29 June 2009

RECENT READS: 52

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When I started reading comic books again last year I remember paging through the first volume of the 52's collected issues at the library and thinking "This looks [visually] soooooo silly and the concept.... ummmm I don't get it. I don't think I can care about this."

I was wrong, at least partly. Background first.

52 was a weekly series put out by DC Comics that ran for, you guessed, it 52 weeks over on year. The point was to cover the period of time following a DC Universe-wide event called INFINITE CRISIS after which all of the comic books skipped a year. During that year Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman - their three biggest heroes - where out of commission and so 52 tells us all about what happened and if the world could survive without its biggest heroes.

I hadn't, and still haven't, read INFINITE CRISIS so I had no motivation there. What finally piqued my interest a few months ago, aside from the challenge of the weekly concept, were the authors:
Geoff Johns (Green Lantern, JSA, Superman, Flash),
Grant Morrisson (Final Crisis, JLA, Batman, The Invisibles),
Greg Rucka (Detective Comics, Queen and Country, Action Comics),

and my all-time favorite
Mark Waid (Flash!!!!!, Legion of Superheroes, Kingdom Come, Empire, Impulse, The Brave and the Bold).

These writers are some of the most well known and loved in all of comics let alone just DC. Sure they have their detractors as well but mainly the complaints are that they do the same sort of stories, characters, and use certain plot devices too much. Some of those complaints are valid enough and they perhaps reinforce what a great idea it was to put them all together. The series was co-plotted and co-written by all four authors not each on their own story exclusively but messily and with plenty of checks on each other. In this format each author gets to shine at what they do best while also stretching a bit at the prodding of the others and sometimes just because no one will quite know who wrote exactly what, even the authors themselves it seems.

Each issue, in the four collected volumes, is followed by a two page behind the scenes essay with one of the authors, editors, Keith Giffen - layout overseer (rough panels and sketches for each script for the group of artists to work from)-, or JG Jones - cover artist - revealing the process, what worked and what didn't, personal preferences, headaches, worries, and victories of the project. I wish more collected comics devoted as much space to this sort of thing.

A few of my highlights:
- Finding enjoyment in humorous characters like The Metal Men
- Black Adam's struggle with redemptive violence, love, and societal betterment
- Booster Gold's outrageous sense of self
- The passing of a detective torch (without giving too much away)
- A mindless, prophecy driven group of fanatical criminals
- Diverse and fair treatments of homosexual superhero characters, if sometimes risque
- Lex Luthor's Everyman Project

So, still it isn't my favorite series, run, art, dialogue, or characters ever but I applaud it in pulling off unique tones for each story (slapstick humor, mystery, tear-jerking moments, suspense, horrible feelings, relief ... etc). Also, I am thankful to the authors for using characters such as Booster Gold, The Question, Batwoman, Elongated Man, Metal Men, and Steel who I knew little of before and therefor I found their actions, reactions, and personalities more exciting and revealing. Like watching a decent popular serial-style television adventure mystery I enjoyed this read.

Three and a half stars (out of five).

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