Sunday, June 2, 2013

Resolution With (Largely) Underwhelming Results: 52: Volume 4 Concludes The DC Universe Event!

The Good: Commentary pages, Most of the artwork, Moments of character
The Bad: The final resolution is entirely anticlimactic,
The Basics: Resolving all the disparate elements of the many plotlines to the event, 52 – Volume 4 is fair, not exceptional.

All good things come to an end and with the DC Universe crossover event 52, the end comes over the many chapters of 52 – Volume 4. Because it is the end of the yearlong saga, 52 – Volume 4 is virtually worthless without having read the prior volumes in the series, especially 52 – Volume 3 (reviewed here!). In fact, if one does not read the extensive set-ups in the three prior volumes, it is virtually impossible to care about 52 – Volume 4. After all, despite the reappearance of the Big Three of the DC Universe (albeit in muted, secondary roles), 52 – Volume 4 is very tightly focused on the secondary characters in the DC Universe.

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 (reviewed here!) grew the story and fully convoluted the multiple directions that the universe was going in before 52 – Volume 3 started to provide answers and make clear some of the foreshadowing in earlier volumes. 52 – Volume 4 brings it all to a close while setting up the next crossover event fairly well.

52 – Volume 4 is a whole boatload of resolutions and it is impossible to discuss the book without spoiling a little bit of Volume 3. In fact, the cover of 52 – Volume 4 spoils a significant aspect of Volume 3 simply by putting a formerly (apparently) dead character on the cover! Unfortunately for those looking for firm resolutions to some of the biggest events in 52, they are not forthcoming, solely because the next big event in the DC Universe needed to focus on one of the primary villains of 52. As well, some of the seeds of Final Crisis are sown in 52 – Volume 4. In other words, while there is a great deal of resolution, there is still a bit of foreshadowing for what comes next, so there is the sense that this Saga falls into a larger continuum of DC Universe history.

With one of the least inspired stories, Rene Montoya (The Question, new) wrestles with the death of Charlie (The Question, original) and rekindles her relationship with Kane (Batwoman, Rene’s ex-lover). Her quest to stop Intergang puts her at odds with Crime Bible fundamentalists and takes her back to Khandaq to meet with Black Adam, who once sentenced her to death. Now, she accepts the mantle of the Question, which seemed like the most obvious possible direction for her character to go.

On Ooolong Island, the crime syndicate manages to actually do something impressive when they use their combined intelligence and resources to capture Black Adam following his destruction of the Four Horsemen. Tortured for weeks, Black Adam is used as a tool by Chung Tzu until the whole villain’s island experiment falls horribly apart.

In deep space, the trio of heroes who is trying to get home finally parts ways with Pope Lobo. And who really cares?

In Metropolis, Natasha has uncovered Lex Luthor’s quest to become a Meta himself and with the help of her uncle, John Henry Irons, she manages to stop the superhuman version of Luthor. However, when his hearing comes up, it is only Clark Kent who is able to stop Lex Luthor and bring him to justice in an entirely mundane resolution to that entire plotline.

What is much more exciting is the way Skeets is finally revealed and stopped. Despite making some temporal abnormalities in the 52 storyline, the villainous Skeets becomes embroiled in a temporal game of cat and mouse with Rip Hunter and Booster Gold. Traveling through time, we discover the villain pulling the strings of Skeets and the resolution to that plot is marginally satisfying. Having had very limited experience with such obscure villains as the one using Skeets as an incubator, I was impressed more by the imagination than the execution of the resolution to that plotline.

Osiris is evicted from the Teen Titans and soon meets a most unfortunate end at the hands of an unlikely enemy in Khandaq. That abrupt turn of events helps push Black Adam over the edge and while there is some resolution to the Black Adam plot, the once sympathetic villain’s killing spree ends up making him virtually impossible to empathize with. He is a godlike man filled with loss and in 52 – Volume 4, he is actually set up to be one of the truly biggest villains in the DC Universe.

The heart and soul of 52 – Volume 4 is in the Ralph Dibny plot. Having searched far and wide for a way to resurrect his murdered wife Sue, Ralph reveals himself to be a much more cunning detective than anyone might have guessed. Here, he not only reveals the villains exploiting him in his quest for resolution to his wife’s untimely death, he reveals just how far ahead of them he was all along and is given an easy-to-empathize with arc resolution. Ralph Dibny becomes an unlikely hero and the way he stops further harm from coming to those who would be his adversary’s victims is downright heroic.

The artwork in 52 – Volume 4 is better than in the prior volumes and that makes the story easy to follow and easy to become engaged in. That makes the book a good resolution to all the prior storylines, if not an exceptional standalone trade paperback anthology.

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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