Monday, November 27, 2006

Comic Review: 52

The idea of a weekly comic book is certainly an innovative and challenging one, but fortunately, an experiment pursued by one of the two biggest comic book companies in the world, DC Comics. Unfortunately, that’s just what it is - an experiment - and more often than not, the creative team has demanded far too much of the weekly comic “52”.

Immediately after DC’s massive crossover sequel “Infinite Crisis”, the major titles of the DCU shifted one year in advance, leaving many of our heroes in very different place. Its 52’s job to track that place, one week at a time, covering the gap between the end of “Infinite Crisis” and the beginning of “One Year Later”.

This sounds like a very important premise, and DC has gathered together a group of no less important, if not legendary, comic book writers to field the task. Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Geoff Johns and Greg Rucka form the collective think-tank behind “52”. In addition, each issue also includes an origin re-telling written and drawn by the best creative teams in the biz.

The problem is the plot is too complex for its own good. We have easily at least four main plots fighting for attention on a four-week stage, plus countless other subplots which sporadically interrupt the main plots without a moment’s notice. The main storyline as such focuses on former cop Renee Montoya and faceless vigilante Question’s investigation of Intergang, of anti-hero-turned-benevolent dictator Black Adam’s union with war refugee-turned-superhero Isis, of superhero Steel’s conflict with Lex Luthor’s Everyman program, which turns ordinary people into superheroes, and of former superhero Ralph Dibny’s attempts to reconnect with his dead wife.

But there are also a huge amount of subplots which may or may not be main plots. The aforementioned plots have been consistently featured for virtually all 26 issues so far, while others have run for several months and then disappeared by the wayside. These include the Odyssey-like journey of star-stranded heroes Adam Strange, Starfire and Animal Man, the mystery regarding new Metropolis hero Supernova as well as the heroic death of the fame-and-fortune-seeking Booster Gold, whose robot Skeets has recently gone on a homicidal rampage. And there’s also a spree of mad scientist kidnapping troubling android builders Doc Magnus and T.O. Morrow.

As you can see, there is way too much going on here. And the problem is, none of these plots have a necessary amount of room to develop. Mainstay characters like Superman are written with affection and interest, but all too often the third-string cast of “52” aren’t so fortunate. For example, aside from a few one-liners, the Question is not nearly as interesting as he was in Greg Rucka’s “Huntress: Cry for Blood”. Also, new characters, probably destined for a bigger role on the world stage seem to suffer from poor timing. Take Black Adam’s brother-in-law Osiris, who has the most random introduction I’ve ever seen, and whose gleeful school boy attitude seems an insult to the more consistent writing of “52”.

Some issues of the series are downright spectacular, like when a depowered Clark Kent, about to be fired from the Daily Planet, leaps out a window to be caught by Supernova in order to score an interview. But as with characters like Osiris and many others, the plot seems far too rushed. DC seems to have made a major miscalculation with “52”, overestimating the experimental weekly format by leaps and bounds.

Perhaps “52” would read better if all storylines were collected into their own separate formats. But at the moment, “52” is behaving like “24” on speed caught in the middle of a hurricane.

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