52 Volumes 1-4 (Graphic Novel Quest)

The massive cast of B to Z-listers.

Written by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka & Mark Waid

Layouts by Keith Giffen

Art by Joe Bennet, Chris Batista, Eddy Barrows, Todd Nanci, Rudy Jose, Jack Jadson, Derick Robertson, Ken Lashley, Phil Jimenez, Dan Jorgensen, Justiano, Mike McKone, Jamal Igle and Dale Eaglesham.

When I was a kid, I loved the Superman movie, Batman ‘89 and the DC Super Powers toys, but it was more passing than my love of Marvel. Part of the blame there’s probably because of the Marvel Secret Wars UK reprints. As a teenager, I read a bunch of Batman at sleepovers at a friend’s, and the Legion of Super-Heroes. My friend Adam and I bought a ton of Legion of Super-Heroes and New Warriors comics as they were generally in cheap boxes, and something new to get into.

I came into DC around the time of Infinite Crisis, which I’ll have some words about later on in Graphic Novel Quest. It’s a weird start point, but a perfect platform to launch into 52.

Infinite Crisis temporarily took Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman off the table, then fast forwarded all of DC’s comics for a year. Back then, I was only getting Legion of Super-Heroes, but this was a great jumping on point for me. 52 was a weekly comic which showed what happened in a year without the major trinity. It was supposed to be a tour of the world, but it became a lot more by focusing on a few specific storylines.

A fantastic dump of references to events in 52, beyond it and a few things which didn’t end up happening, either.

The Plot

It’s a tricky one to summarise. Basically we go week by week, issue by issue for a whole year, shown here in four collected volumes. You have a few different character arcs which often intersect and start or end at different points.

Steel has a story where he’s relating to the average Metropolitan on the street and trying to get his niece to understand how to be a hero. She wants a shortcut which leads her to Lex Luthor, fresh from another round of ‘I didn’t do all those crimes, it was an evil imposter’ and now he’s trying to make his own supermen. He’s still obsessed with Superman and the new hero, Supernova. Steel uncovers the truth behind the heroes, most of whom Luthor kills just to mess with Supernova, and the pair get in a massive fight leading to Luthor again going down, but blaming everything on a weird shapeshifter.

Lex Luthor with a symbolic empty S shield, representing his lack of any values.

Renee Montoya gets a mostly great story taking her from ruinous alcoholism to becoming the new Question. She goes on a tour with the old Question, finding out information about the Crime Bible and reuniting with her ex-girlfriend, Kate Kane, aka Batwoman. The old Question’s an irritating mentor, as you’d expect, but also priming Renee to replace him as he’s dying from lung cancer.

I like the old Question, but the Renee Montoya Question’s fantastic.

The story collides with a few others, most notably Black Adam’s, and hits a dramatic peak when Renee’s dragging a dying Question through the snow, trying to find Nanda Parbat despite having no real direction, no supplies and no hope. It’s such a low point for someone whose story’s been little other than that, but she takes the moment, becomes the Question and kicks some arse in a way which makes you know this was a Greg Rucka favourite.

I loved the JLI era, having gone back to it after loving Keith Giffen’s Legion of Super-Heroes (turns out, they’re very different, but still good). Booster Gold is one of the surviving remnants of that era who hasn’t been killed or made evil and then killed. He gets a ton of sponsorships, acts like a tool and gets a resentment of the new hero, Supernova. He ends up dying and being barely remembered.

A depowered Clark Kent flings himself out of a window in order to get an interview with Supernova

Only he doesn’t. The cover of volume four spoils this, but Booster’s floating sidekick isn’t who we thought and has been infested with something awful. Booster goes into hiding by faking his death using his corpse from the future. He and his present day ancestor have been Supernova all along, to help figure out what’s going on and buy time.

This is why I lent this out to friends one at a time, so they didn’t see this cover.

Ralph Dibny’s story is one I always forget in this series. His wife died in Identity Crisis (more on that later in the year). He’s trying to find a way to resurrect her, going from hard time to hard time, including a horrifying moment with a cult trying to resurrect Connor Kent and a wicker Sue Dibny who actually starts moving. The story floats about, not really doing anything, until a denouement which reveals his floating sidekick isn’t who we thought. He dies at the end, but he goes out a hero, even if it’s all picking at the Identity Crisis scab a bit.

Ralph takes Jean Loring back in time to witness her murder of Sue Dibny, accidentally knocking a vase, fixing one stray plot element of Identity Crisis.

Will Magnus shows up, along with a ton of mad scientists of various obscurity. They get up to shenanigans and create an apocalyptic Four Horsemen, before colliding with Black Adam in a disastrous manner. This feels like Grant Morrison and/or Mark Waid had fun plumbing the DC continuity depths.

The mad scientists celebrate Thanksgiving.

Black Adam goes through a rough time. He starts as a kind of super-dictator, learns to love by getting a girlfriend who calls him on his crap, gets powers and helps guide him towards being decent. Her brother also gets powers and a giant crocodile sidekick. After all this growth, everything goes awry, the crocodile turns out to be one of the horsemen, kills the brother, kills Black Adam’s now-wife and leads into World War III. He rips a lot of people apart and the comic takes so much joy in the violence, it has the stink of Geoff Johns all over it.

The post Identity Crisis to Early New 52 era was full of all of this kind of stuff, to diminishing returns.

Adam Strange, Animal Man and Starfire are lost in space, travelling home. This is another storyline I generally forget about. They meet up with Lobo who’s a pacifist now, and encounter some cosmic zombies.

Is it good?

Mostly. There’s a lot of good, a lot of nostalgia, but also a few things which have aged badly. The adolescent ultraviolence of DC around this era would eventually require the reboot of The New 52 and still continue for a few years after. As I said, the stench of Geoffrey Johns is throughout this book and it’s only got worse with age. I fear for when I reach the Green Lantern series by him.

Am I Keeping It?

Yeah. There’s more good than bad. It’s quite a journey and there’s a lot to love here both from the story and my own nostalgia.

Everyone fights Black Adam

40oz Comics Collection

40oz Comics is a tiny volume, packed with stuff.

I also read the 40oz Comics Collection, which collects several Jim Mahfood zines. I love his art style and sense of humour. I know he still works now, but he feels like a very specific point in time for me; specifically my comic shop days, listening to Pharcyde and Quannum in the office while sorting out standing orders. There’s not much story here, a lot of sketch comedy and stoner humour, but it’s entertaining and makes me want to make zines.

Poor zombies…
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