52 Vol. 2 (New Edition) – Various

2 out of 5

As we pass the midpoint of the weekly experiment that was ’52,’ something rather pleasing happens: the messiness that defined the first half of the series seems to reach its apex; each writer / storyline gets to a point where the shackles of however this book was likely first outlined are tossed off in favor of pursuing the agendas that had been – week by sometimes plodding week – inching their ways forth.  That is: 52, momentarily, gets actually compelling, and not just a ‘let’s see if they can pull this off’ lark.  Lex Luthor’s superhero programming gets a full breath of mystery and ominousness as Luthor’s plotting becomes more obvious; our space-faring adventures with Animal Man and gang gets properly goofy with a holier-than-thou Lobo leading things; the Black Adam family settle into weird domesticity; the Oolong island scientist thread also settles into an amusing set of interactions amongst outlandish personalities…  While some storylines (ahem Renee Montoya) never really take off, the net pluses start to outweigh the minuses, and it feels like this bet on focusing on moderately outlier characters might actually pay off…!

Except: this is DC.  DC isn’t alone in the sin I’m going to outline, rather, it’s especially common in the Big Two (and was becoming more common as yearly events became the all-the-time rule and not the semi-annual rule) and, as some indies like Image and whatnot have tried to mimic their all-star brethren, happens in some of their series as well: taking compelling ideas and curtailing them to make for better spin-off / marketing / headlines / cliffhanger-baiting potential.  So right as our storylines start spinning up some interesting ideas and character dynamics, the newfound confidence apparently means it’s time to whip out all the tired comics book bullshit: “twists” rob some of the plots of their fomenting dynamics and switch over to tired Punctuated Dialogue Where We Say Things Dramatically Even Though They’re Stupid And Illogical!; “twists” that aren’t twists at all, so much as excuses so we can toss whole concepts aside in a few panels; character reversals that have no real basis in what’s preceded them, and exist solely for forced drama; goddamn repetition – didn’t we already go through this bullshit with Renee and Charlie for 26 issues – and buffering to eeeexxxteeennnddd things past points of interest so we can make that 52 issue mark…  And while a lot of my dislike for this can be chalked up to my dislike, in general, for this style of comic writing, where things dive off a cliff is in how we are now clearly reading different stories – there is no way to justifiably consider this a “weekly” event book; it’s just different characters, disconnected from one another, with “Week ##, Day ##” captions every now and then – and, worst of all, stories in which the most important events take place “off screen.”  DC has asked us to invest in 52 weekly issues, and then has the gall to have whatever events we were maybe kinda building toward happen either in different books, or maybe not happen at all…  I will say that the last issue is a sudden tonal flip-flop, back to a sort of classic, Silver Age sense of pseudo-sci-fi nonsense, which ends up being a lot of fun, but it achieves that by pretty much abandoning the 52 format and having a “Week 0” tale that takes up most of the issue.

Some new artists inject some weekly fire into things – Darick Robertson, Justiniano – but one of the biggest sins of 52 is how it managed to tame its messily bubbling stew of randomness into something very typical, and rather predictable.  It’s perhaps inevitable that the crew would settle into a flow over the course of a yearly book, and I still would say that’s an admirable accomplishment, but the flip side of that is how quickly it reminded me why I didn’t (and don’t) like to read a lot of DC / Marvel books, and especially the gimmicky “no go buy this other book” maneuvers of their events.

The collected edition again contains a bonus page after each chapter, which is generally J.G. Jones’ sketch of the cover – covers which are, once again, quite awesome week to week.