Posted by: Graeme McMillan on March 9, 2007
52 WEEKS FORTY through FORTY-FOUR: As the series comes uglily (is that even a real word?) towards its conclusion, I just can’t buy the Black Adam plot thread. I mean, sure, the plot mechanics are all there in theory: Black Adam needed to lose his recent happiness in order to, for whatever reason, revert from everything he’s spent the last forty-four weeks learning (Not that I really see why that has to be the case, but whatever; maybe it’s some kind of nature versus nurture thing, or perhaps it’s just the simplest “big finish” available to the creators at this point) and go on a murderous rampage across the four spin-off WWIII books in six weeks, and the easiest way for that to happen is to kill his family. Why not? It’s a weekly schedule, and no time to work out another, less obvious, direction for that particular plot. Plus, this way you get to have some fight scenes, a genre staple that has been missing throughout the series until recently.
(Not that that’s a bad thing; if there’s something that these five issues have shown, along with the earlier space showdown with Lobo and Lady Styx, it’s that 52 doesn’t really do action that well. I don’t really understand why, considering the writers and layout artist involved, but one of the continual weaker parts of the series has been the art, and weak art makes things like fight scenes harder to carry out well.)
So, sure, I get that. No, what I’m missing is why Isis died suddenly doing a 180 on everything that the character has always been about since her first appearance. For as long as we’ve known her, Isis has been all about seeing the best in humanity. It’s been her one defining characteristic, her one characteristic in general, and I’m really not getting why she changed her mind just before her death, outside of it being what the plot demanded at that particular point. I mean, yes, I get that Kahndaq was attacked and destroyed by the Four Horsemen and that she knows that the Four Horsemen were sent there by Intergang, but I don’t see why that automatically translates into “the evil needs to die.” Didn’t she already know that Intergang were evil, considering that she had, you know, been their slave before her first appearance? And wasn’t her brother also their slave? Did she somehow miss everything else that Intergang had been doing up until that point despite her involvement with the Question and the Crime Bible plotline? She has, so far in the series, been the one voice of (relative) reason for Black Adam despite what she’s seen (Intergang using teenage suicide bombers at their wedding, for example), so I’m not buying that she completely abandons that entirely in her last dying breath and instead tells Adam that it’s time to go kick some ass, without any hint that she would even consider this at any other point in the past thirty-odd weeks. For her last words to work as the scene played out suggests that either Isis only really takes these things that seriously when they directly affect her personally (and is therefore pretty damn shallow), or that the one thing that we were ever shown about the character – her pacifist, optimistic nature – was a lie.
Or, of course, she says it because it’s cheap drama and an easy signpost to make Adam go on a murderous rampage.
That’s the worrying thing about 52 as we get closer to the finish line. Not that it’s beginning to seem more and more obvious that we’re not going to get all of the mysteries answered (Doug Wolk made a list of 100 unanswered 52 questions on 52 pick-up this week, and pointed out that, with the number of pages left in the series, we’ll have to get a resolution on every second page remaining on average if everything’s to be answered, and somehow I’m not expecting that to be the case. Also, I keep hearing the rumor of 52 Week Fifty-Two being a 52-page issue, but it definitely wasn’t solicited as one…), but that the creators are getting sloppier at moving all the pieces around in the rush to try and get the main stories finished in time, and the cracks are starting to show throughout the entire thing. For example, the Steel plot, which hasn’t appeared at all in the last few issues, ended with an underwhelming slugfest and a climax that seemed to come out of nowhere (“Lex! You have powers that have never been mentioned before! But luckily, we can switch those powers off using this method that we’ve never mentioned before either!”). Likewise, the finale of Ralph’s plot – or the finale so far, perhaps, in case we haven’t seen his final fate just yet – also didn’t really provide payoff to those who were only familiar with the characters through this series, relying on the Fate helmet to actually be the work of a characters who had only appeared in cameos before that point and motives that wouldn’t be familiar to someone who’d never seen the characters before. It’s both sloppy and not sloppy at the same time; consistent enough with former continuity to satisfy the longtime fans but too reliant on continuity outside the story itself to satisfy those only following 52 itself.
The various plot threads are starting to feel even more unbalanced than before – Three out of the past five issues have essentially dispensed with the original concepts of real-time storytelling and multiple storylines in each issue by focusing on near-issue-length setpieces that took place not only within one day, but within a matter of hours, in a manner that acts less like the earlier issues and more like the traditional superhero comic. Each thread itself is also beginning to seem muddied in the execution – I feel as if we’ve spent far too long waiting for Renee’s story to catch up with where we all expected it to be months ago, and I’m completely unclear as to whether the Steel, Ralph or even the Adam Strange plots are actually over or not, because while they’ve each reached a conclusion, none of them have reached any real sense of closure. Maybe it’s just exhaustion setting in for me as a reader as much as the writers by this point (and the artists, too; it might be unfair, but Dan Jurgens’ professional-yet-unspectacular art in week forty-three made the book feel more tired than any “Giant crocodile eats crippled child” issue should), but there definitely seems to be a sense of the wheels falling off this wagon right now, when I’m sure that I should be getting excited for the ramp-up to the big finale instead. Still, there are eight weeks to turn everything around, so who knows what’ll happen in that time? Right now, though: Eh.
What do the rest of you think? Am I the only one burning out on this series right now?