I finally read 52, a comic I’ve heard people praising for the last decade. Here are my thoughts. I hope you’ll share yours.
I’m breaking this down by different aspects of the story.
I spent most of my time enjoying 52 but wondering what the big deal was. I’ve seen so many talk about it as a GOAT story that simply getting a good story felt underwhelming, but in the last ten issues or so, the pieces of the desperate narrative finally start coming together and everything starts building to a great finish. I can see why people love this thing, but I’d argue it’s not quite as epic as some have lead me to believe.
The appeal of 52 is that you get to see lots of stories of various characters over the year in which the Trinity was out of commission. Telling this story with such a wide angle lens that it covers practically every corner of DCU and focuses on a dozen or more leading characters is a double edged sword. It serves as a unique story that can give development and closure to many characters that rarely get the spotlight, but it sometimes lacks focus to provide satisfying stories issue to issue. In short, the pacing is an issue. Some stories would simply disappear or have nothing of much impact happen for several issues which meant when I returned to that group of characters, I had lost momentum and sometimes even forgotten crucial details as to what was happening. The writers also seemed to warp the story to fit with the format. There were many times characters met one day and then didn’t get around to conversing about the plot until the next week, and it was just clearly a concession of the story for the sake of the weekly convention. I’d bet money the scenes were originally written more coherently and then restructured to fit the extended format.
This was one of the stronger story threads in my book. I appreciated Booster before this story but had limited exposure to him. This story showed him at his best and worst and made you enjoy the ride through almost all of it. Skeets betrayal worked as a real shock to me, and I just found it throughly enjoyable throughout. I will say the ultimate conclusion of Booster Gold’s story as he cosmically took on Mr. Mind with Rip Hunter got a little too abstract Grant Morrison’s for my tastes, but it’s easily forgivable. It’s not hard to see why Booster Gold soon got his own ongoing after this.
Ralph story did not land quite as well for me. It’s just too darn sad. You’d think people wanting to do a redemption arc for Ralph and Sue might find a happier way to do it, but it’s just a miserable slog especially when he believes he sees his wife briefly reanimate in an effectively horrific scene. It’s not strictly bad, but to see a character seemingly start off attempting to kill himself and then spend fifty-two issues drinking himself to death…it’s not exactly the most happy go lucky story. I know Ralph was secretly plotting and not as pathetic as he appeared, but knowing this in the end doesn’t make the trip more pleasant as Ralph spends a good portion of his story wandering from one bleak location to the next in a giant uninspired fetch quest. The story ultimately resolves with a big whodunnit style twist which again isn’t bad but lacks some impact. Usually the reveal of a whodunnit means more if you knew there was a whodunnit in play the whole time, and this one comes out of nowhere. Therefore, the revelation isn’t particularly impactful and is just kind of like, “Oh, okay?” It also feels like something that should make you reevaluate the entire story thus far, and it kind of does, but when that story was scattered over a thousand or so pages scatter among many other stories, it’s hard to fully appreciate. Ultimately, Ralph dies so he can be with Sue and become a Ghost Detective, but this only gets like a single page reveal and we never see the reunion between Ralph and Sue. What a missed opportunity!
It’s not bad, but it’s not the best stuff in the book.
Everyman Project and Steel
This was pretty good. I enjoyed the Everyman Project quite a lot, and I really have no complaints about it. If anything, I wish it had more time. It could easily have launched into its own title.
My problems are with Steel and Natasha. Steel’s pretty good but a bit one note playing the concerned father figure role and seemingly unable to find a way to communicate that Lex Luthor sucks for a whole year. It feels like Steel is made a bit inert in the story to allow Natasha’s arc to play out, and Natasha is where we have the real trouble. Her rejection of Steel isn’t too bad at first, but when she totally embraces Lex Luthor, it kind of strains my credulity. I get that Lex isn’t publicly known as a super villain, but he is amongst heroes and he certainly is in the Superman Family. I think this makes Natasha a bit too dumb for much sympathy. I don’t hate her, but her gullibility just doesn’t quite work for me.
Starfire, Lobo, Animal Man and Adam Strange
This started off as one of the most exciting stories to me and ended up being my least favorite. Having this colorful group of characters together trapped on the wrong end of the universe seemed like a premise ripe for classic adventure, and it ended up being about as impactful and fun as a fart in a paper bag. Interesting things do occasionally happen, but the story drags and yet somehow remained the one I had the hardest time following. I don’t really know who the big bad was, I don’t know why Lobo was doing the Fish-God thing, I don’t even recall how their whole story wrapped up, and honestly, I don’t care because there was no reason to care. Lobo was funny as usual, and Adam Strange had one good conversation about how he had trouble having close relationships and liked that he was regularly forced to leave his family due to Zeta Beam technology, and beyond that, there’s no substance on the frame of this story. It empty and meaningless.
I greatly enjoyed the Black Adam story and it might be my favorite except that killing off his family is just such an old and worn out trope and the story is perhaps a little too simplistic for it’s own good, but I found it quite effective. When Osiris died, holy crap! Didn’t see that one coming.
I think this might be my favorite story in close competition with Booster’s. I have zero attachment to Will Magnus or Doctor T.O. Morrow, but this story put them front and center and made me love them. The premise of the Science Squad was just an amazing premise full of potential, and I hope someone has or will use it again. The story bounces between mystery, heart-felt moments and Revenge of the Nerds style comedy. It’s just really well done, and I want to see more of it.
Controversy time. Question fans, avert your eyes.
I wasn’t particularly crazy about the Questions story line. I know, sacrilege.
Here’s the thing. I don’t see much reason to care about either of these characters. Vic barely even is a character in this story. He had so little personality that I just had to look up his name even though I read nearly 52 issues about him.
I’m sure it’s more satisfying to people with a deeper connection to the character, but Vic in this really doesn’t have much character development. He inserts himself into Renee’s life and draws her into I guess his independent detective/vigilante line of work, and then he doesn’t really have any particularly interesting conversations with Renee, and the same can be said with Renee. She’s just drinking herself silly and she latches on to Vic as something that piques her interest, but there’s not much to make her particularly interesting I get that Vic is looking for companionship and trying to save Renee by giving her a purpose, but the lack of character work between the two is a big problem for me. Other than Renee asking what he sees in her and him dodging the question and some brief discussion about the need to question things, there’s nothing.
Now eventually, it’s revealed that Vic is dying, and though it’s not particularly earned through character development, the trauma of seeing someone whither away is handled wonderfully and connects to my real life experience. Seeing Renee fight to save Vic’s life is a beautiful and powerful journey illustrated flawlessly. I just wish this were underscored by an appreciation of the character rather than merely sadness over death in general. Renee picking up the mantle of The Question was fine but a bit hollow since I’m not sure what The Question represents. Asking questions doesn’t count as enough for me.
That’s my take on everything.