52 Book 1
Reprints 52 #1-13
Written by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid
Art by Keith Giffen, Joe Bennett, Chris Batista, Ken Lashley, Eddy Barrows, Shawn Moll, and Todd Nauck
After Infinite Crisis, the “holy trinity” of heroes (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman) were written out to deal with a variety of personal struggles. To compensate for this and not wanting sales to dip the month following Infinite Crisis, all ongoing titles were given a banner of “One Year Later.” With this time jump, we got to see what the new status quo was for the marquee title characters. However, this left a year of the DC Universe unknown and to fill that gap in an experimental series was commissioned. 52 ran for fifty-two weeks, telling the story of the lost year in “real-time.” Each issue takes places over the course of a week with text boxes informing the reader about which day of the week it is. Because of this conceit, many stories have to have minor events take place off-panel and get referenced in dialogue. For instance, a new character introduced in around half-way through joins the Teen Titans and fights alongside them for a few months. That all happens out of the reader’s view, and it’s not essential to the core stories being told. It does, however, make sure things feel inconsequential because once 52 wrapped up and because it is focused on lesser tier characters, much of this gets forgotten.
Five significant plotlines are running through 52 with lots of minor side plots. Our main cast members are Booster Gold, Black Adam, Rene Montoya, Ralph Dibny, and Steel. These plots weave in and out of each other; for example, Montoya travels to Khandaq where Black Adam sits throned as the monarch. There’s a lot of globe-trotting and building out the DC Universe. Metropolis and Gotham are used a lot but also more exotic locations like Oolong Island and Nanda Parbat. You can feel the authors giddy to be handed all these toys and a chance to spotlight lesser-known heroes.
Booster Gold is attempting to fill the vacuum of Superman’s absence in Metropolis, using his knowledge of future events to show up in the right place at the right time, while getting corporate sponsorships that he wears on his costume like a NASCAR driver. His robot companion Skeets starts to malfunction though because of Infinite Crisis, and it appears the timeline may not be the same as it used to. Clark Kent shows up from time to time in Booster’s story, having lost his power temporarily in the conclusion of Infinite Crisis. He’s adapting to be an ordinary human reporter and trying to break the story on a new hero that has appeared in Metropolis, Supernova. Supernova also keeps cleaning up the mistakes of Booster.
Rene Montoya is a Gotham City detective drowning her sorrows in alcohol who stumbles upon a new type of organized crime, importing weapons fashioned on Apokolips. She partners up with Vic Sage, also known as The Question, a masked crimefighter. It becomes evident that Montoya’s old flame Kate Kane is connected to what is going on, but that will be a story that continues through subsequent volumes. Meanwhile, Ralph Dibny the former Elongated Man finds out his late wife Sue has her grave disturbed and investigates who is trying to unnerve him, leading the detective to Cassie Sandsmark (Wonder Girl) and a strange cult that has built up around the late Superboy.
Steel is dealing with his niece Natasha taking part in Lex Luthor’s new benevolent project, Everyman. Luthor claims that his science can unlock the metahuman potential of anyone. Natasha volunteers and ends up a part of a unique team of heroes operating under the LexCorp banner. Steel also gets tricked by Luthor and ends up developing powers against his will. Finally, Black Adam, the evil version of Shazam, returns to his home nation of Khandaq to retake the throne and close himself off from the Western world. He begins forming a coalition of countries like Russia and China to create a superhero blockade against his perceived enemies.
Because there are so many issues in this long-form series, this first volume is all set up. The first thirteen issues are about getting players in their places so that the larger story can get rolling. There’s some fantastic worldbuilding through these issues. We’re introduced to The Great Ten, China’s answer to the Justice League, and featuring heroes of other countries helps the DC Universe feel more to scale. There is a criminally forgotten concept shown off of a specialized metahuman hospital where characters like Doctor Mid-Nite work. I wish they would bring that idea back and use it as the setting for something along the lines of Gotham Central. Of the four volumes, this one is necessary but the weakest because it has to pace itself for the epic tale ahead.