Thursday, 6 August 2009

52 review

Here's the best comic you've never heard of. It's an experimental weekly comic book called “52” which I always loved the concept for, and have been enjoying in the past few months (- it's collected in four large volumes, which I had some trouble tracking down).

Over the course of a year, which included events like Hallowe'en and Christmas as they happened in real life, the comic book, published once a week in the US, switched between multiple story-lines starring a host of interesting B-list characters in various roles while DC's most recognisable characters Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are either away or out of action after a big storyline called Infinite Crisis (check back for more on this soon). So it is set in their world but without them there to sort things out in the face of the next disaster. It all feels pretty fresh, and is pretty easy to get into for newcomers, I think. In a bizarre space-story, Animal Man (who learns how to absorb alien creature's abilities on other planets) has to try to find a way home to his wife and kids, while on earth, international politics are uneasy, all kinds of people try to pull crowds as the new heroes of the earth (some to defy their family's wishes, some with reluctance, many for glory), and some of the world's greatest scientists are going missing...

An amazing read, full of mystery, sadness, suspense, broken and difficult relationships and plenty of action, it stars characters who have shone in cameo roles or long-forgotten series and fleshes them out some more, from the shamefully self-centred hero Booster Gold, to the ex-cop Renee Montoya (from Gotham Central), to the dark and brooding prince of the Middle Eastern country Kahndaq, Black Adam. The ending, which I thought was going to tie things up on a small-scale for all the characters we grow to care about over the year, surprised me by potentially having as much an impact on the direction of future DC comics as Infinite Crisis itself and left me reeling from all the crazy overlapping stories. Brilliantly the publishers have included some "behind the scenes" notes on every issue from the writers (Johns, Waid, Rucka and, my favourite, Morrison), artists and editors of this massive and life-consuming project, which offer an insight into the problems the ridiculously talented team had to wade through.

I recently picked up a follow-up to one of the story-lines in 52, which looks at the aftermath of Luthor's project to mass-produce superpowers – for anyone who pays for the treatment. The short collection, Infinity Inc: Luthor's Monsters, is great fun, and has some ultra-modern fluid art, expressive of the turmoil of the characters: a broad range of emotions from rage to self-doubt to jealous affection.

Starring some barely functional teenagers who develop the strangest powers and stranger outlooks on life, it's basically a thinly veiled look at madness, where the strongest and most well-adjusted hero, is clearly neurotic about her father leaving her and blaming her for her past mistakes, while others have issues with gender, self-obsession and purposelessness, by exhibiting some of the strangest superpowers you've seen... Try being in denial about being able to split into two identical versions of yourself, and the fact that one of you is a bully. Or try being able to escape and live someone else's life, becoming addicted to pleasing other people falsely.

And I guess this slim volume has done what Spiderman comics originally did, in that they examine the way wierd, fantastic and potentially disasterous superpowers, have a huge impact on everyday life and situations and on being "normal", potentially screwing everything up. Perhaps some of the copious X-men comics Marvel now publishes should take a step back and look at this interesting theme again...


sheepdan said...

Good review; I loved 52, though I've still not found all the volumes. The work of keeping all the storylines together is immense!
The finale was indeed surprising.

Luthor's Everyman project is also very interesting; the way they relate to each other and Lex, and the way Lex relates to them is very well written, and somewhat revealing of human nature.

Richard Townrow said...

I have to admit - I'm a bit of a sucker for anything to do with Lex anyway. Was interesting how he played with the hopes and interest of the whole nation through manipulating his super-team.

What's particularly impressive about 52 is the way we are emotionally vested in everyone from Renee and the Question to the Black Adam family, to (especially) Ralph - it's not often you see a comic tackle bereavement head-on (and desertion in that bereavement), and take us on such a dark journey. Didn't get the usual "if we band together we can sort it all out" kind of feeling.