52 #1-14, by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Keith Giffen, Joe Bennett, Chris Batista, Eddy Barrows, Shawn Moll, Todd Nauck, Dale Eaglesham, Jackson Pollock, Hans Holbein the Elder, Ambrose Bierce, Amelia Earhart, Pope Boniface VIII, and Sir Stewart Wallace as himself
Last week Brian Hibbs wrote a sharp critique of 52, the weekly series from DC Comics:
the central conceit that each book is a week, no more and no less, is crippling the dramatic through-line of the book. [...] it has been a full real month since we've even seen Booster or John Henry; even longer since we've heard back about the teleportation accident -- is Hawkgirl still 40 feet tall two months later? While "3 pages each of the 6 leads" would have been a worse structure, there really needed to be some sort of checking in with each protagonist week-by-week -- even if it is just a panel or two. [...] See, unlike a monthly title where the reader largely needs to be recapped and hand-walked through the story-threads because enough time has passed and we've forgotten, in a weekly release, he audience is directly behind you, and needs forward momentum, more than anything else.
In the right hands, the week-by-week storytelling could be a great asset, the constraint that forces writers to bend their methods to it and tell tightly-constructed tales that take full advantage of the rare realtime pacing. But the writers trust of 52 has, for the most part, continued to write stories on a monthly schedule and simply forced them into the weekly format. Characters disappear for months at a time only to show up for issue-long fight scenes, as if this were a monthly comic all along. Those issues tend to be the worst of 52 (last week's failed resurrection of Sue Dibny would be a strong contender for worst bar none) as they fly in the face of the series format and put all the other plotlines on hold.
This leads to some strange absences. 52 is nominally dedicated to chronicling the changes that happen in a year when Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman all disappear, yet most of the changes happen off-panel or not at all. Metropolis and Gotham don't seem notably different without their protectors; we see a few heroes stepping into the breach in Metropolis, but shouldn't Gotham be reeling under a massive crime wave? The Great Ten, a small army of Chinese superhumans, appears out of nowhere after six weeks, popping up in medias res with references to prior battles. Couldn't the writers have milked their debut for more dramatic (and geopolitical) impact?
Nobody's arc has been more accelerated than Booster Gold's. He's sporting a couple of product endorsements on Week One, Day 5 that he wasn't wearing in Infinite Crisis. Apparently five days after a planetary catastrophe is all it takes for Lit Beer to decide a washed-up second-stringer is their man. Booster had one of the most promising plotlines at the start of 52, when he was using flawed historical records from the future to boost his burgeoning career. But the writers truncated his ascent through an abysmally stupid move on Booster's part, and now he hasn't been seen for weeks. Regular weekly appearances could have allowed for a more plausible rise and fall and still gotten him to exactly the same point by week 14.
The series feels like it's gotten nowhere, yet it's been in such a terrible hurry to get there. We should have seen a few weeks of Clark trying to investigate Supernova before he resorted to Lois Lane tactics. (And we should have seen a better payoff after he did; did Clark learn anything worth risking his life for? Did we learn anything worth $2.50?) We should be checking in with the injured superheroes more often. Even Greg Rucka's Question/Montoya plotline, the only one to show any appreciable progress, has moved in fits and starts. The fifteen-page investigation of Ridge-Ferrick in issue #11 could easily have been broken up over two or three weeks, keeping the forward momentum and leading up to the debut of Batwoman.
The Steel plot hasn't even bothered to name Luthor's team of "trademarked superheroes" yet, or to show them doing anything other than displaying their lackluster character designs. I mean really, tell me this isn't the most uninspired bunch of superheroes you've ever seen:
Outside of a mid-90s DC summer crossover, anyway, which is exactly where they belong. Maybe their namelessness is a tacit admission of the fate that we all know awaits them, assuming rather optimistically that they survive 52: they'll show up in about two comics, then get gutted in the opening chapter of the next major earthshattering crossover just to show us that nothing we know will ever be the same again. Everybody will be killed except Natasha Irons, who will angst over it for a few panels and then we will all discreetly agree never to mention Luthor's team again, until Donna Troy has a good cry about it in 2016.
At least two plotlines have been unmitigated duds. The Black Adam storyline hasn't done much except to show us a Captain Marvel who talks to the Seven Deadly Sins while making the 52 Crazyface (Copyright 2006 DC Comics, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company) and introduce an Egyptian woman named "Adrianna Tomaz," but I wasn't expecting much more from Geoff Johns. At least we've moved past the weekly disembowelings.
I had higher hopes for the Ralph Dibny storyline--lord knows why, since it started with the once-lighthearted detective ready to swallow his gun. Mark Waid has kept that plot at pretty much the same emotional pitch, hitting Ralph with blow after arbitrary blow and eschewing any opportunity to show him doing actual detective work. The structure is partly to blame--it shouldn't take Ralph four weeks to track down the Cult of Conner unless the writers haven't allotted the pages for it--but Waid, who has Ralph rather snottily remind us that he's a detective (characters explaining their own or each other's hooks being a Mark Waid trademark), hasn't written any detecting other than Ralph randomly beating up some teenagers. There is hope on the horizon, with a Weird Science Mystery that's tailor-made for the old Ralph Dibny; tellingly, it looks like it's been set up by Grant Morrison and not Waid.
Morrison seems to be hovering around the fringes of the project, writing a Booster Gold scene here, a Steel scene there, but mostly concerning himself with supporting characters and bit players. His monthly meetings betweeen T.O. Morrow and a very Bob Dobbs-looking Will Magnus have been the highlights of the series (and the storyline that best uses the weekly conceit); the interludes with the stranded heroes on Adon have been close behind. It isn't surprising that Morrison's plotlines have generally been the most successful, even if you account for the fact that (to paraphrase Chevy Chase) he's Grant Morrison and they're not; the guy who grew up on 2000 AD has a better handle on the punctuated storytelling needed to make these short installments work. I get the feeling some of his collaborators couldn't write a three-page scene to save their lives.
So there's been good work from Morrison and from Rucka, once I got past his surprisingly mellow Question and his titillating lesbians in bed (just nekkid enough for the kids, just clothed enough to stay on the shelves)--he's also kept his plots moving, albeit with some heavy-handed foreshadowing that makes me worry about poor Vic Sage, comics' only Zen Objectivist conspiracy theorist. But the other half of the writing team has been spinning its wheels every week, and the overall plot structure isn't managed tightly enough to contain the damage. It's a shame to see a series with so much time do so little with it.