Posted by: Douglas Wolk on April 29, 2008
It’s almost a year after 52 ended–as of this Wednesday and DCU Zero, the next cycle of DCU stuff is about to begin, and I’m a lot more curious about that than I was about virtually anything in the Countdown era. (The line in this week’s DC Nation column about how Countdown‘s goals “met with various levels of success” is a delicate way of putting it.) But before that starts, I thought I’d take one more look at the afterlife of the series I spent a year writing about.
52 opened up a bunch of possibilities, opportunities and resources for the DCU setting, and the last year has not been kind to many of them. Here’s what’s happened with each of 52’s main characters and plot threads:
ADAM STRANGE, STARFIRE, ANIMAL MAN: The outer-space plot of 52 didn’t quite build up the force it was supposed to–where it seems to have been going at first was that they not only had to make it home but save the world from Lady Styx when they got there, which didn’t happen. And the point of throwing these three characters together was that they didn’t really belong together, or have much in common except for being different kinds of exiles longing for return. (The one who got to go back was Animal Man, which functioned dramatically as the end of Buddy’s story: he’s integrated himself with his understanding of what’s beyond the fourth wall.) So putting them back together for Countdown to Adventure was a horrible idea: they are not a team, and have no dramatic reason to continue to work together, and there was no new angle to make it worth bringing them back right now.
BATWOMAN: Wasn’t she supposed to be the Sensational Character Find of 2006? There actually may have been some demand to do something more with her–like explaining what her deal is–but after a year and only one appearance (in Crime Bible) that bothered to actually do anything with her, I suspect the urgency is gone. As of New York Comic-Con, there don’t seem to be any announced plans to do anything with her (although she did show up in that Adam Hughes promo piece recently). Then again, if that Rucka/Williams project with her ever happens, I’m there.
BLACK ADAM: Look, the whole point of the end of 52’s Black Adam arc was that it was final–that his pride had destroyed him and that he’d spend his remaining days wandering like Cain, searching for his magic word. It also meant that when he inevitably reappeared, eight or fifteen years down the line, it would have this massive return-of-the-repressed impact. And then he showed up again… THREE WEEKS LATER. Thereby undercutting all the dramatic force of his story, and making it totally exhausting every time he’s appeared since. Also, the resolution of the “lost magic word” thing in the Black Adam miniseries was as stupid as it could possibly have been.
BOOSTER GOLD: The first few issues took off from the tone of the Booster sequences in 52, it’s a clever idea, and I’ve enjoyed most of it so far. There’s no denying it’s an exercise in mining the past, but it gets away with it because “mining the past” is its premise.
RALPH AND SUE DIBNY, DEAD DETECTIVES: On the other hand, Batman and the Outsiders? In 2008? It’s like turning on the TV and all you get is The Dukes of Hazzard and Dallas, except that all the characters are dead now and it’s stories about their ghosts running moonshine and making business deals. Next up: the Arak, Son of Thunder revival, yes?
RENEE MONTOYA/THE QUESTION/THE CRIME CULT: I love the character, I’ll read anything Rucka writes with her, and I really enjoyed the first couple of issues of 52 Aftermath: Crime Bible: The Five Books, Excuse Me, Lessons of Blood: What, Were We Supposed To Mention Our Character’s Name Somewhere in the Title? It’s probably as close as I’m going to get as that “superhero comic about introspection and self-discovery” I imagined a year ago. But if you’re going to end a miniseries on a cliffhanger, maybe it’s a good idea to indicate where that cliffhanger’s going to be resolved. (Final Crisis: Revelation, right, but that wasn’t clear at the time.) (More title confusion, actually: is it Revelation or Revelations? Can I vote for the proper, singular, John-the-Divine version, especially since Wildstorm already used the plural a couple of months back?)
STEEL: The most awkward thread of 52–his plot never went anywhere all that interesting, and the “metagene” business was so unclear that it all ended up shoved back into its box by the end of the series. Peter Milligan’s Infinity Inc. is kind of a clever idea (superheroes as metaphors for various kinds of psychological disorders and mental illness), even if he tends to bang his thematic drumbeats a little too obviously, but trying to hang it onto the 52 peg has probably hurt more than helped.
OOLONG ISLAND/THE FOUR HORSEMEN: Well, I couldn’t have imagined that there was any more story to be told on this front–but Giffen and Olliffe managed to evoke the tone of 52. The Four Horsemen miniseries was unnecessary and vestigial, but at least it wasn’t parasitic.
THE MULTIVERSE STUFF: The idea that there are parallel realities that sometimes intersect is one of the coolest concepts in DC continuity; I was glad to see it return. It would have been nice to have it floating around as an occasional story resource, not to have the 52 worlds pinned down and summarily zipped through the way we’ve seen them in the past year.
There are also still a ton of dangling plot threads left over from 52. I maintain a dim flicker of hope that the Waverider/Time Commander/Clock Queen business will eventually be wrapped up in Booster Gold, and that the Intergang/Gotham City/Apokolips stuff will get at least a nod in the course of the impending Kirby-legacy barrage of Final Crisis, but I’m still wondering what the business with Adam Strange and Alan Scott’s eyes was, for instance. Also, um, Super-Chief.
What I miss most about 52, though, is its tone–the sense that anything could happen from week to week, that all the plotlines were hurtling somewhere far from where they started, that cool new creations and resonant echoes of history could turn up on any page, that the DCU was becoming a deeper and richer and more interesting place every week. It made me want to know what happened next. 52 gave us Oolong Island, Batwoman, the Crime Bible, Everyman, Lady Styx, the Four Horsemen, Rip Hunter’s chalkboard, the Great Ten, Supernova, the Cult of Connor, St. Camillus, Sobek, Osiris… and then, when it ended, its inventive energy mostly dissipated. I’m really hoping that the Final Crisis cycle, and Trinity running in parallel, will build for the future at least as much as they evoke the past.