Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I've Got 52 Problems and a Bitch Ain't One (Volume One)

I can't remember how many issues of 52 I actually read cover to cover back when it was coming out. My dad bought it weekly, but I'm pretty sure sometime within the first month I went to skimming, if not during the first week itself. Honestly, the book didn't really interest me beyond my general desire to know what's going on in every book Marvel and DC publishes (which I usually do--even when I don't actively try to know what's going on).

But, hey, the trades are now coming out, so, fuck it, I'm on board the 52 bandwagon for these four collections. On Friday, I got the first two from the campus bookstore. Although, the bookstore tends to get most trades a few weeks after the comic shops, so no idea when I'll get the third one. May go to the local shop later this week, but that's no guarantee. But, today and tomorrow, I'll discuss the first two volumes of this "groundbreaking" series and judge it harshly because that's just the way I roll.

My first complaint, which is a minor one and not something that annoys me THAT much, but I'll mention it right away as it segues into praise: why no Grant Morrison commentary? After each week, there's a page of commentary by one of the writers, Keith Giffen, maybe an artist or Dan Didio--usually, it's Greg Rucka or Mark Waid, though. But never Grant Morrison, which kind of sucks.

Now, that said, the commentary and bonus art pages are a very nice addition to the trades. Commentary doesn't always work, but for a weekly series like this, it's fantastic to see what was going on behind the scenes a bit, especially once they get past the first month or so and the lead time shrinks gradually.

Another minor complaint is that JG Jones' covers are stuck at the back of the trade, most shrunk down so four can fit on a page. Now, this is probably because DC has (or will) releas(ed) a collection of the covers, but still kind of annoying. It would have been nice to have each cover WITH the text to begin each week--if only because the commentary often mentions the cover of that particular week.

Okay, that does it for the little stuff unique to the trade (oh, and JG Jones' covers for the trades are lovely, too), let's move on to the actual content of the series . . .

It's not that bad, actually.

It's not that great either, but it's not as bad as I thought it was while skimming.

Of course, certain storylines do nothin for me. The Question/Montoya one--who cares? Which is weird because yesterday I hyped this as a follow-up to Gotham Central with Montoya's story. But, yeah, I don't care. I've read two volumes and it really does nothing for me. I don't find any of the banter amusing, the characters engaging or what they're doing interesting.

But, that's to be expected. There are, what, a half dozen (maybe more, maybe less depending) storylines? What are the odds that I (or anyone) would enjoy every single one?

In all honesty, I didn't begin liking any of them until week four or five, at least. Momentum is a big part of the appeal here--which is why I think I'm more into the book while reading it in trade-form than I ever was while trying to read individual issues each week. Because of the weekly format and the inability to explore each story fully each week, reading the series in 13-issue chunks gives each story more depth and draws them out more. Where two pages for Booster Gold one week makes that story look small and lame, drawn out over 13 issues, it seems much more akin to the sort of story you'll read elsewhere.

Which is a strange irony of this book: a series that's whole gimmick was reading it weekly reads better in trade than individual issues.

One of the surprising strengths of the first volume is the lacklustre, medicore, middle-of-the-road art. It's not bad, but it's not great. And despite different artists coming in and out, they're all at around the same skill level with Keith Giffen providing a consistent guide on layouts. The storytelling is clear and does the job. Which, for a book like this, is obviously the main goal of the art. If they wanted showy art, they wouldn't have had Giffen on layouts or used these artists. They do bring in some bigger names as the series progresses, which actually bothers me, because that disrupts the flow. But, I'll leave that for future volumes, because the art in this volume is wonderfully mediocre and workmanlike throughout--one of the few times that will be a giant compliment, I know.

Wow, I haven't really discussed the plots, have I? Well, I'll get into that tomorrow with volume two as I can't really remember what happened in which volume since I read the first one on Sunday night and the second one today.

So, tomorrow, I'll discuss each storyline in some detail, covering the first two volumes, plus a few things specific to volume two.