much resonance now. He needs a new schtick to replace the avaricious advertising fixation.

I donít really care about Black Adam, Iím bored with Ralphís suicidal misery, we know as little about the missing Big Three as Booster does, and the Question is literally a blank, at least for this issue. Steel (an underused character) is the most interesting super-hero of the bunch, and Montoya looks to be an engaging every-woman, even if the reason for her misery is currently quite vague. Thereís nothing stellar about the dialogue or plot in this issue, and thus far Iíve not added the series to my sub. The wait-and-see attitude continues unabated.

Art-wise: Giffenís breakdowns arenít enough to deliver his signature style, and Bennett is little more than competent. Lackluster.

Jim Kingman

Reviewing 52: Week One is like reviewing the first part of a 52-chapter book, one section at a time. Itís difficult for the most obvious of reasons. But thereís also another major problem, one that has been developing throughout the DC Universe over the past two years. You simply canít read any DC Universe title on its own merits, because somehow or another some fifty or so titles Ė ongoing, canceled, limited, or yet to be -- have been inter-connected with what I can only non-sensically dub ďThe Big Convoluted DCU Picture.Ē

Last yearís Countdown to Infinite Crisis branched off into Villains United, Day of Vengeance, Rann-Thanagar War and The OMAC Project. All four miniseries had various tie-ins with ongoing DC books. There were also related stories along the way, such as The Return of Donna Troy and the Power Girl arc in JSA: Classified. Then it all fell together with JLA and a bunch of other titles and specials galore into the awesome mess that was Infinite Crisis. From Infinite Crisis came the ďOne Year LaterĒ project in 22 DC books and counting, and now we have the day after Infinite Crisis with 364 more to go in 52. Complicated? You bet. The DC Universe has become an extremely circumvolutionary story in the here and now and twelve months later and beyond. To top it off, the ďwhat happened beforeĒ aspect has also been thrown into the back of 52. It starts next week as the new ďHistory of the DC Universe.Ē This is DCís way of revamping the post-IC timeline after the merging of all the released parallel Earths in Infinite Crisis #6, and itís only made the proceedings that much more of a circumvolution (only in DCís case, the core is always in flux).

This may be fine and dandy if youíre a long-time DC reader, and when Iím talking long-time Iím allowing a wide range of three to fifty years (Iím almost at thirty-five, and itís confounding my senses keeping track of it all). But if youíre just coming in off the street to check out why 52 is the hot series in comics right now, replacing for three weeks or so Marvelís Civil War, then prepare to be confused in a big way. There are no scorecards and cross-reference sheets to be found. Nothing in 52 will make sense if you haven ít been following the DC Universe for the past two years. And unless youíve followed at least Identity Crisis, Gotham Central, and Infinite Crisis, three of the six featured characters in 52 will mean nothing to you, even though theyíre all going through some pretty heady emotional stuff.

52 #1 is not a bad comic. It may even be a great chapter. But the only thing I know for certain is that itís only a drop in the large saucepan of a really big stew known as the current DC Universe. And the drops are going to keep right on coming into a wealth of already dissolved ingredients that will eventually, hopefully blend to make a tasty meal. Until that time, weíre only tasting the concoction in preparation and not the finished product, and I know that doesnít make sense because we are tasting the final product in the form of all that is ďOne Year Later.Ē Mysteries abound, confusion reigns, and the story can only continue unfolding. The Circumvolutionary Age of Comics is here. Itís going to be a heckuva year.

Diana Kingston

Iím tackling this issue from the perspective of a new reader - someone who has only a passing familiarity with the DCU and its characters. With the impenetrable Infinite Crisis over, the remit for this series seems to be exploring the post-Crisis world through the perspective of six characters. So far, so good.

However, while reading this issue, I couldn't help seeing 52 as more of an aftermath story than an introduction/reintroduction to the DC universe. Of the six focalizers, only Booster Goldís plot has a clear starting point; everyone else is reacting to something thatís happened in the past. To be fair, there's a certain amount of contextualization scattered about: I can infer that Superboy and other heroes have been killed, that the top three of the DCU are missing, that Reneeís girlfriend left her and Sue Dibny died and the villains have all joined together.

The problem? I donít find any of it very engaging. The issue is accessible on an academic level, in that it ostensibly tells me what I need to know to follow the story; where it fails is making me want to follow the story. This isnít a jumping-on point, because thereís a heavy reliance on the reader already knowing who these people are, and caring about whatís going to happen to them; it makes no effort to win over anyone who doesnít.

The writing is technically good, and I imagine DC fans will be very pleased with it. But if you havenít been following the latest developments in the DCU, donít start here.

Shaun Manning

Booster Gold starring in his own series again! At last! Okay, such is not quite the case, but as someone whoís always had a soft spot for DCís goofy emissary from the 25th century, I thought it was great to see him get a prominent role in a high profile title. Add to that regular appearances by Steel, Question, Montoya, and Black Adam, and this is just about the Justice League book Iíve always wanted. Also: the writing table is still trying to make Elongated Man relevant, and theyíre just about getting there. Donít worry, boys, youíve got another fifty-one issues.

After the events of Infinite Crisis, the villains are united, the heroes are in disarray, and the Earth looks like itís been blasted apart and hastily reassembled by a petulant child. Which is pretty much what happened. While Ralph Dibney and Renee Montoya explore methods of ending their sorrow, Booster Gold finds new confidence in thwarting villainy the moment it occurs, thanks to inside knowledge from the future. But when Earthís remaining heroes regroup to assess their losses, the absence of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman throws Boosterís destiny into question.

On the writing side of things, itís hard to go wrong with a team like Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid. Each of their influences shine through in particular episodes and situations, yet the overall effect is smooth and coherent. The device of having each issue take place in one week, though, means that attention must be given to events that donít seem to mesh well with the rest of the issue, yet presumably will be important in coming weeks. The episode of Dr. Sivana seems particularly incongruous with the rest of the issue.

The concept of corporate-sponsored superheroes has been explored before, but 52 appears to take things to the next level with Boosterís logo-slathered costume. Very nice. The next step, of course, would be to approach actual real-world advertisers to buy ads on the blue and gold tights. One would think that the metatextuality of a corporate-sponsored superhero in a comic paid for by corporate sponsorship would be right in line with Morrisonís sense of humor.

Joe Bennett on art... why isnít that name more familiar? His work looks great. Crisp, clear, striking, and perfectly suited to a genre that regularly features men and women flying about in garish costumes. From Keith Giffenís breakdowns, Bennett delivers a visually powerful introduction to the new DCU, where bright skies hide dour dealings.

Promising start? Promising start. If the writers and artists can keep this train on track and deliver this exceptional level of excitement every week, 52 will be one of DCís greatest landmarks. Itís no easy task, but the creative team is certainly capable of doing wonders. Iím very keen to see how this one evolves.

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