Comic Book Reviews – 52 Volume Four

52 Volume Four
Reprints 52 #40-52
Written by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid
Art by Keith Giffen, Chris Batista, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Darick Robertson, Dan Jurgens, Eddy Barrows, Jamal Igle, Patrick Olliffe, Justiniano, Joe Bennett, and Mike McKone

Here it is, the final chapter in 52 and this summer series. Things kick-off without missing a beat as Steel has his showdown with Lex Luthor. The Everyman Project has been revealed as crooked with hundreds of people dead. The Teen Titans and what remains of Infinity Inc work alongside Steel to take down Luthor. Luthor uses Everyman and his suite of powers only to be outsmarted by Steel. Things are pretty clean and to the point which results in a reasonably satisfying conclusion to this arc. It’s a good thing because there are a lot of story beats left in the remaining eleven issues. The creator commentary in these collections lets us know that behind the scenes the writers and editors were panicking to bring all these storylines to a satisfying conclusion before the series ended.

The Ralph Dibny story ends in a way that is almost as controversial as Identity Crisis. Ralph is gathering occult artifacts for some unknown purpose, and it culminates at the Tower of Fate where we learn that Felix Faust has been manipulating Ralph. The archdemon Neron becomes involved, and Ralph uses his arsenal to defeat these dark beings. He ends up killing himself with an enchanted gun, something that I imagine many readers find problematic. His epilogue in the final issues reunites him with Sue as they continue being detectives from beyond the grave. Part of the problem here is that the writers felt like they didn’t know what to do with Ralph until halfway through the series. This means Neron and Faust mostly come out of nowhere so that Ralph has antagonists. I wouldn’t say this was the most successful arc of 52, there are some beautiful moments, but it is very messy.

The Lost in Space arc comes to its finale with Animal Man being rebuilt by his original alien creators and sent to Earth. Starfire moves in with Buddy Baker and his family which continues into the Countdown to Adventure mini-series. The other lingering plot beat is the rebirth of Lady Styx which will get extended in the pages of Jim Starlin’s Mystery in Space mini where he reboots Captain Comet.

The Question storyline has ended up being my favorite when revisiting, which surprised me because thirteen years ago, I didn’t enjoy it. Rene Montoya’s mentorship and eventual rise to become a hero would work perfectly as its own series even though she does have significant intersections with Black Adam’s arc. The death scene of Vic Sage in volume three is genuinely moving and seeing Rene don his clothes and the blank face spray feels triumphant. Rene gets a fantastic showdown with Mannheim and rescues Batwoman from his clutches. This storyline was so good it makes me wonder about revisiting the Crime Bible and Final Crisis: Revelations where Rucka continued the story of Rene as The Question.

The marquee item here is the Black Adam story. This is the moment where everything he’s gained over the year is stripped away from him. The Four Horsemen are sent to Khandaq with a horrific revelation that leaves young Osiris tore apart and dead. It just gets worse as Isis falls to the poison of the Horsemen and you see the progress Adam was making, becoming peaceful and choosing diplomacy over violence, fall away. He rampages through Khandaq and destroys the Four Horsemen before heading off to Oolong Island. In a fantastic twist, the Science Squad stops Adam for a couple of issues.

I enjoyed Will Magnus in 52. He only had a background role coming to the forefront in the conclusion of the Oolong subplot, but this made him more interesting than I’ve seen other writers handle him. Magnus has manic-depression, and the evil minds on Oolong take his meds so he can be more destructively creative. His crawl back to sanity and control, eventually recreating his Metal Men is a beautiful story with a very satisfying payoff.

Black Adam find his ending when a coalition of heroes arrives at Khandaq to end his rage. This group is led by his former teammates on the JSA, mainly Alan Scott. Captain Marvel delivers the final blow, using the very lightning that gives them both power to disintegrate Adam apparently. We see very quickly in the epilogue that Adam is now mortal, powers stripped away, slinking off into the Khandaqi crowd to plot his revenge.

Booster Gold and Rip Hunter show up after a long absence battling Skeets across the brand new multiverse, composed of 52 worlds. Skeets is revealed to be the cocoon housing Mr. Mind who emerges in his evolved form, a being able to consume the energy of reality and time. It’s a spectacular cosmic battle that opened the door of the possible again in DC Comics. Sadly, these worlds have been underused in my opinion, and it’s only writers like Grant Morrison, Scott Snyder, and Joshua Williamson who are taking advantage of it.

52 is not quite the shining jewel I remembered it to be, and the parts I find myself liking are not what I enjoyed the first read-through in 2006-2007. Overall, this period of DC Comics has lost a lot of its luster in the decade that has followed. My recollections of Infinite Crisis were that it was a spectacular anniversary to Crisis but now re-reading it I find the whole thing to be a mess of ideas that don’t flow. There’s no plot until halfway through. 52 is better than Infinite Crisis, but not storylines are created equal. Black Adam and The Question are the standouts for me here, and they make it worth revisiting. It’s reminiscent of Legends as a follow up to a Crisis event where the creators want to present an overview of the new status quo. It’s not a solid a book as Legends, but a decent read.

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