Tuesday, 13 September 2016

52, Volume 1 Review (Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison)

52 was a year-long weekly series set in the wake of Infinite Crisis when Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman were taken off the table and the spotlight turned to DC’s B-to-Z list characters for a change. It boasted some of comics’ best writers like Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Geoff Johns and Greg Rucka, and yet it wasn’t very good. But whyyyy? Well, partly because there are reasons why these characters are unpopular and barely known in the first place and partly because none of the myriad of storylines going on are at all interesting!

A Kryptonian cult believing in the resurrection of Superboy (see Infinite Crisis) want to try raising someone else from the dead as a test first: Sue Dibny, Ralph Dibny the Elongated Man’s wife who was murdered in Identity Crisis - yeah, DC love that word “Crisis”! Detective Renee Montoya of the Gotham City PD is hired by The Question to help him investigate Intergang. 

Lex Luthor is developing his Everyman project which aims to give everyone the ability to have superpowers and uses John Henry Irons/Steel’s niece Natasha as his first test subject. Black Adam, ruler of Kahndaq, is forming a coalition against US hegemony while lethally dealing with supervillains. Booster Gold is up to his usual dickish tricks. Animal Man, Starfire, and Adam Strange are stranded on an alien planet somewhere. 

Those are roughly all of the storylines in this first volume. My problems with them are that none of them really grab me - there’s no single storyline that stands head and shoulders above the others as exceptional. They’re all very poor meandering subplots at best that don’t gel together to form a cohesive narrative - they stand alone and don’t amount to a hill of beans. 

That might be the result of the different writers writing certain storylines (it’s not clear who wrote what storylines or whether they all contributed ideas to each one) and then a group of editors slapping it all together as and when they were ready - weekly schedules are hella demanding! - but I don’t see a strong singular vision for this series which makes it an unfocused and unsatisfying read.

Some storylines I liked less than others. Booster Gold’s was the worst. I hate this guy. He’s the most awful “superhero”: a vainglorious, transparently reprehensible shithead who acts heroically for money and is only in the present because he’s from the future and can take advantage of recorded history via his sycophantic robot lackey Skeets and get rich. Dan Jurgens, take a bow, you created the worst superhero ever! 

All this book does is show others realising what we already know: that Booster is a fraud. And yet I don’t get his semi-popularity in our world. What do people see in this cheesy, poorly designed and totally unlikeable character?? And why did DC see fit to make him such a big component of 52?! He’s like Zap Brannigan but without the saving grace of being funny. 

All of the storylines are so, so slooooooow moving! Maybe it’s because they’re wafer thin to begin with and there’s so much space to be filled that it’s in DC’s best interests to spin them out as much as they can but they barely inch ahead in this 300 page volume. I don’t know why Question needs Renee Montoya to help him but they stake out a warehouse and fight a monster and that’s about it for them in this entire book. Animal Man, Starfire and Adam Strange’s shipwrecked storyline went nowhere either - they fight a giant and that’s it! 

Black Adam does some typically evil shit and then creates a new superhero for no reason. Steel’s storyline was terrible thanks to his having no personality and his niece being a brain-dead idiot. And anything related to Identity Crisis is a major turnoff for me so I was never going to like Ralph Dibny’s storyline but it didn’t help that his story was this plodding police procedural full of noir cliches, right down to his private dick trenchcoat and drinking problem! 

The artwork is DC house style through and through which means it looks polished but it’s boring and unremarkable to look at. 

I’ll give DC this: I’ve gotta admire the ambition of a project like this where the story develops in real time, week after week. The idea of only using lesser-known characters is laudable too. And they pulled off the grand experiment so kudos to DC! It’s just a shame the quality of the finished product is so lacking (but that’s always the case with weekly titles).

I’d only recommend 52 to hardcore DC fans who likely wouldn’t need any prodding to pick this up in the first place - everyone else, it’s not worth the effort to slog through such an unrewarding, dull and bloated comic.

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