52 Book Two
Reprints 52 #14-26
Written by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid
Art by Keith Giffen, Dale Eaglesham, Shawn Moll, Joe Bennett, Chris Batista, Eddy Barrows, Patrick Oliffe, Drew Johnson, and Phil Jimenez
Book Two of 52 is all about building out the world of the story without really answering any questions. It’s only the halfway point, so there’s plenty of wandering around to stretch out the narrative. That said, there are great moments, and some plots are much better than others. One thing I’ve tried to do through this second readthrough of the series is trying to determine who wrote what and that has led to some deep internet dives to confirm or deny my assumptions. On the surface, it’s relatively easy to determine the authors of individual plots. Based on subsequent comics Greg Rucka is most definitely writing the Montoya/Question/Batwoman story. Geoff Johns is penning the Black Adam story continuing plot threads he started back in JSA. Grant Morrison is mainly writing the Lost in Space story featuring Adam Strange, Starfire, and Animal Man. I’m reasonably sure Mark Waid is over the Steel/Luthor/Everyman plot.
It gets more complicated when you look at the writer’s notes in the collected editions of 52. For example, here is a breakdown of Volume 1:
Week 5 – Mostly Morrison with some Rucka
Week 6 – The chalkboard in Rip Hunter’s base was done by Steve Wacker. The Great Ten were designed by J.G. Jones
Week 7 – Waid wrote Booster/Ralph, but Rucka did pen some bits.
Week 9 – Giffen claims responsibility for the horrible Infinity Inc costumes. Batwoman costume was done by Alex Ross.
Week 10 – Perry White’s office was Waid
Week 13 – Waid did the resurrection ceremony. Geoff Johns may have been the one to come up with Cult of Conner.
The main events in Book 2 are the wedding of Black Adam and the death of Booster Gold. The former has caused me some problems, having just read Villains United and Infinite Crisis. Black Adam is so deeply embedded with Luthor’s villain collective without any hint of enchantment or confusion. He does get used as part of Alexander Luthor’s multiverse device, but there’s never a sense of him being excused of his crimes. At the beginning of 52, he goes into exile in his home country of Khandaq, aligning himself against Western powers. What confuses me is that in the lead up to his wedding with Isis the Marvel Family are there in a friendly manner. I know Black Adam bought some antihero cred while on the JSA, but he’s still considered a global problem. There’s never much explanation given to why Captain Marvel and his crew would just be hanging out in Khandaq and be happy about the wedding. This is made even more confusing when the newly formed Black Adam Family sits down for dinner with the Sivanas, mad scientist arch-nemeses of the Marvels. I dunno, it’s very complicated.
The Booster Gold storyline feels more straightforward and makes sense with the plot threads lain out in The OMAC Project. Booster was left at a low point when Blue Beetle turned up dead and so he’s trying to reclaim his former glory while unable to break away from his greed and arrogant nature. The mystery behind Supernova was very compelling at the time 52 was initially published due to the hype and build up. Reading it now the Supernova character feels like a dud, everything is kept so under wraps that you never get a sense of personality. He’s just a walking talking mystery box waiting to be opened in the final act.
I found myself enjoying the Rene Montoya arc much more than I did the first time through. She’s probably the best-written character in 52 who has the most evident arc. The Question makes me want to go back and read his 1980s-90s series. Batwoman/Kate Kane is the weak link here, she’s written pretty blandly, and it would be about a year later that she actually got a character and some real development. Montoya’s arc is sort of paralleled with Ralph Dibny’s, both are detectives who are broken due to some rough life events. Dibny’s story takes some odd turns in volume 2, he comes into possession of the helm of Fate, which is without a bearer at this point. The two of them take a tour of the mystical realms of DC including a stop in Hell to see the fate of Justice League baddie Felix Faust. The purpose of all this is to find a means to resurrect the murdered Sue Dibny.
The two arcs that are leaving me the most lukewarm are the Steel/Luthor/Everyman arc and the Lost in Space story. These feel like narratives that should be told in six issues or less, but they get stretched beyond any possible enjoyment throughout 52. The core of these stories has excellent elements. Luthor running a program that philanthropically gives away superpowers is a great story hook. Giving some more page time to the underrated Steel, aka John Henry Irons is a great idea. I have loved Steel since he debuted in 1992 and want him to have a more prominent role. The Infinity Inc members are the low point of this arc, they are so generic and akin to the worst of Image Comics in the 90s. I wish they had been more compelling characters because the story would have more pathos and I’d buy into the stakes more.
I love Grant Morrison, I mean LOOOOOOVE. But this Lost in Space arc is pretty dull. First, the trio must escape Kirby afterthought Devilance. Then they team up with Lobo who causes chaos. I’ll talk more about this one in later reviews of volumes, but it is definitely not Morrison’s strongest work. It doesn’t help that I think Lobo is one of the worst characters to be continually given the spotlight in DC Comics. There’s just nothing of interest there for me and so making him a crucial part of this narrative causes me to check out.
We’re halfway through with two more volumes to go.