Saturday, May 4, 2013

Gosh I Hope This Is Going Somewhere Good . . . 52 – Volume Three . . .

The Good: Commentary pages, Moments of engaging plot
The Bad: The story is way too broad, so each character group gets neglected, Inconsistent artwork
The Basics: While it has its moments, 52 – Volume 3 is too jumbled of a story to make it worth recommending . . . at least on its own.

I think it says a lot that the last of the volumes I read in 52 was back in December. I love reading and I love a good story, but following 52 – Volume 2 (reviewed here!), I think I felt my patience in the saga of the missing year in the DC Universe was a bit taxed. It took until, literally, a few minutes ago (appropriately, as today is the annual Free Comic Book Day!) to pick up and finish reading 52 – Volume 3. And now that it is done . . . I’ll admit, I am pre-depressed about Volume 4. Here’s why: this 2007 graphic novel series was followed by a few other DC Universe-altering events, some of which were quite good. All of that went away two years ago with the reboot from DC known as “The New 52.” The reason I am pre-depressed about how the 52 Saga might end is that the characters I care most about based upon the events of 52 either do not get stories of their own in the wake of the event or their stories are undoubtedly cut off as part of the New 52 reboot. So, no matter how much I might enjoy parts of 52 – Volume 3, my ultimate feeling is “I know I shouldn’t get invested in any of these characters!”

For those unfamiliar with it, Infinite Crisis (reviewed here!) led to a schism in the ranks of the major superheroes. The Big Three (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) opted to take a year off and other major heroes had abandoned Earth or were lost (Green Lantern and the Flash) during or after the Crisis. So, the year the big players were out of commission led to minor characters in the DC Universe having their chance to shine and that was a great concept. Unfortunately, the DC Universe is a pretty broad place with a shit-ton of secondary characters to service. Starting with the seeds sewn in 52 – Volume 1 (reviewed here!), 52 – Volume 2 grew the story and fully convoluted the multiple directions that the universe was going in. In 52 – Volume 3, some answers are finally given, but the bulk of the book seems to be setting up a cataclysmic event that does not yet come.

52 – Volume 3 is essentially two quiet, intimate character journeys – those of Rene Montoya (The Question) and Ralph Dibny (formerly the Elongated Man) hidden between giant plot-driven stories that literally span the DC Universe. In Volume 3 of 52 the Black Adam plot that dominated much of Volume 2 is underplayed in order to bring to the forefront some of the other threads, namely the LexCorp Everyman Program and the space battle that is seeing the trio of Animal Man, Adam Strange, and Starfire trying to get home and running into the forces of Lady Styx. As with the prior volume, 52 – Volume 3 has so much going on that none of the plots are very thoroughly developed and the characters are (largely) glossed over for plot exposition. At least we get answers, including the identity of Supernova and what is going on on Oolong Island.

As Ralph Dibny searches for ways to resurrect his dead wife, Sue, he goes to The Spectre and the result is pretty horrific. He encounters Jean Loring, his wife’s murderer, possessed and floating in space. There, he is given the opportunity to exact vengeance upon her in exchange for Sue’s life back. Unable to cruelly punish even Loring, Dibny’s search continues, bringing him to a reconciliation with Cassie Sandsmark and to the bottom of the ocean in search of mystical pieces that will help him resurrect Sue.

Simultaneously, Rene Montoya (The Question, new) cuts her time with Charlie (The Question, original) short to return to Gotham City to rescue Kane (Batwoman, Rene’s ex-lover) from the forces of Intergang. In defiance of prophecy, Montoya is able to save Kane’s life, but the price seems to be Charlie’s life as he is dying of invasive lung cancer. In a desperate bid to save his life, Montoya journeys early in the new year to Nanda Parbat to try to keep him alive.

On Ooolong Island, the crime syndicate that has been assembled finally reveals its plans. After Veronica Cale gets Will Magnus off his meds, Magnus begins construction of a new Metal Man, Plutonium Man. This invention is set to be included in the machinations of Chung Tzu (the villain in Wonder Woman known indelicately as Egg Foo Young). The plans become evident when four super-powered machine-creatures are created and are primed to be dispatched against Black Adam.

In deep space, the trio of heroes who is trying to get home, now with the aid of Pope Lobo, encounters the world-destroying forces of Lady Styx. Lady Styx is creating a zombie empire that is destroying worlds and the Oan Guardians of the galaxy are fearful of her advancing empire. In attempting to stop them, Lobo must return to violence and one of the members of the team from Earth may pay the ultimate price. As more of an evaluation than plot synopsis (because the book is so plot-driven, it takes so much space in a review to simply relay what is going on in 52 – Volume 3!), it is worth noting that this plot line is severely truncated, much to the detriment of the story. In one chapter, the Lady Styx is the universe’s ultimate evil and appears unstoppable. Then, after a pretty quick goading, she is stopped within two pages. Moreover, what exactly is happening when Lobo takes the eye from the flying skull thing and what is going on with the Green Lantern trapped in its eye socket is not well-relayed on the page. In other words, the plotline feels rushed and incomplete, missing panels of information and exposition that make the dramatic twists in it seem choppy and erratic, as opposed to well-conceived or clever.

In Metropolis, Natasha and Infinity, Inc. have become celebrities and are the chosen of Lex Luthor himself. With his Everyman Program growing dramatically, the Justice Society Of America decides it is time to retire. With their collapse – which happens publicly with Alan Scott and Obsidian getting into a fight with a young woman calling herself Jade on Thanksgiving – the heroes of the Everyman Program rise to a stature that makes their collapse when Lex Luthor turns off their abilities on New Years tragic and horrifying. In investigating, Natasha Irons is put in serious danger and is exposed to an even greater evil than Lex Luthor!

At the same time, Skeets continues his hunt for Rip Hunter and the identity of Supernova is exposed.

Osiris, in a comparatively minor plot, gains the ability to join the Teen Titans when Black Adam exposes the mundane forms of himself, Isis, and Osiris to the world, an event which puts them at the mercy of the Suicide Squad. But the Suicide Squad’s mission is not truly to kill the Black Adam family, but rather start a public relations war that will once again discredit the Prince Of Khandaq.

There is also a pointless Nightwing/Batwoman subplot thrown in for a few pages and a digression that has Nightwing and Robin finding Batman . . . for no particular purpose that seems to have anything to do with this story.

Outside the Dibny and Montoya plots, 52 – Volume 3 is a very plot-based book. The character elements are underplayed in favor of a lot of plot exposition and sequences that (I kid not) use the word “BOOM!” in big letters.

The artwork in 52 – Volume 3 is unfortunately erratic. Splashes like the revelation of three of the four Horsemen are exceptionally detailed and beautiful to the eye. More often than not, though, the panels are underdetailed or there is a choppy progression between the panels that makes it less clear than it ought to be what exactly is going on in the book. This is an unfortunate contradiction of form and content and it seriously undermines 52 – Volume 3.

As the end nears, I am unfortunately uninvested in the outcome. That’s a terrible place to be, especially at the end of Volume 3. That, however, is how it is.

For other major DC Universe crossover events, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Crisis On Infinite Earths
Idenity Crisis
The OMAC Project
Final Crisis
Blackest Night: Green Lantern
Brightest Day, Volume 1


For other book reviews, check out my Graphic Novel Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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