As Infinite Crisis came to a close, the next big event was already under way. In May of 2006, every book jumped ahead one year. Filling in the gaps was a series entitled 52. Released weekly, the series chronicled the missing year. Originally billed as a year without the Trinity (Batman, Superman, & Wonder Woman), the series was meant to show how the world survived without them. Instead, it evolved into something much more.
Weekly comic series are not something typical of the industry in North America. Manga’s in Japan are released weekly, but they are much shorter and not colored. Here, 56 (not a typo) issues were released on time every week for a year, grabbing DC the record for the longest running weekly series. A brain trust of writers gathered to helm the series; Geoff Johns, Mark Waid, Grant Morrison, Keith Giffen & Greg Rucka. They, along with a stable of artists, crafted a series that took a life of it’s own, eschewing the initial mission statement.
52 was a chance to showcase lesser known, but still popular characters. While much evolved and changed as the story progressed, this aspect never did. Booster Gold, Renee Montoya, Lex Luthor, Steel, Ralph Dibny, The Question, and Black Adam were just some of the few headliners. Much was changed for these characters, and the DC universe in general afterwards. Luthor created the Everyman Project, allowing normal civilians to posses super powers. Animal Man, Starfire, and Adam Strange were lost in space. Booster Gold knew something was amiss with the time stream, and visited time traveller Rip Hunter’s lab, discovering his infamous foreshadowing chalkboard.
Not every story was a hit, but that’s only a relative comparison. The stories took a life and path of their own, causing some problems later on. There were many changes after the one year leap; Jason Todd was now Nightwing, Aquaman became some sea monster, Cassandra Cain (Batgirl) became evil, etc. This was meant to be covered in the series, but the headline stories took precedent. To rectify this, 52 culminated in an all out war.
One of the best story lines was Black Adam’s. Taking control of his homeland, Kahndaq, Adam found love, a family, and tried to live a life of piece. Others were determined to not let him have this peace, and killed his new, magically imbued house. Grief stricken and driven mad, he went on a weeklong rampage across the globe in what was called World War III. Occurring during week 50, a 4 issue limited series was also published the same week to cover the event. Black Adam was eventually defeated by Captain Marvel, changing his magic word from Shazam. The writers used these extra issues to cover the events they were originally meant to (with Aquaman, etc.), quickly in a few panels. It was a little jarring.
Each of the writers took charge of different characters while working together to weave their tales seamlessly. Of all the character work here, the best came from Greg Rucka. Rucka brought Batwoman back into the DCU, who hasn’t been seen since the 70’s, pre-Crisis. Along with Kathy Kane, he also continued his work with Renee Montoya from Gotham Central, having her take the mantel of the Question from a dying Vic Sage. He continued this work on an amazing run in Detective Comics, with Batwoman headlining a 12-part series and Montoya’s Question as a back up feature.
Collected in what I’m sure is a 300 lb. omnibus, 52 is a great story, showing that DC is more than just Batman and Superman. The initial premise was sound, and what it evolved into was even greater then what they had hoped. This is the perfect example of the amazing stories that writers can tell free of editorial mandates. Looking at the current DCU, it makes me pine for those days. If you’re interested in seeing what else DC has to offer, 52 is a great place to start (might need a bit of a primer though).
Did you read 52 as it released? What was your favorite story line (Ralph Dibny)? Comment below!
The start of DC’s arithmomania.