Sunday, September 30, 2007

52 Problems, Etc. (Volume Lance)

Wrote this earlier today for the school paper, the University of Windsor Lance. Very cursory, but it hits the main points.

52 Vols. 1-3
By: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Keith Giffen and various artists
DC Comics
302 pgs., $23.99 (each)

Last year, the comics published by DC all jumped ahead one year in their stories and to fill in that missing year, the publisher put out a weekly comic told in real time. Weekly comics are not new ideas, but by telling the story in real time as well as tapping four of the industry’s top writers, 52 managed to capture the audience for the entire year. Now, the year-long saga has been collected in four trade paperbacks (volume four available in November) for easy-reading.

The tagline for 52 was that it was a year without Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman as all three recovered from the most recent intercompany crossover event, Infinite Crisis. This means that 52 focuses on a cast of lesser known, often looked down upon characters with varying results.

In one story, the time-travelling Booster Gold is a superhero only so he can get corporate sponsorship and his costume is plastered with company logos. In another, Lex Luthor has found a way to give the average person superpowers and the hero Steel has to figure out what he’s up to before it’s too late. In the most poignant story, the anti-hero Black Adam goes through a startling transformation as he builds a family, turning his back on his former hard-line stances.

However, while these stories are among the better ones, there are also clunkers like the plot involving former police detective Renee Montoya and the faceless vigilante The Question as they track the plans of Intergang, which is, well, an international gang. A lot of space is given to this story, but it’s highly repetitive and lacks an interesting hook.

Beyond those plotlines, there are easily another half-dozen touched on in these three volumes, so these books could be overwhelming for someone who isn’t familiar with DC’s cast of characters. If there is a fatal flaw in 52, it’s that extensive knowledge of the DC universe is a necessity, but that is offset by the fact that the series is aimed at hardcore fans.

The use of real time is interesting, but sometimes hurts more than it helps. Plots are often dropped for several weeks and then pick up as if no time has passed in between. Having so many balls in the air and limited space means that only a few stories can be touched on per chapter, but leaving some stories alone for nearly two months is sloppy.

As well, specific fans of the writers involved may be disappointed as the method of writing comes off as more written-by-committee--and necessarily so to maintain a coherent tone. There are flashes of individual style, but not many. The overall style used, though, is not bad, but may disappoint some who see a name like Grant Morrison on the cover and then fail to see his trademark style.

The art on 52 is provided by various artists as keeping up with a weekly deadline is beyond most, but, to provide a consistent tone, artist Keith Giffen provides layouts for all of the art. The style of art may change, but since Giffen provides a guide for panel placement and the composition of the drawings, the general tone and look remain remarkably steady.

52 may not be the best book for someone not familiar with the various intricacies of the DC universe, but the year-long weekly book was an interesting experiment in storytelling and these collections are worth it just to see the various tricks and techniques used to pull it off. As well, the collections come with creator commentary for each chapter and other bonuses, providing a great look into what it took to make this book work.


I'll do a post on volume three this week along with stuff on the comics I bought on Friday.