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52 #50
posted April 26, 2007


Creators: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Keith Giffen, Justiniano, Walden Wong
Publishing Information: DC Comics, comic book, 32 pages, April 2007, $2.50
Ordering Numbers: FEB070242 (Diamond)

I received a recent issue of DC's successful weekly comic book series 52 from their publicity department as I believe a throw-in in a package with a graphic novel. 52, which will end two issues after the one I have, comes out weekly. Further, each issue is supposed to detail the events of one week during an eventful year in DC's universe. That year spans the time since the close of the last mega-event whose name I can't remember while typing this, and the One Year Later re-boots the monthly titles have already gone through, and, I think, in some cases, already forgotten. It's team-written by a line-up of DC's heavy hitters, and as a publishing move I think it's surprised people by keeping the readers' interest enough that orders have remained consistent. In that sense it's a victorious gamble by the company. There will be another weekly series called Countdown to follow this one, which I'm going to guess is a ramp-up to the next mega-event.

Even though this issue's cover trumpets "World War III Begins Here," the comic reads like an ending to what I've come to understand is another set of comics, an all-in-one-week mini-event called World War III. That comic is centered around the evil Captain Marvel character Black Adam, who I believe in recent years has been played as sort of an anti-hero. He has apparently gone apeshit for reasons one supposes are unpacked in previous issues of 52. As a result, he's killed millions of people in a country not our own -- insert your "Hey, Kids! Genocide!" joke here. It's sort of a country-wide version of the Kid Miracleman slaughter of London in the climactic arc to that Miracleman series' first volume, except more hinted at than shown. The TV movie version of that apocalypse. A TV movie with budget concerns.

Granted there are reasons in a dramatic sense you wouldn't show something like that. But if the point was to have this tragedy reflected across the faces of the good guys, 52 #50 does a crap job of that, too. I would think that the circumstance of millions of people ripped apart by a god-like superbeing would penetrate the jaded shells of even the most inured American, let alone the noble souls of DC's heroic superhero world. And yet I get no sense of desperation or anger or grief from any of the characters in this comic. It's like Black Adam has wrecked someone's car, or robbed a bank with the Beagle Boys, or dicked the Justice League on a time share deal or something. It's almost disturbing how blase these characters are, considering the stakes. I've seen people come out of chairs during a dinner party with more passion than any of the heroes engage this apparent cross of Superman, Stalin and Gacy.

Mostly, though, it's the structure of the comic that I find unsettling as all hell, and maybe it's because I'm not used to the way superhero comics work now. Although he takes on the entire DC superhero roster, it's not an impressive or thrilling fight. Evil Captain Marvel fights everyone... and it's boring. There are multiple reasons for this. It's chopped up, for one thing, into a daily structure, in a way that kneecaps the few visceral chords the comic manages to strike. There's a spread early on with a fine world-beating punch, but I can't even tell where that's supposed to fit into the rest of the narrative. It doesn't work where it seems it should. All the jumping around invests drama everywhere but within the main conflict's outcome. I left the comic with a greater appreciation of the Chinese superheroes' desire to save face on an international political level, but not with any sense of meaning regarding the crucial outcome.

Mostly, though, all that leaping around cripples the inherent thrill of a well-choreographed fight scene, the build-up and the rising stakes and the clever resolutions within a larger struggle. It's like watching the end of a Rocky movie with six-sevenths of the camera time spent on the last few days of training. Even the final plot point that resolves the crisis has to be talked out after the fact. In most stories of this type the reader knows what's going on at least enough to have a rooting interest on whether or not it succeeds, or they'll see what's going on right as it happens in a way that reinforces the thrill. Not here. Never here.

Bewildering on one level, exasperating on other and dull as dirt throughout, I can't imagine who might be entertained by this comic book. It sure wasn't me.