2 out of 5
I read 52 as it came out. I was not – nor have I ever really been – a big DC or Marvel follower, but at the point, I checked in with particular writers and their Big Two titles more often than I do now, and several of those guys – Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Grant Morrison – worked on 52, so that likely would have been enough to sway me. Plus, I’d fallen for the Identity Crisis / Infinity Crisis events, and though they were kinda crap, I ping-ponged from related book to related book (again, generally written by one of the above dudes) such that I had the temperature of the DCU at the time, and had interest in 52s concept of filling in the gaps of the “missing year” from when the publisher’s books all leaped ahead (internally) one year. But, yeah, thought it’s staid amidst the last few years of never-ending events and semi-frequent weekly series, I have to admit: the announcement that DC was committing to a year long weekly book was big news, and it was cool that it was going to unravel in “real time,” i.e. each issue telling the events of that week. I think there was a general vibe of “can they do this?” and that’s kinda what you were there to see each week.
…And then after a few weeks, it became: “Where is this going?” and then a few more weeks it became “are they really going to continue doing this?” Because 52 was not good. It was not good then – you could tell it wasn’t unraveling as planned (the ‘missing year’ conceit clearly having gone out the window in favor of the title’s rotating plot threads setting up spin-offs and reintroducing minor characters) – and it was just a damned mess, and, shamefully, a mostly uninteresting one. Some retrospects that I’ve read, years later, stand by 52 as an accomplishment, and that I won’t deny: despite my invective prattle, the creatives maintained, for all them weeks, a reliable standard of writing – fine, I wasn’t interested, but it was written on par with any other average DC book – and art, with Keith Giffen’s layouts penciled / inked by a slew of different folks allowing for a consistent visual flow and a fresh artistic hand always at the ready. But that’s the accomplishment. It was a mess to read then, and it’s still a mess to read, even with wikipedia handy to remind us what was going on in continuity back then.
The “average DC book” is one of royally forced plot contrivances and at least one romantic subplot written with soap opera subtlety, and generally some time-wasting teammate arguing, but you maybe put up with those elements because the core of the book is solid.
Now take that, multiply it by the 6 or 7 stories happening semi-concurrently in 52, and then chop it up into 5-pages at a time slices, such that that core only gets facetime every 3 or 4 issues. It’s not a great ratio, especially when things align such that an issue is all annoying stuff, and especially especially given that some of those storylines are such loose, rickety, half-cobbled-together ideas that all they have are the excess elements.
We readers could tell something was off early on: while the first couple of issues of 52 had a nice, punchy, day-by-day divide, with intriguing enough concepts promised at the end of each section, the pacing stumbled – we started to skip days, which felt like a cheat (yes, accepting that the passing of time in the comic is just a panel saying ‘day 5,’ and doesn’t represent anything “real”), and it felt like “major” events that were intended to be in the book were set off panel because the writers wanted to follow some other muse. Planning – a necessity for a project of this nature – be damned.
In the 26-issue-containing volume 1, Renee Montoya trains to be the Question, mad scientists are kidnapped, Animal Man gets naked in space, Natasha Irons is a brat and teams up with Lex Luthor, Booster Gold discovers the “mystery” of 52 and is then set aside so we don’t have to worry about evolving that storyline, and Black Adam something something falls in love. Some other things happen. Some of this, I’d add, is interesting, but the slice and dice presentation, as mentioned, renders those reprieves as few and far between. And just to boil the experience down to its most unpleasant form, this particular version of the collection ditches the Mark Waid ‘History of the DC Universe’ and ‘Secret Origins’ backups, which were nice little pauses in the nonsense. You do get some cover sketches and layouts and scripts – one bonus page per issue – but it feels like more of an annoyance, being given a brief glimpse of behind-the-scenes without any real sense of weight to it. Still, it’s something.