52 Volume 3
Reprints 52 #27-39
Written by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid
Art by Keith Giffen, Joe Bennett, Drew Johnson, Chris Batista, Patrick Olliffe, Tom Derenick, Joe Prado, Phil Jimenez, Dan Jurgens, Jamal Igle, and Andy Smith
The third volume of 52 is all about bringing our characters to those moments of darkness, showing that all hope may be lost to set up the conclusion for the fourth volume. Volume three is probably my favorite of the four collections for that reason, and it does some impressive things, like make the Lost in Space storyline enjoyable. Lobo is still there, but a new enemy is introduced that truly feels dangerous.
We’re introduced to the Stygian Passover, a force of nature akin to the Borg in Star Trek. They have the M.O., crossing paths with planets and assimilating the population into techno-zombies. The Passover is led by Lady Styx, who doesn’t get much character development here. Styx would go on to play a more significant role in the 2006 mini-series Mystery in Space and The Omega Men. Here she is not the threat, but the actions of her legions are what play as so creepy. The character of Captain Comet, an obscure Silver Age throwback, is one of her victims. The last we see of him is when he’s strapped to a spaceship with half of his body exposed muscle tissue.
The Lost in Space characters (Adam Strange, Starfire, and Animal Man) continue not to be written that well and are still accompanied by the annoying Lobo. Animal Man is killed in the big battle with Styx but then immediately resurrected at the conclusion of the issue. He’s been left behind by his friends and catches a ride with some aliens that’ll be familiar if you’ve read the 1980s Grant Morrison series.
Ralph Dibny’s story takes an interesting turn in one issue. He continues his survey of the magic side of the D.C. Universe and is granted a boon by The Spectre to take Jean Loring/Eclipso back to the moment of Sue’s death as part of her punishment. There’s a clever bit here where they make noise while traveling back in time that serves to correct an oversight by Brad Meltzer in the Identity Crisis mini-series. Sue Dibny hears a sound downstairs that later we learn has nothing to do with the intruder in her home. The writers take that as an opportunity to retcon it as Ralph having traveled back in time.
There is a fantastic Thanksgiving issue that features a segment with three classic Justice Society members: Alan Scott, Jay Garrick, and Wildcat. These old-timers run into Luthor’s Infinity Inc. and have awkward exchange. The original Infinity Inc was a team composed of the children of the JSA, and during Infinite Crisis, Scott lost his daughter, the green-skinned superhero Jade. One of Luthor’s metahumans took that codename, and we have some genuinely poignant conversation about what these names mean.
We get significant developments in the Luthor storyline when he switches off every metahumans’ powers on New Year’s Eve, causing a massive disaster in Metropolis. There’s some excellent creepiness in one Infinity Inc member, Everyman, a shapeshifter who has to eat some part of a person (hair, skin cells, blood, etc.) before he can look like them. The character would go on to have a pretty decent run popping up in Manhunter and throughout the Green Arrow/Black Canary series. He is a creepy idea that I think could have a place as a villain in the current comics.
The Rene Montoya/Question storyline takes some satisfying turns as we learn more about the Religion of Crime, a sect run by Bruno Mannheim, the capo of Intergang. Mannheim was a Jack Kirby creation from back during his run on Jimmy Olsen and had been used a little in the post-Crisis Superman books. Here he’s turned into a mix of a mafia don and religious acolyte of Apokalips. Montoya pursues a prophecy that has Mannheim sacrificing Batwoman as part of a ritual that gets thwarted. The big twist in this storyline is The Question admitted he’s dying of cancer and foreshadowing of Montoya’s ascendency to becoming one of the heroes.
The Supernova story finally gets its big reveal. Cassie Sandsmark is convinced that Supernova is the deceased Superboy reborn. Ralph Dibny later confirms that it is not him and that he knows who is behind the mask. There is a fantastic sequence where the powerless Clark Kent is kidnapped by Luthor, given truth serum, and interrogated about Supernova. I have liked the whole Superman going a year without any power story and would love to see something like that spotlighted as a mini-series. It reminded me of those wild Silver Age imaginary stories where you’d put Superman in unusual situations, or he’d have to think quickly on his feet instead of relying on being invulnerable.
The Black Adam storyline is the most tumultuous arc in the collection. We’ve got everything from Osiris and Sobek joining the Teen Titans and the Black Marvel family doing a peaceful world tour to an attack by the Suicide Squad and Black Adam being forced to kill in front of the tv cameras. Geoff Johns truly made Black Adam into a fascinating character, much more dimensional than he’d ever been before. The time he spent building this character up over the JSA ongoing and by turning his life around in the pages of 52 makes the closing events of this collection all the more tragic. Moreover, Black Adam will be front and center to the chaos that unfolds in volume four. As this book closes out we go to Oolong Island find out the whole operation is working in tandem with the Religion of Crime to build the Four Horsemen who are going to be unleashed on Black Adam’s Khandaq.