Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Jumbled Phenomenon Begins With 52 - Volume 1!

The Good: Consistently good artwork, Refreshingly complicated plots
The Bad: Not at all the whole story, No real character development, Far too many characters/plots to keep the initial format.
The Basics: When the DC Universe was deeply affected, consequences reigned and exploring those consequences began in 52 - Volume 1.

I have a bit of an appreciation for the second string heroes in the DC Universe. In addition to villains that are created with a sophisticated depth to them, the DC graphic novels I seem to enjoy the most have to do with the background characters getting their chance to shine after the first-string heroes are otherwise incapacitated. So it is actually pretty surprising that it has taken me so long to start picking up the volumes of 52 as it has. However, that all changes with my getting in 52 - Volume 1.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, 52 - Volume 1 follows on the heels of Infinite Crisis (reviewed here!), which left the main triumvirate in the DC Universe shaken and unwilling to continue their roles as superheroes. While Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman take a year off from crime fighting and being superheroes. 52 is a week by week account of the missing year and Volume 1 are the first thirteen weeks of that missing year.

And the volume works, for the most part, though the initial format – that has day by day accounts, bouncing between any one of the many main characters – is quickly sacrificed in order to tell stories that have actual depth to them. This is a plot-heavy book and it is a chapter within a larger conceptual story – the Crisis Series – that defined and redefined the DC Multiverse.

Opening in the rubble of the prior Crisis, Booster Gold quickly and publicly takes point for fighting crime when Mammoth descends on Metropolis. As Ralph Dibny wrestles with the loss of his wife, the superhero community comes together for a memorial service for their fallen, most notably Superboy. But events at the memorial service do not turn out like Booster Gold knows they should and as he works to get Skeets repaired, Ralph Dibny begins a quest of his own, a journey that begins with the desecration of his wife’s grave. As Booster continually miscalculates his heroic attempts, Renee Montoya tries to figure out who she is.

As Power Girl tracks down one of the remnants of Luthor’s Secret Society, she encounters Black Adam, who has taken to protecting the African state of Kahndaq and Steel finds managing his niece – the Teen Titan Steel – is becoming increasingly complicated. There is a ramp up in action as Lex Luthor, thought dead when his corpse is discovered, declares that all the wrongs done by him in the past year were the actions of the dead alternate universe Lex, a declaration that pales compared to Black Adam tearing apart a minor supervillain publicly when the Kahndaq embassy opens in New York.

At the end of the first month, Montoya’s stakeout reveals alien weapons and astronauts manage to communicate with the heroes who left Earth to deal with the Rann-Thanagar War. Ralph Dibny tries to have a vision of his wife, thanks to a Kryptonian cult and the next month kicks off with Alan Scott explaining the JSA’s freakish end in space as the survivors are cared for at a metahuman hospital. Lex Luthor, revealing a metahuman gene therapy, tries to exploit the absence of the heroes. Also exploiting the absence of the main heroes is Booster Gold, who is staging events with actors portraying villains to get lucrative endorsement deals.

As the Green Lanterns – Hal Jordan and John Stewart – run into jurisdiction problems in Chinese airspace, Booster Gold makes it to Rip Hunter’s time lab and discovers he may be the cause of the fabric of reality tearing itself apart! On the distant planet, Starfire, Animal Man, and Adam Strange work to repair a ship to get home, while on Earth Booster’s staged events come to light, thanks in part to a deeply hurt Ralph Dibny.

The fall of Booster Gold comes in tandem with the rise of Lex Luthor’s experiments and Natasha Irons becoming frustrated enough to push her uncle away to become a part of the program. In deep space, Adam Strange and Animal Man find Starfire . . . by walking into a trap. Facing being fired, Clark Kent snags an interview with Metropolis’s new superhero, Supernova. And a growing conflict between Black Adam’s anti-meta-human xenophobes and Lex Luthor’s new wave of metahumans becomes evident.

52 - Volume 1 is clearly building toward something and it takes a lot of faith for the reader to believe that all the many, many plots are going to somewhere satisfying. Plots like the space team that is lost in some distant corner feel far more like they are tying up loose ends, as opposed to telling a new and engaging story. Moreover, because there are at least five main plots and heavy characters in 52 - Volume 1, none of them manage to go as far as is satisfying. In other words, 52 - Volume 1 would have been much more engaging had it followed two or three main characters with much clearer plots, in a way that develops the characters.

52 - Volume 1 is largely devoid of actual character development. Black Adam is given a passing amount of character conflict to grow through as he falls for a woman given to him as a gift. Beyond that, the heavy lifting for the consequences of Infinite Crisis comes from Ralph Dibny. Dibny is broken by the loss of his wife and when the Cult Of Connor wants to use magic to resurrect Sue, he is deeply torn. Dibny adds an element of realism to the book and Cassie Sandsmark’s supporting role makes sense for her youthful passion for Connor Kent.

Having read DC volumes that followed long after 52, one of the best statements I can make on Volume 1 is this: the book managed to surprise me several times and it left me wanting to read the next one, even if it was not at all great literature.

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!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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